“So,” Officer Mendez, a Campus Security officer from Mexico said, looking down at his notes he had taken while interviewing me, “You have no idea who that man was? Or how your two friends found you?” I had dealt with Officer Mendez and his partner, Officer Gupta before. Some of these encounters had been positive, some negative, some ambiguous. For instance, in one encounter, they had expressed doubts about the President and I had subtly pointed them in Krieger’s direction. Then I had let Krieger know about them.
Seeing how this room was most likely bugged (if not by Campus Security, then by the President himself) I knew I couldn’t directly ask them. But I couldn’t exactly trust them if I didn’t know where their loyalties lay.
“No,” I said, responding to Mendez’s question as calmly as possible. “Do you know what happened to the guards who were supposed to be near me?” And why they were there in the first place? “Because it seems to me that whoever that guy was, he had some help on the inside.”
Mendez and Gupta exchanged dark looks. “Dead or disappeared?” I asked.
“Disappeared,” Gupta said. “I’m curious as to how you guessed.”
I blinked. That was like being given a multiple choice question with only possible answers and saying, “I don’t know, either A or B.” There were only two possible outcomes for those guards. I mean, you could say that they could end up getting caught, but in this scenario I sort of lumped that outcome with dying. I stared at them for a moment, then asked, “Are you fucking serious? Was there a magic third option, or did you two seriously expect them to just happen to be getting coffee when my killer stopped by?”
Mendez nodded. “I see,” he said.
“And,” I said, “if you’re pissed off that I’m implying they’re extremely unprofessional, I’m not. I’m implying that anyone in your job wouldn’t have lasted if they thought they could get away with not guarding someone their boss told them to guard.”
“Do you know why you were being guarded?” Gupta asked.
“No,” I said. “I don’t have a reputation for making trouble at school,” at least I didn’t think I did, “and I think the Japanese law enforcement and the Defenders of Fuji have bigger problems than me at the moment.”
“Hi there,” a masculine voice said. We turned around to see a man who looked a lot like a taller version of Robert Downey Jr, flanked by two CampSec guards in full combat gear and a third man in a more ornate version of the Campus Security patrol uniform. It was President Anthony Carter Newton-Howell. He looked peeved. “Any… any particular reason you two” he said indicated Mendez and Gupta with an awkward wave of his hand, “are interviewing Mr. Jacobs, Officers…?”
Mendez and Gupta had stood up and saluted as soon as they had heard the President’s voice. “I’m Officer Mendez and this is my partner, Officer Gupta. We’re following standard protocol and-”
“Interviewing the victim and the suspect,” the President said, rolling his eyes. “Very efficient, in a self-defense case. He’s both.” He paused, then said, “Thing is, I specifically asked Chief Gonzalez to interview the people involved in the incident myself before anyone else gets a chance to talk to them.” He turned to the man in the fancy version of the patrol uniform. I noticed that the gold badge he wore identified him as I. Gonzalez.
“Correct, sir,” Chief Gonzalez said.
“Sorry, sir,” Gupta said, “Our supervisor, Sergeant Berthier assigned us and-”
“Really?” Gonzalez said. “Berthier disappeared four hours ago.”
Gupta and Mendez exchanged nervous glances. Only Gupta and Mendez could tell if it was because they were caught in a lie or if their only hope of salvation had just disappeared. “We got the call from him fifteen minutes ago.” Mendez said. He held up his cPhone. “Well, it was a text, but…”
“I think,” Gonzalez said, “that you should go with Officers Landers and Sato.” The two CampSec officers in combat armor had been fidgeting nervously with their P90s. Despite the bulky uniforms and dark sunglasses, I could tell that they didn’t want to be arresting fellow officers.
“Things going wrong?” I asked innocently as the security officers left the room.
I instantly regretted my flippantry. The President’s eyes hardened even more. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?” he asked. He was still calm and casual, but his voice was dangerous.
“Um,” I said. Me and my big mouth.
“Don’t worry,” the President said. “You’re going to have a chance to make it all up to me.” He leaned in close so his face was almost touching mine. His face was blank and the most intimidating thing I’ve ever seen. “First, you’re going to tell me everything. Every question I ask, you will answer truthfully. Then, you’re going to repeat these answers again until I’m sure you’ll say the same exact thing tomorrow.”
“What happens tomorrow?” I asked.
The President smiled. It was genuinely happy, but only because I was in a tight spot. “I believe,” he said, “one of the things you said you liked to do as an extracurricular was to act. Well, tomorrow, you’re going to say all these things you say to me today in front of an audience. Think of it as a mock trial.”
A horrible, horrible image of me in a kangaroo court appeared, with everyone at NIU who hated me lining up to say bad things. “Do I get a lawyer?” I asked.
“Nathan, Nathan,” the President said, his smile getting bigger. “You don’t need a lawyer. You’re a witness.”