A serie of coinsidences has Aidra Mandragore, police investigator, ace shooter and martial art specialist, end up with the gods of Olympos. As well as right in the middle of a crisis which treathens the world. Aidra must learn to fight in many different ways, to face and embrace new ways of thinking, to love and most of all to understand that the world is so much more complicated than she ever thought, that it holds dreads and wonders she could never dream about earlier...
The gods don't enter the story from chapter one, but hang on in there, they will be around.
"He's got a gun!" Molly called out. "No, scratch that, big, heavy machinegun. Jeeesus! Watch it!"
"Down!" I heard Ricky shout as the maniac with the blond, spiky hair started to fire his too-large weapon right into the staircase shaft. And in the fire line were my best friends. Molly, eight weeks pregnant and Ricky, only child to the policeman who had saved my father's life once, and an ancient friend of family.
Crouched behind the decayed wooden railing on the landing half a storey up, I could see the guy who had exited the door and almost in an instance opened fire instead of 'coming out with his hands over his head' as Rick had ordered. The gunman's pale blue eyes were burning with drug induced madness and he seemed utterly lost for this world, as if he was living his own private computer game. At that moment I realized that it was either him or Ricky, Molly and Molly's babe. Thus I didn't hesitate for a fraction of a section. I drew my gun, uncocked it, took aim and shoot. One bullet was all it took. One well aimed bullet passed right through the maniac's right temple and exited on the other side together with a splash of gray brain matter. Those creepy eyes went unseeing and the scrawny body in dirty jeans and army-green hoodie fell like a tree trunk in a storm, backwards, hitting the wall with peeling gray-brown plaster behind him, making bloody stains upon the surface before sliding down into a lump, leaving a trace of red blood on the wall, more or less like if a snail had slid down there. Almost in slow-mo it went.
While Rick was making the necessary calls after a shoot-down, Molly and I and our colleague number four, Simon entered the apartment. The place was hot like a kiln. Hot and empty of people in spite of the fact that we had seen a lot of people enter earlier. The darn foxes must've had several exits from their lair, I figured. The place lay in dusk since all the venetian blinds were down and the stale air stank of sweat, old garbage, sewer and weed. The informer had not been lying; the place was the drug dealer business' equivalent of Wal-Mart. There was everything. Everything from mellow marihuana to heavy heroine, and between a plethora of designer party drugs with goofy names like ZiriusZpinn and KoktailBalooza. These neon coloured pills were the drug market's equivalent of Prada and Bulgary and rumoured to be part of the arsenal of success for the greatest celebs this planet could come up with.
But I couldn't care less for rumours. I cared more for the hard facts of life. Like the reason why we had required the apartment next to this for a while now to spy on the business which was going on next door. And today it had finally become the D-day. The showdown. It hadn't been a simple break and enter, that much was for sure. On the other hand we were the best there were in the corp. NYPD's Special Drug Enforcement – SDE - had been active now for a bit more than a year and our reputation was growing stronger day by day.
"Okaaay," Molly was saying as she opened yet another drawer, finding more drugs, cocaine this time, just as the scribbling in misspelled Spanish had let us know. "So here is the goods, now where are the businessmen? Save for the Machine Gun maniac you had to down there in the staircase."
"Just wait, they'll be here. Rick and Melissa are taking care of Mr. Spikeyhair right as we speak. I can hear them out there. And as soon as they are gone we'll be waiting."
"How about enforcement?"
"On their way."
"Are you sure you're going to stay, Mol?" Simon asked "After all it might get nasty and with your..."
"...pregnancy, yeah. Won't stop me. I'm not a coward, and Binary is well hidden behind the vest."
"Not you too, Addy! Stop it! I'm not going to chicken out."
"But if anything..."
I shut up. It was no good reasoning with Molly. Had never been to be true. She was one of the most stubborn people I knew. Save for my old man of course. Old Abe Mandragore was unable to sway. I mean, he was probably the only one out of six billions of Earthlings who still believed that Nixon was a good guy. Nevertheless my father had been one of the best cops during his time in the force, and it sure was hard for a daughter to live up to. Never mind that I had got prices for my shooting and that I had been more or less headhunted for this force, I still felt the shadow of old Abraham looming over me as I did my thing. And would probably always do. My older brother Arthur had been smart enough to not become a policeman, he had chosen the army as a career from himself, and ended up more or less on the other side of the planet where no one knew him. Or Abe. Or cared for that matter. His aircraft carrier was somewhere in the Pacific at the moment and so far away from New York that it was like another world. Not that I had ever been there mind you, but I knew from his bragging emails what they did. Save for whatever might be classified of course.
Pushing those family thoughts away I went on doing my work. Glowed hands opening drawer after drawer, finding more of the goods for sale. Damn it, I had never seen so much drugs in my life, this much be worth a fortune down in the streets. Then there were some drawers holding guns, knives and cash money as well. Plenty of cash. A rough sum in my head told me that there were at least some 100 000 dollar lying around, although I had no doubt we'd find the bookkeeping somewhere around if we just kept on looking. Then why had Mr. Spikyhead lived like a hobo? Or was it just a cover of a kind? I guess we were going to find that out later.
Now enforcement arrived. They were already arresting more people down in the stairs, I could hear the commotions. And Molly had found the back door behind a tattered drape with a Buddha in psychedelic colours, and was calling me and Sims over.
"Here's their retreat way, I bet some of the Daleks went that way when we called for them to come out."
"Check for fingerprints. I hear Marc is here, I'll go talk to him."
"Sure thing," Molly grinned.
As I went out to the main staircase hall, I was considering Molly's choice of words. She still referred to all kinds of scum as 'Daleks'. It has started as a joke upon Wu, an officer who wasn't with us anymore. During his short sojourn with us he had to live with the epithet Dr. Who, and now those Doc-jokes had now more or less become part of the regular lingo. It had become so much part of the day to day jargon that I hardly noticed it anymore. But for some reason it felt so strange this day. I don't know but everything around me felt so saturated, so overly real. Every colour grating at my eyes, like that Buddha in there, and every slang and idiom like it was written in high neon letters.
Was that because I had killed a man? Was that because my life had suddenly changed and I was not an passive observer anymore, but very much a soldier in this invisible war between whatever good and bad humanity was dealing with...?
Forget it, Addy! I ordered myself. I had to collect myself. Get my wits together or I was going to choke upon them. The boss was here now. And I had to go and talk to him. Marc probably already knew that I had shot Mr. Spikyhead down and now he wanted to hear from MY mouth what had happened. And then I couldn't be obsessed with a Buddha in neon...
"Aidra," Marc Harris said as I came down in the street where several police cars were parked, some with their strobes still flashing through the hot shadows of the narrow street. Behind plastic police tape I could see the many headed hydra that was labeled curious crowds. And there were colleagues everywhere, and then some arrested baddos being moved away. Some of them screaming and trashing about, others more docile, as if they were accepting their fate. As if they had actually seen it coming. Or just being drugged enough to not care.
"Marc?" I looked up and faced my boss. At seven feet tall he was one of the few persons who towered over even yours truly. And he was handsome in a rugged way that hinted at him being a real head-turning hunk back in his youth. Now there were salt in his dark hair and lines in his face which added wisdom to his tough appearance. He had a scar upon his left cheek and another on his chin, memories of old battles he had fought during his 58 years on this planet. And Marc sure had done everything. He had been one of those youths who weren't even 19 when he went to the Viet Nam war, lying about his age, and he had become a cop after returning home, after a roundabout in Europe where he had stood guard at the famous CheckPointCharlie when the Wall still divided Berlin. And then he had been doing almost everything in the police force from traffic to homicide, before ending up as the head over the SDE when the present NY major had declared war against drugs.
And what better man to lead a war than Marc Harris was the general assumption. He was like a police equivalent of Alexander the Great, said those who knew. And thus he was my boss. A man I held in deep respect and admiration.
"I heard you had to take down a man. What happened up there?" His dark brown eyes unconsciously darting upwards the building I had just exited.
That was Marc in a nutshell, he never judged anyone before having heard his or hers side of the story. And he dived right to it, no shit chat. Then he always weighted even the smallest thing into the matter of the whole. Therefore I gave him my side of the story. Though my matters were everything but small. It was life and death matters! So I told Marc about how Mr. Spikeyhead had entered the staircase hall and the lethal gun he had carried and how he had threatened Molly and Rick. And how I had responded to that threat. Marc nodded slowly when I had stopped. I waited for him to say something and finally he did.
"What a mess, Aidra, what a mess." He never used my nickname. He never used any of those to be true. That was simply not his style.
"Really? Well it was either him or my colleagues. And Binary." I added.
"Oh, I see!" Marc rose a brow and for the first time he smiled. Molly's husband, also with the corps, was one of the geeks, the computer wizards over at the HQ, so I guessed that was how Binary had got his/her name.
"Well, Aidra, why I'm referring to this as a mess is because we have got the identity on the man you shot confirmed now."
"And he was who?"
"The son of Uriel Nantes."
"As in... you mean THE Uriel Nantes?"
"Yes. Unfortunately yes."
"But he's an... US senator for crissake."
"Yes he is. And you know what that may mean?"
"But... Marc? What was he doing in a drug dealer's joint? With a machine gun?"
"That is for the investigation to show. Still I have no doubts that this lad was filling out his 'regular income' with this little extra business. And when he felt that it was under threat he decided to defend it. No matter if it would mean that Binary and others' lives were in the line. You did the right thing, Aidra. Still..."
"He was the son of a US senator, Aidra!"
"Yeah but... he was doing drugs."
"I know. And if he had been someone else, a nobody, no one would've cared. But this situation – it demands an investigation."
"Marc, there was very little else I could've done. Nothing in fact."
"I know, Aidra. I know. But there are others who might not know, and who demand an explanation. So you will have to give it to them, colleague."
"Be strong now! You're a great cop, and everyone who knows you knows that as well. But it's not them who matters in a case like this. Still I say no worry. Give your story to the investigators and know that I'll be backing you all the way along."
"Now go back home and get some sleep, and I'll see you at the station tomorrow."
"Aye aye shief" I smiled, showing false glee. Fact was that I felt nervous no matter what Marc had said. An investigation. The son of a senator! Uriel fucking Nantes!
"Uriel fucking Nantes!" my father bellowed. "That pussy!"
"Mind your language, Abe!" my mother called from the kitchen.
"Not that I'm surprised," Abe went on without bothering with mother's comment. "That jerk is one of those who believe he has some VIP corridor trough life, that normal rules do not apply to him or his closest associates. Including his goddam family! No wonder his sons are in the drug business."
"So what do I do?"
"You just do as Marc Harris tells you to do, Aidra. Now, that's a great man, Marc Harris. I still remember him as a young lad, just back from 'Nam. He got decorated over there you know. Purple Heart. Got some of our guys out of a burnin' inferno. Did the impossible, they say. Still he never boasted about it. Never bragged. Just went in and did his thing. Listen to him, Aidra. He'll tell you what to say. And then there'll be no doubt that you did the right thing. Senator or not."
I nodded and sighed, as mother called for dinner. My father was always like this, believing everything either black or white, and one of the many admirers of Marc Harris. But life was more complicated than that, and I had just killed the son of a senator, I thought as I took up the remote and turned off the TV. No one was paying attention to it anyway.
My mother had told me I should go to the church and talk to father Westinghouse. However I couldn't see any reason why. I hadn't done anything really sinful. All right I had shot a man. But he had been a Dalek. It had in the end been either him or Marc, Molly and Binary. I saw no reason to doubt in my own conscience. It was the investigators' conclusions I feared. On top of that, I had come to feel more and more over the years that what they said in church was so far from the reality I faced every day. And no matter how much I liked the kind father Westinghouse, it was still the case that his preaching rang more and more untruthful to me. In my line of work one got to see so much that contradicted all those things taught in the Bible. There were no all-powerful and ultimately forgiving god. Or how could there then be things like murder, rapes, assaults and other pointless violence going on all around me. And who had protected all those who died when those maniacs flew their planes into the World Trade Center? And who had protected my fiancé Dave when that drunk driver had run over him and taken him away from this world and from me? Dave had been only 33 and the love of my life... what almighty god had cared about him?
For the umpteenth time I ordered myself to stop those negative trains of thought. I had tomorrow to deal with and I was going to need all my focus, all my strength. I couldn't give in to despair, or I'd never make it through the coming ordeal.
On the other hand – Marc was on my side. And he'd probably ask Molly and Rick to testify in my case too. Those were the people I could trust. Great officers both of them. Not only had I saved their lives there in the hall, they were both persons of great integrity and with a deep sense of justice as well. They knew that I had done the only thing I possibly could. It was going to be all right, I felt sure of it! It was going to be all right! I had just shot a Dalek...
Sleep failed me that night. As I lay awake in my bed and listened to the white noise of the air conditioner and the sounds of the city outside, I played over the event in the staircase hall over and over again. Wondering what if... What if I hadn't shot the guy. The senator's son. Then for sure two great police officers had been shot, and perhaps dead now. And a little unborn child might have been dead too. Without even getting the chance to live. But what if I had aimed for the legs, incapacitated the punk instead? Could I have done that? No, probably not, he might have fallen, but he could still have shot my colleagues.
I sighted and turned around in bed again, for what order I didn't know. But looking at the red figures of the alarm clock I saw that it was now well past three o' clock in the night. I had laid there brooding for more than four hours! I sighed and tossed again, came to regarding the ceiling which was going blue and then red and then blue again, coloured by the neon outside my window. Striped patterns made by the half-closed venetians. And crackles where the paint was breaking up, looking like meandering roads in a sci fi world.
I started to go over and go over again what I was going to tell the people doing the investigation. How to explain to them what had happened in that staircase hall. There was of course just the truth to tell, but then there were certainly a million ways to tell the truth. And I had to find the best of those ways.
"Good luck, Aidra!"
"Give them what you have, Addy!"
"You did the right thing, Mandragore. You're the best!"
"God bless you!"
"Show them how a real cop shall behave!"
There were pats on my back and words of encouragements flying through the air as I rose from my desk and walked out of the office landscape, heading for the conference room where the hearings were about the begin. The hearings connecting to the investigation which had been initiated after the death of Clifford Nantes. My killing of Clifford Nantes.
I was warmed by all this support. Colleagues who rose and gave me smiles and signs of thumbs up, who told me I was going to do fine in there and similar things. Even those sour things working with administration were giving me their cheers as I passed by their desks. And I smiled back, still I felt the strained falseness of my smiles and the nerves which were doing funny things to my stomach. I hadn't been so nervous since I was 16 and was caught drunk on a school prom and driven home to my parents and had to answer to them why I had drunk all that booze and where I had got it.
Marc was leaning against the doorframe and he gave me another pat on my back, told me to go in there with head held high and just give them my story, nothing less, nothing more.
"You're not coming with me?" I asked my superior, having hard to keep the distress and disappointment out of my voice.
"No, Aidra, I cannot do that. I'll be called in later and then I'll give these guys my side of the story – and you my full support of course. Now show them your remarkable strength, you'll do fine, dear!"
Marc had never called me 'dear'. In fact he never used such endearments for the people he worked with, and thus it warmed me more than if anyone else had done it. And I felt a strange boost of strength coming from his broad hand as he a short moment on laid it for my shoulder. Thus I steeled myself and walked the ten steps through the corridor and up to the conference room where the investigators waited. And it sure felt like walking the death row whatever Marc had said.
There were three of them sitting behind the worn, beige painted table in the narrow little room, lit from above with harsh, bluish tube light. And I was asked to sit down on one of those uncomfortable chairs we used for baddos we were hearing. As I obeyed the man in the middle, I regarded the people opposite of me. One woman sitting to the right with a stern, unrelenting stone face and two men. The one in the middle was obviously their superior and he had bald or shaven head and face like a droid. No feelings whatsoever showed in those harsh, chiseled features. The man to the left had a fleeing bearded cheek and was doing his best to comb over a growing baldness. He looked like he found the situation utterly uncomfortable and his brown eyes were those of a dog who had received one kick too many.
"State your full name for the record" The man in the middle asked and typed something on his laptop, no doubt starting the recorder.
"Aidra Felicia Mandragore."
"Now, Aidra Felicia Mandragore, can you tell us with your own words what happened on Tuesday the 11th of August, 2010?"