The jailhouse stank of disinfectant and the lingering smell of old piss. There was a cot in the corner with a wafer-thin mattress on top and the paint on the bars and wall was faded, and peeling slightly. But the bars themselves were still sturdy, separating me from the outside world where, even now, the Grandmaster still lurked. Already a few hours had passed since the explosion at the diner. It was getting close to dawn.
The small town jail had only two cells, and Suzy occupied the one beside me. She was lounging on her cot with complete calm and confidence, while I paced nervously and stole glances at the parts of the police station I could see from jail. On one of the desks a young woman with blonde hair, also wearing a deputy’s uniform, sat and stole furtive glances back at us. She occasionally touched softly at her hip, where her gun lay in her holster. Perhaps, for reassurance. She was afraid of us.
“You guys have to hear what I have to say! It’s really important!” I shouted at her. She stole another glance at me before looking away without any reply.
“Annoying isn’t it? Being normal and powerless, having to suffer under other people’s rules?” Commented Suzy. I could hear the cheeky grin in her voice. “Of course, say the word and this jail won’t be a problem anymore. Police won’t bother you either.”
“No deal. Haven’t thrown the towel yet,” I muttered.
“Think of what danger the Grandmaster might pose while you’re stuck in this cell!” she begged, her voice switching from mocking to sincere and heartfelt at a moment’s notice. So believable too… Until you realized who was speaking those words. “Think of the lives that are at risk! And you could save them too… If only you admitted to being wrong and opened your mind to new possibilities!”
“Possibilities of becoming a monster,” I barked back, shooting her an angry look. “Why are you so keen on turning me into an alien abomination anyways?”
She got up from her cot in one fluid motion and walked towards the bars closest to me. “Now THAT’S an interesting question,” she said.
“Well…?” I asked, when she did not elaborate. Her smile stayed in place as she tilted her head sideways, as if considering something.
“Curiosity,” she responded at last.
I frowned, glaring at her as she, again, refused to elaborate further. “Well…? Explain your bullshit!” I said at last.
“I wonder what would happen to you if you ascended, and shed your humanity for something… Grander. What it would do to your perceptions, your ideals. To who you are!” Her grin widened at that, becoming less mischievous and more psychotic. “I really, REALLY want to see what it would do to you!”
I grimaced. “Yeah, that’s making me LESS likely to change my mind, actually. It’s really creeping me out.”
She shrugged, her face reverting to a blank and peaceful expression. “I’ll be here when you decide to admit you’re wrong,” she said.
“If,” I corrected her. “Not ‘when’. Until then you can preen and be creepy all you want, but that’s not changing my mind.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of a car as it parked outside the station. The policewoman noticed too, and stood up to welcome the Sheriff and other policeman that entered the station. They immediately moved to another room, out of view, and I heard a furious debate all in whispers, too low for me to understand what they were saying.
When the sheriff walked into the cell area with the other two police in tow, he had a serious expression that meant business.
“I think it’s time we ask you two a few questions,” he said. The look he gave me when saying that was not friendly, and sunk my already meagre hopes that I could convince him to help me.
“Sure, ask away,” I replied.
“Name?” Asked the sheriff, staring intently at me. I had been brought to a desk on the front of the station and sat on a chair with my hands cuffed behind my back. No interrogation room in this small town police station, by the look of it.
“Umm, Cody Thomas Melo,” I answered. My throat felt dry and I swallowed nervously. This was going to decide if I had a chance or not with Suzy’s ‘bet’.
“Do you happen to have any ID to confirm that, sir?” Asked the sherif. “Only we didn’t find anything on you or your friend that could say who you are.”
I winced, and immediately cursed myself for being so obvious with how I felt. I was on edge. “No, I don’t have any ID with me right now. Look, more importantly, there’s a dangerous man out there! He might strike again soon, and you need to act to stop - ”
He silently raised his hand, stopping me in my tracks. “Sir, before we go there I would like to have a way to ID you or your friend… Do you have any ID on your house, or do you know anyone from this town who could at least vouch that you are who you say you are?”
Everyone who knew us by name in this town were now dead. Sacrificed to an eldritch Goddess, or killed by her newest child. “Err… Sorry, none of us have any ID.”
“I see.” These words dropped by the sheriff like gilliotines, and I could see in his eyes that my chances of being believed had dropped even further. Not good. “And you were saying about something dangerous that’s going to happen…?”
“Yeah! There’s a dangerous... Umm, a dangerous guy out there, and he’s going to kill more people. So you have to stop him! He killed all those people in the diner!”
“He killed the people in the diner? Did you see that with your own eyes?” Asked the sheriff, crossing his arms and listening to me intently.
“Yes! He...” I hesitated, trying to find a good way to make sure they took the threat seriously without sounding like a crazy person. “He’s got a gun! And he’s crazy! Shot everyone in the diner! And then made it explode!”
“And do you know who he is? This crazy person that shot everyone in the diner?”
My expression froze as I briefly considered what to tell the sheriff. To admit I knew the Grandmaster and implicate myself? Or pretend I didn’t know him? “He’s the leader of the New Hope Foundation! The charity that does work around town? Yeah, I saw him. Although, uhh… He’s using a mask! So it might be hard to recognize him. If anyone says they seen an ugly-looking...”
“But you still knew it was him,” added the sheriff. Less a question, more of a statement.
“Uh, yeah. Well, he was talking and raving. Said he was going to keep killing people. Something about ‘saving the world’? Seriously, he’s crazy!”
The other man, who until now was listening to the interrogation while holding a recorder, chimed in at this point. “But he lived here for at least twenty years and has never...”
The sheriff quietly raised his hand, and stopped him in his tracks while still not taking his eyes off me. “So you recognized him, even with this mask?” He asked me. “And you know he plans to kill more people?”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I confirmed. “I - ”
He interrupted me. “Mr Melo, did you know personally the man you’re accusing, before he committed this crime? And if so, what was your relationship with him?”
I prevented myself from wincing this time, but the question still had me cursing internally. Again, I considered distancing myself from him, but… Something was off. Did he know I was staying at the Grandmaster’s house? He might know. Getting caught in a lie would be bad, but that left me with an equally unpleasant alternative.
“I… I was staying at his house,” I confessed at last.
“Really? Why? And for how long?”
“About a week. He sometimes let people stay there, when they needed a home, part of his charity work. Yeah, that’s why we were staying there! Yes! Me and my friend, Suzy! We’re both… Um, Vagrants. So we have no ID! So that’s why he let us stay in his home.”
“I see. So you were staying in his home temporarily as part of the, hmm ‘New Hope Foundation’ charity’s efforts? Is that it?” Asked the Sheriff.
“Yes!” I replied, grateful that it was all falling into place. Maybe I could convince him after all. “We were staying there until today.”
“Then do you know what happened to the other members of the charity?”
My heart sank as my mind raced to deal with this sudden change in focus. “Um, the… other members?”
“Yes, the other people who volunteered and worked for the charity. Do you know what happened to them?” He asked again, watching my reaction carefully. How much did he know? Come to think of it, they must have disappeared for more than a day by now.
“Have they gone missing?” I ventured.
“So you DO know something,” he said in a low, menacing voice. “Tell us what you know, then.”
Something tells me that being party to a mass suicide and not calling the police wouldn’t endear them to me or my warnings. I had to think fast.
“I - I don’t know much! Only that the Grandmaster - ” I barely hesitated, cursing as I realized my slip-up. “Umm, he called himself the Grandmaster. He and the other members of the foundation all went on a trip to the woods! Some spiritual meditation or something. But only he came back! Yeah, and he was acting weird! So me and Suzy got suspicious, and when he left in the middle of the night, we followed him to the diner where - ”
The sheriff stopped me with a gesture once more. “Hold on, back up there for a sec. When did the charity members go on this… Trip to the woods, you said?”
“Umm… Last night. Not this night that just passed, but the one before that. They left in the afternoon, though.”
“And the… Grandmaster. Did he come back alone?”
“Yeah. That’s what me and Suzy found weird. So we followed him...”
“If he returned home, then can you please explain why his car wasn’t in the garage today?”
“I… What?” I froze in my tracks, looking at him with wide eyes. Dead giveaway, but I couldn’t help it.
“His car is not in his garage. I checked,” said the sheriff. “Nor is any other car there.”
“Umm, I don’t know… Maybe he walked back?”
“Did you know that his neighbour has a security camera? And that the camera also catches the entrance of his house?”
Fuck no. “No… Is that important, somehow?” I said, doing my best to appear calm. I was not being very successful.
“It does. We went through it yesterday, after discovering him and his entire charity group had gone missing.. And again, just a few hours ago. No signs of anyone entering or leaving the house. The same one you said you had returned to.”
I opened my mouth, sure something would come up. An explanation or excuse that I could conjure… But I couldn’t. My bullshit lies reserves, never very liquid to begin with, had now finally dried up. I had no more left to give.
“You’re lying, Mr. Melo,” said the Sheriff. His tone grave, accusatory, but not surprised. He never had trusted me from the start. “You’re lying in testimony and you were found in the middle of a destroyed diner, without any injuries but still covered in debris and soot. You and your friend have no identification at all. Also, since you came to this town a week ago, more than eighteen people have gone missing, and now at least five are presumed dead because of the diner. Does that cover everything?”
The silence that followed was devastating. The two other deputies were looking at me guardedly, suspicion in their eyes. The sheriff kept the same cool demeanor as he stared at me with his arms crossed in front of his chest. I had no allies here, no friends. And yet, their lives depended on me.
“Did you do it?” Asked the Sheriff, his voice quiet now. The real reason I had been called to this interrogation.
“Listen,” I said, looking nervously from one to the other. “The one important fact I want you guys to understand is that… There’s a dangerous man - ”
The sheriff let out a sigh of impatience. “Take him back to his cell. The FBI is coming this afternoon, I suppose it’ll be their mess to clear then.”
The deputy grabbed me by my shoulders and started to lift me from my chair, but I resisted, and pulled away.
“I am not lying about this: People are going to die unless you do something about it!” I shouted.
The deputy pulled away, his eyes wide, but the sheriff seemed undisturbed. “So you say. Take them away.”
“They’re going to DIE! Tonight! They’re going to die and it will all be your fault! Because you sat here and did NOTHING while people are being killed. Fuck’s sake, LISTEN TO ME!” I raged, losing all control. I had shouted the last part as loud as I could and was now panting in my chair, my hands still handcuffed behind my back. The two deputies looked at each other uncertainly.
“Hey,” said the woman, addressing the sheriff. “Think we should patrol a little, just in case - ?”
“Orders are to watch over the suspects and not let them out of our sight at any cost,” said the sheriff. He was frowning, but still seemed less distraught than his deputies. “Don’t like the idea of having less people in the station while these guys are in here.”
“He’s planning… A disease!” I said. “He’s going to use it to kill a lot of people! And he’s desperate too, so he’ll do it to cause as much damage as possible -”
“You have any proof?” He interrupted, glaring at me.
“Are you willing to risk people’s lives on this?” I asked him.
Another silence followed, and I could see the internal debate going on in his mind, as he looked down at nothing in particular, lips pressed firmly together and brow creased in a frown.
“Um,” the male deputy broke the silence and, when all eyes turned to him, swallowed nervously before continuing. “I could give a few places a call, at least? A warning, of sorts? Couldn’t hurt, right?”
He smiled out of sheer nervousness, but the sheriff didn’t return it. But he looked down in deep thought for a moment, then seemed to reach a conclusion.
“Do that then,” he said. “But first put this guy back in his cell.”
The deputy followed his orders promptly and professionally, despite my protests. Now I was stuck back in the smelly jail cell while waiting for the next shoe to drop. Suzy’s innocent smile from the other jail cell wasn’t helping.
“What? Not going to try and convince me that I need your help?” I said, shooting her an annoyed look.
“I can wait,” she replied, with a cheerful smile and a twinkle in her eye.
I was about to reply with something suitably sarcastic when the male deputy called over the sheriff, while trying to hide the alarm in his voice. Unsuccessfully.
“What is it?” Asked the sheriff in hushed tones. I strained my ear to her their conversation.
“Umm… Sir? I was calling potential targets and… Umm...” the deputy hesitated, and glanced quickly at my cell. Our eyes briefly met, and I could tell he was afraid.
“Get to the point,” said the sheriff, drawing back his attention.
“The pumping station north of here is not picking up my calls.” He said those words all as fast as he could, as if afraid they would stall mid-conversation. What followed them was another tense silence.
“You sure?” Asked the sheriff. “Called the right number and everything?”
“Yeah, I double-checked it… And, sir?” Another nervous pause. “I also called their head office and got the cell phone of the guy that should be working there. Called that, and got no response either.”
The female deputy got up from her chair and summed up all of our feelings with a single word.
“Shit...” She glanced nervously at the jail we were in, and bit her lip.
The sheriff was silent, looking at us, then looking back at the deputy as he nervously wiped beads of sweat off his brow. He clenched his fists, but remained silent.
“Sir...?” The deputy looked pleadingly at his superior, asking for any direction, any light in this crazy situation they now found themselves in.
“Get the two prisioners, cuff them and put them in the car,” said the sheriff at last. “We’re all taking a trip together to the pumping station. That way they don’t stay out of our sight and we can still investigate it.” As the two deputies spurred into motion he shouted. “You two take care of that while I’m calling the feds and getting them to haul their asses here ASAP. Quickly! I want to be out of here in five minutes!”