9-News: 40.072 – It’s Not Portland
Posted: Tue Nov 26, 2019 2:36 pm
“It’s not Portland,” Triple Axe said, smelling of sweat and grime in the nighttime.
“Yeah,” Hellscape replied. “I didn’t think so.”
The park was dark in the way that comes only when midnight is approaching and the canopy of nearby trees is blocking everything from the moon, to the glimmer of stars, to the few streetlights that the city still pretends to maintain.
The bench they sat on was cemented down in the middle of a patch of grass at Armstrong Park, east of where Satchmo himself had once lived. It was a place named for the other Armstrong, though, Lillian Hardin—the great Louis’s wife. Knowing the park’s history made Heidi happy. She’d come early, waiting through the evening, wearing the outfit she’d taken to thinking of as a uniform of sorts. The events going down now, covert ops and secret investigations, were serious enough to require that kind of mindset, she figured—serious enough to require the taking on of a superhero’s aura. The heavy leather and boots worn over spandex made her feel very much like a Hellscape, and very much less like a Heidi Hickman. That the park was named for a woman who wrote Blues Jazz as well has her considerably more famous husband gave Heidi a proper sense of discomfort, made her feel like she was sitting at the junction of multiple realities and multiple truths as she waited.
As only fitting, when Triple Axe arrived it was like he stepped straight out of the ether to materialize on the bench beside her. One minute the spot was empty, the next it was filled with a man tall enough to command attention, but lithe and experienced enough to meld into the background. Still, there he was, smelling of the city, sitting stoically on the distant edge of the bench so that all she could see was his silhouette in the darkness, a mass of intense black touched by faint external light that highlighted the cut of his cheekbones.
His response to her statement was a simple cocking of his dark head to one side.
“I’ve heard enough from them to know that Portland’s not innocent," Heidi said, recalling the lewder elements of the conversation she’d recorded a few weeks back. "They’re doing something interesting, but their methods don’t seem … um … sophisticated enough to pull that kind of trickery off.”
“Right. Cyberattacks aren’t their style,” TA agreed.
The shape of his nod made her happy.
She’d known Triple Axe for a long time, but had only been funneling money to him in return for information and other support for a few weeks now. It was a period long enough, however, to give her appreciation for the not insubstantial structure of his underground organization—which she now assumed crossed multiple cities. He was a smart man. A man easy to discount, but a dangerous one to underestimate. Having Triple Axe see her as competent was suddenly as important to her in a professional fashion as well as a personal one.
“And even if it was their style,” she said. “None of their other work has been directed at us—even back when their GM was in the Heartland, their team wasn’t running ops against Yellow Springs.”
“Yeah,” Triple Axe said. He pulled an electronic cigarette from a deep pocket and took a pull on it. “Wilson has always had a Jones for Vancouver.”
Darkness covered Hellscape’s smirk. Like everyone else, she didn’t care about Vancouver. Andnone of that really mattered regarding the topic on hand. The Yellow Springs PD and the FBI had been investigating the spill of toxic waste in Ohio for some time, and had earlier announced a connection to Portland’s stat crew.
“The cops are saying it’s the ‘Jacks, though. Why do you say it wasn’t?” Hellscape asked.
“The code block is too elegant.”
“The code block?”
The question hung unanswered.
“You mean you’ve been able to see the software?”
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to. But I’ll say that the programming had calls and features that weren’t supported by the shitty old 1980s hardware AllStats used.”
More silence followed, filled by only the sound of a distant car rolling down 44th street. The smell of grass and concrete mixed.
“I see,” Hellscape finally replied.
“I think they figured they could still count RBI on it. Since that was good enough for Wilson they never needed to upgrade.”
RBI, stolen bases, and a flash of perfumed cleavage seemed to be the Lumberjacks go-to tool set.
“So, if it wasn’t Portland, who was it?”
“Still working on it,” Triple Axe said. “But I’ve got my guesses.”
Hellscape sat back, considering things. The “accident” was not an accident. That was sure. If Portland hadn’t done the deed, someone had. Sitting here in Chicago, she figured she could smell the rat just fine thank you very much. But she knew enough to say that it wasn’t enough to suspect.
“Can we prove it?”
Triple Axe’s head shook in the darkness. “I said we were working on it.” He pulled on the e-cig again, then slipped the pod back into a dark pocket.
A sense of wanton anger rose within Hellscape, but she didn’t have anything to do with it. The Feds were apparently focused in the wrong direction. If they didn’t have proof, there wasn’t anything they could do.
She clenched her fists and took a breath.
“Can we make it so the cops investigate better?”
“I said," Triple Axe repeated, enunciating clearly. "I was working on it.”
She felt his anger then, too. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to piss you off.”
“It’s all right.”
They sat there for what felt like an eternity, just breathing together in the humid night air. Hellscape felt time passing. Felt the coming chill of October around the bend, felt the turning of the calendar to post season play around them while this Chicago bench, like the Black Sox that played in the city would, remained stuck in place.
“Why did you ask me here?” she said.
“I need a favor.”
She looked at him sharply, then, waiting for him to speak like he’d often done with her.
“There’s a guy that got himself roughed up a bit a week or so back,” Triple Axe finally said. “He was involved in the episode that got you that video you took.”
“I see,” Hellscape said. “This roughing up, it wouldn’t have been in retaliation, would it?”
Again, she could sense the depth to a smile that said he was happy with her work. A gleam of moonlight came to his gaze.
“How can I help?” she said, leaning in.
Triple Axe began to speak.