Sunday, January 29, 2017

Father of the Rat

“Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” –Alfred Pennyworth, “The Dark Knight” (2008)

January 29, 2017,
17:29 local time,
Imperial Study, Imperial Residence,
Sudbury, Ontarian Empire

“Mr. Castro,” said Ontarian Emperor Paul Ratzinger, standing and staring pensively out of his glass wall as Juan Castro entered the room. “I’m so glad to see you here.”
“I’m glad to be here too,” said Castro, beaming a wide smile as Ratzinger’s aides closed the large steel doors behind him.

Castro walked forward, slowly and carefully, taking in Ratzinger’s ornate and expansive quarters. As a muscular man who enjoyed the high life, there was very little Castro ever came across that actually intimidated him, but for the first time in a long time, Castro was struck with awe. It wasn’t because Ratzinger’s study was a unique style of ostentation- to Castro, it was actually quite tame- but because of the gravity of who Ratzinger was.

Mostly in a bid to stifle opposition and other threats to the government, Ontarian officials- right down to the lowest members of the Ontarian court- were officially nameless, their identities only known by the Emperor and the Imperial Guard. Very rarely did anyone speak in public, almost always communicating via press releases or Internet postings, with extra care taken to conceal the Emperor’s identity.

Not even Castro, one of the most well-connected men in the world, had ever met the Emperor or heard his voice, so Castro knew today was of special significance. What, he did not know.

Still, Castro did his best to hide his nerves, looking on calmly and keeping his hands behind his back. The Emperor paid him no heed, continuing to look outside of his tinted glass wall and stare, pensively.

“Have a seat,” said Ratzinger. “I didn’t bring it out for show.” The Emperor ordered an aide to get Castro a bottle of wine as Castro, who this time couldn’t hide his shock, took the seat in front of Ratzinger’s desk.

“Are you going to join me?” asked Castro. “I don’t like drinking alone.” He then flashed another smile in a feeble attempt to break the tension but the Emperor continued his pensive stare, unmoved.

A few more minutes uneventfully, upon which Castro decided to pour himself some wine. A few more uneventful minutes later and Castro started to drink from his glass.

“With all due respect, Your Highness,” said Castro, confused at what was happening. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t invite me to your desk just to watch you stare out of the window.”

The Emperor continued to stare before letting out a sigh. He was a bald man, physically fit in his old age, though his skin showed the signs of all the cosmetic surgeries he had to endure to wipe away the many wrinkles that formed on his face. He did his best to fight Father Time, even though he knew that it would ultimately be a losing battle.

“I understand Juan,” said Ratzinger, whose residence overlooked the serene waters of Lake Wanapitei, waters that calmed the Emperor. “It just takes me a while to collect my thoughts.”
“Collect away,” said Castro, beginning to get impatient. Ratzinger then sighed.

“You know I don’t have much time left,” said Ratzinger, turning around and looking right at Castro, his face still expressionless. “The disease that afflicts me has taken a hold of me in ways that I’m not sure I can overcome.”
“Oh,” said Castro, spooked by Ratzinger’s candid but emotionless display. Castro then understood the gravity of Ratzinger’s words, and did little to hide his concerns for the Emperor. “What kind of disease is it? I’m sure there’s a doctor somewhere that can help you…I know a few guys myself…I can give you their numb-”
“That’s all right,” said Ratzinger, brusquely but coolly interjecting. “I admire your empathy, but it is useless for the wider problem.”
“What would that be?” said Castro, intrigued by the Emperor’s sudden, if minor, display of weakness.

The Emperor sat in his chair, a big leather seat with a tall backside that made the chair look even more imposing. He then pulled out a vial himself and began to drink from it.

“I didn’t want to bring it up,” said Ratzinger, “because I know it was such a painful loss.”
“Painful?” said Castro. “Haylie Modine rigged that election against me…no way someone with 24% of the vote wins the Electoral College. No way.”
“It’s nice to know you get past things very easily,” said Ratzinger wryly.
“So you came here to rub it in my face, is that this is all about?” said Castro, not hiding his anger.

The Emperor’s aides all reached for their sidearm pistols before the Emperor motioned them to stop.

“No,” said Ratzinger. “That was never my intention. Haylie worries me too…but, strange as it may be, she won the Electoral College fair and square, even though her party tried to manipulate the process. The good news is that your American party prevents either the Unionists or the Federalists from having a majority in Congress, so whatever ideology she wishes to push, it’ll have significant difficulties.”
“Thanks,” said Castro, off put by Ratzinger’s remarks. “I guess?”
“My real concern is that this continent is at a crossroads,” said the Emperor. “We both know that no matter how much powers Congress claims to have it is really powerless and toothless…we, the states, have the real power, and that was no more evident than what happened this year. Roman influence is waning and Virtue tried to capitalize on it but failed, and failed miserably. Anatu in Assyria showed what the power of the people can do, and that the tide may just be turning against the superpowers.”
“So the time to strike is now,” said Castro, liking what he is hearing. “So where do I fit in?”

The Emperor took a liking to Castro’s eagerness and smiled.

“I want you to become the Chancellor of Ontario,” said Ratzinger. “I will cede decision-making authority to you, so that I can live my final days in peace and not have to worry about the stresses of having to run this Empire. Of course, I will retain reserve powers and will have the ability to veto any legislation I don’t like…but I will promise to you right now that I won’t interfere much, if at all…truth is, Juan, I need to retire, and you are the perfect person to lead Ontario while I do that.”

Castro leaned back, his eyes wide and his mouth agape, caught off guard by the Emperor’s words.

“I’d have to hide my name, though,” said Castro.
“No,” said Ratzinger. “You wouldn’t have to…I want you to be visible…for Ontario to become a world power it needs to start becoming ‘accessible’…of course, since you’re really just ruling in my name you can just claim you’re the messenger and no one will know better.”
“What about your family?” asked Castro. “Wouldn’t they be better in succession?”
“You’d think,” said Ratzinger. “I have a son…Carl. My original plan was to give the Empire to him but he…” Ratzinger leaned back and let out a sigh. “His youth is getting in the way…he’s too interested in the vices and pleasuring himself that I can’t convince him to take the reins.”
“Plus a guy like that,” said Castro, “you can never be sure will be responsible enough to be an effective governor.”
“You understand,” said Ratzinger with a smirk.
“Yeah,” said Castro. “I was once that guy.”
“Which is why I hope one day you can reach out to him,” said Ratzinger. “He loved your show, Modern Man…if anyone could reach him, it’s you.”
“Where is he?” said Castro.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Ratzinger. “We’ve only spoken on the phone within the past few years, and he’s always on a burner. I haven’t spoken to him in person in years.”
“That’s odd,” said Castro, “and he’s your son.”

The Emperor let out another sigh.

“Things are difficult to explain,” said Ratzinger. “Carl and I disagree on a lot of things…we haven’t always had the greatest of relationships…but I know that deep down inside, he’d like to repair things. He’s just in that phase, where he wants to ‘find himself’, so it makes sense to me that he rejects his family. Plus I know that I can’t make him want something, even though I know he needs it…he has to want it himself.”

Castro cupped his chin and rubbed it.

“Okay,” said Castro, “and what is it that you think he needs?”
“Power,” said the Emperor succinctly. “He’s an anti-social guy, stuck on the idea that if he causes enough of a ruckus in this world that the people will stand up and notice him. Which they will…but there’s only so much mayhem and destruction you can wrought before the people start fighting back. He needs to know that if the people really want to be beholden of him- and stay beholden to him- he has to gain control over them.”
“Where do I fit in?” said Castro, now intrigued by the Emperor’s words.
“If he sees you, the former playboy in power,” said Ratzinger, “it’ll show him that he still has heights he still needs to achieve.”
“All right,” said Castro with a smile. “I’ll do it. I’ll be your Chancellor.”

“Thank you,” said the Emperor with a very satisfied smile. “Carl is smart enough to rule the world one day…he just needs to take that next step.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Alliance: Nothing As It Seems

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”- James Baldwin, “No Name In The Street” (1972)

December 23, 2016,
04:15 local time,
Lincoln Park,
Chicago, Illinois

“I’ll call you in the morning,” said Helen Hofstrate on the phone, “If I can find the ornament I’ll bring it...I’ll see you soon. Bye Mom.”

The svelte brunette with the bright eyes and an even brighter smile walked down the street with confidence, ecstatic for the future. The nursing student had one more semester to finish at DePaul after which she had multiple offers for employment to consider. She had a loving boyfriend and a very supportive family, one that helped her stay afloat when she accumulated all that debt.

If only she could get the dog from chewing off the table legs, things would be perfect, she thought. Can’t have it all, I guess, she often thought.

As she walked, she felt the crispness of the cold Chicago air against her skin, which helped soothe and relax her from all of her stresses.

Suddenly, though, she was stopped in her tracks and let out a scream.

A baseball bat struck her and sent her to the ground, upon which almost immediately she felt the prick of a needle that injected ketamine into her system. Woozy, Hofstrate felt herself being dragged into the nearby bushes by her legs. Her vision was blurry, but she saw that she was in a small clearing. She didn’t see who her attacker was, but she felt his strong hands on her thighs, where she was being held up with one arm while another hand was fumbling around with the zipper to her pants.

As the attacker managed to undo her pants and pull them down, she let out an inaudible gasp, unable to muster the energy to scream. She then began to pant, extremely anxious for what was going to happen next, as she realized, below her waist, she was completely shorn of her clothes and there was nothing she could do to resist. She closed her eyes and kept breathing, trying to keep her composure, but there was little she could do when her attacker stuck his finger up her vagina and began to service it. She felt helpless as her body was getting aroused, even getting to a point where she reached orgasm.

With her vagina wet, her body aroused but her mind very confused, she let out a huge gasp as she felt her attacker’s penis penetrating her and began to thrust. Shock at this stage took over, as her brain was doing all it could to rectify what was happening. Eventually, the man sped up his thrusts, which sent her body into a torrent of euphoric responses that her brain eventually was unable to resist. When the attacker reached orgasm himself, Hofstrate did as well, the best one she ever reached, as she went through a tidal wave of reactions and emotions inside both her body and her brain doing all it could to understand the gravity of what just happened.

Her attacker then left, leaving her lying there, panting heavily but still shorn of the energy to do much of anything else. She laid there, confused, her emotions crashing together into competing cavalcades of anxiety and euphoria.

Caught in between the ecstasy of achieving incredible sexual excitement amidst the intense shame and humiliation of being conquered and violated, there was little Hofstrate could do but continue lying there, stunned, her body still not feeling like it had any energy even after the effects of the drug wore off.

It was at this time she heard another man’s voice calling out, seemingly to her.

“Oh, by Jove,” said the man, caught by the intense shock of the sight. “Miss, are you okay?”
“Um,” said Hofstrate, her voice coarse as it began to recover its strength. “I…I don’t know.”
“Listen,” said the man, doffing his long overcoat with lots of urgency. “Take my coat…it’s too cold for you to be outside like this. Let me get you to safety.”
“I…I think I would like that,” said Hofstrate, smiling in appreciation. She needed to be helped to her feet, upon which the man took it upon himself to carry her in his arms. Drained, Hofstrate soon fell asleep, as the man dutifully brought her to his car.

December 24, 2016,
08:07 local time,
Mundiali Imperium Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“I apologize for bringing you in on Christmas Eve,” said Mundiali Dux David Wilcox, getting settled in his office.
“That’s okay,” said Wilcox’s guest, Galla Claudia. “You forget, I’m Roman…I don’t celebrate Christmas…and the Saturnalia just passed.”
“Well,” said Wilcox after a chuckle, “I do apologize for bringing you in on a Saturday.”
“That’s also okay,” said Claudia. “You have yourself in quite a bind.”
“Yes,” said Wilcox. “My original investigators didn’t work out…so I’ve asked you to take the reins. If there’s anyone that has effectively managed all the nuances this world brings, it’s you. Also…Danforth Grayson took over The Virus again…so they’re no longer a threat.”
“They could even be an asset,” said Claudia.
“No doubt,” said Wilcox. “You have my blessing if you wish to work with him. Just make sure he has his documents in order.”
“Don’t worry,” said Claudia with a wry smile, “he’s got that all figured out.”

“So,” said Claudia, taking her seat, leaning forward and clasping her hands in front of her on Wilcox’s desk. “What’s needed of me today?”
“Helen Hofstrate, a nursing student at DePaul University, went missing last night,” said Wilcox.
“Not to make light of her situation,” said the slender middle-aged redhead, “but, since this is a Mundiali case and not just a regular kidnapping, what’s the catch?”
“She’s an Elector in the Electoral College,” said Wilcox somberly.
“I thought they were anonymous this year,” said Claudia.
“It was supposed to be a foolproof system,” said Wilcox. “Each party was supposed to nominate over 1000 Electors, spread across the states. Each prospective Elector was placed in a lottery and then chosen at random, with only the victorious Elector knowing they were chosen. Only at Election time were the other Electors supposed to know who their colleagues were.”
“Which would prevent Electors from banding together and voting in someone else,” said Claudia.
“…and it was supposed to keep them safe,” said Wilcox, wistfully.
“In this world, should anything surprise you?” asked Claudia ruefully.
“True,” said Wilcox, the old, experienced man letting out a sardonic chuckle.
“So where do I go?” said Claudia. “Washington or Chicago?”
“You’re going to meet with Chicago Police Detective Saul Kaminsky,” said Wilcox. “You two will work together on the case.”

December 24, 2016,
09:16 local time,
The Harding Residential Complex,
Chicago, Illinois

By Jove thought Hofstrate as she sat there, doing her best to collect her thoughts. What will he do next? Hofstrate began to pant even more, her breaths getting deeper but more frequent and heartbeat starting to race yet again.

However, her captor was doing little to show his hand. Buck, shirtless, just eyed his tools on the table, showing no emotion as he contemplated on what he wanted to use next. Meanwhile, his captive sat naked, her hands and arms bound behind the back of a chair with her legs spread apart and bound to each leg to keep them that way. A ball gag complimented her look.

Eventually Buck decided that, this time, he was going to forgo his tools. He unzipped his pants and revealed his hard, erect penis, which Hofstrate couldn’t help but be fixated on. Buck then walked over to Hofstrate with a sense of purpose, starting by playing with her breasts with his hands and tugging at her nipples, before suckling at them with his mouth. When he was finished with her breasts, he mounted her chair and pulled her body close, nibbling at her neck. Hofstrate, overcome with intense emotions feeling herself being held tightly against Buck’s body, experienced an even greater reaction when she felt Buck’s penis penetrating her vagina and began thrusting away. She sat there, her mouth (and other parts of her body) watering, as there was nothing her body could do to resist Buck and his wanton desires.

December 24, 2016,
09:09 local time,
Lincoln Park,
Chicago, Illinois

“Glad to have you here,” said Kaminsky, a slender but muscular youthful man whose grizzled voice belied his many years in service. “When Helen didn’t text her mother, Carly, in the morning, she panicked and called us.”
“One wayward text and here we are,” said Claudia, who couldn’t hide her surprise at Carly’s actions.
“Helen was supposed to board a flight at 5AM, actually,” said Kaminsky, as the pair walked slowly towards the crime scene. “So, still panicky but not as bad as you might have thought.”
“I don’t know,” said Claudia, “usually my first thought when someone doesn’t board a plane at the right time is to wonder if there was an issue with the plane. Where was Helen headed?”
“Portland,” said Kaminsky. “Her parents still live there…a boyfriend brought her to Chicago and she just stayed. She likes Chicago.”
“Even though the only reason why Chicago isn’t in anarchy like the rest of Illinois is because of the mob bosses,” said Claudia, “unlike Portland which has benefitted from Roman rule for years.”
“At least I can say somebody runs this town,” said Kaminsky, “even if it isn’t someone I like.”
“Good point,” said Claudia as they arrived at the crime scene.

Claudia then examined the scene.

So Helen was likely stopped here, before being dragged into the clearing as the drag marks and footprints suggest. She was then attacked in the clearing, as I can see traces of her blood on the ground, but there’s not a lot of it, nor does the ground indicate that she put up much of a struggle. She had to have been drugged, likely before she was dragged into the clearing- otherwise, why drag her at all? This, though, I find interesting.

“Saul,” said Claudia, pointing to a pair of pants on the ground which was covered in blood. “What do you know about these pants?”
“Gotta be Helen’s,” said Kaminsky matter-of-factly. “That’s what made me think this is the correct crime scene. That and a witness report of a woman somewhat matching Helen’s description being carried from this general area as well as reports of her screaming.”
“Your instincts are correct,” said Claudia, “but these are not Helen’s pants.”
“They’re not,” said Saul with intrigued surprise.
“They’re not,” said Claudia firmly. “I know exactly who they belong to.”

December 24, 2016
11:15 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“I’m sorry to bring you in on Christmas Eve,” said Claudia with a wry smile as her guest entered Kaminsky’s office.
“You and I,” said Alexandra Hecata with a chuckle, “fellow Romans…the Saturnalia has just passed.”
“You Romans always do things differently,” said Kaminsky. “I can never understand it.”
“We live in a different world,” said Hecata. “Figuratively, anyway.”
“Some of them seem to take that literally, though,” said Claudia with a wry smirk as the room laughed.
“Virtue too,” said Hecata wryly. “In fact, this is Virtue territory…how come they’re not helping out with the case?”
“You know them,” said Kaminsky. “The Guards won’t help out a country Virtue doesn’t find ‘glamorous’, unless they’re here to take out a ruler they don’t like and blame him for ‘war crimes’.” The room then had another rueful laugh.

“Anyway,” said Hecata, “as much as I appreciate the Mundiali paying for my flight on such short notice…I imagine I’m not being here for a friendly chat.”
“As much as I would like to,” said Claudia, “unfortunately a police matter has brought you here.”
“Am I in trouble?” asked Hecata, worry starting to come over her.
“Have a seat,” said Claudia, who sighed knowing there was nothing she could do to anticipate Hecata’s reaction.

Hecata sat down, but in doing so developed anxiety over what was going to happen next. Although Claudia was her friend, Hecata knew that her serious tone suggested that whatever news Claudia had wouldn’t be easy for her to take.

“Since there’s no easy way for me to say this,” said Claudia as she pulled out a bag from her drawer, knots forming in Hecata’s stomach. “I thought I would just show you this.” Claudia then placed in front of her a sealed plastic bag with Hecata’s blood-stained pants inside of them, recovered from the Hofstrate crime scene just moments ago.

Hecata sat there, trying her best to hide her tears but there was nothing she could do to maintain her composure. As the memories flooded back into the young woman’s brain the tears seemed to flow just as readily, with her sobs becoming more uncontrollable and louder with the minute. She then clutched the bag, using it to bury her head in it, as she cried into it and screamed several times while holding it, “why? Why? Why?!”

After several, long, heart wrenching minutes- for all gathered in the room- and some comforting from Claudia, Hecata managed to regain some of her composure, enough so that she could conduct the interview.

“I’m so sorry,” said Hecata, taking more tissues to wipe her face.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia in a soothing tone. “I know this was going to be difficult for you to face…and I know this will be difficult for you to talk about…but a woman’s life depends on it.”
“I heard,” said Hecata.
“So,” said Kaminsky, fumbling his words a little. “Our guy…was your rapist?”

“Yeah,” said Hecata, who let out a deep breath. “I was doing a gig, right here in Chicago…The Empty Bottle.”
“One of my favourites,” said Kaminsky. “Love going there.”
“I love playing it,” said Hecata.

“Anyway,” continued Hecata, “I was doing the gig and, afterwards, I decided to leave via the back entrance. There’s an alleyway behind it and…well, I used it many times before without incident, so I never believed anything could happen…I know, you’re going to tell me I’m stupid.”
“We’re not judging,” said Claudia, urging Hecata on.
“It’d be useless to tell you something you already know,” said Kaminsky, “and it doesn’t change what happened.”
“Thanks guys,” said Hecata, who let out a deep sigh of relief.

“So I’m going behind the bar through this alleyway,” said Hecata, “I’m minding my own business when…out of the blue I feel this heavy thing hit my head. It was so hard, it knocked me to the ground, but it didn’t knock me out. I’d find out later from the investigating officer that I was likely hit by a baseball bat, just based on the blood marks found at the site and the mark on my head. Anyway, in my haze, I’m lying on the ground and I can feel my rapist operate when he did his…worst.”

Hecata let out another deep breath and struggled to continue until Claudia rubbed her back.

“When he was finished, I was still in a daze,” continued Hecata, “and he left before I could get a good look at him. The first thing I realized when I came to my senses was that he had taken both my pants and my underwear…thankfully, it was not like today where it’s ten below, it was fall, so I only had to deal with the embarrassment of being pantless. Fortunately a Good Samaritan spotted me and lent me his pants while we waited for the police and the paramedics to arrive…I was lucky. I hated losing those pants…they were my favourite…but after what he did to me…”

Hecata began to cry again, with Claudia consoling her. Hecata eventually regained her composure enough to make an observation.

“That’s a lot of blood for where it came from,” said Hecata.

“Lab confirms that the blood on the pants isn’t all from you,” said Kaminsky. “In fact, much of the blood comes from many other people…who, we don’t know.”

Kaminsky leaned forward on his desk and let out a sigh.

“Now,” he said, speaking softly but with urgency, “I hate to dip back into your past, but was there a pair of pants at the scene of your crime?”
“No,” said Hecata, “there wasn’t. Maybe I might have missed it or dismissed them because I’ve been out at night many times and I get used to strange sights. I once walked by a human skull that the locals were telling me belonged to a local criminal, which is why the police never investigated it.”
“Where was this?” said Kaminsky.
“Boulder,” said Hecata. “Colorado.”
“Makes sense,” said Kaminsky.
“Did the police report say there was a pair of pants in the area?” said Hecata, nervous for the response.
“No,” said Kaminsky, “which is what makes this even trickier. We don’t know why he left your pants there.”
“Am I,” said Hecata, beginning to stutter. “Am I…am I…at risk? Does he want to target me?”

Claudia let out a heavy sigh.

“Alexandra,” she said softly, “we’re not sure. We have a number of different theories in our heads. He could have just been sloppy and forgot the pants…it could be a new ‘thing’ of his to leave the pants of his previous victim for his next victim to stumble upon…there’s a lot of things we don’t know.”
“…but, but,” said Hecata, panting heavily, “that’s what you’re going with…right? He’s just…he’s just a sloppy criminal…right?” Tears began to form in Hecata’s eyes which caused Claudia to get up once again to console her.
“Alexandra,” said Kaminsky with a sigh, “again, we’re not sure. So far we’ve received no evidence that you are in any danger. I’ve arranged so that you can stay here at the station until he’s caught…we can’t take any chances.”
“I have my gigs,” said Hecata, “I’m not sure how long I can stay here…I open New Year’s Day festivities in Buffalo…that’s my next gig.”
“I thought you didn’t celebrate Christmas,” said Kaminsky.
“No,” said Hecata, “but most of the continent does. I’ve got to respect that…plus, I need a break myself. I played every day of the Saturnalia.”
“True enough,” said Kaminsky. “Anyway, the choice is yours…it’s here if you want it.”
“Thank you,” said Hecata.

Hecata got up from her chair, as did the two detectives, and she hugged them both.

“You know,” she said, “I hate to sound like a cliché…but you need to catch him.”
“Alexandra,” said Claudia with a wry chuckle, “some things you never want to stop hearing.”

December 24, 2016,
12:35 local time,
The Harding Apartment Complex,
Chicago, Illinois

“Let this be a warning,” said Buck, wearing a black full face covering and no shirt. He was speaking into a camera he set up, recording a video that, at this moment, was streaming live across many fake accounts on social media. It would be a video he would send later to various different media markets, all with cloaked E-Mail addresses.

“My name is Buck,” said Buck, whose voice was altered to sound like an ominous cyborg. “I am a Soldier.” Buck then raised his arm and showed off the tattoo on the backside of his forearm, which featured the distinctive “1777” logo. The logo, where the number 1777 was underlined (with each number connecting to the underline) was representative of the Soldiers of the Lord’s manifesto, known as the “Seventeen Words” and the “Seventy Seven Words” each Soldier is sworn to live by. Right next to the 1777 was a tattoo of a silhouette of a man holding an assault rifle at his hips, pointing it upward.

He then backed away from the camera, revealing Hofstrate, breathing in and out quickly and heavily, still bound to the chair naked with her legs and arms open and the ball gag affixed to her mouth. As Hofstrate sat there, panting and waiting with anxiety over what would happen next, Buck casually walked to a suitcase on a nearby table, where he again spoke to the camera.

“Many of you may not know who this woman is,” he explained while nonchalantly digging through his tools. “Many of you may now be worried about this woman, even though you have not met her. Well, let me tell you who it is.”

Buck then picked up three small suction cups and walked towards Hofstrate.

“She is an Elector with the Electoral College,” said Buck, as he applied the first suction cup to Hofstrate’s nipple, causing her to gasp as a button on top of the cup sucked all the air out of it and applied intense pressure on her nipple, “sucking” it upward. Buck then did it to Hofstrate’s other nipple, again causing Hofstrate to have an intense reaction as her breasts were stimulated.

“She is here because,” said Buck, who paused to apply the last suction cup to her clitoris, which caused Hofstrate to moan with even more intensity as her skin became flushed as her body tried to rectify all this sudden stimulation.

Buck then walked back to his suitcase and talked as he did so.

“She is here because the Soldiers of the Lord believe that Juan Castro had his election stolen from him by feminist interests,” said Buck. “Feminists, like my captive here, who have rigged the system so that Castro cannot take his rightful place as President of the North American Union. Of course, I am not just some rambling terrorist…I have proof. Proof that I will show you in the upcoming days.”

Buck pulled an item from his suitcase and glanced at Helen before putting it back. He then pulled from his suitcase a vibrator, pressing the power button a few times causing Hofstrate to yelp several times as he did so.

“In the meantime,” said Buck, as he again menacingly pressed the button on the vibrator several times, “I want you to look at the torture I am putting this woman through. I want you to examine it, to feel it, because I have an ultimatum- if the Electoral College does not do the right thing and vote in Juan Castro on December 30, this woman will not be released, and the Soldiers will retaliate in ways that North America has never seen before. You have been warned.”

Buck then turned on the vibrator, putting it on its maximum setting, and shoved it into Hofstrate’s vagina, as the video ended with her body squirming and her mouth watering and moaning loudly as she had to deal with the intense sensations that Buck was putting her through.

December 24, 2014,
17:01 local time,
CNN Studios,
Manhattan, New York

“Good afternoon everyone,” said Wolf Blitzer, “and welcome to this special edition of The Situation Room. In a few moments, we will hear from Juan Castro himself and get his reaction to the news of the day.

“…but first, there is a shocking video going around social media that depicts a woman being sexually tortured by a Soldier of the Lord known only as ‘Buck’. You can view this video unedited on our website but please be warned it is very graphic and will be disturbing for some viewers. In the video, Buck explains his captive is an Elector in the Electoral College, although we do not have her identity, and says he is subjecting her to this torture to force the Electoral College to vote in Juan Castro this coming Friday when it convenes and officially crowns the North American Presidency. If they do not do that, the Soldiers- and we can confirm the actual Soldiers have actually proclaimed this, so it’s not an idle threat- the Soldiers are contending they will retaliate in ways that will make ‘9/11 look like child’s play’.

“Joining me now is Licinus Pontus,” said Blitzer, turning to his first guest. Pontus was a middle-aged man with a full, silver goatee and a receding hairline, with his graying hair tied in a ponytail. He was a jovial character with an expansive knowledge of security systems across a wide variety of platforms, thus becoming a frequent guest of news programs who required an opinion on security threats. He first gained prominence in the months after the September 11 attacks on the Boston Garden arena, when he railed against politicians being worried about “Hollywood threats”.

“Thank you Wolf,” said Pontus. “I’d love to come on here and tell you all that you have nothing to worry about…but, you do.”
“Reality, I guess,” said Blitzer with a sombre chuckle.
“Well, when we’re dealing with the Soldiers of the Lord,” said Pontus, “we can call their bluff, and we have many times…but they usually deliver. They’re a very efficient terrorist organization and they’re not known to make idle threats. We’ve got to take this seriously.”
“I think the question a lot of people are asking,” said Blitzer, “is how do we know the Soldiers are working with this guy named ‘Buck’?”
“The Soldiers won’t come out and say ‘we support this guy’ unless they’re actually doing it,” said Pontus. “We know there are a lot of terrorist organizations who will ‘jump on the bandwagon’ and champion a cause a supporter is doing because it reflects well on them even though they’re not going to really do anything to help out…the Soldiers, on the other hand, they don’t tend to say things unless they plan on following through. Recall the Siege of Louisville; almost two years ago…though we had people claiming to be Soldiers acting in their name, I knew right away they weren’t actual Soldiers because the Soldiers were silent about it. Now, this isn’t always foolproof, but…if the Soldiers are saying they’re supporting someone, they’re supporting someone.”
“What do you believe their next course of action will be?” asked Blitzer.
“I can’t say for sure,” said Pontus. “They’re very unpredictable and very cagey…about the only thing you can predict about them is that they do not engage in idle threats. I will say there is a tendency to avoid an ‘obvious’ target, so, likely an attack on Haylie Modine isn’t going to happen, but after that…all bets are off.”

“Allow me,” said Pontus, interrupting Blitzer before he could ask his next question. “I really need to talk about the Electoral College plan…I want to understand, we’ve actually confirmed that the victim in the video is an Elector, right?”
“Yes,” said Blitzer. “We just don’t know her name. It was supposed to be secretive so that we would avoid a situation like this.”

“Okay,” said Pontus. “Well, we got into this situation, and we have to figure out how. The Soldiers have this all figured out…if we’re going to avoid a catastrophe, then think ‘oh, our Electors will have security’ or ‘oh, we’ll just change our Electors’ or ‘we’ll just have security at our Capitol’ won’t cut it. We have to find the plan at its source, because this Buck found out who this Elector is…now we have to do it.”

December 24, 2016,
16:39 local time,
Mars Café,
Chicago, Illinois

“No,” said Juan Castro, visibly shaken as he made his appearance on CNN in front of Blitzer. “No, I categorically do not have anything to do with this woman’s predicament, and I do not in any way, shape or form condone what this...monster is doing to her. I’m going to tell you right now Buck- if that’s even your real name- if you even think you’re doing this in my name…think again.”
“Yes, but,” said Blitzer, “Juan, you have numerous ties to Birea…you even championed Birean causes against feminism and not once have you denounced the Soldiers.”
“Oh I denounced them,” said Castro, audibly scoffing. “I’m going to denounce them right now…I don’t support the Soldiers at all.”
“I’m not sure that will do enough to ease a lot of minds,” said Blitzer. “You still haven’t conceded the election to Haylie Modine, you’re still going through the courts to challenge her victory, you’re still pressing for recounts, you keep pressing the Electoral College to hand the victory to you and…most tellingly…you are on record as saying, and I quote- ‘there is nothing I won’t do to deny that B-word the Presidency’- end quote. I’m sorry Mr. Castro…you will have your doubters.”
“Wolf,” said Castro, looking at Blitzer as if the anchor was an idiot, “I can’t control what other people think. I just know there’s a difference between challenging the wrong result and supporting Buck…those are two completely different ideas. I got nothing to do with that. Nothing. I’ll even spell it out.”

“Oh,” said Claudia, cupping her forehead and shaking her head reacting to the TV broadcast. “This Castro guy…he never knows when to give up, does he?”
“That’s why you have rules, right?” said a voice that suddenly appeared at Claudia’s table. “To make sure the ones who don’t give up eventually do.”

Claudia turned around and focused her attention on her uninvited guest, more perturbed than disturbed.

“You know Danny,” said Claudia, flashing the guest, Danforth Grayson, a wry smile. “You do have my cell phone number…you don’t need to show up uninvited anymore.”
“Where’s the fun in that?” said Grayson with a huge grin. “Phone calls…they’re boring. It’s much better to surprise people…keeps them on their toes.”
“Yes, but those rules you just talked about,” said Claudia with a smirk, “society’s got them too…and society says it’s better to call instead of surprising people.”
“Yes but,” said Grayson with another huge smirk, “when have I followed the rules?”

“All right,” said Claudia, after the pair left the café and entered Claudia’s car. “You’ve interrupted my quiet time for a reason. I imagine you know something about this Buck guy?”
“Buck?” said Grayson.
“You know,” said Claudia, “the guy in the video?”
“That’s his name?” said Grayson, making a face and shaking his head. “Nah, it’s not ringing any bells…”
“Danny,” said Claudia, her voice trailing as she let out a heavy sigh. “If you’ve got nothing then why are you wasting my time?”
“Oh I didn’t say I had nothing,” said Grayson. “I just don’t know who Buck is.”
“OK,” said Claudia, still skeptical.

“Do you know who the Bepenised One are?” said Grayson.
“No,” said Claudia. “I don’t.”
“Well, you should,” said Grayson, “because that’s the gang this ‘Buck’ guy is a part of.”
“I thought you said you didn’t know Buck,” said Claudia, nonplussed.
“I don’t,” said Grayson, “but I did recognize the tattoo on his arm.”
“Which one?” asked Claudia.
“The one where the man is shooting an assault rifle from the hip,” said Grayson. “That’s the badge for the Bepenised Ones gang, a fraternity organization run and sponsored by the Soldiers. You may have noticed but the positioning of the rifle is supposed to simulate the penis.”
“I did notice that,” said Claudia. “So, who are these guys?”

“A response, simply put,” said Grayson, a well built man close in age- and experience in justice- as Claudia. “You’ve probably heard all of the nice things the Bireans did after the world came down hard on them for having a human trafficking ring, right?”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “they’ve outlawed the rings, allowed greater emigration, ended the one-child policy…but you’re going to tell me they made the wrong moves.”

“You know me too well,” said Grayson with a smirk. “See, the Bireans may have said they outlawed the one-child policy…but many of their administrators are still enforcing it, and culturally it’s just too ingrained in the Birean psyche not to follow it. Furthermore, son preference means a lot of baby daughters are getting killed or aborted…so the demographic situation is even worse. See, if we had just kept human trafficking, things would be better right now.”
“Human trafficking,” said Claudia, horrified. “There’s just no justification for that.”
“I understand,” said Grayson, “it’s a reprehensible practice for a lot of people…but it served a purpose in Birea. It allowed Bireans who may not have had a chance to fly abroad and move the ability to get a wife right there in their country. If you want to talk about ‘the great equalizer’…there was nothing like the Order of St. Jasper. That’s the problem when you rail against ideas rather than the actual problems themselves…you wind up with more problems than where you started.”
“OK,” said Claudia, still not impressed. “Humour me on how the Order of St. Jasper was a good idea.”
“Because they did human trafficking right,” said Grayson. “The women they acquired volunteered for the service. The Order allowed them to meet their prospective husbands before they agreed to the deal. The Order even allowed them the opportunity to leave the marriage, no questions asked, if, for any reason, they felt uncomfortable with the arrangement. See, we tend to think of human trafficking as simply ‘slavery’ when it doesn’t have to be. Just because people do it wrong doesn’t mean they can’t do it right.”
“You helped take down Ingrid and her human trafficking ring,” said Claudia. “Helped me…helped the Mundiali.”
“Of course I did,” said Grayson, “because what Ingrid was doing was wrong. That doesn’t change that what the Order was doing was right. I had hoped the Bireans would be practical in their response…they proved otherwise.”

“Fine,” said Claudia, who didn’t feel like debating. “So where do these Bepenised people fit in?”

“Understand that rape gangs have always been a part of Soldier methodology,” said Grayson, “so, really The Bepenised Ones are not really anything new. What is new is the scope…right after Ingrid was arrested for ruining the Order, the Soldiers, almost overnight, recruited millions of men- and women, actually- worldwide to form millions of gangs, all loosely connected by an ideology of anti-feminism. The Soldiers have a goal- to make rape and other attacks on women so pervasive that women are made to feel they can’t engage in anything outside of their house, because they’ll never feel safe.”
“Subtly reminding them that women are useless without men,” said Claudia.
“Exactly,” said Grayson.

“How do the gangs work?” asked Claudia.
“There’s no clear method of operation,” said Grayson. “Each gang works in different ways, and procure- and secure- their victims in different fashions. Some will keep their victims forever. Others only for a few days. Still others will prefer one-off blitz attacks. What is a common thread is that almost all will engage in kidnapping, rape and torture, and none of them will willfully engage in murder or dismemberment- this is about psychology, after all, and these gangs want other gangs to be able to ‘enjoy’ the woman again.”
“So that women never know when the torture actually stops,” said Claudia.
“Precisely,” said Grayson.
“How do they escape capture?” asked Claudia.
“Many don’t,” said Grayson, “but the Soldiers aren’t worried about that- their networks are so wide that they can easily find replacements. Plus, social media helps with recruiting. However…many gangs do evade capture, and their methods vary…but most use drugs and leave their victims far away from where they were captured, with hazy memories, no documentation and locals who don’t recognize them, making finding the perpetrators difficult.”
“Who likely don’t stick around,” said Claudia.

A thought then came to Claudia.

“This makes Buck a strange character,” said Claudia. “He’s hiding his identity, but he’s freely broadcasting that he has a victim. Where he’s holding her…we don’t know. The Soldiers have their own routing system that makes his location very difficult to trace…it’s beyond the technology of the Chicago Police, that’s for sure.”
“The Mundiali will be able to trace it, won’t they?” said Grayson. “You guys are well-funded.”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “but the Romans hog all the good technology…as you would expect.”
“Good point,” said Grayson, “and it’s still no cakewalk anyway.”
“Something tells me he’s not worried about being caught,” said Claudia. “The damage has been done already…even if Juan Castro denies involvement, people are already going to doubt the integrity of North America’s elections…if the losers know no limits to how far they’ll go to contest the results, can anyone ever be sure that a result can stand?”
“There’s a twist here that we’re not getting,” said Grayson.

A text message then appeared on Claudia’s phone.

“I think we just got it,” she said, starting the car.

December 25, 2016,
00:02 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

Haylie Modine raised her head slowly and began blinking her eyes. It was a vain attempt to rouse herself from her slumber, one her body fell into despite the discomfort of her restraints. Still groggy, she looked around the room, her ankles bound to the chair and her hands bound behind the back of the chair, itself bolted to the ground. She then observed she was shorn of her favourite blazer, and then she remembered that it broke when she tried to flee from the arresting officers.

Stupid Haylie, she thought to herself, why did you try to resist arrest? You’re giving Castro a reason to take the Presidency from you.

The nubile blonde’s emotions then got the better of her, as she lowered her head and began to weep audibly.

She cried for several minutes before she was interrupted by the sound of someone going through the door.

“Gosh Haylie,” said Kaminsky, slamming down his file folder on the desk. “I can’t believe you! I just had to deal with the f***ing press to explain to them why I had to arrest the upcoming President of North America! I hate dealing with the press! They’re so stupid and so cynical, asking all these asinine questions!”

He then walked up to her, leaned in, put his face close to hers and looked her in the eyes.

“Do you know what I do to people who make me deal with the press?!” snarled Kaminsky. “Do you? Do you?!”

Modine, overcome with fear, lowered her head, causing Kaminsky to grab it and reorient it back up.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” he shouted, as Modine looked on, visibly shaken and her body breaking into nervous fits.

Modine then broke down and cried again, causing Grayson to come bursting in.

“Saul!” said Grayson, grabbing Kaminsky and peeling him away from Modine. “That’s no way to treat a lady! Have you no manners?”

“Oh come on,” said Modine through her tears. “Spare me the bulls***. You’re not going to trick me with that ‘good cop/bad cop’ trick…especially if you think I’m going to believe Danforth Grayson is a good cop.”

She then cried and sobbed some more before regaining enough of her composure.

“I’ll admit whatever you want me to admit,” said Modine. “My life is over…my career is over. No one is going to accept me now that I’ve been arrested and tried to resist…by Jove…oh by Jove how I wish Juan Castro was never born!”

Claudia then took the opportunity to enter the room herself.

“Haylie,” she said, softly but firmly. “Haylie!” Modine still had her head lowered, inconsolable as she was.
“Haylie,” Claudia repeated. “Haylie look at me. Everything is going to be fine. We just have our concerns, that’s all.”

Modine raised her head and took in a few deep breaths to stop her crying, figuring that she might be able to escape if she actually figured out what the police wanted.

“Haylie,” said Claudia. “I need you to understand why you’re here.”
“Why am I here?” Modine asked, her nerves still frayed.
“You gave a speech right here in Chicago where you mentioned Helen Hofstrate by name,” said Kaminsky. “Not once did we ever release her name to the press…in fact, only party leaders were supposed to know who they were, no one else. Not even the campaigns. So…unless you got some wild story to tell me…where’s Helen Hofstrate?”

Modine lowered her head again and began to cry. This time no one in the room was moved.

“Haylie,” said Claudia, firmer in her voice. “I’d love to help you out but…if you don’t want to talk; you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
“I know,” said Modine, still crying.
“I can’t make any guarantees,” said Claudia, “but whatever you did, we can sort it out.”

Modine took in a few deep breaths, eventually regaining enough of her composure to speak.

“Tori,” said Modine, referring to her campaign manager, Tori McGuire. “Said she knew a guy who could break into the Unionist Party’s office and get me the list of Electors…I swear, all I wanted to do was find out who this woman was and tell her that she had my support, and that her family had my support…she’s a victim…I didn’t want her to be anonymous.”

She lowered her head and cried again before continuing.

“This man,” she said, her voice cracking due to her sadness. “He brought me the list…looked up our female Electors…chanced upon a report of a kidnapping at Lincoln Park with an unknown victim and I saw that Helen lived there, so I figured it was her…so I called her mother…she confirmed it to me…and then…without thinking…I used her name in a speech.”
“Who’s the thief?” said Kaminsky, folding his arms.
“John Benjamin,” said Modine, sulking, “a friend of Tori’s since high school. Works at the Unionist Party headquarters in Washington. He stole it from Douglas Lester’s office when the Party chairman wasn’t in his office.”

“You guys, you guys gotta understand,” said Modine, pleading to nonplussed investigators, “I didn’t want Helen to die in vain…to die anonymously…she doesn’t deserve that. Please…you gotta understand! I did what I had to do! I didn’t kidnap her! I had nothing to do with that! Please! Please! You gotta believe me!”

Modine then broke down again; convinced her public career was now over.

“Haylie,” said Claudia after a sigh. She looked at both Grayson and Kaminsky who gave her nods before she continued.

“We’re convinced you didn’t have anything to do with Helen’s kidnapping,” said Claudia, “but we are going to have to book you for resisting arrest…and it is a continental felony to steal the Electors’ list. We can’t guarantee what will happen…but, we’ll at least tell the media you meant well.”

A sense of relief came over Modine as Kaminsky undid her bonds.

“Why did you not want to release her name?” asked Modine, cupping her wrists and wiggling her fingers to regain some of the lost sensation from the bonds.
“We had a strong sense her kidnapping was politically motivated,” said Claudia, “and we were worried about copycat attacks. If we released her name it would have confirmed that she was an Elector and it may have inspired other people to look for others and attack them, knowing that one Elector had already been victimized. We also figured that one of the campaigns- more likely Juan’s- may have been behind the attack, and since the campaigns were not supposed to know who the Electors were…”
“That would indicate their involvement,” said Modine.
“Exactly,” said Kaminsky.

After processing Modine and letting her go on her way, the three investigators went in to Kaminsky’s office.

“Mind if I pay Mr. Benjamin a visit?” asked Grayson, leaning back in his seat very relaxed.
“You?” said Kaminsky, showing Grayson obvious disdain. “Why you?”
“John might not be what you would call a ‘conventional’ criminal,” said Grayson, who began playing on his phone, “but he did commit a continental felony. I somehow doubt he’ll want to talk to a cop.”
“We’ll just arrest him,” said Kaminsky. “It worked with Haylie.”
“Haylie Modine had every reason to come clean,” said Claudia. “Her political career depended on it. John Benjamin has nothing to lose. He has no obligation to reveal anything to us.”
“How much do you want to bet that Benjamin gave the list to Buck?” said Grayson, putting away his phone and looking directly at Kaminsky, “and other people like him who may want to hurt an Elector or three? He knows things he won’t say to a cop.”
“Based on Haylie’s testimony we’ve got enough for a search warrant,” said Kaminsky.
“That, by the time we get it, he’ll have destroyed the evidence,” said Grayson with a smirk, “and I guarantee you it will mean he won’t say a word to you.”

“I’m appalled you’re not taking this seriously,” said Kaminsky, not appreciating Grayson’s tone.
“On the contrary,” said Grayson with a smile. “I take things very seriously. I just choose not to let it get to me…kid…you gotta realize that this job of yours…it ain’t getting any easier.”

Kaminsky was unmoved.

“Saul,” said Grayson with a grin. “I get it…this whole ‘Virus are good guys’ is a little weird for you…but ask Galla. Ask her about all the good I’ve done to help her take down Ingrid Fjallsdottir and end her corruption of The Virus and how she used it to install one of the worst human trafficking rings the world has ever seen. I might not always believe in the law but I believe in justice.”

Kaminsky ushered Claudia outside.

“You’re not going to get anyone better at relating to the worst of the worst than Danny,” said Claudia. “He’s got a lot of connections within the criminal underworld…if there’s someone who knows what governments and LEOs can’t know, it’s Danny. I know this is weird for you…but trust me. It’s a strange alliance…but Danny and I make it work.”
“You really think John Benjamin won’t talk to us?” said Kaminsky, unconvinced.
“I do agree with that, yes,” said Claudia. “At this stage, we have to assume that Helen is on the move somewhere…even though Buck knows the police are on his trail, if he’s a smart criminal, he’s not taking chances staying where he is. If John truly knows more than what Haylie let on, it would pay to let Danny talk to him instead of us. John might know where Buck is going, and who else might be compelled to attack an Elector…we just have to ensure that John doesn’t think we’re on his trail.”
“How do we do that?” said Kaminsky.
“We issue a press release saying that Haylie Modine is not under investigation,” said Claudia, “and that she is not involved with Helen’s kidnapping, because she’s not. Since John did it for Haylie, knowing that Haylie is not under investigation would likely tell him that he’s not under investigation either, so it’ll relax him to release more information to Danny. If John isn’t cooperative…it could mean that Haylie is more involved than we think.”

Kaminsky nodded, agreeing with Claudia.

“In the meantime, I think we need to go to Portland,” said Claudia. “Carly knows more than she’s letting on.”
“I already talked to her,” said Kaminsky. “She didn’t give me a lot of leads…says she only knows Helen through her MyFriends account now.”
“That was when she was panicking,” said Claudia. “Now that she knows this is the real deal…you’ll see that suddenly, she knows a lot more.”

December 25, 2016,
04:31 local time,
Willoughby Park, Friendship Village,
Chevy Chase, Maryland

It’s good to get out here, thought John Benjamin to himself as he felt the crisp morning air as he started his jog. There’s so much stuff going around, I can hardly have any time to breathe.

The young, slender Unionist Party staffer was having a whirlwind of a past few days. Because Haylie Modine was arrested, there was never a minute where the media didn’t seem to want to get a comment or a quote from someone connected to her, and considering the police didn’t reveal too much information in the immediate aftermath, the media was hungrier than usual.

The one solace he took was that the police issued a statement saying that Modine was cleared of any involvement in Helen Hofstrate’s kidnapping, which allowed staffers like him to spin the arrest- and Modine’s resistance to it- as a simple misunderstanding. He also took comfort in the fact that Doug Lester lied to the press and said he offered Modine Hofstrate’s name, when Benjamin knew otherwise. Of course, this too opened a lot of other questions, but at least no one was looking at Benjamin, who scanned the list to his phone right from Lester’s desk.

Benjamin went for a few laps around the park until a figure caught his attention.

“You know,” said Grayson with a smile. “If you straightened out your back, you’d make better time on your laps.”

“What are you doing here?” said Benjamin, approaching Grayson with anger. “I could have you arrested, you know that.”
“Yeah, but you’re not,” said Grayson with a smirk. “Because after I took down Ingrid Fjallsdottir, politicians know I’m too valuable an asset to get rid of.”
“The Unionist Party doesn’t think you’re anything,” said Benjamin. “We worked with Ingrid. You forgot that.”
“I didn’t forget that,” said Grayson. “I just know that right now, you’re in so much s*** that messing around with me isn’t in your best interests. Besides, do you really want to be known as siding with a human trafficker?”
“One day,” said Benjamin forebodingly, “you’re going to confront someone, and they’ll have all the leverage and you won’t be able to get out of it.”

Grayson couldn’t help but laugh.

“Won’t happen,” said Grayson, “because I study my opponents. I know everything about them and I know exactly where to hit them. Just like you.”

Benjamin put his hands on his hips.

“What do you want?” he said, exasperated.
“Helen Hofstrate,” said Grayson tersely.
“You think I know something about her?” said Benjamin in disbelief.
“I don’t think,” said Grayson. “I know.”

Benjamin was about to protest before Grayson stopped him.

“We can run around in circles all we like,” he said, ominously, “but here’s something I do know. You stole the list so that Haylie could contact Carly and mention Helen by name in a speech. Buck too found Helen through that list…so, I’m thinking…he had to have gotten that list from somewhere…and that somewhere is you.”

Benjamin cupped his face and wiped sweat from his brow.

“It could have been a random attack,” said Benjamin, who sounded unconvincing. “Helen could have told Buck she was an Elector…or Buck is bluffing and that’s a real good lookalike.”

“By Jove,” said Grayson. “You sure aren’t going to have a long career in politics are you? Your lying is horrible.”

Grayson stopped to laugh before he continued.

“Buck is a Soldier,” said Grayson, “and while I know they’re not afraid to bluff, when they say they’ve done something, they’ve done something. So when they say they kidnapped an Elector…they kidnapped an Elector.”

Grayson then walked up to Benjamin, who looked worried, and placed his hand on his shoulder.

“The police don’t want to do anything to you,” said Grayson. “They just want to find Helen. Where is she?”

Benjamin lowered his head and sighed.

“I used to know,” said Benjamin. “I gave the list to a one Craven Bucholtz…I used a burner so they couldn’t trace the transfer back to my phone.”
“Craven Bucholtz,” said Grayson, “Buck.”
“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “That’s what we always called him.”
“So you’re a Bepenised One too, then,” said Grayson.
“A different chapter,” said Benjamin.

“I need you to understand something,” said Benjamin. “Craven was supposed to kidnap someone else…Helen wasn’t the original target.”
“Oh,” said Grayson.
“It was a woman by the name of Margret Gregory,” said Benjamin.
“The Rockford librarian,” said Grayson. “One of my favourite places.”
“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “She was supposed to be kidnapped.”
“Why Margret?” said Grayson.
“I was approached by these guys,” said Benjamin.
“Soldiers?” said Grayson.
“No,” said Benjamin. “They called themselves the Hanseatic Merchants…I don’t know who they are- except that they’re connected with Virtue.”
“I see,” said Grayson, who instantly recognized the name as one of the many aliases of The Guild.
“They paid me all this money,” said Benjamin. “I’d steal the list, get it to Craven, we’d kidnap an Elector and then Tori would slip her name into a speech by Haylie, making it look like she’s trying to frame Juan Castro for the crime.”
“So Haylie was going to get arrested no matter what,” said Grayson.

“Yeah,” said Benjamin. “She’d have no credibility left…she’d look like she’s manipulating things to look like ‘the victim’ and no one would be able to trust her. We’d ferment divisions within our party, perhaps sway many Electors away from her…but the big thing is, we’d be able to nail her for influencing an election, and since Illinois is Virtue territory…”
“The Guards could have her arrested and jailed,” said Grayson. “Almost forcing the Electors to side with Castro. Of course, Haylie still slipped Helen’s name into the speech.”
“That’s the thing about Haylie,” said Benjamin. “She’s predictable.”
“So Virtue’s still going to get involved,” said Grayson.
“I don’t know,” said Benjamin. “Buck still did what he was supposed to do, and the Mundiali still arrested Haylie, which actually helps Virtue since they can argue a ‘neutral party’ has deemed her a criminal.”
“...and the Soldiers hardly care about rogue members,” said Grayson. “So many of them are rogue anyway. David Millwall was.”
“I’m still worried about Buck though,” said Benjamin. “Something about Helen makes me wonder about her...I just don’t know what.”

December 25, 2016,
08:03 local time,
The Hofstrates’ House,
Portland, Oregon

“I’m sorry this is how you have to spend your Christmas morning,” said Kaminsky as he and Claudia entered the Hofstrates’ home.
“No need to apologize,” said Jerry Hofstrate, Helen’s father. “We’d rather have our daughter back.”
“Only child I guess,” said Claudia.
“Yeah,” said Carly Hofstrate. “We didn’t intend on having Helen…but when we found out, we were still overjoyed and decided to keep her.”
“Smart choice,” said Kaminsky.
“Well, we couldn’t be happier,” said Jerry with a wry smile as the group made their way to the living room.

“What do you guys know so far?” said Carly.
“Honey,” said Jerry, giving his wife a look.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia. “We can divulge a few things.”
“Especially because it’s not much,” said Kaminsky. “We know this guy has raped before…we know she was kidnapped and we know she’s an Elector. Oh, and everyone’s in a bit of a panic right now because Haylie Modine found a way to slip her name in a speech. That part there’s not much we can do.”
“If he’s shot a video and uploaded it online,” said Jerry, “can’t you trace it?”
“He’s using onion routing,” said Claudia, “and some of the most sophisticated in the business…and even if we did trace the origin of the video, Buck and Helen have likely fled.”
“Where would they go?” said Carly.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Claudia. “We’re hoping you could help us out.”
“I already told Saul,” said Carly. “I never hear from Helen except for her MyFriends posts and the occasional gathering at holiday time…and I hardly think I know any more about her life than you already do.”

Claudia flashed a restrained smile that caught the attention of the Hofstrates.

“The thing is,” said Claudia, “I watched the video again, and, while I recognize that arousal is involuntary, I didn’t get the sense that Helen was resisting. Her skin was flush, her mouth was watering…call me crazy, but I think she was enjoying it.”

Carly was horrified, letting out an audible gasp. She attempted to leave before Jerry stopped her.

“It’s not an ironclad assertion,” said Claudia. “Oftentimes, victims of kidnappings will go through a dissociative state in order to come to grips with the pain they’re experiencing.”
“Stockholm Syndrome,” said Jerry.
“Yes,” said Claudia. “That could be what’s happening…but I also know that, most often, Stockholm Syndrome develops after a few days. Helen seems to have developed it after a few hours. Which isn’t impossible…but it’s not likely.”

Carly got up and yelled in a fit of rage.

“I can’t believe you would even think my daughter is enjoying her abuse!” said Carly. “The nerve of you cops! No wonder rape survivors don’t trust the police anymore! They all think we’re liars!”
“Carly,” said Jerry as he got up to comfort her. “I know this is all a shock but they’re just trying to do their jobs. Just because Helen might be enjoying her rape doesn’t mean the police doesn’t think she was raped…or that all rape victims make up their stories.”

“I’m sensing something here,” said Kaminsky, looking perplexed but intrigued.

“Helen wasn’t ours,” said Jerry. “We never told her this…I’d only been going out with Carly for five months when she was attacked in an alleyway in Los Angeles. She contemplated suicide many times…I had to bring her back to sanity…and I was the one who convinced her to have Helen.”

“Oh,” said Kaminsky, who couldn’t hide his shock.

“Let me say this,” said Claudia, trying to be a calming presence with her voice. “When I watched the video again, I noticed that there was a time that Buck looked at Helen and Helen raised her left eyebrow three times, causing Buck to put away an instrument he had in his hands. I couldn’t get a good look at the instrument, but when Helen did appear to be some kind of a ‘safe word’.”

“Safe word?” said Carly, confused.

“Yes,” said Claudia. “It’s common in bondage and fetish sexual communities…people who roleplay being restrained and being victimised. They get off on the immense physical pain they endure, and they consent to all the activities. However, if during the ordeal something is done that the victim does not like, they will express it via a sign or a word to get their ‘attacker’ to stop what they’re doing. It appears to me that Helen- since she was gagged- told Buck to put away the instrument and go to something else, which he did.”

Assuming you’re right,” said Carly, still shell-shocked at Claudia’s theory, “and I can’t stress that enough...what good is it going to do? My daughter is still missing!”
“You said you only knew what she posted to social media,” said Kaminsky. “So if her ‘attacker’ is really her boyfriend, it might help us figure out where she is...because she’ll share on social media where her and her boyfriend like going.”

“Helen,” said Jerry, “never had a boyfriend...at least not one that she would have dated for a while. Of course, I never ask her about that kind of stuff, but I have never heard of her having a boyfriend.”

“There was something she talked about,” said Carly. “This band she liked talking about...The Wesses they called themselves. They play ‘horrorcourt’ or something.”
“ ‘Horrorcore’,” corrected Claudia. “It’s a kind of hip hop that is known for its extensive usage of horror movie themes and motifs. Eminem and Insane Clown Posse, as odd as the two of them being in the same sentence is, are known to produce this kind of music.”
“I’m surprised you would know something like that,” said Jerry.
“You pick up a lot as a detective,” said Kaminsky.
“Plus I have two teenage daughters,” said Claudia with a smile.

“So the Wesses,” said Kaminsky after perusing his phone, “she became obsessed with them lately?”
“Yeah,” said Jerry. “Every time she called she seemed to be calling from a show or I’d hear a song in the background. It’s...it’s vile stuff...I don’t know how she listens to it.”
“It started a month ago,” said Carly. “It’s like she wanted to make a point about how much she liked them...and only to us, it seems.”
“You didn’t tell this to me before,” said Kaminsky.
“I didn’t think it was important,” said Carly. “I thought she was kidnapped by someone, someone she wouldn’t have liked...not by people she did.”
“Often, the ones we like are the ones who most often victimise us,” said Kaminsky.

“Like you Jerry,” said Carly, her voice full of venom directed at Jerry.

Jerry began to tear up. He lowered his head in shame and tried valiantly to protest the admission, but it rang very false.

“So it was you in the alleyway,” said Kaminsky, folding his arms as Claudia sat expressionless.

“I felt horrible,” said Jerry, sobbing. “I remember her speaking publicly many times in the news, and each time it struck at my heart. I was young, I was drunk and I was stupid...a friend dared me to rape her, so I did. I felt so guilty afterward...so, five months later, I talked to her.

“She told me she was pregnant...and that if I helped raise her child she wouldn’t press charges. I pledged to be a better man...I felt I changed.” Jerry paused to wipe tears from his eyes. “I gave her my heart...and I raised Helen and supported Carly with all the love I could offer...I still do.”

“So what do you want?” said Claudia. “A cookie? A participation medal? By Jove, you must be crazy to think you’d get any sympathy from us.”
“We could arrest you right now based on what you told us,” said Kaminsky.

“You can’t,” said Jerry. “I was granted immunity by the prosecutor…I have the missive signed in a safety deposit box. I made a deal…took responsibility for my actions and for the child I inadvertently created. You need to understand…”

Jerry again lowered his head to cry before regaining enough composure to continue.

“I was the star running back at USC,” said Jerry. “The Buffalo Bills were looking at me…it was between me and Thurman…I had a year to go. I was ready to hit the prime time…I had a girlfriend…thought about marrying her. Plus all my family…my friends. Everything I had was in Los Angeles.

“I gave all that stuff up...signed a contract with the Portland Trail Blazers...made only $70,000 a year because that’s all the team could afford. Understand, I gave up millions...all because I needed to take responsibility for my foolishness.”

Jerry covered his face to sob for a few minutes while Kaminsky rolled his eyes and Claudia could only shake her head.

“I cannot tell you all the things I gave up,” said Jerry. “I had a life…Carly wasn’t anything to me…but I did something stupid to her and the least I could do was to help her get through her ordeal and take responsibility for my actions.”

“You expect me to have sympathy for you because you were forced to play basketball?” Kaminsky said.
“I still played football,” said Jerry. “The Blazers have a football team too..they just pour their money into basketball because that’s their ‘money maker’...football does nothing...everyone is either a Ducks guy or a Seahawks guy here.”
“Good to know,” said Kaminsky, “but you still make me sick.”

“I think we’re getting a little off track here,” said Claudia, looking at her phone. “The Wesses...they don’t happen to have a ‘Craven Bucholtz’ do they?”
“They are named for Wes Craven,” said Jerry, “and they’re obsessed with ‘The Last House on the Left’. I don’t know if this Craven Bucholtz is in the band, though.”
“She kept telling me she ‘craved’ their lead singer,” said Carly. “So maybe.”
“We believe that Craven and your daughter are on the lam together,” said Claudia, “and we need to know if Helen may take him somewhere she likes.”

“She posts pictures of a cottage,” said Carly. “Unfortunately, I don’t know where it is…said it was on a random lake…but it’s quite like the one in ‘The Last House on the Left’, now that I think of it.”

“Thank you,” said Claudia.

As the two of them left the Hofstrates’ house, they couldn’t help but reflect on what they just heard.

“I can’t believe I never heard of the case of Jerry Hofstrate,” said Kaminsky.
“That’s because he was Jerry Myers,” said Claudia, “star running back for the Trojans, forgotten by history because he went on to play in Portland, at half-speed surely. Carly Hofstrate never knew who her attacker was until Jerry confessed, and part of his immunity deal was to keep his name out of the press. It’s all very macabre.”

“You know,” said Kaminsky shaking his head, “it’s times like this where I wish I could be like Danny and shoot their brains out, because Jerry deserves it.”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, who didn’t entirely disagree, “but then Danny would be the one to tell you it makes you no better than them.”
“Why would Danforth Grayson disavow such an act?” Kaminsky asked, confused.
“Because committing certain acts means crossing a boundary,” said Claudia, “leading you to a place you’ll never return from. Acts like murder are so heinous you’ll never find anyone who ‘understands’, placing you at odds with a society that will forever turn its back on you. You will have the ultimate skeleton, one you can’t tell anyone, alienating you from everyone you’ve ever known and eating at you until you have nothing left.

“This is why Danny does what he does...because evil only rips things apart...it can never be used to build. Uncontrolled...done by the wrong people...it will tear us all apart.”

Kaminsky stood there in silence, impressed by Claudia’s insight.

“I’ve often wondered what stops me from wanting to do what Danny does,” said Kaminsky, “and I think you got it right. However...you know things about this world that I don’t, and know it’s evil in depths I might never understand.

“So I need to ask- what stops you from crossing that boundary?”

December 25, 2016,
12:17 local time,
The Wesses’ Cottage,
Random Lake, South Tacoma

Helen Hofstrate couldn’t help but be enamoured. She had just walked into the bathroom, shorn of her clothes, and stared at the hunk lording over the sink. Though she regretted that he had to shave his fiery locks, she knew it was for the best.

“Oh Buck,” said Hofstrate as she wrapped her arms around Craven Bucholtz’s belly, caressing it with her hands. “It’s such a sad day that you have to shave your beautiful locks.”

She then pressed her body against his, running her hands all over his torso as he smiled.

“I know,” he said. “It’s distinctive...but if I am ever to escape with you I need to do this. Can’t leave anything to chance.”

He then resumed his shaving, which caused Hofstrate to pine for him some more. She put her hands on his nipples and began to rub them and press them with her hands, making them hard and erect. She then pressed her genitals against his buttocks and rubbed them against his, letting him feel how wet and aroused she was.

As he grunted with delight, Hofstrate then reached around his hips and started to tug at Bucholtz’s penis, stroking it several times to get it hard. It was here that Bucholtz let out a moan and removed her hand, forcefully but gently.

“Helen, honey,” said Bucholtz, trying his best to stay composed with a half-shaven face. “I love you darling and I too am horny as f***...but I need to finish shaving.”

“Oh come on,” said Hofstrate, who began nibbling at his neck, “I need it...I need it now...I can’t wait.”

Bucholtz turned around and took in a few deep breaths, looking on at the beautiful creature that was before his eyes. He heard her pleas and her insistence that he take her right there, with her heightened state of arousal being so inviting.

Hofstrate sensed Bucholtz might be turning a corner, so she decided to help him along. She again tugged at his penis, which aroused him to the point where he couldn’t turn back.

The next thing she knew, there they were, inside the bathtub, making love to both parties’ delight. There was lots of moaning and grunting, and there was little Hofstrate could do to get the much bigger Bucholtz from lying on top of her, but she didn’t care- she loved it when he overpowered her.

When they were finished, Bucholtz and Hofstrate held each other in a nice, long, tender embrace.

“I love it when you take advantage of me,” said Hofstrate. “I’m so glad I unlocked it out of you.”
“Me too,” said Bucholtz. “You are the love of my life…I would do anything for you.”
“Come on,” said Hofstrate as she and Bucholtz squeezed each other one more time before parting. “Finish up your shave…we’ve got to deal with your band. After that, we can have some ‘fun’ later.”

December 25, 2016,
15:21 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“Hello?” said Hecata as she heard a knock on the door of her makeshift living room.
“You have a visitor,” said Officer Calloway, one of the officers assigned to protect her at the headquarters.
“I’m not expecting anyone,” said Hecata, confused.
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers,” said Grayson confidently, chiming in before Calloway could get a word in. Hearing the phrase made Hecata comfortable enough to let Grayson in.

“Pretty good movie, I gotta say,” said Grayson as he walked in. “Arnold is always great for cheese.”

“You?” said Hecata, perplexed and hesitant at Grayson’s sight. “What do you want from me?”
“Relax,” said Grayson, patting the air with his hands. “Galla and I are friends now…in fact, we’ve been friends for a while.”
“You’re still Danforth Grayson,” said Hecata. “A cold-blooded, heartless criminal.”
“Cold-blooded, maybe,” said Grayson. “A criminal…yes…but heartless? C’mon…I love puppies.”

Hecata was unmoved.

Grayson analyzed the situation and sat down quietly on a desk facing Hecata, careful not to make any sudden moves.

“Alexandra,” said Grayson, speaking calmly. “I could go on another soliloquy about how I might not support the law but I do support justice…and that, as a criminal, I’m bound to a code that says I never target an innocent, and you are an innocent…but, your mind about me is already made up. What I do care about is finding out who your attacker is.”
“Galla sent you?” said Hecata.
“You need to understand something about crime fighting,” said Grayson. “You can’t always send the cops…you need your guys who can talk to criminals.”
“…but, I’m not a criminal,” said Hecata hesitantly.
“Galla’s also in Portland,” said Grayson. “Flight time is four hours…I was in Washington. Much quicker for me to do it.”
“Oh,” said Hecata, relieved. “I see.”

“I need to ask about your attack,” said Grayson.
“I figured as much,” said Hecata.
“I noticed something on your medical report,” said Grayson. “Apparently they extracted wood chips from your vagina.”

“Uh,” said Hecata, perturbed by Grayson’s candour. “Yeah…they…did.”

Grayson let out a chuckle, expecting her reaction.

“This doesn’t surprise you at all,” he said.
“No,” said Hecata. “I figured the wood came from the ground…I didn’t exactly get raped on a clean bed.”
“That is true,” said Grayson, “but you also said you were hit by a baseball bat.”
“Yeah,” said Hecata, “I was. Well, I think I was…I was hit from behind.”
“You were also raped by that baseball bat,” said Grayson confidently.

Hecata leaned forward and gave Grayson a look, stunned by his statement. She then leaned back and started glancing around, pondering and confused by this admission.

“Excuse me?” said Hecata. “I’m pretty sure my medical examination said I wasn’t.”
“You’re right,” said Grayson, “it doesn’t. That’s because the bat’s handle was ground to such a point where the knob at the end was whittled away. That’s why you didn’t feel it- and the medical examiner missed that part.”

Hecata, though uncomfortable with the knowledge that everything she knew about her attack was now being challenged, found herself strangely intrigued.

“See, here’s what I find interesting,” said Grayson. “Buck is a big man…315 lbs. by my reckoning. Now, you’re a strong woman, mentally and spiritually…but physically…c’mon, let’s get serious…you’ve got nothing on Buck. He could have whacked you with his hand and you’d be out like a light.”

Hecata gasped at Grayson’s unrestrained candour, but Grayson pressed on.

“It makes no sense to me that Buck would need a baseball bat to get you to the ground,” he said with confidence. “A man of his strength wouldn’t need it. Helen Hofstrate on the other hand-”

“Hold on, wait a minute,” said Hecata hollering in protest. “You’re saying Helen raped me?”
“She’d need a baseball bat,” said Grayson, “and I saw her social media posts…she was in Chicago the night of your rape. You need to understand something about Helen…she’s got a rape fantasy, she was the product of a rape…she wanted to find out what it would have been like…and, she likely thought you were a great target. Do you remember if you talked to her?”
“I talk to a lot of people…I don’t remember everyone,” she said.

Hecata then paused, a thought coming to her.

“I do remember the Wesses,” she said. “They were the opening act…they barely made it past two songs before they were booed off stage. I…I actually talked to Craven afterward…I felt sorry for him…I mean, yeah his stuff was vile...but he had heart. You feel that as a musician and I didn’t think he got a fair shake that night.”
“You are aware Craven is ‘Buck’, right?” Grayson said pointedly.
“No I didn’t,” said Hecata. “He had a mask on...and I didn’t watch the video. I couldn’t bear to read much about Helen since it brought back so many bad memories.”
“He is Buck,” said Grayson. “Craven Bucholtz is his name. Do you remember if he was with someone?”

“Now that I think of it,” said Hecata, digging deep into her thoughts, “Craven had a merch girl...some brunette bimbo who looked a lot like Helen. She must have not been older than 20, I think. Craven kept feeding her drinks even though he wasn’t supposed to. She had him wrapped around her finger, now that I think of it.”

“So for a decade Helen and Craven had known each other, at least,” said Grayson, sitting and pondering. “The question is, why did Helen wait until now to unlock Craven’s dark side? It couldn’t have been the election.”

“Maybe it was,” said Hecata. “Maybe he learned Helen was an Elector and this inspired him in some way. Craven’s bandmates kept telling him to ‘put her in her place’...maybe it took the Electoral result to get him to do that.”

“Did the band encourage Craven to rape Helen?” Grayson asked.
“Not that I recall,” said Hecata. “They they were more concerned about her effect on Craven and how much control she seemed to exhibit over him...their relationship...it didn’t look healthy. Perhaps Helen tried to push Craven away from the band. Isolation is a classic abuser strategy.”

Grayson got up from the table and began to pace, thoughts swirling through his head. A realization soon came to him.

“Craven is the only Soldier in that band,” said Grayson. “Galla showed me the social media posts...two of the Wesses even pledged allegiance to Haylie. So, if anything...Craven and Helen wanted to break away from the band, and the Election was the impetuous.

“Let me ask...did the band have any other fans with them that night?”

“There was a lanky guy,” said Hecata. “Kind of shy...awkward. His name was Jon, I think.”
“Jon Benjamin,” said Grayson confidently. “He sounded like he knew way too much...about Craven...Haylie...Helen. I had a feeling he was misleading me. I always wondered why he didn’t leave the Unionists to join Juan...now I know why.”

December 25, 2016,
17:39 local time,
Chicago Police Headquarters,
Chicago, Illinois

“You gotta stop protecting him,” said Kaminsky as Unionist Party chairman Douglas Lester sat at the interrogation table. “Your party is in a lot of trouble right now and you are not making things any easier by hiding Jon’s whereabouts.”
“I stepped in because you are out of your jurisdiction,” said Lester defiantly. “Jon called me after his mother received the subpoena for him...and you guys have caused enough trouble yourselves with him and our Party, arresting the President...I mean, how could you? I need to put a stop to this. You’re Chicago cops...you can’t arrest people in Washington.”
“On the contrary,” said Claudia. “This is a Mundiali investigation...we have jurisdiction in Washington...we have jurisdiction all over the world...and I don’t care if you don’t think we’re legitimate... Washington signed the Treaty of Buffalo...you have to recognize its conditions.”

Lester could only shake his head and chuckle sardonically in disbelief over what he heard. The investigators were unmoved.

“Let’s review, shall we?” Claudia said. “Jon Benjamin’s semen and blood was found on a pair of pants found at the scene of Helen’s rape, the same pants which belonged to a victim he had brutalized previously. This victim was at The Empty Bottle where the Wesses were playing, of whom both Jon Benjamin and Helen Hofstrate were fans. Benjamin is a Soldier and part of a rape gang, and he has been friends with Helen for years, with Helen often picking targets for him who he raped over top of the pants from his first victim- we know this because the DNA on the pants matched multiple ‘friends’ Helen had on social media, friends Jon didn’t have. Both Helen and Craven have rape fantasies but held back on them despite encouragement from Jon. Their minds were only inspired to change once the Election results came in. Because all three have a hatred for Haylie Modine, they conspired to get Helen selected as an Elector so that she could be ‘brutalized’ in Castro’s name, with the knowledge that someone would think Haylie was actually behind it...I mean, it’s right out of Ingrid’s playbook. Sure enough, Haylie gets arrested and that leaves her status as President up in the air and now Helen, Craven and Jon are missing, off to do what...we don’t know. Of course, we suspect Craven’s band held back his urges, and that Jon stole the potential Electors list to get us from realizing his real targets, so we’re thinking Craven has kidnapped his band along with his co-conspirators...a kidnapping you are unwittingly protecting.”

Lester could only shake his head.

“You are absurd,” he said. “You have no proof that any of that is happening...we haven’t even selected our Electors yet...the lottery is tomorrow.”

“True,” said Claudia. “Except Helen received a letter stating she is an Elector, and it was signed- and sent- by you. Do you want to explain that?”

Lester grimaced and shifted in his chair. He wiped his face with his hand and let out a deep breath.

“There’s a reason why I came here,” said Lester. “It’s remorse...I...I couldn’t take it anymore. I supported Juan Castro, but many of my colleagues didn’t, so when they forced him out, I got upset.”

He wiped his eyes of tears before continuing.

“So I kept looking for ways to conspire against Haylie,” said Lester. “I’d been in contact with Virtue about different things we could do, but it wasn’t until Jon came by that I had the perfect plan. So I named Helen an Elector, and allowed things to play out...but when Jon’s mother reported him missing I felt they went too far.”

Lester then broke down in tears and slumped to the desk.

“That’s why I’m here,” he said through the tears. “Because I couldn’t bear what I had done.”

“So one minute you’re in denial,” said Claudia, “and the next you’re breaking down and crying, claiming you’re sorry for what you have claimed to have done.”

Claudia then folded her arms and gave Lester a stern look.

“Tell me Doug,” she said, “why should I believe you? Jon already misled us once.”

“I gave him the list thinking Jon would attack someone else,” said Lester, “and not disappear. He told me his plan was entirely political...he misled me too.”

“So what was your plan anyway?” said Kaminsky. “Act tough and hope we’d go away? I don’t get you man…but then again, I don’t get politicians anyway.”

“At first I wanted to defend Jon,” said Lester, “but then I was too overcome with-”
“No no no,” said Claudia, waving her hands to stop Lester’s speech. “You just said your whole reason for coming here was remorse. You didn’t have a ‘moment of truth’.”

Claudia then put her hands on the desk and leaned over, looking Lester straight in the eyes, causing Lester to look away.

“I’ll tell you what this really is about,” said Claudia. “You are afraid. You know your career is done, Haylie’s career is done and that no one will be able to trust the Unionist brand anymore, because I’m not sure anyone will know what to believe about the Unionist Party anymore. You came here because you panicked, so you’re going to play every play there is in the political playbook because you are hoping- just hoping- that you can do something to get you and your party out of this mess.

“Except…there is no way out. Is there, Mr. Lester?”

Claudia got back up and folded her arms, looking at Lester sternly.

“I want my lawyer,” said Lester, letting out a heavy breath. “I’m done talking.”

“You can get your lawyer,” said Kaminsky, “because we’re done with you too. I’m pretty sure you’ll need it for when Virtue comes calling…they’re probably not going to appreciate all this wrangling your Party has done.”

Kaminsky and Claudia then walked out of the interrogation room.

“He’s sure great at stalling,” said Kaminsky.
“Doug has something to hide,” said Claudia. “Just, what, I don’t know.”
“You don’t think all this stalling has to do with protecting Jon, Helen and Craven, do you?” asked Kaminsky pointedly.
“You know,” said Claudia, “it just might. Doug insisted that he talk with us then he put on an act…perhaps he knows we’re hot on Jon’s trail.”
“So whatever Jon, Helen and Craven are doing, they need time,” said Kaminsky, “and Lester bought them that time.”
“It is Christmas,” said Claudia, “and likely the rest of the band is celebrating with their families.”
“Didn’t Carly say that Craven has a cottage?” said Kaminsky. “One that was much like the movie?”
“Yeah,” said Claudia, “but she said it was on a random lake…and the picture doesn’t provide an exact location.”
“It’s a lark,” said Kaminsky, “but there’s a town called ‘Random Lake’ just two hours north of here, in South Tacoma. That could be where the cottage is.”
“That’s a clever way of hiding the location,” said Claudia, “because I doubt anyone except locals would know ‘random lake’ actually refers to a location.”
“Which means,” said Kaminsky, “we gotta get up there.”

December 25, 2016,
20:36 local time,
The Wesses’ Cottage,
Random Lake, South Tacoma

The basement was cold and dark, foreboding as the Wesses laid there, chained to their beds naked and wondering what would happen next. The rest of the band- Glen Chambers, the guitarist, Rick Crusher, the bassist, and Rodney “Snipes” Davis, their drummer- were told by Craven, their vocalist, that they were receiving a “special gift” from him this Christmas, so they were anxious to get to their cottage and break off Christmas plans early.

They were also eager to reconnect with their bandmate, one they were happy to find out was no longer missing.

“I hope she’s beautiful,” said Snipes, breaking the silence. “Last time we did this the girl wasn’t very cute.”
“You just don’t like Asians,” said Chambers as the rest of the band laughed.
“Oh come on,” said Snipes. “I do like Asians! My favourite groupie was an Asian…a very willing Japanese girl I might add.”
“Willing because the rest of us didn’t want to touch her,” said Crusher.
“I’m telling you,” said Snipes, “you guys don’t know what you missed…she was excellent in bed…best sex I ever had.”
“Snipes,” said Chambers, “she was crazy…almost as crazy as Helen.”
“Nah man,” said Snipes, “Helen is a whole different league…the Jap was more than cordial and affectionate. She’s just into stuff you guys are too chicken to stomach.”

“Seriously, Snipes,” said a female voice that caught the attention of the band. “We don’t need to hear the Cleveland Steamer story again.”

The band all turned their heads to get a look at the person behind the voice, with shock and silence befalling the room. Helen Hofstrate had just turned on the lights and revealed herself, her appearance causing a great deal of discomfort around the room.

“You?” said Chambers, juggling at his restraints but unable to break them. “Oh no…you’re not being our servicewoman tonight…if you come anywhere near me, the police will hear about it.”

“The police already hear about me,” said Hofstrate, as she strolled around the room running her hands against the well-toned bodies of the band. “I’m sure they’re looking for me…the ‘poor innocent girl’ brutalized by a Castro supporter because he couldn’t stand the result of the Election.”

Hofstrate then went to Crusher and began rapidly stroking his penis.

“Of course,” said Hofstrate as she continued masturbating a very confused Crusher, “you guys know I’m anything but poor and innocent.” She listened as Crusher howled and moaned, grimacing over the pain her stroking was causing. When he was near climax, Hofstrate put her mouth over top of his penis and received his ejaculate, which she swallowed with glee. She then bit down hard on Crusher’s penis, which caused him to yelp out in pain as Hofstrate could only giggle.

“Why are you here?” said Crusher, panting and sweating due to the immense pain he was in. “What do you want from us?”

Hofstrate didn’t answer, since she was busy sucking on the penis of Chambers. This time, when Chambers ejaculated, Hofstrate didn’t swallow- she spat it into his face.

“I knew you were nuts,” said Chambers, spitting out some of the semen that had gotten into his mouth. “You may have corrupted Craven, but you won’t corrupt us.”

“No,” said Hofstrate with a smile, jamming a vibrator into Chambers’ butthole and turning it on full blast, causing Chambers an intense amount of pain. “You’re right, I won’t be here to corrupt you…I’m here to say that you no longer have any power over Craven…that he’s fully embraced his dark side and that you ought to too.”

“I know we sing about rape,” said Snipes, forced to yell because of Chambers’ blood curdling screams, “but we do that because we use it as a metaphor, to talk about our frustrations in other ways. We thought Craven was just about symbolism too…but then he met you, who seemed to take our lyrics literally and you put thoughts in his head I didn’t think he’d ever have. They’re certainly not thoughts we would ever have.”

“Liars!” yelled Hofstrate, “that’s what you are!” She then jammed the vibrator even further into Chambers’ rectum, causing him to experience blinding, unbearable pain. “You can’t sing about rape without wanting to do it!”

“…but we don’t,” said Snipes. “It’s just a form of expression…I wish people would understand that.”

Hofstrate then turned off the vibrator and allowed it to drop to the floor, to the satisfaction of Chambers despite the split second of pain the drop caused him. Hofstrate then turned her purposeful eyes towards Snipes, who grew anxious but tried his best to stay stoic and defiant.

“No,” said Hofstrate as she began stroking Snipes’ penis, “it’s rape…no one thinks about it unless they want to do it.”
“If you think fellatio is going to get under my skin,” said Snipes, taking in a deep breath to deal with his unwitting arousal, “then you are mistaken.”
“You know,” said Hofstrate, pulling out razor wire, “you’re probably right…so I’ll just take it away.” She then wrapped the wire around Snipes’ erect penis and began to tighten it until a voice stopped her.

“Drop the wire!” shouted Claudia, her gun drawn and trained right at Hofstrate.
“Helen,” said Kaminsky, who also had his gun drawn. “You don’t want to do this!”
“No,” said Hofstrate, visibly and audibly frustrated at being frozen in her tracks. “He must rape me…he wants to…he just doesn’t know it yet.”
“I don’t want to rape you!” said Snipes, hyperventilating as he couldn’t stop focusing on the wire wrapped around his penis. “Helen, you’re crazy!”
“Just because your mother was raped doesn’t mean you need to be,” said Claudia, the room stunned by the admission.

“No!” shouted Hofstrate defiantly. “My mother was a coward…she didn’t like being overpowered. She was weak, unappreciative of the gift she was given…my dad…he helped me out more than she ever did. Because he truly was a man, because a man should never be afraid to assert his place on another person.”
“That’s where you have it wrong Helen,” said Kaminsky. “A man isn’t strong because he reverts to animalistic urges…he is strong because he can overcome them.”

Hofstrate began panting wildly, steaming from Kaminsky’s words but insistent on pressing on.

“You have it all wrong!” said Hofstrate. “A man should not be weak! A man should be dominant…he never should ask for permission!”
“You still gave Craven a safe word,” said Claudia. “Because even you know that there some men you don’t want to be dominant over you.”

Hofstrate stood there, stunned, before lowering her head and crying. She then suddenly stopped and began to grip at the wire again as Snipes watched on, horrified and nervous.

Kaminsky then fired his gun and felled Hofstrate with a bullet before she could tighten the wire any further, saving Snipes’ penis. The room watched with both confusion and delight as Hofstrate thudded on to the floor, a lifeless husk that could threaten the band no more. Snipes watched even further as the wire that was once wrapped around his penis fall harmlessly to the floor, allowing him to eventually exhale and regain his composure.

Claudia then grabbed the restraints’ keys from Bucholtz (arrested alongside Benjamin) and undid the locks, allowing the band to regain the free movements of their limbs. Claudia allowed them to grab some clothes before collecting statements from each of band members, all of whom were having their own difficulties trying to process the whirlwind they had just gotten out of.

After giving their statements, the three bandmates gave in to their emotions, breaking down and crying. They all consoled each other for a few minutes before Snipes decided to walk outside.

He walked towards Claudia and waited for her to finish her statements to the support staff gathered, including forensics and medical staff. Claudia turned and saw him, flashing him a warm smile.

Instantly, she knew what he wanted. She walked towards him and outstretched her arms, and the two of them locked in a tender embrace. Claudia held Snipes tightly, cradling his head as he cried on her shoulders. They spent several minutes locked in the embrace, with Claudia doing her best to soothe him and reassure him that things were only going to get better.

They then went on a stroll, arms around each other’s waists. As she so often evoked, Claudia felt like a mother to Snipes, who never knew his own mother as she died in childbirth.

“Agent Claudia,” said Snipes.
“It’s okay,” said Claudia, “you can call me Galla.”
“OK Galla,” said Snipes with a smile. “Listen, I know we rap a lot about violence and destroying people…but you know we’d never think about that, right?”
“Yes, I know,” she said. “Typically, lyrics like yours are just metaphors, outlets for real world anger and frustrations…at least that’s what you were thinking in your songs.”
“Yeah,” said Snipes. “I have no luck with women…it’s how I get my anger out.”
“You seem like a good guy,” said Claudia. “I’m sure it’ll happen at some point.”
“Thanks,” said Snipes with a smile.

“I have a question for you though,” said Snipes poignantly.
“Go ahead,” said Claudia with a smile, rubbing Snipes’ back.
“You’ve seen so much violence and had to contemplate so much hurt,” said Snipes, “and understand the darkest of minds. It’d be enough to make anyone go crazy. Yet you’re one of the nicest people ever.”

Claudia smiled and chuckled under her breath.

“How do I do it?” she asked.
“Yeah,” said Snipes.
“Well,” said Claudia with a sigh. “I’m not sure how I do it. I always tell myself that I need to be strong, that no matter what I see, I need to remember that it wasn’t me who did it, and that it’s my moral duty to find out who did. If I start getting violent and lash out like the criminals I’m chasing…then the public cannot trust that I work for them, because then I’d be no better than the criminals I’m supposed to stop. It’s a difficult task…but without it, civilization itself fails.”


“The difference between being a person of the law and one who is not is not having a badge- it’s having a heart.”- Casaran proverb