January 13, 2039 2:07PM
Singer put his hand to the wall and steadied himself while floor shifted unpleasantly beneath him and the walls popped twice. Dust filled the air.
Another damned quake!
"Hell," his new partner mumbled. "I hate it when they strike and there's no quick way out."
"Yeah," Singer agreed miserably, considering the ten floors of stairs between them and the ground level. Why the hell did people still live up in these buildings? Suicidal?
He finally drew his hand back from the wall, brushing paint chips from his fingers. St. Jude didn't appear to notice how much the quake had shaken Elias Singer, allowing him a moment to recover. St. Jude had walked to a narrow window--the glass long since gone--and stared out at the bright day.
"We lost one," Nicolas St. Jude finally said. "A big one."
It took Singer a moment to realize that he meant they'd lost another building. He forgot his own feeling of fear as he pulled the comp link from his inside vest pocket and thumbed it on. He did not go closer to the window, though. He could see a pattern of cracks in the floor where St. Jude stood, and wondered if he should point them out.
"Can you tell the location?" Singer asked, typing in the report with one hand, ready to key back to their office.
"Looks like something out by Old Imperial and maybe a bit past Avalon." St. Jude looked back at him, his head haloed by the bright daylight and his face in shadow. "There were a lot of squatters in that area. Damn."
They'd been partnered for three days, and this was the first time Elias had seen any real emotion from the man. It was good emotion, too. After all, Elias Singer had asked for a new partner when his last one showed an inordinate amount of joy every time he got to knock someone down. That wasn't why Singer had joined the force. Having someone who actually cared about others pleased him.
Now if they could just get along better. But St. Jude seemed to have a wall between him and any personal contact. It was hard to really trust a man like that.
A shame. Singer needed a partner he could trust. He typed in the location of the building collapse and looked back around at the rickety and abandoned room where they been searching only moments before. Finding clues to the disappearance of Vogler didn't seem so important now. Hundreds could have died in that building fall. What the hell did they care about one drug runner who had probably gotten himself into trouble?
He kicked at a pile of trash and pushed the debris around with his foot, loath to put his bare fingers down there. Cockroaches scattered from their prizes: a piece of bread, and a half-eaten apple. Damn waste, that apple--especially this time of year. It also meant Vogler wasn't quite as poor as this dump of a place seemed to indicate.
"He doesn't live here," St. Jude suddenly said. Singer found himself nodding, glad to see they thought along the same lines. "This stuff isn't more than the trash he leaves behind when he visits. I think he must just use the place as a low key meeting room."
"That makes sense. No sign of trouble here, either. Whatever happened to Vogler, I don't think it happened here."
"No, not here," St. Jude agreed. He looked back out the window. Singer could hear the sound of sirens already. "We might as well leave."
Singer didn't feel inclined to argue. He wanted out of the building, especially since it chose that moment to quiver again with an aftershock. He happened to be looking at St. Jude that time, and Singer found it strangely reassuring to see the man's face pale, though felt a rush of embarrassment when St. Jude offered a wane smile. He must have been staring, and didn't even realize it.
"No, I don't like it much either," St. Jude admitted. "I don't imagine there are many people who ever get used to the quakes."
Singer nodded and let St. Jude lead the way out of the cubbyhole of an apartment and down the narrow stairwell. He shouldn't have looked out the half-boarded window at the first landing. He could see smoke rising from the ruins and thought about people trapped there, dying. He hated feeling helpless.
He wanted... He didn't know what. Singer had seen vids of LA before the two big quakes that pulled down most of the city's infrastructure and killed thousands. The pictures and movies showed a city alive with light, life and trouble. It had been a dangerous and dirty place to live. No one ever imagined that it could get worse.
Some punks looked out of a room at the second floor, but the little tremble of the building stopped them from doing anything hostile. Still, by the time they'd descended those ten flights of rickety stairs (and in very good time), both State Militia and National Feds had already hit the streets, herding people away from the disaster. Though good at moving crowds with their shock fields and stunners, Singer really didn't think they did much else of worth these days. Both groups should have pulled out a decade ago, and put the city back in the hands of those who really gave a damn what happened here--the natives. This was just one damn long power play; the Militia wouldn't pull out until the Feds did. The Feds weren't going until they could find some gain in doing so, especially with someone like Commander Burnett in charge. The man, though native, had always worked for the elite and the rich. He'd been the head of security for one of the richest men left in LA these days, and he knew how to deal with the natives.
"Damn glad we're not uniforms," Singer said, brushing at his beaded vest and torn tee shirt. The Feds had already started harassing the Militia people they found. If either group had known two members of Locals were present, they would have joined forces against them. Jurisdiction had gotten to be a sticky question with three "police" forces in place. Best to walk away like a couple natives just happy that their building hadn't collapsed as well.
Besides, Feds and Militia weren't very interested in local drug runners, especially in a town still notoriously overrun with them. Even Singer had given up that battle. The Locals couldn't pretend to make a dent in the drug trade.
Only Vogler's link to someone far higher up in government drew the Locals into the search for the man. The runner had offered names of people in local government who were helping import dreamcall into the city. LA had enough pernicious homegrown drugs. They didn't need to bring in something that damned dangerous as well. Not that much of it hit the streets of LA, since it wasn't a cheap thrill. No, the people just used the city, and it's devastated port as an easy route into the greater expanse of the U.S. Market. Singer was tired of these people giving his city a bad name.
He wanted Vogler awfully damned bad.
They rounded a corner and his partner whispered a short curse, grabbed Singer by the arm and turned them back around.
"What--" Singer began a protest, but he looked over his shoulder and saw the trouble. A group of black-uniformed Feds swept into the street a block away, in full gear and with scanners running. "Bastards, coming out to do a shakedown now, when they could be out helping at the collapsed building. It's bad enough that so many people just die and disappear in the quakes--they could do something to help."
"They don't care," St. Jude said as though that was news to anyone in LA. "Let's clear out. We don't need the trouble."
Though Singer and St. Jude had legitimate cause to carry weapons, that would still entail a lot of messy explanations to people who wouldn't much care for the fact that they were cops. Checks were known to take days while the Locals (and an occasional member of the State Militia, if they felt like it) sat in the Fed's Holding pens.
Sometimes that worked well for the Locals, who could often pick up info from their "fellow" criminals. However, it had gotten one cop killed a couple months ago when the Feds let it out that he worked for the Locals. There had been hell to pay over that one, and talk that the dead cop's partner had gone ballistic, apparently making good on threats to bring some less-than-legal Fed dealings to light. Commander Burnett had barely avoided charges and several people below him went off to out of state prisons. It hadn't helped the relationship between Feds and Locals, but hell--it had felt good to see some of them finally take a fall.
St. Jude led them around a corner and down a trash-filled alley. He apparently knew this area pretty well, and Singer gladly followed behind.
St. Jude? The name suddenly stood out in his mind like a flashing red light.
"Damn," Singer said. He caught his new partner's arm, but the guy shook his off. "You're the guy--the one whose partner was killed--"
"Yes." He looked back at his partner and then stopped at the end of the alley, looking desperate as he leaned against the wall. "I--don't want to be taken by them." Dark eyes, half hidden beneath a fall of even darker hair, looked back the way they'd come. "Roger didn't deserve what they did to him. I don't trust myself near them, either. I don't want to do something stupid."
"That's a good thing to know," Singer said.
St. Jude looked at him, the stare so intense that it stopped Singer from speech and movement.
"I will not let them take you," St. Jude said.
Singer didn't doubt him at all. Nicolas St. Jude nodded as though they understood each other, and looked back out the alley again. In his three years with the Locals, Elias Singer had never partnered with anyone who might care about what happened to him. He shivered a little at the thought.
"I made a mistake with Roger," St. Jude suddenly said. "I let him go in alone when the Feds grabbed him. They hadn't found me. I should have stepped out, and not let him go without backup."
"And got yourself killed with him? That doesn't sound like a good plan. Besides, there's no way you could have known what would happen to him."
St. Jude gave him one miserable nod, but said nothing more as they finally started away again. They walked the next two blocks in silence, moving well out of range of the two unfriendly forces. Singer watched his new partner slink along the walls, shoulders hunched, head down. St. Jude did not look like a happy man.
"I know this is something you probably don't want to hear, or believe, but there are at least a couple Feds you can trust," Singer said, daring that glare from the man. "The guy who lives down the street from me is one. His name is Dean Takara. He's a detective, not a uniformed Fed. If you ever get in trouble with them again, try to get to see him or his partner, Castro. Tell them that you are my partner."
St. Jude looked back at him, paused for a moment, and then nodded. "I'll trade you. If you have trouble with the Militia, go to Commander Promeyer. He keeps his office at the Western Division. He doesn't exactly like me, but he is as straight and legit as they come. He even went up against the Feds to try and get Roger out, but it was already too late."
He shook his head and looked distracted as he hurried away again. The sounds of near riot, panic and disaster dulled with each block. They would have to hike a couple extra miles to slip around the trouble area and get back to their vehicle, but Singer didn't mind if that kept them safe.
"So, do you think we'll find Vogler?" Singer finally asked.
"If he's still alive," St. Jude said. He paused, looking around the corner as though he expected to find a riot on the other side, despite the silence. Apparently it looked safe enough since he walked on. "We might get lucky. And we are the only people in the department who are likely to have any chance at mixing in with Vogler's crowd."
"True." Singer briefly considered the other four people in their detective squad and shook his head. "Hughes could probably handle it if he wasn't so busy carrying the work for some of the others. There's a couple I wouldn't ever trust with an assignment like this one. Weasel, for instance."
"Weasel?" Winston Wilson?" St. Jude grinned with a quick show of delight. "I hadn't heard that one before, but it does suit him, doesn't it?"
"I heard MacNeil use it a couple times and now I have trouble remembering Winston's real name. I get the feeling the only person in the office who thinks Weasel's worth the space he takes up is Captain Franks."
"Kindred spirits," St. Jude said with a little snarl. "I have to admit that working for Captain Franks was not top on my list of reassignments."
"Franks is a slippery bastard." Singer wasn't sure why he trusted St. Jude. Kindred spirits of their own? "But a man doesn't get into a position like Franks, and hold on, without having some outside backing. It's not the worst department to work in, though. I don't want to go into uniform."
"You have to be suicidal to want to wear the Local uniforms these days," St. Jude agreed. "I refused to take that assignment. I was lucky they didn't just kick me off the force."
"Yeah." Singer thought about it for a moment. "Maybe it's because I put in for a new partner. They had me teamed with Ranger and I got tired of doing all the work while he kept watch on the car."
"Someone must have thought we'd team up well," St. Jude said. He tugged at a strand of his long hair. "Not many Retros on the force."
That had been the longest single conversation he remembered having with Nicolas St. Jude since they started working as partners. It even made him feel a little better. They were making good time, well out of the trouble area, though this stretch of city wasn't the safest place to walk, amid old ruins and disintegrating buildings. Singer never would have passed through here without a companion. He wondered if St. Jude knew about Compton, and danger from people around here. No one ever came back to fix this place of dirty streets, broken windowed buildings, and sullen people staring, half-hidden in shadows.
"Hey!" someone shouted, startling Singer. "Hola, Santo!"
St. Jude waved toward the older man sitting on a window frame with a bottle of something in his hand.
"Santo? Saint?" Singer asked. He looked back at the man who took a long drink, nearly falling backward into the building. "These people know you?"
"Oh yeah," he said and leapt a crosswalk of splintered wood and broken cement: another relic of an older quake and never repaired. "I live a block over from here."
"I'd always heard this was a really rough area."
"It is." St. Jude looked at Singer, his eyes narrowing with worry. "Don't try walking through here alone, not yet. I'll get you introduced. You aren't from LA, are you?"
"Yes I am," Singer protested--a sore spot with him, even after so many years. "I was born and raised out in the Olive Vista Relocation Camp. My father was the administrator for nearly twenty years until they closed the camp. We had a different world out there, especially for the people in administration. We had our own little town. So, you grew up here?"
"Not in this neighborhood. I was one of the kids raised by the Saint Jerome Emiliani Orphanage after the Devil's Strike Quake."
"You don't look old enough," Singer said, reassessing St. Jude in light of this information. Not a young tough after all. Maybe someone with a bit more experience then he had expected, in fact.
"I was born the day of the quake," St. Jude said. He looked at Singer, his frown disappearing as he shrugged. "Someone found me in a ruined building--no one knows for certain where. I left St. Jerome's at fifteen, and managed to mostly stay out of trouble--and away from the church--ever since."
"Okay, I've got ask. Why did you join the Locals?"
"Because someone has to at least try to make things better. Right?" Singer made a sound of amusement. "Oh. You joined for a different reason, did you? The great pay, the wonderful hours, and all this prestige?"
Singer laughed, the sound too loud in the nearly deserted neighborhood. But it was a good call on his partner's part. Despite the man's disregard for the Local's usual clean-cut image, Singer had feared the hair and the clothes were just an act put on for the job. He'd feared to find a Weasel beneath St. Jude's Retro look.
The man actually lived among these people, more one of them than Elias Singer, whose house was out in a gated community in the upper valley. That even gave him a moment of embarrassment.
He had one last question that might put a wedge of trouble between he and St. Jude, though it seemed unlikely that St. Jude could be a member of the CCP.
"I'm Jewish," Singer said quite suddenly.
St. Jude looked at him and laughed. "I bet you had all kinds of premonitions of disaster when you saw my name as your new partner."
"There have been some moments of anxiety," Singer agreed.
"You don't have to worry. I'm definitely not one of Christ's Chosen People, and I don't appreciate what those bastards are trying to do with the country. Besides, even if I was still with the Catholic Church, I couldn't be a member of the CCP. They don't like Catholics."
"I have never figured that one out," he admitted.
"It's a long story of religious antagonism. Not as long as your story, of course, but we've had our moments."
Singer laughed again. He couldn't remember the last time anyone he knew had dared make a joke about religion. He remembered that his father used to joke with people at the camp before the CCP came in recruiting. He'd lost playmates into that void where a good Jewish boy couldn't go.
"I just wanted to make certain we were going to get along. I didn't want to start trusting you too much, and find out we were going to have a major falling out over something so fundamental."
"That's not going to be a problem."
They had barely skirted along the edge of the community, and started away again. The late January afternoon had turned cold. St. Jude picked up the pace, walking along the edges of streets and cutting through alleys as they headed back toward the car. By the time they got back to the area, the Feds and Militia had pulled out again, having made their little show of power and moved on. People gathered on the streets and old women stood on doorstops shaking their heads and discussing the old days and the old city. Singer had the strange urge to remind them that they couldn't go back no matter how much they regretted lost chances. He said that far too often to Leah when she came home from her office snarling about the world, and the way the others treated her.
Someone should have stopped the CCP years ago.
He glanced toward St. Jude, walking to his right. Odd that after such a short walk he suddenly felt that he could trust this man. That rarely happened. He hoped it held up for awhile.