Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Judge Dredd Characters, places, etc.
A/N: Once again thank you for the many reviews! It is definitely a treat!
Chapter 3: Bugged
It had been a rough night on the streets. The city seemed to roil with unrest for a number of different reasons, all circling back on the recent robot personality programming. Dredd had thrown some forty people into pat wagons and broken up brawlers, chased looters, and arrested men attacking and destroying servo-robots going about their errands. Some thirty hours after the hostage situation in Sector 8, Dredd finally arrived back at his Sector 13 headquarters to file reports on the activities. His mind flicked to Anderson almost reflexively, imagining her enduring whatever tests they had laid out and sitting patiently through her interrogation.
As he sat down at his desk and stared at a layer of dust gathered on the keyboard he tried to resign himself to the sheer volume of reports he would have to write. Even though Anderson had volunteered to take his share of the paperwork, there was still plenty of time they had spent apart out there. He turned on the computer and watched the prompts flash by in indecipherable Tek babble.
While on the streets he had gathered that there were two main factions rising in Mega City One. Those causing the riots were often associated with these Neon Knights that had holed up in Sector 8. On the peaceful end were those petitioning for the humane treatment of robo-servants augmented with emotional programming. That side was lead by one Eliza Del Monte, the very woman he had fined just over a month ago at the Robot of the Year show.
It was a simple matter to look up her name and number. She had been entered into the Hall of Justice database once all the rioting had starting, particularly as she was on the opposite end of the spectrum. He lifted the phone and punched in the corresponding numbers, waiting patiently. It was getting late.
"Tyler Del Monte," came a masculine voice on the other end.
"I'm looking for Eliza Del Monte," Dredd replied simply.
"And who is 'I'?" the man demanded, his tone quickly shifting into hostility.
"Judge Dredd, Sector 13 of the Hall of Justice," Dredd replied. There was dumbfounded silence on the other end.
"Eliza!" he called, the sound muffled as if he'd put a hand over the receiver. There was some muted shuffling, indistinct words exchanged.
"Eliza Del Monte," a woman answered at length.
"Already a month and the city's in an uproar Miss Del Monte. Perhaps one credit was too lenient," Dredd said.
"Judge Dredd," he heard the smile in her voice. "I was wondering if I'd hear from you. Things have certainly kicked up into a fuss."
"What do you know about this?"
"Not much. My opposition isn't helping their case any with all these riots." The man, Tyler, was mumbling something to her. Dredd listened as the phone shifted. "Judge Dredd, would you excuse me? I've got something that needs taking care of."
"Miss Del Monte, don't make me come down there and look for you."
"We'll have tea at three tomorrow. You should come down then," she insisted. "I'm sorry Judge, I need to go." The line went dead before he could object further. He leaned forward to redial before pausing. He changed his mind and instead dialed a different number. The phone went a handful of rings.
"Mmm-ellow?" mumbled someone into the receiver.
"Rosenberg," Dredd stated. There was more shuffling.
"Sir," Rosenberg sounded more alert. "Heard anything about Judge Anderson yet? Judge Ecks only said she was in a debriefing."
"No," he shook his head, disappointed Rosenberg hadn't heard anything. "Would you be able to discern whether or not someone's house has been bugged in the next half hour?"
"Simple enough unless one of our Teks did it. Give me the number and I'll tell you who you're dealing with, us or someone outside the Hall."
Dredd rattled off the phone number, listening as a door clicked shut behind Rosenberg. There were people in the background, men's voices. Dredd had called the barracks that housed Rosenberg close to Tower Argos and chances were they had an impressive array of machinery at their disposal so the Tek wouldn't even have to commute.
"Call you back when I have something," Rosenberg replied. He disconnected and Dredd set the receiver down. He turned to filing reports in the mean time, finding the half hour crawling by. After twenty five minutes his phone rang. "Bugged. Traces feed back to a building owned by a Rourke Kenny. Sent the addresses to you. Whoever did the bugging has either rudimentary skills or has got the place set to trigger an alarm if its breeched. I'm gonna have Ben take a look at it so don't go in guns blazing."
"He's got half an hour," Dredd said, standing up as the information downloaded into his glove computer.
"Sure," Rosenberg agreed.
Dredd made it to the stripped bike in record time and was back out of the parking garage without a thought to the loads of paperwork still waiting for him. That could be dealt with later. He sped along the still crowded roads, ever filled with vehicles in a city that hadn't ever known sleep. The better part of the way to the building he turned off one of the Mega Freeways and into a catacomb of complex slums surrounding some of the poorer blocks. He actually wasn't too far from Peach Trees.
He parked a few blocks from his destination in the heart of squat, concrete buildings crouched beneath criss-crossing electrical wiring and writhing air ducts binding buildings together like a parasitic sprawl. The pavement was gored with potholes and a constant, drizzling mist came down from the chugging window units overhead. The whole place smelled like mildew and too many humans.
There were filthy children playing in the gutters, scuttling between the shadows of an area littered with trash and broken bottles. Dredd crept past them and the whites of their eyes followed him in luminous curiosity. Shutters and doors creaked shut overhead as he made swift progress, cutting through alleys before finally spotting the old apartment building in question.
A woman was squatting outside over a wash tub scrubbing rags worn too many times clean in sudsy water. Never mind it was late she worked like someone would have to wear them in the next five minutes. Skin and bone in the rags of an old sun dress that once had been pink her hair curled in the man-made muggy air. Yellow street light reflected garishly off the sweat on her shoulders and arms. A few open windows revealed light inside the apartments and voices, someone's baby crying. Strange, creeping vines grew out of the cracks around the building's foundation like oily black tendrils. A little boy popped out of one window, almost careening to his death four stories below, before a burly hand had the back of his shorts and hauled him up. He triumphantly displayed the toy he'd saved from plummeting only to receive a cuff and shouts made rough with fear.
Speaking of little boys a scrawny one sort of crab walked up to him, squatting and holding onto his ankles as he lurched towards him in an awkward attempt at nonchalance. His dark skin and huge dark eyes under sooty lashes were schooled into a comedic interpretation of minding his own business.
"Oy Judge," he whispered loudly. "There a raid?"
"Get back to your toys kid," he replied, checking the alley for more of the children. Like hungry alley cats their heads peered around a dumpster, three more, one with pig tails that stuck straight up.
"Sammy stole my ball. Could you get it back? Its my property," the boy prompted.
"Really kid, scram," Dredd growled.
"Its a real injustice Judge," his face pinched in concern. "I worked two weeks to get it, hard labor and blisters and finally got enough money to buy it! And then Sammy took it like I owed him! Like it was his right!"
There was a pop of gunfire and Dredd instinctively pulled the kid behind him, pushing his head down so the boy was completely shielded between Dredd's Kevlar and the building. The other kids melted back into shadows at the same time the washing woman jumped. She left the clothing there and scurried inside. There were two more shots several blocks over.
"Get back home," Dredd commanded gruffly. He hated to leave the apartment building but figured the inhabitants and situation there wouldn't change. There was a fair chance nearby gunshots could be related, but then in a slum like this it was more likely it was a separate crime.
Two blocks over a body was diffusing blood into a slimy puddle face down. It was a small caliber weapon that had killed the man, one shot through the throat from the front, two more in the back once he was down. So that made it a murder commit in anger rather than a hit. A hit man would have gone through the back of the head rather than random shots through the back.
"Control this is Dredd," he rumbled into his glove comm. "Resyche down in Sector 16, Elm and Grant in the alley."
"Copy that Dredd," came the answer.
Rolling the body over he saw the shirt was unbuttoned and lipstick was there on the collar. The smell of alcohol was all over the man. There were plenty of cheap whores in places like this and as many dens selling contraband ranging from alcohol to narcotics to amphetamines. He considered his options, the direction the perp might have fled, and turned at the feel of eyes upon him to look at the boy and the other children crouched like wild things.
"Know him?" Dredd asked because there wasn't an ID. The boy came forward on all fours and Dredd realized his legs were too short, the proportions similar to pictures he'd seen of German shepherds. His jaw was narrow and sharp. He looked up, perhaps of Hispanic origins, with big dark eyes.
"That's Isidro Simonis," he informed Dredd. "He likes him the ladies in bright colors and makeup like exotic birds."
"Any that would be jealous?"
"Probably his wife," the boy shrugged. "But Espironza is the kind of girl who goes and tells Jesus about her problems. She trusts him to fix them."
"Take me to her," Dredd instructed, resolving there were too many directions to leave the scene. The other children hissed at him in another language and he responded back, scaring them off with short, yipping commands.
"This way Judge," the boy intoned, loping ahead on all fours. Dredd followed behind him, around to a building next to the one he'd been observing. The stairs creaked as they ascended onto the third floor and there was the smell of cooking oil and spices saturated into the very paint. The boy squatted and knocked on the door, putting his ear against it as he listened. A woman inside said something and he rattled a reply.
The woman on the other side hesitated before slowly opening the door. She was pretty in a housewife kind of way, a little softened by age and good meals, an apron tied around her middle in faded frills, her hair piled atop her head functionally. She looked up with a face that must have glowed once but showed wariness and anticipated ill news.
"You Judge?" she asked as her eyes flicked to his face. "About Isidro?" Tears gathered as a wild, ill placed hope filled her.
"Dead," he replied. The bones deserted her legs and she collapsed in a heap on her threshold. The boy put timid little hands on her arm as wails wracked her. More doors opened to see what the commotion was, the sounds of televisions and crying babies suddenly increasing. Dredd knelt and offered her a hand up.
"Will you help me catch who did this?" he asked. She looked up at him from between her fingers. Even as her face crumpled into deeper sorrow she took hold of his his hand and climbed onto her boneless legs.
"Come in," she hiccuped, wiping tears away from her face aggressively with both hands. Dredd stepped in and the boy slunk in like a guilty pup.
"I could be help," he insisted, pushing the door shut and circling Dredd's legs just like a dog might. Dredd only rumbled disapprovingly but couldn't deny the boy seemed to know the area. He strode after Espironza and the boy loped along behind him.
"Isidro out lots," Espironza informed him from over the counter separating a tiny dining room and den from a little kitchen. The water was running as she washed pans with scratches along their blackened bottoms and one pot with a dent in the side. "Like to do gamble and the women too."
"Any in particular?" Dredd asked. Espironza chewed on a full lower lip, struggling against the crusted remains of an earlier meal. He glanced at the stove and saw a timer counting down for something in the oven.
"Loida, Deflina, Cande, Roxie," Espironza shrugged one shoulder, another tear careening down her nose and cutting a trail through sudsy dish soap. She rubbed it away. "Many more, names I forgetful. But he go much to Konstantin's. Lotta girls there. We meet there." More tears but the sobs were silent, her eyes shadowed with anger. "You go ask Vikenti at Konstantin. He knows what and where here."
The boy chattered something at her with an intense look in his eyes. Espironza's tears flowed more quickly but her face flushed with anger rather than grief. She shot back a reply, dropping her wash and shouting at the kid. Rather than flinch back the boy shook his head and gestured at the door.
"What are you saying?" Dredd put a hand on the boy's shoulder. He looked up at Dredd.
"Vikenti'll know! Espironza was his best girl four years ago, before Isidro duped her into marryin' him. He'll blow her away. She says she don't care."
"You were one of his girls?" Dredd asked. She lifted her chin defiantly and at once he could see the beauty she had been, dark and handsome with fiery eyes.
"Yes and what so?" she demanded. "You Judges no never help here so I make a way. You go ask Vikenti and I will help me later." The boy made another plea.
"Dredd to control," Dredd growled into his glove comm. "I need pick up for the iso-cubes. Three months for prostitution charges."
"Copy that. Sending pick up to your GPS."
Espironza's nostrils flared and the boy gawked. Three months would be enough time to keep Espironza from facing Vikenti and his thugs' wrath once he busted the prostitution ring. He snapped one end of the cuffs around Espironza's wrist and the other around the door to the fridge. "You boy, take me to Konstantin's."
"S-sir," he stammered. He said a few quick words while Espironza drew a frying pan back over her shoulder and lobbed it. Dredd ducked under it and pointed at her.
"Don't push it. I can tack on resisting arrest and assaulting a Judge," he threatened even as she cocked her arm back to throw another pot. The boy seemed to plead with her and she slowly lowered the second frying pan.
"You Judges no good," she growled. Dredd only let himself out, the boy scuttling ahead of him. He loped on all fours down the hall and scuttled down the stairs headfirst. When they were out on the streets he went ahead, then looped back and circled Dredd once.
"They can't get her in an iso-cube, can they?" he asked. Dredd shook his head. "Thanks Judge," he smiled crookedly before bounding ahead.
It was several streets before they arrived at a larger road lined by taller dilapidated complexes. Rather than the obscured six and seven story blocks common to the surrounding area buildings here rose to about fifty and stood in the shadows of the Gerard Block. People scurried away from him as he strode along the littered streets filled with ruts and pot holes that would have done the nineteenth century proud. The store fronts here mostly had blacked out windows or flashed in neon lights with scantily clad mannequins posed to display their wares.
"Judge Dredd, this is Dante Ognibene of Psi-Division's Tek unit," patched through in his helmet.
"Go ahead," Dredd answered.
"That trace you had 'Berg take a look at, the apartment listed is a decoy. I'm still working to track where the feed actually goes, but you walk into that apartment and she'll blow. Like set off bombs kind of blow."
"How long for you to figure out the actual destination?"
"Not sure. The IP fractures and goes a hundred different directions. It'd be faster if you looked into Rourke Kenny who leased the apartment to one David Brigg. David Brigg was thrown out of the Academy by SJS for hacking their database. But he doesn't use the power there except to keep the machines up and nothing else is on the books as his address."
"Find me a Vikenti from this sector if there's a record," Dredd instructed. He heard the tap of keys.
"Bruno Vikenti, rap sheet as long as my leg, busted for pushin' Slow Mo and assorted other narcotics, running illegal gambling and smoking operations, and numerous charges of pimping and human trafficking. What a winner," Ognibene remarked with a dry sarcasm that suited the deep timbre of his voice. "Sent you his file and the one on Mr. Kenny. Anything else?"
"Get me the address where the bugged info actually goes," Dredd replied.
"Sure," Ognibene answered and the link went dead.
Dredd caught his loping guide by the scruff of the neck as they prepared to turn onto a busier boulevard. The boy looked at him inquisitively as he was set back down behind the Judge.
"How much farther?"
"Just down the road," the boy replied. "Its the building with the golden doors and lion knockers. Why?"
"You scram. I find you anywhere near this place I'll throw you in juvie for a year for interference."
"Aw Judge!" the boy protested.
"Name," Dredd cut him off.
"Todd sir. Jason Todd."
"Run home to your folks Jason Todd."
Grumbling Jason slunk away into the alley. Dredd turned onto the grungy thoroughfare and strode confidently along the doors until he faced a set of metal ones spray painted gold. The lion knockers didn't match, both of them clearly stolen from other doors in more expensive parts of town. Neon lights and music drifted from some of the open windows above. He pulled one of the doors open and walked through a lobby made of chipped tiles that maybe once had been beautiful with their dark green veins. Their white had tarnished yellow and dirt and stains choked the pores and cracks.
A woman all in pink sat at the desk, her face draining of color as he approached. He strode right up to her battered desk, watching the crossword puzzle and pencil drop from her brightly painted fingernails in alarm. She was in her forties and built like an addict, too thin and tough with the wear of a hard life evident in extra lines of care on her face.
"Konstantin's," he said simply. She was shaking, blond dyed, brittle curls falling out of their carefully placed pins. Dredd leaned down a little towards her. "Konstantin's," he repeated. She swallowed, her throat working.
"B2," she whispered hoarsely and handed him a key card. Dredd snapped a cuff around her wrist and another around one of the bolted legs of the desk.
"Six months iso-cubes," he informed her. She nodded with her lips pressed in a thin line, eyes ready to bug out of her head. Dredd walked to the elevator and didn't have to wait for it. He inserted the card and descended the two floors, Lawgiver set to standard, and watched the doors slide open to a smokey bar with low light except for bright spotlights outlining the silhouettes of shapely girls.
"Control this is Dredd. Send another pat-wagon to my present GPS. Not the one that collects Mrs. Simonis," Dredd instructed over the pulse of low playing music centered around a stage. He leaned outside the elevator doors and pressed the up button before selecting all fifty floors inside the elevator and stepping off.
"Wilco Dredd," answered the operator. He strode into the smoke, the room so dim nobody seemed to notice him. That was perfectly fine by his measure as he waded into the murk, the room comprised of dim alcoves and beams of light occupied by women. Dredd made his way to the red light of a floor lit bar that cast strange shadows on the face of the bar tender in suspenders and a bow tie. Dredd moved around the bar and with the application of pressure and use of a pressure point brought the man quietly to his knees before cuffing him to some of the piping. He raised a finger as the man yipped and turned towards him angrily. The whites of his eyes stood out as he shut his mouth beneath its old fashioned handlebar mustache.
"Vikenti," Dredd demanded.
"In the very back, alcove behind the velvet curtains," the bartender whispered hoarsely.
"Stay put and shut up," Dredd instructed. He stood and walked back out from behind the counter, moving further away from the man without so much as looking at the women arrayed there, the girls blind to anything but the thrum of the music.
He pulled back the heavy velvet curtain to expose a game of cards while women were draped across the sharp, burly, or overweight shoulders of the contenders. All eyes turned to him and reflexively they'd gone for firearms but Dredd was faster with his Lawgiver, pointing it right between the eyes of a big man with a bushy beard directly across from him.
"Incendiary," he growled to keep anyone from being willing to sacrifice the bearded man. Hands moved away from weapons and settled palms down on the table. Raising the screen on his gauntlet Dredd looked at the face attached to the name Bruno Vikenti. He shifted his aim to a man with coke bottle glasses, a dusting of freckles on his elvish cheek bones, with his sharp chin propped on girlishly slender fingers. He was staring at Dredd with the lazy disdain of a man accustomed to run ins with the law.
"Welcome Judge. Care to join the game?" he asked in a light accent clearly of Eastern European origins.
"Simionis," Dredd replied. One of Vikenti's pale eyebrows quirked.
"Wrong man," he answered.
"He was here before he wound up dead Vikenti. You can tell me what you know and I'll take it into consideration for crimes including prostitution, operating an establishment without permits for smoking or gambling, and serving alcohol."
"I hope it was Espironza. He ruined her," Vikenti smiled. Dredd almost sighed. He was in for a long night.