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13 FEB 2008, 0434 EST - Manhattan, NY

Trent Reznor wakes me up at 0434 EST. This week’s ringtone is ‘Heresy’; a little rough to be woken up by. I check the caller ID on the bright green LED screen and groan. I sleep maybe an hour out of every four days, and I have just been woken up to go to work. Fucking beautiful.

I hit the button to pick up. “Yeah?”

“You’re needed, Mr. Donighal.” The voice on the other end is robotically female. Very plain, very officious. “Please report to the local office immediately. Chalmers will be waiting for you.” The line goes dead before I have a chance to say anything back, which I wouldn’t have, anyway. Instead, I groan, roll off the couch, and put on my slacks and a button-down with last night’s tie still hanging in a limp half-Windsor around the collar. I check my face in the mirror and pad my shirt pocket to make sure I have no less than twelve cigarettes, turn off the television, and walk out the door, closing it behind me with a slam loud enough to wake the neighbors. Not my fault: the doors in this building weigh a ton, and the air pressure always makes them close like that.

Half past four in the morning doesn’t mean much for traffic in the Big Apple, but I decide to take my car, anyway. I’m in no mood for public transportation, and besides, I need to smoke at least ten cigarettes by the time I get to my cubicle, where a fresh pack waits. I drop the top on my Mustang and hit the road. A good muscle car for muscling through traffic. I make good time to the office, enough that I stop for a cup of joe at the 7-11 next door. We have coffee in the office, of course, but like the coffee at all government buildings from the DMV up to the White House, it’s piss, like you’d expect. The 7-11 carries Green Mountain: Gevalia it ain’t, but it’s about the best damn coffee you can get at this time of night. I take mine black and bitter and beeline for the counter. Ahmad, the clerk, knows me here. I tell him I’m in a hurry and he gives me the cup gratis. Ahmad’s good people.

The office is bustling when I get inside; something’s up. On reflection, it occurs to me that patrol car presence at city level was up about forty-five percent for the time, and I feel a little dumb for having not made the connection at the time. I ask the girl at the desk where I can find Chalmers. She tells me she’ll have to page him, and I tell her to have him call my office. I pass through security and head back to my wing of the building, and my phone’s already ringing when I get there. Secure, autonomous lines inside the building ensure we can’t be eavesdropped on through technological means, so all sensitive communicate is handled off the grid. I pick up, “Donighal. What’s the status?”

“Interrogation room six”, a gravely, hoarse voice tells me. “Don’t dawdle.”

I hang up, grab a fresh pack of smokes from my desk drawer, and make my way to the locale. Traffic increases steadily as I make my way to the Sherman wing of floor eleven, to the point that as I get close, people who recognize me are pushing others out of the way to hasten my arrival. My thumb, passcard, and residual DNA get me through one more security door, where I find Chalmers and a couple of other Admin standing around with worried looks on their faces. Whatever happened, it must have been big.

They don’t notice my coming in, so I step up and announce myself formally. “Operative Donighal reporting, sir.”

“Donighal”, Chalmers looks up at me, his face ashen. “About time. We need you to interrogate the perp, find out what he can do. And for God’s sake, don’t go into details about the incident. Just find out what he’s capable of so we can start processing.”

The shit must have really hit the fan for them to be calling me in for something like this. We have guys – nova guys – who specialize in this sort of thing, after all, and I know they’re not all out of town. So either our guy just chewed through the first group they sent in to deal with him, or they need someone like me, someone who can meet the really sick fucks ounce for ounce on brutality. Maybe both. I nod to the group, who I know will be watching from the adjoining room, and reach for the handle, but stop myself. I turn back to Chalmers. “What’s my range of maneuverability on this one?”, I ask, which is a politely sanitized way of asking how much or how little I can rough him up to get at what I need to know.

Sweat reflects off Chalmers’ bald head. His breathing relaxes, becomes firm. He eyes me crossly. “Don’t kill him.” I nod to him in tacit and perfect understanding. It might sound to others like “Do whatever you need to do, but don’t kill him.” But that’s not what Chalmers meant. What he was saying was, “Do whatever you need to do, but don’t kill him.” I won’t.

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