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Mark opens his eyes, seeing nothing but darkness. He grunts as he feels a throbbing pain in the back of his head. It isn’t until now when he realizes he must have been unconscious the whole time. He wondered where the hell he was, who the hell hit him. It dawns on him that this could be Nathan’s doing. This whole time he thought Nathan was just some dumbass who got put in the captain’s chair. He wonders if he was a fool for underestimating the captain of the police force.

He tries to move his hands, but it seems they’re knotted up in what feels like rope. The black bag they used is still wrapped over his head. Whoever tied him up sure knew how to tie a knot--like some kind of sailor or something.

It’s then that he hears a voice speak aloud. The voice sounds older, and oddly calm, given the situation they’re in--

“Are you listening?” the voice says. “You’ve been ignorin’ my questions.”

Mark lifts his head up. He would assume they’re looking down on him. If not, that would be pretty weird. Mark lets out a groan but refuses to utter words.

“Well?” the older voice continues. “What’ve you got to say?”

Am I being interrogated right now? Mark thinks to himself. He’s used to being asked questions, but not with a bag over his head.

His headwrap is removed half-way to reveal only his mouth. “I guess I played myself didn’t I?” he says finally--as if the bag was stopping him from talking.

“What do you mean?” the old voice retorts. Another voice makes itself known. “Don’t waste your breath. Only speak with answers.”

“You know it’s a little hard to see, but if removing this bag won’t cause any harm to me, I’ll convince you to let me free.”

“He’s rhymin’ now…” muttered a low voice, but Mark couldn’t quite tell who. There's a shortage of silence before the older voice speaks. “What are you, some kind o’ poet? What’s your name, son?”

Mark wonders whether he should comply. A first name would suffice. “Mark.”

“I’ll admit that I’m impressed with how you’re handling yourself. Most people would’ve shouted some not-so-kind words to us by now.”

“I’d be lying if I say I’m not scared.”

The older man chuckles. “Well, I’ll always admire honesty in a situation like this.”

“We’re wasting time,” the less pleasant voice adds. “Enough chit-chat.”

“Don’t worry. I got a feeling you won’t be knocking anyone else out today. Isn’t that right, Mr. Mark?”

Mark can’t help but feel his heart pump faster. Nathan’s men, he presumes? If they were willing to frame Mason for a crime, what would stop them from harming him? He had to play it smart; unlike Mason, he had a daughter and wife to see at the end of the day.

“Yes,” he replies. “Yes…”

“So… Mr. Mark. Who do you work for?”

“Define work for.” He hears a loud groan, probably from Mr. Angry.

“Who sent you here? We found your car startin’ from Mr. Snapes’ house, so there’s no need to lie.”

He wonders how he wasn’t able to spot them earlier. Perhaps he should have followed the two-car rule. “I swear,” he begins, as sincere as he can be, “I’m not working for anyone.”

“I see. But what about the FBI, Mark? What about Bobby Rubens? Why else are you following Nathan? He an old boyfriend or somethin’?”

“FBI? Bobby Rubens?” Mark follows, confused. “Who are they to you?”

“Just formality, Mr. Mark. Which one sounds more appealing to you?”

A smirk appears on Mark’s mouth--the only visible part of his face. “Sir, I have a reason to believe we have conflicts of the same interest.”

A brief silence stirs in the room. A gust of wind can be heard from outside. “Remove the mask, Jaime.”

“You’re trusting him that easily?” Mr. Angry responds. That must be Jaime.

“Take it off. This isn’t the guy that we’re looking for. We’re wasting time.”

The darkness turns to light. Mark looks up and finally sees the two men’s faces, sitting in what he presumes to be a van. The older gentleman is bald, and has a beard that accompanies his Southern-ish accent. He’d have been old enough to be his father, but the man is in great shape. The other man is burlier and slightly taller; missing hair as well, but with a five-o-clock shadow. Must be the muscle.

“So… Mr. Mark. If you would kindly answer my question from earlier, we’ll let you go home.”

“It’s not a question of who I work for,” Mark replies, “But who I’m working with. Mason Wylie.”

The two pause and look at each other. Jaime is the one who looks back at him. “Mason Wylie? The cop, in jail right now?”

“Was,” Mark says. “I bailed him out. We’re both feeling ambitious tonight, so we’re doing our own little digging. For the truth.” He wished he went with “righteousness”, but it didn’t fit the setting...

The older man raises an eyebrow. “So is your name really Mark?”

He nods. “And yours?”

“Sullivan. If you don’t mind, we should probably discuss this somewhere more spacious.” As if to apologize, Sullivan fixes Mark’s hair as best he could. “Looked better before we bagged ya.”

He couldn’t agree more.

――――

“Tell me you didn’t kill that girl, Mason.”

Annabelle Tate was this club’s daughter. Flamingo has taken Mason to see the shrine dedicated to her in the building’s basement. A picture of the girl in a bygone age, smiling, is adorned by numerous flowers and candles. The lighting upstairs wouldn’t have done it justice.

“She was abandoned when she was 6. Unwanted child. We couldn’t find a place for her so we kept her here.” Flamingo struggles to hold back tears. “By God, I tried to do what’s best for her. I didn’t ask her to take drugs, meet those men… I couldn’t stop her choices.”

And for her to be entangled in this mess that wasn’t even hers. She was just a bystander. A victim.

“I don’t know who killed her, Mason. But best believe it’s one of your own.” Flamingo wipes her tears away. “Our spot’s popular among your folk.” She starts making her way upstairs, motioning for him to follow.

“There’s filth in your midst, Mason.”

――――

Mason made sure he’s got his fixtures in tow. He attempts to call Mark as he waits in his car. There were ten minutes left until 11; they were supposed to meet fifteen minutes ago.

He gives up in the third attempt, choosing to piece together what he’s found so far. It is undoubtedly Nathan responsible for where he is now--as to why, he didn’t know yet. Maybe he could save that for after the hearing… for now, he’d just like to get his captain fired.

His phone finally rings. With energetic intent, Mason answers.

“What’ve you found?”

“Mason.” For a second he thought he’d hear another voice… but it was Mark for sure. “How fast can you drive? Because we need to meet. Right now. You’re gonna need to hear this.”

――――

“Mason. Jesus, good to see you…”

Mason right away finds Mark in the parking lot of this vacant business park. He’d probably pass this place a few times, in its more busy hours; the financial district is usually a stark contrast of its daytime self when the moon is up.

Mark scratches the back of his head as he meets Mason with a handshake. “Got kidnapped,” he starts casually.

“What?” Mason approaches him and scans him for wounds. He starts spreading his look among the parking lot, too.

“It was pretty cool.” Mason looks at him weirdly. They start making their way toward the fluorescent-lit gray building ahead.

“Oh, that’s them right there.” Mark points at the glass doors, where Mason finds two men on the other side; a bearded gentleman and his burly friend, standing in the lobby, not even catching their attention. “Mark,” Mason says, grabbing his arm. “Where are we? Who are those people?” It’s been a long night, and he can barely pay attention to the smaller details right now.

“I…” Mark starts but pauses. He instead nods him toward the door. “They can explain it better.”

Mason takes a deep but silent sigh. Casually, he feels the handle of his gun--tucked away by his jacket--as they prepare to enter the building.

They meet the two strangers; the bald one smiles at him while the burly man starts to scan him, but looks away in time.

“Mason Wylie!” The bald one approaches Mason as if the two were meeting for drinks. “Sullivan McCormick. COO of the Young Foundation.” His leather jacket and business-casual polo told him otherwise.

“I apologize about Mark--that man’s not a cop.” Mason’s insincere tone is pointed more to Mark, trying to tell him that he should’ve probably stayed put.

“Oh, Mason--it was in the news. I didn’t hear it from Mr. Essie here--” Mason turns to face him. The news? “I may be confusin’ you too much. We--we’re just waiting for one more person.” Sullivan glances at his watch. “I promise, Mr. Wylie, that your questions will be answered soon.” He looks behind him to find that his other friend has already vanished. “Can I get ya any drinks? Water?” He glances between the two. “Coffee?”

Mason shakes his head and decides to sit down at the set of lobby benches. Mark asks for a bottle of water.

This is all happening too quickly, and his sleep deprivation is not helping. But he did manage to pick up a few details since he entered this building: the sleepy receptionist tells him operations don’t usually go on this late; the Young Foundation is one of the most charitable organizations this town has ever seen, and those two are probably polishing up their silencers and cleaning up the room they’re going to shoot them in.

Mason watches him with a glare as he sits down next to him. “What the hell happened earlier?”

“Well--”

“You said you were kidnapped by those two, and now you’re walking free. We don’t know who we’re dealing with--” Mason’s raised voice catches even the receptionist’s attention; it was practically echoing with how quiet it was.

“You should--”

“You’re gonna follow my lead when they come back. We’re leav--”

“Here, Mark.” The bald man returns, bottled water in hand, walking toward them.

“Mister… McDormand, was it?” He shoots Mark an urgent look. “We’re sorry to bother you--”

“Mr. Wiley,” The bald man starts. “D’you like music?”

What the hell, Mark? Mason sees him taking the water bottle and drinking it, while the bald man approaches the receptionist and points at something behind the counter.

Mark,” he mutters. “Let’s go. Now.”

Soon, the sound of trumpet jazz fades in and overtakes the lobby, its quality much more clear and pronounced; something you wouldn’t hear when this building is in its usual office hours.

“We thank you for the hospitality, Mr. McDormand. Mark, c’mon--”

“Miles Davis,” the bald man continues with a jaunt. “Good tune.” He starts humming along and nodding his head to the rhythm.

Mason snugly places a hand in the pocket where his handgun sits as he stomps toward the door.

“Mason?” He hears a familiar voice coming from above that stops him from pulling the handle. He turns around and looks up.

There, he sees her, overlooking the second-floor balcony, documents in hand.

“Ari?”

――――

His alibi has been working in this building the whole time. He was going to look for her tomorrow… but it turned out his search for her would lead to this same building.

Ari wasn’t a receptionist. She was the Young Foundation’s CEO, and she was called in by the very same people that spooked Mason earlier; her COO, Sullivan McCormick, and head of security, Jaime Fesser.

They found themselves on the third floor, in what Ari claimed to be the biggest conference room of the building. Mason finally took up Sullivan’s offer of coffee.

The Young Foundation owned three other buildings in Belforde; this one was their busiest office branch. She’d miss the day the news of his arrest aired, but would soon hear it from Mr. McCormick--after returning from her business trip in Miami.

She told him she’d gladly appear in the hearing a few days from now. Mason’s defense was weak in the area of concrete evidence, but having a witness felt like a sufficient counterpart.

“I’m afraid that isn’t what this meeting’s about,” Ari continues; she glances at her two colleagues. “Gentlemen? What else do you have for him?”

With folded arms, Sullivan circles the round table slowly. “We were gonna wait for Lorenzo to arrive, but it’s gettin’ late and everyone’s still up past their bedtime.” On the contrary, Mark looked the most awake.

“Mason, we have a reason to believe that your arrest and our investigation are tied together.”

Mason looks at Mark, who nods assuringly at him.

Jaime closes the conference room doors. Ari takes the cue and opens her notebook.

“Mason…” Sullivan’s amicable tone is traded for something more serious, and focused. “Do you know who Councilman Bobby Rubens is?”

Mason takes a moment but draws a blank. It somehow sounds familiar…

“What about Jacob Rubens?”

Ah. “Yeah, a kid I arrested…” He notices a completely different Ari in the corner of his eye, posture straight, focus placed onto the notebook she writes on.

“Mason, Councilman Rubens used his position to pressure the Western district--your district--in correcting that arrest. They… let’s just say did everything in their power to get rid of you, but they had to do it legally. That means…”

Fabricating a case and pinning the suspect onto Mason. Killing an innocent girl, just to…

“... punish you for arresting his son.”

He couldn’t believe it.

“Mason,” Sullivan continues. “We’ve been investigating Councilman Rubens for three years now. We’ve been waiting for something--anything to open him up. He’s always done everything under the table--until he had you arrested. It’s the first I’m seein’ in a long time.”

Bobby Rubens. Mason wouldn’t have guessed this in four days alone.

“We… we were going to ignore this ‘Nathan Snapes’ until we noticed your friend here tailing him.” Mason is taken away from his pondering state for a moment. “Again, we’re sorry for that, Mark. We thought you were… going to take Nathan away on behalf of Rubens.”

Mark looked the opposite of humble. “I’ve gotta say, it’s been the highlight of my week. No, year!” A collective chuckle takes a bit of tension out of the room.

“I’ll give you a bit of a break, Mason. Ari--Lorenzo’s gonna be here soon. You don’t have to stay…” Sullivan approaches Ari and a sidebar enfolds, prompting Mark to approach Mason.

“See? What’d I tell you?”

Yeah, yeah. Mark was right. He nods approvingly. “But you gotta admit--you won’t get kidnappers as friendly as those two again.”

Mark and Mason go into a conversation about their respective progress; Mason tells him of the recorded footage of Nathan incriminating himself, while Mark tells him of how close Nathan lived to his office, and how much he liked hawaiian shirts.

“Gentlemen,” Ari chimes in, stopping the two briefly. Oh, right; and there’s his alibi. “I’m turning in for the night. Sullivan here will continue the rest of your debrief.” She shakes Mark’s and Mason’s hands respectively, and with a smile. “Mr. Young shouldn’t be long.”

The rest of the people wave off Ari, leaving only the three men in the room. Mark is starting to show signs of drowsiness, contrasting Sullivan, who didn’t seem to be affected by the time of day. The coffee was starting to work its magic for Mason.

――――

It’s only been half an hour and yet Mason’s uncovered more truth than he could in four days. Just as it has been since he was bailed out of jail, everything was moving fast.

Just what was this foundation after? He’d hear about them a few times--mentioned maybe once or twice in the fundraisers and black-tie events he’d attend on behalf of his department. Especially for the western, there were one too many.

Not long after Ari left, the man Jaime returned to the conference room with a new guest. His presence overtakes the room quickly.

“Mister Wylie.” You’d think he was a mafioso, with his dark trenchcoat and hat; no, just a sharp-dressed man with a refined taste for the classics.

“Got it from here?” Sullivan asks. This must be Lorenzo Young; founder of the Young Foundation, and owner of four different properties in Belforde, including the one they stand on.

Lorenzo nods with a calm smile. “C’mon,” he motions Mason. “Walk with me.” As Mason approaches and shakes his hand, Sullivan exits the room with Jaime and Mark, whom he had to coax a little bit.

“So… where to begin?”

In the presence of this man, Mason couldn’t say he was nervous, but when the two are left alone, he couldn’t help but focus on his heartbeat.

“I’m here to answer any and every question you got fo’ me, Mr. Wylie.”

Mason chuckles lightly to ease off some tension. “It’s--it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Young--”

“Oh, please. Lorenzo.”

“Lorenzo.”

“More like it.” Lorenzo slips off his trenchcoat and starts looking around the conference room. “Y’know, I never get to visit this place at this time o’ night. Let’s take a walk.”

The two leave the room.

――――

Lorenzo would start with the building’s day to day; this is where much of his non-profit office work is conducted, handled by none other than his CEO, Ariana Hutchins. The receptionist didn’t need to be present, but Ariana insisted on having someone be present at the front desk when their boss arrived; plus, she told him that the girl could use the extra money.

They were walking through the third floor’s east wing, where the conference room was found. From the wall-sized windows, they could see more of the slumbering city.

“I s’pose you’re wonderin’ why you’re here. Why I wanted to talk to you. As an officer sworn to uphold the law, I’m here to ask ya if you could… turn a blind eye to this ol’ man.”

Mason could feel it; he could never return to his department the same man again.

“Mason, Bobby an’ I share a past. He’ll do everythin’ in his power to take away what I have in this city. My good friend Sullivan gathered enough to show you this isn’t the first time he’s done this.”

They arrive at a section of the floor full of small office rooms. “That man is tied to prostitution, Mason. You recall hearin’ about his human trafficking scandal? 2005…” Mason was trying to build his career up that time, and so he kept his head down.

“He was named in that circle. When they made the arrests, nabbin’ two people from that circle was enough. He’d been forgotten, Mason.”

They descend from the third floor, onto the second, making way for less barren walls. “With the file we gathered, and your police presence… Mason, we’d like to hand over this investigation to you.”

“To me?” Mason nearly stops. “Sir I--I don’t think it’ll be that easy--”

“Oh? Trust me, Mason.” Lorenzo looks down to where the lobby’s direction would be. “Sullivan knows what he’s doing. We’ve got enough to tie Bobby from crimes in another state.”

“Even so, sir… prosecution of government officials doesn’t just end with an arrest--they’d--probably find something to bargain with…” Mason has seen this all before. It’s why he seldom investigated government officials… they never went anywhere. As many cases he’s witnessed against their type, they all seem to get swept under the rug.

Lorenzo nods. The two stop walking for a moment. “Mason, how far are you willin’ to pursue justice?”

He pauses at this. Working with them, a non-profit, apparently investigating this deeper than his district could, to put a councilman behind bars.

“As far as I could, sir.” He knows how it ends; he’ll be proven innocent, but his name will be tied to Bobby Rubens forever.

“Mason, all we want is Bobby. Are you able to give him to us before your friends could get to ‘im?”

Mason looks at him. Kidnapping of a government official.

“Sir…”

“This is all I ask, on your behalf.” Suddenly, Mr. Young didn’t look so innocent. “Avoid all that red tape.”

“I--I can’t kidnap a councilman, Mr. Young…”

“You don’t have to be the one to bring him in. Just--delay his arrest as best as you can. Talk to your boys. We’ll do the rest.”

“I’m sorry, sir.” He couldn’t do that to his own department.

Lorenzo looks down. Nods in the next second. “I understand. You’re a good cop, Mason.”

He was dealing with a presence even he didn't know. They weren’t cops, nor were they from the government...

Just some upstanding citizens who decided to take things into their own hands.

――――

1 AM.

Mason sits with Mark in his car, parked outside of Mark’s office building. Mason has been quiet the whole way.

“What happened back there?” Mark asks.

He’s been thinking about who he’s dealing with. What he’s done to get to this point.

The Young Foundation isn’t who they seemed. They were capable of kidnapping people. Its founder wanted a councilman handed to them on a silver platter...

And yet, despite that, Mason and Mark leave with all of the answers, unharmed. In the back of their car is Sullivan’s case file; rifling through it, Mason saw pictures and documents that would’ve taken him years, pursuing a lead that ended with a government official and an inevitable delay.

“I’ll take it from here,” Mason says. Mark turns to him with furrowed brows.

“What?” Mason gives him an intense look; a polite way of asking him to leave his car. “Mason this--”

“We’re dealing with something bigger here, and with people we don’t know. By the way, when you see Sullivan and them again, just turn away...”

“We’ve made it this far,” Mark interrupts. Mason stops talking. “I’m in this as much as you are, Mason. Let’s end this together.”

“I don’t want you getting kidnapped again--”

“Kidnapped, tortured, questioned--I’m in this, no matter what. I’m your co-conspirator.”

The two share a look. “You have a daughter. A wife.”

“And they’ll be okay, as long as I live. Now, I just want answers.”

Mason turns away.

“Then get some sleep. We got a long day tomorrow.”

――――

He stretches his arms. It’s only morning time but Mason knew what needed to be accomplished today. He hears a car outside of his home. He looks out and sees it’s Mark. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he did need Mark; at least for the next part. If Mark was good at one thing, it would be the ability to persuade people.

Mason smells the fresh smell of the outdoor oak. The wind breezes, and he can’t help but look at his hellcat. When was the last time he got that thing waxed? It’s not until he hears a honk ring through his ears.

Mark rolls down his window. He drives a range rover sport, the windows in an all-black tint. Everything below is a smooth grey. Mark was also good at style. It’s not long until Mason is looking at the interior.

“We need to do things the right way first,” Mason says, settling himself in the car.

“What’re you thinking?”

“We need Eric.”

“Eric? You’ve spoken of him before, haven’t you? The one who you’re always butting heads with.”

“I am. I have a plan though. We need to ambush him.”

“Ambush? What happened to not kidnapping people?”

Mason chuckles. “No one is getting kidnapped.”

Mark raises an eyebrow. “Well, go on then. Get on with it.”

“If Eric is still on his regular routine, he should be getting back within the next hour or so. We just need to catch him before he leaves.”

“Sounds easy.”

“I need you to talk to him first,” Mason continues. “If he sees me, there’s no telling how he’ll react.”

A sly grin appears on Mark’s face.

――――

It’s been an hour since they’ve parked. It’s a relief when Mason sees Eric pull up in his patrol car. It’s now or never.

Mark exits his car. “Excuse me, Mister de la Cruz!” he exclaims, as he walks toward what looks to be a miffed Eric.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Eric places his hands on his hips.

Mason can’t help but sit and watch from Mark’s tinted windows. Always the more cautious one.

Mark extends his hand for a handshake. “Mark Essie. Perhaps you’ve read one of my novels before?”

Eric analyzes his hand for a few moments before deciding to shake it. “Nah, I haven’t. Lost the time to read a long time ago. I’ve heard of your name before, though.” His eyes catch the folder brimming with documents tucked by Mark’s side. “What’s that you’re holding there?”

Mark doesn’t hesitate and turns the files over to Eric. “They’re for you, actually.”

Eric raises a brow. “Who sent you here? If those files are dirty, I don’t want them.”

“Trust me.” Mark continues to hold the files outright.

Eric remains poised. He looks around the empty parking lot to see if there are any bystanders nearby before deciding to grab the files.

Not long after rifling through it, he notices a picture of councilman Bobby Rubens. He even sees photos of Nathan wearing plastic gloves.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Eric says with a grimace. He extends the files back to Mark.

“It’s… for Mason.”

Eric pauses and gives him an angry look. “No. There’s no evidence here. I don’t even know what I’m looking at--”

“Eric, I just need you to listen to me for one moment.” Soon, Mason makes his presence known.

“What the fuck are you doing here, Wylie?”

“We both know the answer to that. I wouldn’t kill an innocent person. How long have we known each other? Fourteen, fifteen years?”

“Explain what the hell is in my hands, then. What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“Eric, we both know you’re a hell of a cop. That’s why I need you to hear me out. Nathan set me up. There are photos of him going into my office. I have a copy of the footage--he wore rubber gloves to plant something.

“So what?” Eric shrugs, looks at him like he was stupid. “I’ve worn rubber gloves too--where are you going with this?”

“Look at the date and time of that photo. In those records, there are files that keep a tab of scheduled fire alarms and when they’re pulled. Nathan undoubtedly pulled it.” Eric continues not to yield, unable to keep eye contact and feeling ridiculous at what he’s hearing. “I even have a statement from my alibi--I was with her the night prior.” The last part catches his attention.

Eric pauses, his stupid look withering. “This better not be a waste of time, Wylie.” He shuffles through the file and stops when he finds the page he is looking for. It takes a moment for him to match up the dates and times.

“Well? Just blurt it out, then,” he says, analyzing between the two pieces of evidence.

“Nathan framed me. He was the one who planted that weapon in my office. You really think I’d be dumb enough to hold on to a murder weapon?”

He scoffs. “Not gonna lie--that that didn’t cross my mind.” Again, he pauses to process this, putting attention away from the file. “How do I know you’re not fucking with me?”

“I’ll make Nathan confess.”

“You know, what you’re saying right now is making you sound absolutely crazy, right?”

“I don’t have much choice. I could’ve done this dirty, but I’m coming to you. It has to be done right--for my sake.”

A brief moment of silence occurs. Only the sound of Eric flipping through the files can be heard. He looks up once more. “I guess you can call me crazy, Wylie. I’ll help you, but if this doesn’t work, it’s your ass.” The whole time, Mason sternly looks at Eric. “I’d be happy to slap those bracelets on again. Besides, how are we supposed to get him to confess?”

“We show him the same evidence that we showed you and tell him it’s only a matter of time, even if we have to lie.”

Eric takes a pause. Mason starts to make his way back to the car, prompting Mark to follow him. “You’re lucky we have history, Wylie,” Eric says out loud.

――――

It’s midnight, and the three arrive at the town’s adult arcade. Mark’s parked in the same parking lot he was kidnapped not too long ago. The arcade, a place for both kids and adult friend groups, illuminates the dark streets with its neon-yellow-and-red lights. It might’ve been the brightest place in the block.

“How’d you know he was here?” Eric asks, sitting in the back.

“I was here yesterday,” Mark replies.

“An adult arcade? Seriously?” It’s starting to dawn on Eric that this is their captain they’re dealing with. “Isn’t he single?” He knows about this place--good for dates and family outings, not grown men all alone. And fucking police captains.

Mason intervenes.“Look.” He points at a darker side of the building, where he could see the spark of a cigarette bud--and the man lighting it. “Let’s go.”

Eric takes the lead, choosing to appear first and greeting Nathan with fake surprise. “Cap’n Snapes! Funny seeing you here.”

Nathan squints for a second. “Oh shit--de la Cruz! What’s going on, my man?” The two exchange a handshake, Eric noticing Nathan’s shift from disappointed to glad.

“I’m good,” Eric assures. “What about you? You okay? You smokin’ that pack like it’s nothing.”

Nathan’s disappointment returns. “I’m still trying to beat some asshole who toppled my high score in Pac-man. It’s whooping my ass...” He sighs in disappointment. “You want a smoke?”

“Yeah, I’ll take one,” Eric replies.

Nathan turns around as he reaches into his back pocket to pull out another pack. “I hope you don’t mind Marlboro--” As he turns around, he finds two others standing side-by-side with Eric.

“Wh--whoa, you guys here, too?!” he exclaims. “You I don’t know but--Mason! Buddy, you--you’re outta jail! That’s so good man--” He starts coughing out of nervousness.

Mason can’t help but remember the last conversation they had while he was behind bars. “Funny, coming from you. I thought I was a ‘piece of shit’ to you?”

“What? N-no, no! It’s not even like that, man...” Nathan attempts to fist-bump Mason by grabbing his hand, but Mason pulls away. “Mason, c’mon! W--we’re bros! Mason, my man! My mainest, main ma--” He starts to sigh nervously and jitters. “For fuck’s sake! Tonight’s not a good night, alright?! I lost my fucking high score to a ten-year-old!” Mark turns away in time to sneak the quietest chuckle he could gather.

“I don’t fucking care,” Mason retaliates. “We’re here because we think you know something.” He could see Nathan’s hands begin to tremble. Is it going to be this easy with him?

“Bro, I don--I don’t know who or what you’re referring to--” As if on cue, Nathan shows his captain’s composure--at least, what little of it. “I’m just worried about you not going back to jail again.”

Mason opens his mouth--but before he has a chance to say something, he hears Eric’s voice. “Nathan. We’re prepared to give you a plea deal. We know what you’ve done, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s a warrant for your arrest.”

“Huh?” Now his job is on the line. “I’m the fucking captain! You work for ME! You don’t threaten captains with warrants!!”

“Oh yeah? Then explain why I have Officer Perez drawing it up right now. Feel free to give him a call. When you commit fraud, you can easily lose your job whether you’re a captain or not.” There is no warrant--Eric is just bluffing.

Nathan's face develops a bright-red tint. Mason couldn’t help but feel amused.

“Fucking fuck,” Nathan mutters; he spits and scratches the back of his head. “Look--look, it wasn’t me!”

“What do you mean it wasn’t you, it’s on all on the tapes--”

“I didn’t kill that girl--I was forced to cooperate! I’m the fraud, but if you can grant me immunity--”

“Immunity?” Eric interrupts. “You’re saying big words now, Nathan.”

“Look, look, just listen--I can clear your name, Mason!” Nathan grabs Mason’s shoulders; he takes a second to pull away.

“How?”

“Like I said, I know who killed that girl--he brags about them to me, the fucking madman! I-I can get it on recording, I swear--”

“Who is it?”

“Please, just give me a chance--” When Mason doesn’t change his expression, Nathan collapses to his knees. He mutters some breaths that soon turn to cries. “I won’t last in prison, man--please…” Tears start to stream and roll down his cheeks.

Eric bends down to his level. “How soon can you get this recording?”

Nathan doesn’t notice him right away from his blurry eyes. “Tonight… tonight, I swear I’ll get it…”

“No immunity,” Eric reminds him. “But I’ll lower your charges and reduce your time.”

“BUT--” Nathan shouts, powering through his whimpering.

Eric shakes his head. “I don’t think you’re in much of a position to negotiate right now, Snapes.”

He stops whimpering and reaches for Eric’s hand, but he, too, pulls away. “Okay, okay…” he mutters pathetically.

“Oh my,” Mark mutters; he has stood far enough away to keep his giggles out of earshot. “This has turned into quite a plot twist. Another suspect?” Mason turns around to face him; he stops talking in time. “This story just keeps getting better,” he whispers.

CreditsEdit

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