To be honest, if the guys weren’t in the studio, this particular story may have stagnated; but seeing the photo updates from the studio has given me a push and dropped ideas in my mind again.
Everyone knew him. The quiet, ruthless guy who got the job done.
I know I’ve spoken about him before. But, there is this thing you need to understand about Elliott. He was always where I needed him to be. In the down times, in the times of celebration. Just there. Like some kind of shadow. Even when I least expected him to be available. Even when it would’ve been better for him if he wasn’t around.
But, coming back to what Lachlan said to me, ‘trust your instincts; those words were churning around my mind, and giving me a headache. I needed to deal with it.
Being honest with myself was a start, right? The system angered me. The law made me despondent for the future prospects of my home. None of it made any real sense; the ban on any form of music. It was a sad state of affairs, considering almost everyone had forgotten the reasons behind the ban. Except for Elliott…he remembered.
“Elliott?” He was down in the cafeteria for a change, sans firearms and making short work of a couple of sandwiches.
He glanced up on hearing my voice, putting down the sandwich that was half eaten already. He must’ve seen something on my face, because instead of making some wisecrack he stood and tugged me into a hard embrace.
“I’m okay…” I said, “They haven’t…”
Elliott released me, brow furrowing as he said, “They’re going to. Then where will you be?”
I sighed, taking the seat next to him. “He has to face the consequences of his actions.”
“You don’t agree with that.”
I twisted my lips. “Everyone’s assuming that, lately.”
“You don’t. I know you.” His pointed look was too close.
Sighing, I leaned back on the chair. “Lachlan said much the same.” I looked sideways at him. “He hasn’t done anything that warrants execution.”
Elliott nodded as he took a swig of his beer. “So, what’s the deal then?”
I started shaking my head; the scowl he sent my way gave me pause, the seed of a thought planted in my mind. I didn’t know whether I wanted to put words to it, though. It was dangerous thinking. But, I couldn’t deal with Lachlan’s execution. And if I could do something about it…
Who was I kidding? I was down here, seeing Elliott, for a reason. Apart from him being the main bounty hunter in the City, he also had a few other tricks up his sleeve. Working under the radar was the norm for him, and the City turned a blind eye. That could work for me.
“By the way, thanks for ditching me,” Elliott said, drawing my attention back to him.
He picked at the cheese on his plate. “I had to deal with the idiots on my own. Pips was out of it.”
Right. His brother. Crap, I was meant to be there for him. Though I figured I could be excused, since I had Lachlan to worry about. I murmured an apology. He waved me off.
“Come over and buy us drinks,” he said, with a flash of teeth.
My lips twitched, because it was so like him to think that was a good way to apologise for something. He never asked for much. Gave a lot. Considering his profession maybe that wasn’t so surprising.
Elliott said, “You have a break, right?”
“Let me check with Melissa.”
Elliott, laughing, said, “She’s not your mother, Danny. Just come over.”
I nodded. “We’ll see.”
“Yeah. So, what’re you going to do about Lachie?”
Turning away from him, I scanned the cafeteria, noting that we were the only people present. In hindsight, Elliott must have chosen this particular time to be down here. No one else around to hear us. And, he had the patience of a saint. I knew he’d wait me out, no matter how long it took for me to get my head in the game. Which, if I was being honest with myself, was only a matter of flicking a switch in my mind.
Easier said than done, though.
Being part of The Creed since my teens, I had a lot of stuff ingrained in me that even if I stopped agreeing with it, forcing myself to act in contradiction to my training would be difficult.
“I’m not one to defy the status quo,” I said, breaking the quiet that started setting in. Elliott’s answering snort set me on edge. “Elliott. I’m really not.”
Elliott’s eyebrows twitched. “If that’s the case, Tav, you should get up and walk away.”
I didn’t move, instead pulled out my phone to switch it off, coming to a decision. “I need you.”
I think if I was the type to make wishes, now would be the time that a wish was granted. In hindsight, Elliott had probably been waiting a long time for me to get to this point. To come see him, and admit that there was something fundamentally wrong with our situation.
Becoming the T-One…that was a huge thing for me; maybe more so, considering that placed a lot of power in my hands and the ability to change things. Even with all the risks involved…
Elliott tilted his head, brows furrowed. “Tell me.”
The Astor, Maximum Security Penitentiary. Grimmest place in Valoren City. Built in the sixties to house every kind of criminal imaginable. The whole place is maximum security. Under lockdown every night and the prisoners are kept in tiny cells that you couldn’t even swing a cat in.
The rules are stringent. There’s no room for leniency in this prison. The law is tough on those who are incarcerated. They lose all their rights when they step inside this place.
To be honest it gets me down.
This whole gig does.
But, it’s all I know.
Let me tell you about Melissa Briar. Honour roll student at Valoren City College. Graduated with a GPA of 4.0. Big chip on her shoulder. Blonde. Not in way, see Honour roll student point above. Pouty lips, bedroom eyes. Though I’d never try getting her into bed. Her father would shoot anyone who tried that on. Takes shit from no one. Great at getting my shit together. Nothing like her father.
Doesn’t like me.
I nodded to her as she met me at the check-in point. She looked sharp as usual, her blouse looking crisp and ironed. Yes, I noticed that, not a crime is it? I iron my shirts. Being neat is important.
“What’s the plan?”
She lifted an eyebrow before scanning the clipboard that she was holding. “You get to speak with Prisoner seventy-seven before his last rites are read to him.”
Clenching my jaw, I said, “I was meant to be the one to make the decision regarding his sentencing.”
Melissa’s eyes actually softened as she said, “The General thought it best you didn’t.” It was unsettling to say the least that her father would think that. I wasn’t one to let people see my weaknesses. But, considering Lachlan was now on death row…
Squaring my shoulders and nodding to her, I made my way to the interrogation chamber.
Lachlan was already there. I paused at the door, looking through the one-way window. He didn’t look worried, in fact he was gazing up at the ceiling, one leg casually crossed across the other.
Pushing open the door, I strode into the room, expecting him to look my way. But, his gaze didn’t shift.
“G’day, Tav,” he said, his eyes flickering toward the mirror on the wall. It was the one-way window; we both knew that. Melissa would be on the other side, monitoring our conversation.
I sat on the edge of the desk, without speaking. I wanted him to look at me. Stupid, really. But, it wasn’t as if I wanted us to be in this position. If I could guess his motivation…if he’d tell me what it was he actually did. Because, you can bet whatever he was charged with wasn’t the full story…
“I want out of the City.”
I blinked. “Come again?”
Lachlan slewed his eyes in my direction. “I wasn’t planning on getting arrested, Tav. Was just trying to earn a buck or two so I could get out of here.” He sighed, leaning forward to tug at his shoelaces. “You shouldn’t have to be witness to this.”
“I’m the T-One now,” I said, brow furrowing.
Lachlan slapped his hand against his thigh and said, “Screw that. They’re going to inject me with poison. You shouldn’t have to see that.” I shifted to avoid his laser-glare.
“I’ve seen plenty of executions.” As if that helped any. Lachlan was…
“We’ve known each other a long time, mate,” he said. “Remember that big eucalyptus I tried to climb back when we were kids?”
I nodded; that was indicative of how crazy we were back then. Running around, getting into trouble as kids did. Not a care in the world. But, we were innocent back then. We let the adults do the worrying. That was us now, though. Adults…in control of our lives. Hah.
“You broke both your arms, you idiot.”
“You broke your leg.”
“Yes. Well. That was then, Mr Douglas. This is where we are right now.” I had to get this back on a more formal footing. “I want to know what the Hell you thought you were doing.”
One of those deafening silences filled the space then. It was unnerving. I had to break it.
His eyes were dark when they met mine. “This society’s gone to the dogs, Daniel. They might as well just shoot everybody. I mean, have you ever wondered what’s missing?”
“Yes,” Lachlan said with a brittle smile. “Look. How do we celebrate things?”
I blinked. “Uh…we hold a gathering and give a few speeches, and toasts…”
“Right. Is it joyous?”
“Celebrations are happy occasions. Yes.”
Lachlan shook his head. “That’s not what I’m asking, Tav. Is there joy? I don’t mean everyone smiling and clapping politely. I mean…people going crazy. Jumping, laughing, dancing…”
My stomach clenched, because I knew what he was getting at; didn’t want to admit it, but I knew. “Mr Douglas, you are walking a fine line…” I tried to keep my tone hard. He wasn’t even fazed, that glare still evident.
“Music, Daniel. Is there any ?”
I stood at the challenge in his voice. “Lachlan Douglas, it is bad enough you’re going to be executed, I do not need to hear this.”
He leaned back on the chair, tilting his chin up, lips drawn as white lines etched themselves on either side of his nose. “You know it’s the right question, Tav.”
My hands shook; clenching them didn’t help. “Music is forbidden in the City, Lachlan.”
His lips twitched upwards, as he said, “Guess you can figure out what I was doing then, you wanker.”
Slamming my hand down on the desk, I made myself jump; Lachlan jerked on the chair, pupils dilating.
“Do you think this is a joke, Lachlan? They’re going to kill you. I can’t…” My words ran out. I couldn’t stand here and watch him act as if everything was fine and that he wasn’t going to die in less than a day or so. Sure, he was brave. Bravest person I knew, considering. But, even he had to be scared.
Lachlan’s voice was softer when he spoke again, so I had to stop my internal monologue to hear what he said. “I’m pretty damn serious, something’s gotta give. We can’t keep going the way we are.”
“How do you mean?”
“I’ve been trying to make people aware of what’s really going on. The oppression. The keeping down of the man. Because, that’s what it’s really all about.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Not about music?”
Lachlan’s answering snort was enough of a response to that question, but he said, explaining, “Banning music was a way to control the citizens. Nothing more, nothing less.”
“And, you don’t agree with that.” Not a question.
“Neither do you, Commander.”
Pinching at the bridge of my nose, I didn’t respond to his statement. “Do you have anything you want to say, before…?”
“Before I kick the bucket?” Lachlan lifted his shoulders. “I wanted to get out into the woods.”
“Out of the City, Tav. See the rest of the world. Guess I won’t get to do that now.”
I frowned. “No one’s allowed-”
“Outside the City walls. I know that.” His eyes seemed to glaze over, as if he were looking right through me.
Something inside of me bled for him. Lachlan wasn’t one for being cooped up like a chicken in a pen. And, I didn’t mean just being here in prison. I don’t think Valoren City was big enough for him. But, he was born here, as was every other citizen. Then we all worked here until we died. That was just the way things were. No one ever left the City.
However, if there was anyone likely to try it…
I leaned forward, murmuring low so Melissa wouldn’t hear, “Would you have tried to breach the walls?”
The look he gave me chilled me to the bone. His eyes darkened and his words were clipped as he answered.
“I was always planning on leaving here. Doesn’t matter to me how it happens.”
Which meant only one thing. He was resigned to his fate. And wasn’t that just a kick in the teeth. Here I was, unable to accept that my friend was about to die. And he didn’t even care.
He sat up straight, bracing his hands on his knees. “You know what I wanna say?”
“What?” I said as I prepared to leave the room.
“Trust your instincts, Tav.”