Part four of a continuing series.
Jones held up his fingers. Three. Two. One.
Pop. Wooden shards of the door flickered over Kiko’s goggles. She was glad that Jones had reminded her to go back for the mask.
Eight fully armoured tactical forces officers filed past her, guns up, sliding into the apartment. Jones nodded at Kiko, and the two of them waited outside as the team swept through the maze of rooms. They crouched on either side of the breach point, wrapped in simple flak jackets, waiting for the excitement to quieten down so they could enter and assess.
They were in a low-income apartment block, part of the mess of public housing that towered over the western side of the city like tombstones. Routine operation, drug bust. Kiko and Jones were just there so that there’d be someone to do the paperwork later.
Yelling from inside. The sounds of doors being snapped open, startled screams. Broken glass. It would be over soon. Jones yawned, even.
“How was your trip?”
Kiko stayed silent. Jones turned back to the shattered door.
“Come on, guys and gals. Let’s get it done.”
Kiko hovered on her haunches. Could hardly feel the floor through her boots. She thought of something else, somewhere else, and considered getting up and walking out to look at the sky.
More yelling. Another crash. Jones grinned.
A gunshot, from inside the apartment. Jones’ grin evaporated. He checked that the detective badge around his neck was visible, and then barrelled into the apartment.
Kiko slowly stood, and felt nothing.
It was a simple home-made drug lab, now shattered by the team’s search and seizure. Slabs of product in the corner, broken glassware shattered over the floor. A tiny operation, really, and one that barely warranted the money it cost to execute the breach.
Kiko crunched through the cracked tubes and flasks, easing off her mask, adding it carelessly to the debris. She slid through the rooms of the decaying apartment, floors rotting, access points for screens and network routers empty and hanging from the walls.
She followed the remaining sounds, blankly, through a small web of corridors, and arrived at a wider living area. The room reeked of damp. Water dripped from the ceiling in places. Kiko felt it on her head, but did nothing about it. She floated through the space, her brain flickering over frazzled surfaces like broken light.
This was the sum of all things.
In the living room, the tactical team were gathered, some of them already lighting cigarettes. Mission accomplished. They had on the ground, with hands cuffed behind their backs, the occupants of the apartment. Skinny and pale twenty-somethings, they shivered under the police flash-lights, faces pressed into the floor.
One of the assault team – Kiko thought it was Francis, but she couldn’t really tell under all the armour – was staring at his rifle, which hung limply in his hands. He looked up at her approach, and quickly walked out of the room. She watched him go. Out he went. Out of the room, out of her sight. Go, go, go.
Jones was over in the corner, kneeling over another gangly figure, one that was splayed against the wall awkwardly. Kiko stopped, her view obstructed. She didn’t really need to see.
Jones turned to her, his eyes frantic.
“Call a fucking medic, Keek.”
Kiko shook her head. Spoke softly, flatly: “you do it.”
Jones stood up. Behind him, an older drug cook was propped up against the wall, gripping onto his cheek. Blood squeezed through his fingers, dark and thick. He wore a strangely formal shirt. Like he was there for a wedding.
“There’s no gun here, Kiko. There’s no gun, none of these kids are armed. What do we do?”
“Fucking Cabinet scum!” One of the younger cooks, tied up nearby. “You fucking piece of--” One of the officers smacked him down. Belted him in the back of the head, knocked him clean out.
“Stop it with that shit!” Jones pleaded to his men.
Kiko looked into the shot cook’s eyes. He stared back at her, pleading, quiet.
“Call the medic, Jones.”
“He’s gonna die.”
“He will if you don’t call the medic.”
Jones reached to his wrist, tapped into his radio. Left the room, spitting useless requests into his arm like a snakebite.
Kiko looked around at the assault team, who waited, eerily silent. Faceless. They may as well have been robots. Some of them probably were, at least in part.
On the ground, the hurt cook’s friends, arrested, beaten. None of them possessing the strength to hurt anyone. Their arms were riddled with colour.
Kiko nodded to the nearest robot, pointed at the blotchy arms of the fallen perps.
“You guys really went to work.”
The robot shook his head, croaked from his mask. “Not us. Fucking Flaggies.”
Kiko considered this, and looked closer. The marks were in fact tattoos, white and grey and red, weaving around the prisoners’ arms and shoulders. Strange, archaic markings. Worn with pride, shivering in the torchlight. Not just any drug cooks.
The cluster of prisoners whimpered and shook. Kiko barely registered the sound. She turned and wandered over to the gunshot victim in the corner. Knelt down, put her face close to his.
She stared into his eyes. Said nothing. Just looked and looked.
The cook coughed, tried to hold the stare. Started to smile, under the bullet hole in his cheek.
“You seen some things, haven’t ya?” he spluttered.
Kiko remained silent. She studied the cook’s face, his hands. Flecks of the same tattoos. He was one too. A ‘Flaggie’, as the officer had kindly noted. A man, consumed by abstracted guilt.
“This was supposed to be pretty routine. Small-time,” Kiko noted. She ran her hands over the man’s tattoos. “Maybe not, it seems.”
“We just… we just…” The pain was starting to make it difficult for him. “…just needed the money, you know?”
He chuckled, in a fractured sort of way.
Kiko stood back up, turned to the officers clustered nearby.
“Who fired the shot?”
Nobody said anything. Kiko stood firm, resolute. Looked around at each of the tactical team, their masks blurring into one formless mirage. She coughed, forgot what she was doing. Shook her head to clear it. Tried again.
“Francis. He thought the guy pulled a weapon,” one of the men replied. Kiko couldn’t tell which mask the voice was coming from.
“Well. I’m not sure Francis was right about that, was he?”
No answer. Kiko reached to her side, pulled out her pistol. Sucked in damp air, and threw it, hard, at the nearest mask.
The officer yelped in surprise, gripping at his head as the gun clattered to the floor. The other men did nothing, hung their heads, looked at the walls. Lit more cigarettes.
Kiko’s head swam with the smell of crystal and rot. She leaned back against the wall, sliding down to sit by the gunshot victim, who was giggling in the corner.
“We’ve done some… done some things,” he muttered.
Kiko turned to face him, as he gurgled.
“All of us. Things we can’t take back. Our history is stain… stain… stained grey and red.”
The man closed his eyes, starting to weaken. His hand dropped to his side, revealing the gaping wound in his face. He spoke through the thickening blood.
“Where you been, miss? Where you been?”
Kiko didn’t answer. The man opened one eye, leant towards her.
“You been somewhere. I can see it on you. I can… can see it.”
Kiko’s breath bottled, turbulent in her throat. She thought again of something else. “What do you mean? What can you see?”
The man opened his eyes. Looked at her carefully, before flicking his gaze toward the roof.
Kiko followed his eyeline to the ceiling. Jones and the medics burst back into the apartment, yelling, clearing out the special forces team as they threw the bloodied cook onto a gurney.
Kiko carefully stood and looked at the ceiling.
In white paint, a sweeping symbol. A totem, split into two arcing horns at its peak.
She let the water drip onto her face, and felt nothing.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.