11. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 3)

Kimi didn’t care much for Manhattan. The colossal towers of glass, metal, and concrete held little appeal to her. It was far too artificial for her tastes, and altogether too impersonal. It was all glass skyscrapers that seemed to turn the sun around with their reflections, endless, grid-bound roads that cars scuttled along like metal insects, and in between them, the tiny sidewalks on which ordinary people were expected to walk and live. The area around the Parma Station was everything she disliked about Manhattan.

Turning off the road, Sandy drove them into a seemingly innocuous underground parking lot. At one corner of which was an unremarkable automated garage door. Sandy rolled down the window as they drove, and scanned a security card on a sensor, and the door pulled open. It revealed a spiral ramp which continued deeper under street level.

As they continued driving, Kimi found herself feeling on edge for reasons that she couldn’t quite identify. They were so far away from the street.

After descending, Kimi guessed, two or three floors, they arrived at another parking lot, much smaller than the one above them, and considerably cleaner.

‘There are a couple of things I’d like to run through with you before we go in,’ said Sandy as they exited the vehicle and walked through the parking lot to a well lit door. ‘It won’t just be me there, you’ll be pleased to know. You’ll be in a room with Ms. Jansen, and a colleague of mine called Agent Jackson. I should also warn you that we’ve brought in a few of the other individuals who were involved in the event that night.’

Kimi nodded, following Sandy to an elevator. Immediately, Kimi saw that there was something unusual about this door. Her power rising once more, she saw colour, bold and bright, bleed from its surface, weaving together symbols and images.

A mountain chain. Blizzards. ‘Keep.’ Bone resting on stone. ‘Ward.’ Miles and miles of transparent ice. Sleep. ‘Who?’

Sandy had to not only scan a keycard to get in now, but also to scan his fingerprint and his retina. After doing all this, he turned to a camera that was clearly implanted into the wall.

‘Agent Sandy,’ he said with a grin, ‘Are you awake Zara?’

Only then, did Kimi see a change in the door. Images altered, and symbols rewrote themselves.

An ancient key. Light in dark places. ‘Safe.’

Kimi found herself exhausted, even in the brightly lit interior of the elevator. She could not tear her thoughts away from what she’d be doing were she at home. She’d have just finished her nap and would be beginning to read her book with some tea. The thought of her darkened living room, lit only by the soft orange light of her desk lamp, made the bright, fluorescent-lit surroundings all the more irritable.

‘How goes the investigation?’ she said to Sandy, hoping to distract herself from her longing for home, ‘Are you any closer to working out what happened?’

Sandy tilted his head from side to side, ‘Well, I can’t say too much for risk of compromising the investigation, but we are moving forwards with some promising leads. Currently, we’re making progress, and I think that the investigation will be wrapped up soon enough.’ He smiled.

Kimi was not familiar with how investigations progressed, but even she could tell that what Sandy had just told her was a non-statement. They were in all likelihood no closer to working out what had happened than they were before.

‘That’s good to hear,’ she said smiling pleasantly back, ‘I am very eager to hear of any developments that you might have come across.’

The elevator stopped and the two of them disembarked. The room they emerged into was a small antechamber, with three elevator doors lining it. On the side they were facing was a frosted glass window with a glass door.

Words were written in a serious font, transparent on the frosted glass. They read:

‘Paranormal Mediation and Administration: Global Headquarters and Manhattan Precinct’

They entered the door, and as they did so, Kimi felt momentarily disoriented. She saw none of the bright flowing colours that she normally associated with her powers, but she did feel something shift and alter with it. She stumbled a little and paused, frowning.

Sandy seemed to have been looking for this.

‘Security measures,’ he said by way of explanation, ‘Are you alright? It can be disorienting.’

‘Quite well, Agent Sandy,’ she said, gathering her wits and continuing after him.

They had emerged into a reception. At the desk was a middle-aged woman wearing a black headscarf in addition to her black uniform, with the word ‘security’ on a badge on her chest. She was talking to another woman, small, with pale blue eyes and pale blonde hair kept in an impeccable bun, wearing the same kind of suit as Sandy.

The pair had clearly just shared a joke that Kimi and Sandy had entered too late to catch. Still grinning, the woman with the headscarf turned to Sandy with a familiar gaze.

‘Hey, Sandy,’ she said, then her gaze fell on Kimi. Her expression froze, and then she turned back to Sandy. For a heartbeat, Kimi thought that she saw an almost pained wince cross the woman’s face.

‘Mrs Hashiji will just need to sign in,’ Sandy said cheerly.

The woman nodded once, and pushed a sign in book in front of her.

In an elegant hand, Kimi scrawled her name.

She tried to smile sweetly to the woman in the headscarf as she pushed the book back, but she didn’t make eye contact. Kimi’s gaze then passed to the agent with her hair in a bun. Kimi looked into the woman’s pale blue eyes and saw in them a barely contained ocean of rage and loathing. Her mouth was being held in a practised neutral expression, but she clearly could not suppress the emotion in her eyes.

It was the very same look that the man with the hammer had given her.

Kimi politely lowered her gaze. A little awkwardly, she followed Sandy through a set of doors out of the reception, feeling the eyes of the pair on her back the whole way.

When they had passed out of ear-shot, Kimi said, ‘They were present during the attack.’ It was not a question.

‘Yes,’ said Sandy carefully, ‘They were.’ Kimi had assumed that this was all he was going to say, but glancing at Sandy’s face a moment later she realised that he was merely putting words in order. He turned to look directly at her, still walking. ‘No one blames any of you for the attack, Kimi. We all understand that you were under compulsion and can’t be held responsible for your actions – that’s not in doubt.’ Sandy’s voice sounded somehow more real than it had done in the past to Kimi, ‘But they’re people. They know that you aren’t to blame, but it’s hard for them to convince the emotional part of their mind.’

Sandy turned back to face where they were going, but Kimi could tell from his body language that he was desperate to hear what she had to say.

‘I understand,’ she said, firmly. For a moment, she wondered if she should ask the question  that had occurred to her. She decided not to phrase it as a question. ‘I can’t help but notice that you yourself seem much more talented at separating emotions from facts.’

From his body language, Kimi could tell that part of him was pleased.

‘Well, believe it or not, Mrs Hashiji,’ he said, his tone returning to the one Kimi was used to, ‘I’ve actually dealt with similar cases before.’

Kimi didn’t realise that Sandy was inviting her to ask more questions until they reached their destination. Sandy led the way through the spartan grey corridors, identical to those they had walked through before on the night of the event. Idly, Kimi wondered if they were in the exact same place, or merely a different part of the same facility.

Finally, they walked through a door and into a room not dissimilar from the small room that the nine had been left in after the attack. Inside was a circular table, and two people sat down at it.

One was an enormous, fat man dressed in a suit. He had thinning hair, a walrus moustache, and the baggy-eyed expression of someone who’d seen a lot, but the smile lines around his eyes of someone who wasn’t overly concerned with what he had seen. He was incredibly wide, and seemed perched precariously on the chair as if he would topple forward and roll around the floor if he wasn’t too careful. He smiled when he saw them, and said, ‘Well look what the cat dragged in!’

He would have, quite possibly, been the largest man that Kimi had ever seen. If it wasn’t for the other figure at the table.

‘Good evening, Mrs Hashiji,’ said the big man from the meeting, immediately standing, ‘I trust that you are well?’

Kimi looked at Costa properly for the first time. The most overwhelming thing about his appearance was his size, of course. He was well over six feet tall, possibly even seven feet. But he wasn’t just tall. Four of Kimi’s stature could have comfortably stood shoulder to shoulder within his frame. From the cut of his smart button-up shirt and beige pants, it was difficult to make out whether his broadness was mostly fat, or muscle, but he seemed to have an abundance of both. He was bald, and on his nose, a very small pair of spectacles perched.

There was something else too. The tiniest, barest hint of a flicker around his body. The little wisps of colour twisted and whirled, making brief impressions in Kimi’s mind.

A veil fluttering in the wind. ‘Hush!’ A crowd of hundreds, a pickpocket among them.

‘Thank you, Mr Costa, I am,’ said Kimi.

‘And Agent Sandy,’ he said, turning, ‘It is likewise very good to see you too.’

Sandy went in to shake Costa’s hand. The big man pulled back a little, with an apologetic smile, saying, ‘My apologies, Agent Sandy, but I am not in the habit of shaking hands.’

Sandy took this in stride, ‘Probably for the best – I think I might be coming down with a cold.’ He then turned to the other man in the room, ‘Sorry, Jackson, traffic was crazy this time of day.’

‘Don’t mention it,’ said Jackson. His voice was of a much higher pitch than Kimi had expected, ‘We’re still waiting on Monica and the doctor.’

‘Well,’ said Sandy, taking a seat along with Kimi, ’I suppose that we may as well get started now, that way we can finish up quicker when they get here. Is that alright with you two?’

Kimi and Costa looked at each other. For a moment, it seemed that Costa was trying to indicate something to her, but she couldn’t parse his meaning, ‘I see no reason not to,’ she said.

Costa coughed lightly, ‘I think it may be best if we wait for Ms Jansen before discussing anything too sensitive with regards to the case. I am not certain how comfortable I am speaking without representation.’

Sandy raised his hands, palms up. ‘Oh no, of course, it won’t be anything sensitive,’ he said, his brows furrowed, ‘No, what we wanted to do today is to try and establish a timeline of events. It won’t be anything outside confirming what you’ve already told us. I’m sure that even Ms Jansen wouldn’t oppose that.’

Costa extended an enormous ring finger, and pushed his spectacles a little further up his nose. ‘Very well, I can’t conceive of the harm in that,’ he said, at last.

Sandy practically beamed, ‘Excellent! So, as we know, the attack took place on the twenty-fourth of February, ten days ago now,’ he turned to Costa, ‘Mr Costa, would you mind giving me a complete rundown of your actions on the twenty-thrid of February?’

Costa raised his gaze to the ceiling for a moment, and then gave them a complete rundown of his day. He told them that he lived alone in downtown Manhattan. On that day, he had awoken around half seven in the morning, had breakfast, and headed to work. He worked in one of the libraries as a part-time assistant, so had spent the majority of the day stacking books, helping with minor IT problems, and dealing with people’s requests.

‘Anything stand out in your memory about that day?’ said Jackson.

Costa shook his head, ‘Nothing more than the ordinary problems of working in a library in the city. I had to move along a few loiterers, maybe a few people who could have been… making unsavoury transactions amongst themselves.’

‘So, drug dealers?’ said Jackson.

‘In a word, yes, though I don’t like to speculate. That is the domain of the authorities, of course. Though,’ he paused for a moment, as if searching for the words, ‘My not inconsiderable stature does go some way to deterring such activities from areas where I am stationed.’

Kimi noticed that Jackson was busily writing everything that was being said, and that the more Costa spoke, the more exasperated he looked in trying to keep up with his vocabulary.

‘So,’ said Sandy, ‘After work, you went straight home?’

‘Yes, but,’ here Costa started to look uncomfortable, as if trying to pick his next words carefully.

‘Take your time,’ said Kimi, almost without realising it. She had momentarily forgotten that the two of them were being questioned by the authorities.

Costa smiled at her. ‘The wages of a part-time library assistant are not spectacular, and as such I occasionally have to engage in other work in order to keep up with the expenses of living in such a metropolitan area. That evening, I was working as a doorman and security enforcer at an establishment downtown.’

‘You work as a bouncer?’ said Jackson.

Costa grimaced a little, ‘You know, I really don’t like that title. But yes.’

‘So,’ said Jackson, ‘Would you say there’s a connection between your abilities and the life you led before?’

Kimi thought she saw Costa’s jaw clench, if only for a second, ‘You might say that, yes.’

After that, Costa described the rest of a quiet evening. Coming in around two in the morning, he had gone to bed and fallen asleep quickly.

‘You don’t remember anything unusual in the sleep?’ said Sandy, ‘No visions or unusual dreams. Just a sound night’s sleep?’

‘Precisely as you say,’ said Costa.

‘So, you went to sleep. And the next morning, that’s when the attack happened?’ said Sandy.

‘Yes,’ said Costa, looking for words, ‘The next completely clear memory I have is regaining consciousness after the next day, so on the morning of the twenty-fifth. I was on the boat, and before I properly knew what was happening, I was being arrested,’ he looked at Sandy and smiled a little ironically, ‘By you, if I recall.’

‘So you woke up with no memories of the previous day?’

‘Just a few scattered ones,’ said Costa, with a shrug.

‘At what point did you notice that you were,’ Sandy paused for a heartbeat, ‘Physically altered?’

Costa didn’t move or speak for a few seconds. Kimi felt a nearly overwhelming urge to pat one of the huge hands that he had placed on the table. Costa was about to go on speaking, when  the door opened and into the room walked Monica Jansen, with suspicion in her dark eyes.

Previous: 10. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 2)

Next: 12. The Man Bearing Flames and a Hammer (Part 4)

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