Three, Two, One (321)


by J.A. Huss

Denver Federal Center

Lakewood, Colorado

Present Day

“We can’t help you if you don’t help us help you.”

I just stare at the guy. That’s his angle? Help us help you?

“Ark—” He hesitates and gives me a sidelong look, like it’s just now occurring to him that Ark might not be my real name. I let out a small snort and a smile breaks. He does not appreciate the smile or the snort, because he rubs a hand down his face and huffs some air into it.

“Ark,” the other suit says, taking over. I guess this is when they do the good-cop-bad-cop thing. “Come on, man, we know, OK?”

Now that intrigues me. “What do you think you know?”

“We know people are dead,” Bad Cop interjects, warranting a feigned exasperated sigh and an upheld hand from Good Cop.

“People die every day,” I add, just so Good Cop doesn’t have a chance to play his card. It ticks him off too, because he has to take a deep breath.

“Ark,” he tries again. “We need to know what’s happening. People might still be in danger. More bodies might turn up. Bodies who might not be just bodies if we can intervene in time.”

“Nothing’s happening,” I say, stressing the word. “It’s over.”

Bad Cop slaps down a stack of eight-by-ten photos and they skid across the stainless steel table with a whoosh. “This,” he says, tapping one of the photos, “is more than nothing. This is a dead woman. And this—” He points to another photo, one I’m not sure I can look at and not be affected by. So before he can say anything I clear my throat like I’m gonna talk. It shuts him up just long enough to let Good Cop change the subject back to me.

“Ark, come on. We know there’s more to this than you’re saying. It’s clear that you were working with this guy. We’ve found hundreds of contracts in your office.” He taps another photo and sucks some air through his teeth while he lets me think about that. “Just start from the beginning. If you explain, I’m sure we can make things easy for you.”

I give off another snort. “Make things easy, huh?” That’s what they always say before they fuck you. I know. I’ve been fucked lots of times.

“Just tell us how you met her.” I look over at Bad Cop, who is surprisingly calm now. His façade is slipping. Or maybe he just knows I can’t be had that way. I’ve been on the streets too long. I’ve seen too much. I’ve done too much to be lured into talking with a fake promise. “Just start with this one,” he says, pointing to the dead woman in the photo, “and we can get to the other stuff later.”

I stare at him.

He stares back at me. “You’re gonna have to tell someone.”

“Eventually,” Good Cop adds. “I mean, come on, Ark. There’s bodies. You don’t walk away from this, understand? You don’t just get to walk away. We can’t cut that kind of deal and you know it. So just start at the beginning and we’ll take it one step at a time. We’ll put all the pieces together and write the report and then we’ll talk about your options.”

I already know my options. I glance down at the photos again, then flick them with a fingertip, making them slide across the smooth metal table.

Blue peeks out from underneath the ones on top. Her face in this picture is just the way I saw it that first day. Innocent, but stoic. Scared, yet strong. She was cold and wet. Her long hair was hanging down the front of that drenched summer dress that was too skimpy for summer, let alone late in the fall.

“You can pick it up,” Bad Cop says. “Go ahead.”

I can’t stop myself, so I reach for it, but the chain on my cuffs is too short and it jerks taut. Bad Cop slides her photo across the table so it’s directly below me.

“Start with her. The girl you’re calling Blue. When did she turn up? Where did she come from?”

I can see it all so clear in my head. It started out like any other day. JD and I were up early to do business…

My fingertips can’t help themselves. They reach for her photo and I hold it up. The silence in the room drags on for what seems like minutes, but it can’t be more than a few seconds. Time just… stops. That’s how it was from the first moment I met her.

“Ark,” Good Cop finally says, breaking the stillness. “You have to start somewhere. We’re not gonna judge you, OK? We’re just here to get the story. You gotta trust us. OK?” When I look up at him he gives me a sympathetic shrug that comes off too real for me to chalk it up to FBI interrogation techniques. “You gotta tell someone, man. It might as well be us.”

“It’s a long story.”

“We’ve got all day.”

“It’s”—I look at the picture for a moment, and then look up at Good Cop, AKA Special Agent Matheson—“complicated.”

“I got a degree in logic, man. I can follow. And Jerry’s heard and seen it all, OK? He doesn’t judge.” Matheson jacks a thumb over his shoulder at Bad Cop, AKA Jerry. “Hell, he’s been involved in some fucked-up shit too. So just… take a deep breath, man. Just take a deep breath and start with the girl you’re calling Blue.”

I do take a deep breath. Not because he told me to, but because I really need one. And then, because I know there’s no way I’m getting out of here without telling them something, I begin on the exhale…

“I saw her first, OK?” I look up at Matheson and he nods. “I saw her first and that’s all you need to know.”

It was last October. It was raining—pouring like a waterfall rushing down a mountain in the spring time. And the 16th Street Mall was empty because it was six-thirteen AM on Sunday.

My hands were in my pockets, my shoulders were hunched like that would keep the rain off me. Church bells were ringing. A weird time for the bells, I remember thinking. But it’s burned into my memory of her. The church bells ringing. Every time I heard them I saw her in my head. Just like she looked that first day.

She was soaked, huddled under an awning over a bookstore, crying. She was shivering and her teeth were chattering uncontrollably. Her eyes—a striking, almost surreal aquamarine—tracked me as I walked by. Last night’s makeup was streaked down her cheeks, black and gray stains that mimicked the sky above.

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