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⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #3

Mandy Shapiro on the Phone

Mandy Hartley Shapiro, just prior to the Apocalypse Agenda.

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Forebears

“You know what, counselor? A lot of the public sees criminals or villains get off scot free after wanton destruction, and they don’t think ‘gosh, I’m glad they got a zealous defense.’ They think ‘Wow. Everyone’s corrupt and the system’s broken and our only hope are vigilante superheroes because the police and the courts and the prisons are all useless.’ How’s that helping your client?”

“Tell me if I’m crazy, but are you rebutting my request that you do your job better by telling me to stop doing my job so well? Because that’s what it sounds like, and gotta say? Not really in my nature to suck on purpose.”


Society has acclimated to the presence of super heroes and villains. New heroic organizations spring up seemingly daily, to the delight of an adoring public, even as tension between the unenhanced prosahumans and the enhanced parahumans are growing, and the world’s military and law enforcement grow increasingly frustrated with the situation. Still, the sun is bright and shining down on a world that feels protected. These are Justice Wing’s Halcyon Days.
Mandy Shapiro is a lawyer who specializes in ‘parahuman criminal defense,’ which most people assume means ‘supervillains.’ She has travelled to East Meridian City, Rhode Island to offer her services to Daniel Holland, a young, alleged villain who had been arrested after a destructive battle in East Meridian against local hero and reserve member Vortex. Having encountered resistance to being allowed to see or offer her services to Holland, Mandy has contacted the local DETAILS observation post and called in a ‘717B,’ or ‘civil rights violation by law enforcement against a parahuman citizen.’ While this didn’t make anyone happy — especially Detective Corporal Ellis West, who had attempted to deflect Mandy away from the precinct — it seemed to get a reaction. What sort of reaction, Mandy had yet to find out.
Complicating matters were Mandy’s two daughters, Danni and Evvie. Evvie was on the other side of the country, competing in the Gymnastics America Under-10 division under the guidance of her coach, Iosaf Albescu. But Albescu’s become increasingly unstable over time, and won’t take Mandy’s husband Evan’s calls any more. The pair are preparing to fire Albescu, but know he may have a potentially violent response. That would be distracting enough, but then Mandy’s older daughter, Loredana ‘Danni’ Shapiro, was dealing with her own unexpected — and unwanted — primary parahuman expression at the same time.
After Lieutenant Lila Berganza interceded, Mandy had the chance to meet Danny Holland, and discuss the charges and his options with him, after managing to move him to a private room (and away from increasingly angry and tense police and PATER officers). Danny’s new villain identity — Flux — wasn’t what the news got, so everyone knew that he was the alleged villain who caused so much damage in East Meridian. And, as they talk about what happened… Mandy asked Danny what his other name had been — his name from when he was a superhero.

Forebears

Book One: Mandy

Part Three

East Meridian, Rhode Island

Holland stared at her, then slumped again. “Firescale.”

Mandy considered, then shook her head. “Never heard of you.”

“No one has. S’no big. I quit.”

“I love how people always think that’s an absolute.” Mandy paused. “Okay, Firescale I can almost see. I mean, like, dragon, right? What the Hell’s Flux?

Holland paused, then snickered. “They’re both from blacksmithing. Firescale’s the black dark residue that forms on the outside of somethin’ red hot as you’re hammering a piece. Flux is stuff you spread over the piece to help melt the surface, keeping it clean and making it easier to weld. That’s oversimplified. My powers are heat and strength and the more I use them the more my body becomes… like, red hot metal, so—”

“Huh. Makes sense.”

“By rights I should have been ‘Crucible,’ ‘cause that’s the part of the forge where things are heated to the point of—”

“Sure. Got it. Unfortunately, there’s a top tier villain with that name and Centurion’d get pretty confused if a second was running around. So why not ‘Forge?’”

“Trademark thing.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how we’re all supposed to keep it straight.”

“DETAILS maintains a website crossindexing names. And there’s about nine fan or volunteer sites that do better jobs. Anyway. Probably come up with a new villain name. Maybe nothing blacksmith-like. You’re no-tier, so it’s no big.” She half-smiled, looking back. “Or, y’know. Don’t be a villain.”

“It wasn’t my first choice. I don’t have it in me to be a hero.”

“Yeah, it can suck pretty hard. A’course, remember West? His kid?”

Holland scowled. “I had nothin’ to do with that.”

“No, you didn’t. But you took a job from the guys who did. Tell me — what happened to West’s son?”

“I told you. O.D.”

“So… what. He’s in rehab. Upstate? Did he get sent to a farm to chase rabbits all day long?”

“He died,” Holland snapped. “Heart, I think. Maybe kidneys. Acute overdose, not chronic, if you know the difference.”

“I do. And so do you, huh?”

“Once upon a time I was a drug counselor, okay?”

“I know. That I was able to look up before I got here. You’re okay working for the suppliers, now?”

“It’s just a job!

Mandy shook her head. “No it isn’t, Holland. You know it isn’t. You’ve always known it isn’t.”

“Yeah, well — I need money more than I can afford morals, okay?”

Mandy paused, then nodded. “I know that feeling,” she said. “Right now, I know it in spades.”

Holland snorted. “You’re a lawyer.”

“Not a rich one. Oh. I almost forgot. My rates. My billable’s… actually not hugely relevant, today. You’re in luck. I can flat-fee this for fifteen hundred bucks.”

Holland stared, then laughed. “If I had fifteen hundred bucks—”

“We have flexible payment plans available. Jesus, I’m not gonna drive all this way and then force you to default. That’s just a stupid way to work pro bono without the community service benefit. No money down. But.”

“But?”

“But I want you to consider helping the police and DETAILS.”

Holland rolled his eyes. “Why would I possibly do that at this point?”

“Well, DETAILS is coming all this way to make sure your rights are upheld, so you kind of owe them. And the police want to take Calhoun down several pegs.”

“And then I’m killed and my brother Jake is killed. No fucking thank you.”

Mandy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, because I’m gonna drive all this way, fight my way in, call down DETAILS attack dogs and then lowball my own rate because I’m stupid and don’t know he’ll kill you. Christ, Holland, grow up. I get that you need help supporting yourself and your brother. I get that you’ll both need protection. I get all that.”

“And you have a solution?”

“Me myself? No. But DETAILS will. And here’s the thing. You don’t owe Calhoun’s men anything. This was your first big criminal enterprise. If you walk away now, but make it clear you kept your mouth shut? The syndicate’s not gonna love you but they’re also not gonna kill you. And if you do that? I’ll be fine with it. You can go… find something else to do with your time. Or even keep working as an independent crook. Hell. I know a few guys in the Service. If you’re determined to be a bad guy we can at least get you and Jake away from Meridian.” Mandy shrugged. “Or we can find something else for you — something that’s not criminal — and make sure Jake’s taken care of. It might mean working for DETAILS for a while, but they’re a damn sight better than Jake fending for himself after you end up Sepulchered.”

“Se-what?”

“You’re not familiar? It’s the major federal parahuman criminal prison. The Thomas L. Banting Memorial Correctional something something something. The Buzzard likes to call it ‘Thomas Banting’s Sepulcher’ and the nickname stuck. The Sepulcher sucks. You don’t want to go there.”

“So now you’re threatening me?”

Mandy snorted. “Mister Holland. Flux. Right now? I’m literally the only person in the building who’s actually on your side. If you decide you want to stay a crook, okay. If you just want to walk away? Okay. If you want to cooperate? Okay. If you want to try another round of being a hero? Okay. I’m not going to try to live your life.” Mandy sat down opposite Holland. “But right now, today, you’ve only been arrested for this one criminal act. All right, that includes property damage, assault, battery, attempted murder—”

“I didn’t try to kill anyone!”

“You swung a burning fist capable of punching through steel, aiming right for Vortex’s jaw. That’s attempted murder, whether or not you figured she’d use wormholes and gates to throw you off. It doesn’t matter — all that’s getting scrubbed because West lost his cool on tape. You have a do-over, Holland. Not one out of a hundred people in your position get that. And whether or not you retain my services? I think you should take it.”

“Fine. So I get out of the criminal business. Why would I want to help DETAILS or the cops out? Huh?”

“You’d have to answer that for yourself.” Mandy paused. “How’d you know about West’s son?”

Holland blinked, and looked away. “Happened while I was still working at the clinic.”

“What was his name?”

“I didn’t kill him.

“I know.” Mandy’s voice was soft. “But he’s dead, and I feel like I should know his name.”

Holland closed his eyes. “Leland.”

“Leland West. Nice name.” Mandy shrugged. “I don’t have a good reason why you’d want to help DETAILS or the cops. But I bet you can come up with a few reasons to want to avoid more Leland Wests from happening.”

“If Calhoun doesn’t supply the shit, someone else will. Someone always does. Because people always want it. Because you can’t magically make drugs just go away. It’s never worked and it never will.

“Believe it or not? I know that too.” Mandy leaned forward. “But you can help stop this one thing, in this one place. And sometimes, that’s all we get to do.” Mandy looked down at the desk. “I used to think I could save the world. Then the world told me I was wrong, in no uncertain terms. Now? I can’t even keep a half-psychotic Eastern European from traumatizing my nine year old kid. But I can make damn sure you get as fair a shake as possible from the system. That’s what I can do. Here. Today.” She paused. “But it’ll still cost you fifteen hundred dollars to retain me for this case. I still have to feed both that nine year old and her sixteen year old sister, not to mention a husband who thought ‘philosophy professor’ would be a great career.”

Holland laughed. “Man. My Mom was a college teacher. Lecturer. MFA. Musical theater. Never quite made it to assistant professor. I miss her.”

“I bet.”

“Alright. Do I sign something.”

“As a matter of fact, you do.”

Holland nodded. “What happens then?”

“Then? I let the the East Meridian P.D. know I’m your lawyer of record, and set a time to meet with the prosecutor. I’m gonna try to grab him today so you won’t have to sit here too long, but only after DETAILS pokes around, so I’ll have dinner first.”

“Are you sure they’ll be that willing to let me go?”

“With DETAILS breathing down their necks? Damn right they’ll be that willing to let you go.”

“And Vortex won’t come after me the minute I walk out of the building? She may hold a grudge.”

Mandy snickered. “Vortex? Not one for grudges, usually. Mostly she just wants to sit in her office and write equations in a notebook. Longhand. In green ink. Always in green ink. They usually have to remind her to sleep.”

Holland paused. “Do you… know Vortex?”

Mandy paused as well. “Setting aside the answer is obviously ‘yes’ for a moment, let’s pretend I came up with a clever deflection, okay? I really don’t want to get into it.”

Holland laughed. “Fine by me. ’Sides. I don’t want to fight her again.”

“Hey, how’d she beat you, anyway? You’re pretty durable — I know why you couldn’t put a hand on her because that’s who she is, but…”

Holland shook his head. “You know those wormhole things she opens up? She opened one in front of me, with the other end at the bottom of Meridian Bay. Hit me like an ice cold freight train, not even counting the fish. I don’t do well with that much cold.” Holland snorted. “So it’s safe to assume it’ll take more than a couple hours to meet with the D.A.?”

“You assume right.”

“Well. Someone has to pick up Jake from the archery range. Or doesn’t that fifteen hundred cover that?”

Mandy stared at Holland. “Jesus Christ,” she muttered. “Fine. We’ll need you to write something down he’ll believe. And I won’t lie about where you are.”

“I know.” Holland closed his eyes. “Not lookin’ forward to that conversation, I have to admit.”

“Yeah, I bet. Right.” Mandy stood, collecting her papers. “Keep your mouth shut. Don’t rise to any bait. If you’re asked any questions, tell them I need to be there before you’ll answer. That includes when the DETAILS agent comes to ask you questions about the circumstances of your arrest and custody. But be polite about it.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

“I have to give my own report to the DETAILS agent, including my own recordings from when I got here, talk to the Lieutenant, and go pick your brother up. What’s he like to eat?”

“He’s big on fish.”

“Then I hope he likes whatever fish they have at Denny’s, ‘cause that’s what he’s getting.”

“Hey — what about civil suits?”

Mandy paused. “‘Scuse?”

“You told me I’m not gonna get charged for the crimes. But… a lot of stuff got blown up. Am I… y’know, on the hook for those?”

Mandy snickered. “Very, very much so. You can absolutely be sued. And if it comes up, I’ll bounce your case over to Thompson. Her name’s also on the business card — she’ll farm it out to a junior but it’s still her thing. I mean, I can do civil defense but I’m not an expert on it.”

Holland snorted again. “I guess it’s too much to hope that this all goes away, right?”

Mandy looked at him, then nodded. “Yup. That’s the problem with going super-crook. It involves breaking the law and incurring liability and actually having to live with those choices, forever. The good news is you don’t have to make it any worse.” She walked over to the door and knocked twice. “I’ll be back. Remember what I said about talking to people.” She pressed her watch face. “End of privileged recording.” she said. She let go, waited a count of two, then took hold again. “Shapiro, Mandy. East Meridian Police Department, in regards to client Holland, Daniel. Moving into public areas so this recording is both discoverable and not subject to or bound by attorney/client privilege.”

“Does all that really matter that much?” Holland asked.

“It really does.” The door was opened — the two PATER officers waiting, alongside a DETAILS operative wearing a dark maroon duty jumpsuit. ‘COOMBS’ was written on his name-patch, and his insignia identified him as a Field Associate. “Hello again, gentlemen. Hello, Officer Coombs, my name is Mandy Shapiro, from Jackson, Thompson, Shapiro and Smith. I’m Daniel Holland’s attorney. Please be informed I am—”

“Recording audio and video,” Coombs cut in. “They told me. Agent Theriault’s waiting with the Lieutenant. I’m going to supervise the prisoner’s transfer back to holding and ask him a few questions.”

“Understood. If he answers any of those questions while I’m not present please understand I’ll hit his knuckles with a ruler. Excuse me — I’d better go check in.” She glanced back at Holland, but he was looking down at his hands, which were resting on the table.

Junior Field Agent Marla Theriault was fair skinned but well tanned, with the kind of dirty blonde hair that cost a reasonable amount to get done right, pulled back into a braid. Like Coombs she was wearing one of the maroon duty jumpsuits, but with some extra reinforcement on her elbows and knees, a little more gear on her belt, and insignia that marked her as a Junior Field Agent. On a case at this level, that meant she was likely investigator in charge, and she and Beganza both stood as Mandy walked in. “Ms. Shapiro?” she asked, holding a hand out. “I’m Agent Theriault.”

“Nice to meet you.” Mandy shook her hand, then got out another business card, which she offered the agent. “For the record, yes. I’m Mandy Shapiro, Jackson, Thompson, Shapiro and Smith. I‘m Daniel Holland’s lawyer of record. Please be informed I am wearing a body camera and recording. Please help me appraise the other members of your team so there’s no confusion.”

“That’s how she says hello,” Lieutenant Beganza said, dryly.

Theriault took the card, slipping one of her own out of a case she kept in a belt pouch and handing it to Mandy. “I can understand why. You called in a report of a 717B?”

“I did indeed. So I’ll bet you have a lot of questions for me.”

“I do at that. Would you like to meet privately for this first discussion or can Lieutenant Beganza sit in?”

“I’m happy to have the Lieutenant sit in, though I may decline to answer some questions until we’re in private.”

“Of course. Let’s get into it.”

Filing paperwork and answering Theriault’s questions — and providing her with a copy of her earlier, discoverable recording — took long enough that Mandy was a little worried the prosecutor would show up before she could go pick up Holland’s brother. Still, she managed to make it out with time to spare. She’d just begun to feel relief when Lieutenant Beganza herself offered to walk her to her car.

Mandy said yes, of course.

“You know, we had been having a really good day,” Beganza said as they reached the parking lot. “A really good day. And then you showed up.”

“Yeah, well — were you the one who put West within a mile of this case?” Mandy asked. She had a bit of a headache.

“He’s part of the overall Calhoun investigation,” Beganza said. “And even if he weren’t — our budget and authorization allows for ninety-nine sworn officers plus about twenty support staff, and right now we’re down twelve officers. Eighty-seven police sounds like a lot for a city of fifty thousand, but we have four different divisions and a drug crisis.”

“Twelve officers?”

“Four retirements, two on disability, two maternity leaves.” Beganza paused. “Four casualties.”

Mandy stopped, looking at Beganza. “Four police deaths? In how long?”

“Six weeks.”

Mandy stared, then slowly nodded. She tapped her watch dial, which flashed red. “I just stopped recording, for the record. Lieutenant… utterly off the record, because blah blah ongoing investigations… would you say those four casualties were ‘related to the Calhoun Investigation’ too?”

Beganza snorted. “I can’t discuss operational details, but all four officers were part of our anti-racketeering task force.”

“So you can’t say ‘yes,’ but ‘yes.’ And the Meridian P.D., which is better staffed and equipped, is having a conveniently spectacular run of bad luck that does nothing but help Calhoun.” Mandy stopped as she reached her car. “Lieutenant, you weren’t having a good day. You’re under siege, and your department’s reflecting that. It’s skewing their judgement. Throw in someone like West who’s literally avenging their son, and—”

“I don’t know why you’re telling me all this like I don’t already know it,” Beganza said. “Especially since you’re not exactly on our side, here. You’re an ambulance chaser working for a firm of ambulance chasers who specialize in getting criminals off on technicalities.”

Mandy looked at Beganza for a long moment. “Lieutenant? I was surprised I had to say this to West. I’m stunned I have to say it to you. Everyone has the right to a zealous defense. Everyone. If West hadn’t tried to interfere with Holland’s right to that zealous defense, your so-called good day wouldn’t have been ruined.” She looked back at the police department. “Holland’s never been arrested before. He’s never committed any other public crimes, as near as anyone can tell. Right now? Today? Maybe he can choose something else. Maybe I can help him do that. But every single one of the people in that building who are pissed off at me for trying makes Holland and people like him throw their hands up and say ‘it’s not worth it. I might as well follow the money.’ And the next time they get arrested, I’m not the one who shows up — instead it’s some lawyer owned and operated by Calhoun and there is no getting those kids back.”

“That ‘kid’ did a few hundred thousand dollars of property damage today,” Beganza said. “And could have killed someone. He tried to kill Vortex. And he’s not going to even go to trial for it, is he?”

“I can’t discuss that sort of thing with you, and you know it. But don’t blame me for your department’s hypothetical screwups, Lieutenant. Believe it or not? In a theoretical case just like this one? I’d much rather be trying to negotiate a deal to reduce time, specifically including cooperation with the police. You like looking up my record? Check that out, too, because I do a lot of it. I don’t like the Calhoun Syndicate either. I don’t like them here and I don’t like them back in New Jersey. I have two daughters under the age of eighteen. You think I want meth on my streets?” Mandy leaned closer. “The only possible good that can come out of this mess is convincing Holland to cross the aisle or at least retire from villainy. Stop making that harder.

“If you honestly believe that, then why aren’t you pushing for that anyway? Why bring in DETAILS and get my department audited and yank their win out from under them?”

“Because I’m a professional. If I accept the retainer, I suit up to play. I work for Holland, not the other way around. And let me tell you, I love talking to cops who think all criminal defense lawyers are the enemy. Especially when those ’technicalities’ everyone loves to scoff at? Sometimes — just sometimes — they come from police breaking the law.” Mandy opened the door to her car. “Get West some counseling and distance from all this, or he’s going to ruin his career and Calhoun’s goons won’t even notice he’d been there.” Mandy slid into her car.

“That’s mighty smug of you,” Beganza said. “But you know what, counselor? A lot of the public sees criminals or villains get off scot free after wanton destruction, and they don’t think ‘gosh, I’m glad they got a zealous defense.’ They think ‘Wow. Everyone’s corrupt and the system’s broken and our only hope are vigilante superheroes because the police and the courts and the prisons are all useless.’ How’s that helping your client?”

“Tell me if I’m crazy, but are you rebutting my request that you do your job better by telling me to stop doing my job so well? Because that’s what it sounds like, and gotta say? Not really in my nature to suck on purpose. See you after dinner.”

Beganza scowled a bit, but nodded, letting Mandy shut her car door. Mandy plugged her phone into the car dock, started the engine, and connected to the car kit, before hitting star–1. At that point, she pulled out of her parking spot and headed for the road.

The phone rang three times before the click. It was loud and a little distorted on the car kit’s speakers. “Hello?”

“Hello. Is this Doctor E. Shapiro of 162 Royal Drive, Bay City, New Jersey? My name is Mandy and I’m calling with an exciting opportunity you’d be a fool to miss.”

“All solicitations should be directed to the office of my solicitor, a Ms. M. H. Shapiro, Esquire, Attorney-At-Law, Notary Public, and Certified Swimming Instructor.”

“Ah ah ah. I let my Notary appointment lapse. That’s false advertising, Mister.” Mandy took a deep breath, merging into traffic. “How’s Evvie?”

“She’s dropped to 74th. She fell off the beam, twice.”

“Evvie hasn’t fallen off a balance beam since she was six, and I’m pretty sure she fell that time on purpose.”

“I know. There was another formal complaint lodged by one of the parents attending the meet. They were concerned for Evvie’s safety. Don says that Albescu isn’t physically dangerous, but they’re keeping an assistant team coach in the room with them at all times. Of course, that isn’t exactly improving Albescu’s mood. Unfortunately, he’s the only one with signed paperwork of responsibility, so unless he crosses some nebulous line they can’t just make him leave because they can’t legally be responsible for Evvie.”

“Yeah, that’s some bullshit right there. They’re legally responsible for Evvie as the venue and event authority and because he’s acting as their certified agent. They have a duty to ensure our daughter’s safety at their event and a duty to ensure her safe return from their event if their agent can’t reasonably be expected to safely discharge his duties. Also? Pretty sure we can fax whatever paperwork they need signed to a Kinkos down the road from the event center.” Mandy snorted. “I know this stuff. I’m a lawyer. Which makes me a terrible person, apparently.”

“Why are you terrible this week?”

“Well, you know I can’t get into it, but there’s some procedural errors that probably means their case isn’t strong, and that means I’m the bad guy because I’m pointing them out. Oh, and I may have called DETAILS.”

“Seriously? Did you say hello to Agent Hardesty for me?”

“Bite your God damned tongue. I called the local office, thank you very much. They sent an investigator. Which, y’know, pisses the police off even more.” Mandy shook her head. “Thing is, I get it. This whole situation with Calhoun’s gone to shit around here. There’s dead cops involved, and Calhoun’s gak killed a cop’s kid. It’s hard to take the view from twenty thousand feet in those circumstances.”

“That doesn’t excuse them from their civil responsibility. Ethics exist because we want to act unethically.”

“Yeah, don’t tell these guys that today, Professor Shapiro.” She shifted lanes. “I may be able to pull this kid back across the aisle. Depends on what I can get from DETAILS and the cops. And if I can keep my temper.”

“You can’t.”

“My beloved husband.” Mandy shook her head. “I hate feeling helpless, Evan.”

“You’re not helpless. You’re making a difference. You wouldn’t be there if you weren’t.”

“There are degrees. And… I gotta admit. The bullshit Albescu’s pulled and his finally going over the boiling point? So help me—”

“I can’t help you. And you can’t go down that path, Mandy.” Evan’s voice was soft. Patient. And annoyingly certain. But then, Evan was always annoyingly certain.

“You know what? I’m a little tired of being told what I can or can’t do, or should or shouldn’t do, or anything like it. After all these years…”

“After all these years it’s still under the surface of your skin, begging to be let out. Only it’s nothing separate. It’s you.”

“I know. Okay? I know. I set the rules, remember? No one else.”

“That doesn’t mean you can break them. Are you wearing your monitor?”

“You mean my watch? Yes, Evan. I’m wearing my watch. I’m always wearing my watch. Why would you possibly think I’d stop? I run my custom A/V rig through it, for Christ’s sake.”

“I don’t make assumptions. You know that.”

“Yeah. I know that. God damned philosopher. This is why Danni doesn’t want to talk to you, you know.”

“I do know, yes.”

Mandy took a deep breath. “Did she?”

“Yes.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her she could be anything she wanted. And didn’t have to be anything she didn’t want. And that I was so proud of her it was crazy. She may have cried.”

“Danni? Cry? Perish the thought.” Mandy snickered. “You should know she’s listening to you right now.”

“No she isn’t. I’m sitting in the piano booth. I was practicing when you called.”

Mandy blinked. “You haven’t practiced the piano for years.”

“I’m aware. And yet, my fingers aren’t sore. So I keep going.”

“Evan. You have to stop before they get sore. By the time they complain it’s too late.” Mandy paused. “Son of a bitch, you made me yell at myself, didn’t you?”

“Yes. I did. And you fell for it. But you’re right. You can’t push, Mandy — by the time you feel the pain—”

“I know.

“I… haven’t asked for a while. Have they made any progress with…”

“What? Fixing me? No idea. I don’t talk to them. Ever. I can’t. You know I can’t.”

“I was hoping they might have contacted you with good news. Even after all this time—”

“That’s not how this works.” Mandy pulled off the main drag and pulled into a parking lot of a warehouse. A painted-on-arrow went down its length, touching the circles of a target. “And I gotta go. I have to pick my client’s brother up.”

“From what?”

“Archery. He’s a wannabe Olympian, because of course he is. Because I need that reminder today. So what do we do with Evvie?”

Evan didn’t say anything.

“What?” she asked, softly, while she pulled into a space.

“We keep in touch. And we get her home. And we try to make it up to her,” Evan said.

“If you figure out how, let me know.” Mandy took a deep breath, the engine idling. “Evan…”

“It’s harder today than it’s been in years, because you’re scared for Evvie and you’re trying not to say you told me so even though you did. And the police situation’s extremely tense and you’re worried for your client, and you want to take a direct hand but you know you can’t. And you’re not making it any easier on the police because you’re pissed off even though you know you shouldn’t be poking them right now.” Evan paused. “Did I get the gist of it?”

“Great. I’m predictable.”

“Just to me. And you know something, Mandalora?”

“What?”

“I love you. And I believe in you. And I only believe in things that are true.”

Mandy closed her eyes. “I know. All of those. Damn it. It’s been almost eleven years. I should be…”

“The past is memory, and memory is always with us. Healing happens when it happens.”

“Shut up. Philosopher. I love you. And right. I have to go pick up an archer and bring him out to a Denny’s because his brother’s an idiot who thought crime sounded like a good idea.”

“Crime often is a good idea, from the perspective of the criminal.”

“I’m hanging up now!” Mandy clapped the phone closed, and took a few deep breaths. Evan was right. She could feel the power, right below the surface of her skin. Always ready. Always a part of her. And more often than not always doing something. She just couldn’t let it do too much. Not if she wanted to live to Danni’s graduation, much less Evvie’s.

She looked at her watch. The watch she’d assured her husband she would keep wearing. She thought about money for a second — someone sentimental wouldn’t ever think of selling a gift like this one, but sentiment was never one of Mandy’s vices. Still, she doubted the watch could even be appraised — heck, one look at the very not-glass ‘glass’ over the face of the watch and most reputable jewelers would assume the watch was counterfeit.

The metal backplate was also aftermarket. If someone looked at it, they’d figure out that whatever it was, it wasn’t steel. Of course, to look at it would mean taking the watch off Mandy’s wrist, which would lead to a whole new and exciting set of consequences. The plate did something to keep an eye on Mandy’s vitals. That had been the deal. That had let Mandy walk away. Walk completely away.

She just had to remember that.

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