The doctors said it was too early to tell. Supposedly it was a good thing that Judy had found the lump, and they said that, given the circumstances, they were counting themselves lucky that they could start this quickly. Max Harrick did not feel so lucky. The biopsy was apparently an outpatient procedure – they used some sort of damned magic technique that was supposedly commonplace in Arizradna.
Harrick was not happy about that. Magic was unpredictable. For all he knew, it was just going to make the cancer worse. Well, probably cancer. They were going to send it down to the lab all the way down in Port Sang to get it tested. Harrick stepped into his wife’s room at the hospital.
Judy was awake and alert. She was even smiling. Harrick could not understand how she could be smiling when he wanted to scream.
“Judy,” he said, as he leaned in and kissed her.
“Hi, honey,” she said. “They’re going to let me out in about half an hour. They just want to make sure the sedatives have worn off.”
“Does it hurt?”
She shook her head and smiled. “I’m fine. Really. A very handsome young man came in here and patched me up. You can hardly see a scar and it doesn’t hurt in the slightest.” She thought about it for a second. “Well, that could be the drugs they have me on.”
Harrick held tight onto her hands. In his imagination, he had flashes of what he prayed were not the future – a funeral, a lonely house, an empty bed. He rested his forehead on her hand. “This is so fucking scary, Judy.”
She pulled her hand away from him, her voice lowering to a whisper, losing the calm charm she had maintained before. “Max. Max. Come on,” she pleaded. “I need to stay positive, ok?”
He took a deep breath, feeling the warmth behind his eyes that threatened to become tears. “Gods, I’m sorry. Ugh, this is the last thing you need, isn’t it?” He took a deep breath, and he could feel his chest reverberating with nervousness. “Ok. You won’t hear any more worrying from me.”
Judy laughed at this. “I seriously doubt that.” She looked him over. “I’ll be ok. Besides, you have more important things to worry about, Max.”
“Nothing’s more important than you.”
Judy smiled. “Well, then how about you let the less important stuff distract you, like the army of draugar or the ships blowing up in the harbor?”
Harrick forced a laugh. “Ah yes, the simple stuff.”
Ana felt as if her voice were being held down by a weight. She had only heard that Judy Harrick was in the hospital, and the almost haunted look on the Detective Inspector’s face did not bode well.
But he had to be told, and it was her job to tell him. So, after taking a deep breath, she followed him into his office. Harrick was about to sit down, moving slowly, betraying the telltale signs of his age. “Harrick, we’ve got something.”
Harrick exhaled sharply through his teeth, rising once again. “Yeah,” he said.
“We have a suspect for the Black Ship Bombing in custody. Name’s Friedrich Ash.”
Harrick sunk a little. “Gods. Fuck me.”
“You know him?” asked Ana.
“Where is he?” Harrick shook his head. “No, hold on. I’m going to need a fucking gallon of coffee.”
Ash was in interrogation room B. Harrick looked in at him before he entered. Ash had grown enormous. He had to be in his twenties at this point, or at the very youngest eighteen. He had shaved off his hair and had the absurd musculature of someone who is not truly interested in strength or health, and probably comes by his physique through a number of chemicals.
Ash’s arms were covered with tattoos – but rather than the traditional sailing tattoos common in Port O’James, Harrick could recognize a few gang symbols, and there were a hundred nicks and scars along the arms that the tattoos could not hide. Ash slumped in his chair, his lips pouting with seeming apathy.
Harrick stepped in. He sat down in front of Ash and took a deep breath. “Hello, Friedrich. Do you remember me? I’m Max Harrick. I knew your father.”
Ash kept his eyes strongly focused on a blank spot on the table. Harrick continued. “How are things at home?”
Ash scoffed, but remained speechless. Harrick put the file on the desk. “Friedrich, they’re telling me something really bad. But I don’t believe it. Now, I can help you, but you’ve got to tell me exactly what is going on. You come clean with me – hell, look. This isn’t some drug bust or some… drunken bar fight. Frankly, if you were getting high that night, I’d consider it a relief. Are you listening, son?”
Ash’s eyes locked with Harrick’s. “I am not your son.”
Harrick pulled back. At least he was talking now. “No. No you're not.”
“You can’t talk to me like I’m your fucking son.”
Harrick allowed his face to contract into stately, authoritative anger. “No, but I am the head of enforcement around here, and you are suspected of murder. So if you don’t want to find yourself hanging by a noose where the crows will tear out your eyes, you’d better be straight with me.”
“Fuck you. I didn’t commit any murder.”
Harrick sighed, exasperated. “Ok, good. Where were you on the morning of the explosion?”
“At a friend’s.”
“Yeah? Who’s the friend?”
Ash seethed. “Like I’d tell you. Not going to sell her out to you pig motherfuckers.”
Harrick snorted bitterly. “Yeah, well, your dad was a pig motherfucker just like me.”
Ash leaned forward as far as the handcuffs binding him to the desk would let him. “My dad is dead, you piece of shit. Don’t fucking talk about my dad.”
Harrick remained silent, attempting to come up with a new tactic. There was another person of interest, this unnamed female friend of Ash’s. Not much, and it would not be easy to just let him out and keep a tail on him.
The quiet seemed to make Ash uneasy. “Hardly counts as murder,” he grumbled.
“What did you say?”
“I said it hardly counts as murder. Those things were dead to begin with. They were broken beyond repair, unfit for the Great Machine.”
The words were like a shocking splash of icy water. “Ashtor’s fucking blood, you haven’t joined up with the Machinists, have you?” The Temple of the Machine, as they called themselves, was the one of the biggest religions in the world, but that did not make it any less creepy or dangerous. Some of the more extreme members – who had apparently decided that the Stag’s Head shouldn’t have all the fun - were supposedly behind a bombing in Narcia a year or two back that killed the Bone King’s ambassador. This sort of connection might be circumstantial, but it did not look good in Ash’s file.
“So what if I have? Is there a law against that?”
There was not. Still, Harrick knew Karsoth Ash would be rolling in his grave if he knew his only son had taken up with those maniacs. “Friedrich, if you talk, we can prove your innocence. Or if… we can make some sort of deal.”
Ash simply turned and spat on the floor.
“This is a big fucking mistake, Friedrich. You’re at a dangerous crossroads, and before long, there won’t be a damned thing I can do for you.”
When Ana saw Harrick again in his office, he seemed to have the weight of the ocean pressing down on him. She walked in, offering a glazed chocolate donut. “Thank you, Ana. You are a valkyrie.”
“They searched his place. No explosives, but some pretty disturbing…” she could sense that he was already overwhelmed enough. She stopped. “You already know him.”
“Friedrich Ash. Shit. Last time I saw that kid he was… four years old, I think. He looks just similar enough to make this a nightmare.” Harrick looked behind his desk and found a framed photograph. He handed it to her.
The photo depicted Harrick as a somewhat younger man, and next to him was another enforcer – they were out of uniform, but it was obvious they were both cops – who looked somewhat similar to the suspect. The two were in a tavern, holding steins up to one another. “This is…?”
“Karsoth Ash. He was my partner. And he’s that kid’s dad. Gods damn it. I don’t know what I’m going to do if we have to string up Karsoth’s own fucking son.” He took the photo back. “But of course, there’s always more work to do.”
Ana leaned against one of the other chairs in front of his desk. “Is Judy ok? I heard you had to take her in to see the doctor.”
Harrick chuckled bitterly. “Ah yes, well, she found a lump in her breast. We don’t know what it is yet, but…” he sighed. "Well, nothing to do now but wait. There are other crises that need attention."
Ana tried to think of something to say. She had thought she had it rough, losing sleep because of that same damned dream with the faceless man. In truth, she had meant to mention it to Harrick, but she hardly wanted to pile anything else on the poor man. “Well, for what it’s worth, I wish you the best of luck.”
Harrick shrugged. “We all have our bad days.”
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2012)