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    Volume 8, Issue 2, May 31, 2013
    Message from the Editors
 The Disconnected by Aaron Ritchey
 A Beastly Game by Sarah Pinsker
 The City of Tears by Maigen Turner
 Tartarus by Charlotte Nash
 Bulls and Magic by Jarod K. Anderson
 Special Feature: Author Interview with Kenny Soward by Betsy Dornbusch
 Editors Corner: The Art of Persuasion by David E. Hughes
 Column: Spec Fic in Flicks by Marty Mapes


The Art of Persuasion

David E. Hughes

         ". . . so when you return from your deliberations, I ask you to render a verdict of guilty." I sat, feeling smug. It had been a long time since I'd actually tried a case, but my five years as a prosecutor all came back to me. I was good.
         Stewart Sherman rose from his chair at the defense table. He straightened his narrow brown tie, which was at least ten years out of fashion, he looked at me with his squinty little eyes, and he smiled. The son of a bitch smiled. It was as if he knew my goose was cooked before he even opened his mouth.
         "Ladies and gentleman of the jury," said Sherman. "One simple truth is obvious after hearing the evidence. Auterio Wang is not guilty of murder. He is not guilty. He is not guilty. He is not guilty." He sat down.
         It was probably the crappiest closing I'd heard in my life.
         But after only fifteen minutes of deliberation, the jury found Auterio Wang not guilty.
         If I hadn't been sitting in the courtroom, I wouldn't have believed it. I'd put on a bulletproof Murder One case against Wang. I had video, forensics, unimpeachable witnesses, and a motive. My opening was crisp; my closing moving. My cross-exams left Wang's witnesses in the dust.
         What did Wang have? Sherman.
         Ten years ago, Stewart Sherman was a two-bit criminal defense lawyer pleading down DUIs and domestics in a small Colorado town. Then Gordian Maxwell came along. When the DOJ prosecuted Maxwell for selling classified weapons technology to China, Maxwell didn't spend any of his ill-gotten billions on the high-priced defense attorneys licking his boots for the chance to defend him. Instead, he hired Sherman for next-to-nothing. No one could understand it until the verdict came down. Despite an overwhelming case against Maxwell and what appeared to be a weak, half-hearted defense by Sherman, Maxwell got off scot-free. The US Attorney who had prosecuted the case had taken it badly. Less than three days after the trial, he killed himself.
         Sherman's popularity-and his fees--rose astronomically. The man didn't lose. He had almost no courtroom presence and couldn't write a decent motion in limine to save his life. Still, he won. Twenty-five high profile cases in the last ten years without a single loss.
         My job was to find out how he did it-and hopefully save the integrity of the justice system in the process.
         On the way out of the courtroom, it was traditional-or at least polite-to shake hands with opposing counsel. Sherman found me before the last juror had left and held out his hand. His grip was weak and sweaty, and he put his weasel-like face close enough to mine for me to smell his halitosis.
         "An impressive victory," I offered, hoping it was sufficient to satisfy tradition. It was all I could manage.
         His flat, brown-yellow eyes met mine as he whispered, "You're worthless, Mr. Troy. Worthless. Worth-"
         My Blackberry buzzed and I pulled away my hand from his fragile grip. I was too shocked to respond to Sherman's tasteless and nasty comment.
         "Excuse me . . ." I mumbled, checking the message. Section Chief Brimmer had summoned my partner Zack and me to his office. I had the uneasy feeling this meeting would be worse than hearing the verdict.


         "Agent Troy." Brimmer removed his silver-rimmed glasses and rubbed his red eyes. "Please tell me you're here to provide me with a brief respite from the shit bog I've been swimming through." His lips pressed into a ragged frown that seemed symptomatic of a serious fiber deficiency. His dark, narrow face would probably break apart if he ever dared to crack a smile. Even so, I liked the guy. If I had to have a wonk in charge of me, at least I had one who measured his successes by the number of bottles of Tums he consumed.
         "Bad day? I asked.
         Brimmer returned his glasses to his broad, horse-like nose and pointed to a red file folder on his painstakingly organized desk. The blinds on the window behind him were drawn tight and the only other light source was a green shaded desk lamp. The Chief always kept his office dim and musty-maybe it felt homey to him. "Our Operation Truth project in Alamosa is turning into operation Make-Brimmer-Look-Like-An-Ass."
         "Why?" asked Zack.
         I was surprised. Zack rarely opened his mouth in Brimmer's presence. Of course, it was probably a good strategy. The Chief had little patience for rookie agents with big mouths-or, for that matter, mouths.
         Brimmer looked at Zack. "Maybe I should have put you on this one, Agent Coleman. At least you would have the common sense not to give credence to UFO sightings, unlike one of the agents I've been hearing from lately. If the press got a hold of this one . . ." Brimmer shuddered. "So," he turned to me. "What do you have on Stewart Sherman?"
         I swallowed hard. "We, um, still have a few promising leads."
         Zack glanced at me. He knew we had bupkis.
         Brimmer's face reddened. "I'm starting to get a sinking feeling and a sudden urge to hold my nose. Why haven't I seen Sherman's pretty picture in a mug shot?"
         A wave of misery rolled over me, so strong I had to hold on to the arms of the chair to keep from falling off. The memory of Sherman, which I had put to the back of my mind, came to me strong and clear. You're worthless, he had said. Worthless. I realized he was right. This investigation should have been a cakewalk. Sherman should have been taking a dump on a stainless steel can by now, instead of sipping champagne in San Diego.
         Brimmer was waiting for an answer, but I had nothing. I should have caught the guy. I would have caught the guy if I weren't so goddamn worthless.
         "We . . . um . . . still don't know quite how he does it." Zack said it like he had a bone in his throat he couldn't cough out, but still he said something. And I was grateful. I swam toward the lifeline like a Titanic survivor.
         Brimmer turned his laser gaze on Zack, leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. His suit, which was normally crisply starched, looked a bit rumpled. He'd probably slept in his office chair last night. "Let me see if I understand this. We set up a fake murder case. We paid the witnesses and the experts. We had the judge, the courtroom, Sherman, and all nine jurors under surveillance. We had Troy right there in the courtroom, and you still don't know?"
         I knew I should say something, but I couldn't find my voice. I took a deep breath and focused on Zack.
         "We found no evidence that Sherman contacted the jurors or the judge outside the courtroom," said Zack. "However, I can confirm that Mr. Sherman's victory was not based upon his persuasive abilities or Agent Troy's lack thereof. His prosecution of the case was impeccable."
         Impeccable. Had my trial been impeccable? Yes, now that I thought about it, it was pretty good . . .
         "Some more in-depth investigation may be useful," continued Zack. "The background material on Sherman is pretty interesting, but we have not had time to follow up. For example, Sherman's ex-wife told me--"
         "I don't care about ex-wives!" shouted Brimmer. "This isn't the gossip column. We've spent more than a hundred grand on this investigation, and we have nothing to show for it. Maybe I should scrap the whole thing before we get any further in the hole."
         How the hell was I going to get out of this one? I quickly reviewed our conversation with Brimmer, and something clicked. My old partner's work on Operation Truth-the Agency's effort to debunk reported UFO sightings--was taking place in Alamosa, Colorado. It was the same place Sherman was from, and I was pretty sure Gordian Maxwell had some ties there. We were not out of leads yet-just the good ones.
         "I just need more time." I took another deep breath. "I'll get him for you."
         Brimmer glared at me. "Okay, Agent Troy. One week, or I'm putting you on narc surveillance."
         Narc surveillance? Shit. He really did have his tighty-whities in a knot.


         I'd snooped around all kinds of places in my career with the Bureau, but Alamosa was weirder than any of them. The quaint town that called itself a city sat in the middle of a wide, arid mountain valley. One of its main tourist attractions was the UFO Watchtower, a metallic platform sticking up from the desert valley dedicated to quality alien sightings.
         Zack and I sat at a corner table at Bean-ifficent, a java joint right off Main Street. Surprisingly, the coffee was decent, and they stayed open late.
         Zack checked his watch for the tenth time. It was close to midnight. "Maybe we should go."
         "Relax," I said. "He'll be here." . . . as long as Schmitty didn't hold too tight to old grudges. Agent Schmidt had been my partner when I first joined the bureau six years ago. I'd broken open the Mistmore kidnapping case when I'd tracked down a lead on the Internet. The coup put me on Brimmer's A list-and Schmitty on his S-list.
         Nearly twenty minutes after the appointed time, Schmitty lumbered in the door. He had the body of someone who played a mean linebacker, or maybe a TE, in college, but the face of a ten-year-old. The combination of power and innocence in his appearance handicapped him as an agent. Nobody knew quite what to make of him, and, as a result, people who didn't know him were reluctant to trust him. But then, I knew the guy and still didn't quite trust him.
         Schmitty caught my eye and headed for our table. He had a troubled frown on his face, like a kid who just got called to the principal's office. That gave me an idea . . .
         "Have a seat," I said. I nodded at Zack. "This is Agent Coleman." Even though Coleman was just about half Schmitty's age, he looked older.
         "What gives, Troy?" said Schmitty. "Last I heard you were getting your ass handed to you at a trial in D.C."
         "Brimmer didn't tell you we were coming?" I asked, knowing full well Brimmer had no idea I was here.
         Schmitty narrowed his eyes and shook his head. "I requested more agents, but I didn't think -"
         "We're not here because you wanted more agents," I said. "Brimmer read your last report. He's not happy."
         I glanced at Zack, who looked like he was biting his tongue hard enough to bleed. I hadn't lied to Schmitty, but I'd already led him far from the truth. Zack would be a good agent. He knew how to keep his mouth shut when he had to.
         "Aw, hell," said Schmitty. "Sometimes Brimmer can be so narrow-assed. My assessment is credible. It just isn't what he wanted to hear. Are you and the kid here to take over the case?" His chin drooped. Now the principal had called Schmitty's mommy.
         "Not at this point," I said. "We just have a few questions."
         Schmitty shook his head. "It's all in the report."
         Since I hadn't read the report, that didn't help me. I frowned and tried to look angry. "Bullshit. You danced around the issue like a stripper around a pole. Now, pretend I just slipped a ten in your G-string and dance for me."
         Schmitty glanced around Bean-ifficent then leaned forward in his chair. "I saw one."
         "What?" I asked. "A little green man?"
         The muscles in Schmitty's face tensed, and he grabbed the sides of the table like he was going to break it in half. "You wanted me to dance? Well, I'm dancing. So don't start shitting on me. I saw a saucer, okay? A fucking sci-fi, egghead, paranoid-loser flying saucer. You think I was going to put that in my report to Brimmer? He'd cut my balls off and lock me in the loony bin. But I had to do something. If someone else sees it-another agent-maybe I won't sound so nuts."
         A piece of my heart went out to the guy. He sure believed that he'd seen something, and it obviously put him in a pickle. He was right about Brimmer. That guy would have to be strapped into the chair of a flying saucer and served a martini by a 3-eyed monster before he'd believe in extraterrestrial intelligence.
         I'd always been that way too, until this Sherman case came around. The logical explanations for Sherman's abilities had been exhausted, and I was finally willing to walk on a ledge where I wouldn't have tread before. That's why I was sitting in this coffee shop in this strange town. I'd seen a connection-a bizarre one, I'd admit. Now I had to prove myself right or nuts.
         Schmitty searched my face with increasing worry. He'd realized he probably shouldn't have blurted out so much-especially with Zack around. I had a witness. With one call, I could flush Schmitty's career down the toilet.
         I smiled and tried to make it a friendly one. "Okay. Tell you what, I'll keep my eye on the sky. In the meantime, I could use your help with something more solid."
         "Go fuck yourself." Schmitty knew I had him over a barrel, but I suppose he wanted to save face.
         "Look, if I'm right about this, you'll have the breakthrough you need on your case. Not your own, personal UFO, but something that will move the investigation out of the basement."
         Schmitty reached across the table and grabbed a little packet of sugar. He tore it open and poured it in his mouth.
         I cringed. I'd forgotten about that habit.
         "What do you need?" asked Schmitty.
         "Amber Technology Imports," I said. "Tell me what you know."
         Schmitty shrugged. "Big employer in the area. A warehouse just out of town. They keep their noses clean."
         "What kind of technology do they import?" I asked. "And from where?"
         Schmitty shrugged again.
         "Find out," I said.
         Schmitty raised his eyebrows. "You shitting me?"
         I stood. "Meet me here tomorrow. I'll need a full report."
         "But I can't-"
         "Get it done." I walked away with Zack scrambling after me. When I glanced back at the table, Schmitty was reaching for another sugar packet, his hand unsteady.
         We got into the car to head back to the motel. Zack glared at me.
         "What is it?" I asked.
         "Tell me what the hell is going on," said Zack.
         With his open blue eyes and neatly cut blonde hair, Zack usually reminded me of an overgrown Eagle Scout. But the hint of anger in Zack's voice and his tight-lipped frown hinted at the toughness underneath that had gotten him through Quantico.
         "What's eating you?" I said.
         "You may be senior, but we're still partners. I'm tired of hanging around with you like a forgotten dry cleaner's tag."
         Zack had a point. I'd been so wrapped up in what I was doing that I was ignoring him. "What do you want to know?"
         "Let's start with Amber Imports. Why do you have Schmitty sniffing around there?"
         "Sherman's first big client was Gordian Maxwell, who owns start-up companies all over the country. When Brimmer mentioned Alamosa during our little chat, Amber Imports popped into my brain. Maxwell is the largest shareholder."
         "So? We're investigating Stewart Sherman, not Gordian Maxwell."
         I liked this kid. He had guts, patience, and a sharp mind. He'd go far. The bottom line was that I'd acted on instinct. Sherman was from Alamosa. Amber Imports was in Alamosa. Schimtty was having problems with "Operation Truth" in Alamosa. Maybe there was something here. Or maybe I'd lost my mind.
         "We're following the bread crumbs," I said. "That's all we have."
         "You mean that's all you have," said Zack, still looking pissed. He reached into the back seat, pulled out a file, and tossed it on my lap. "Recognize this?"
         I flipped through the file. "Yeah. This is Margie Steen, Sherman's ex."
         Zack nodded. "This file was a part of the busy work you gave me at the beginning of the investigation to keep me out of your hair. What did you call it? Oh yeah, contact and associate files." He gave me a wry smile. "It made me appreciate the action and adventure of FBI life."
         I chuckled. Zack had caught me red-handed. In my defense, it was before I got to know him.
         "It may come in useful after all." He took the file from me, flipped to highlighted interview notes, and handed it back.
         Contact reports that she initiated divorce proceeding primarily because of suspect's infidelity. Suspect began having affairs with young, beautiful women shortly after he took on the Maxwell case.
         I was disappointed. The notes didn't get us anywhere. "The point?"
         "Sherman's not exactly GQ material. So why start screwing around only after he took on Maxwell? And how was he scoring with these knockouts?"
         I shook my head. The answers didn't matter. "Maybe we should get some sleep."
         Zack sighed.


         My cell rang at three a.m. I rolled over on my hard hotel bed to pick it up. "Troy," I answered.
         "Goddammit, Troy. You hit a home run with this one!" Schmitty sounded more excited than I'd ever heard him.
         "What makes you say that?" I asked.
         "I'm inside Amber Imports. The front part of the warehouse is filled with cheap Japanese stuff, but there's a back area and-"
         "Hold up." Something didn't feel right. "You're alone? How'd you get in?"
         "I'm giving myself the VIP tour. Fuck. You said you wanted a report by morning."
         I wanted info from Schmitty's contacts-not an illegal search. What the hell was Schmitty thinking? "You broke in without a warrant?"
         "You gotta hear this. The back part of the warehouse isn't a warehouse. It's some sorta high-tech research lab. And right in the middle there's a big machine, like nothing I've seen before. I have no idea what it does, but it-Shit, somebody's coming."
          "Get out of there!" I said.
         A garbled voice spoke in the background.
         "Who's there?" I asked.
         More voices. A crash. Then nothing.
         "Schmitty! What's going on? Can you hear me?"
         I redialed the number, but all I got was voice mail. Shit.
          I roused Zack from the next room. We ran for the car. I topped eighty getting over to the Amber Imports warehouse, but I still had the horrible feeling I would be too late.
         The warehouse was easy to spot. A few miles north of town, the huge gray building rose from a valley floor that was empty of everything but sand and rough prairie grass. Lit only by the moon and metal halide security lights, it looked like the only tombstone in a vast cemetery. The asphalt parking lot in front of the building contained only one car.
         "Someone's in that car," said Zack.
         I parked our rental twenty paces behind the car and drew my gun. "Cover me."
         "Shouldn't we--" said Zack.
         I charged the car with my gun drawn, but lowered it as I got a better look at the occupant. "Schmitty?"
         Schmitty slowly turned his boyish face to me, and smiled. "What gives, Troy?"
         "Are you hurt?" I said.
          "Hurt?" he said.
         "I heard voices. Then your phone went dead. Goddammit, you had me worried."
         Zack joined me, his weapon holstered. "What's going on?"
         "Something isn't right. I think he's in shock. "Can you get out of the car?" I asked Schmitty.
         "Okay." He opened the door and slowly pulled his huge frame from the seat.
         "Let me check you out." I patted him down, feeling for blood or a bump on the head. Nothing. His piece was in its holster. "What happened in there?"
         "I'm tired," said Schmitty. "I want to go home."
         I looked Schmitty in the eyes. "Tell me what happened in the warehouse?"
         He looked puzzled, but then his eyes cleared. "It's a friendly warehouse full of friendly workers. We shouldn't bother them."
         I frowned. Something rumbled in the back of my head, like distant thunder. "But what about the lab and the big machine?"
         Schmitty shook his head. "It's a friendly warehouse full of friendly workers. We shouldn't bother them."
         "What the hell is wrong with him?" whispered Zack.
         "Maybe he took a blow to the head. Or it could be PTSD."
         "I don't know . . . something's scrambled his brain," said Zack.
         The thunder in my head boomed and I was swept away by the storm. The image of Sherman loomed large and loud. You're worthless. Worthless. What had I done to Schmitty? I'd suspected something strange was going on in the warehouse, yet I'd blackmailed him into doing my dirty work. Now he was practically a vegetable. What kind of lowlife was I?
         I had my gun. It would be easy to end it, my worthless life.
         "Troy? Troy? Agent Troy!" Zack was practically screaming.
         I blinked and realized I'd drawn my gun and lifted it halfway to my head.
         "You okay?" asked Zack.
          I lowered the gun. My head cleared. "I . . . must have been distracted. What were you saying?"
         Troy gave me a weird look. "I don't think it's a bump on the head or PTSD."
         "You have a theory?" I asked.
         Zack studied me, as if wondering if he could say what was really on his mind.
         "Spit it out," I said.
         He sighed and crossed his arms. "Ever since the trial, you've been acting strange. Back in Brimmer's office you froze like a deer in the headlights. I'd never seen you act like that before. And just now it looked like . . . I thought . . . you were going to shoot yourself. Did Sherman do something to you?"
         I tried to remember what had triggered my weird funk in Brimmer's office, but nothing clicked. I couldn't remember why I'd grabbed my gun a few minutes ago. Had Sherman done something? No, I would have remembered. "No. Why?"
         Zack, looking frustrated, shook his head. "First you were acting strange and now we have Schmitty. What if Sherman can do more than effectively persuade jurors? What if he can make people think things or do things they don't want to do? It would make him very dangerous. And what if he's not the only one with that ability?"
         "But how would Sherman or someone else be able to accomplish this?"
         "Well . . ." Zack looked down to the ground. "This area, the San Luis Valley, is famous for alien sightings. Even Schmitty claims to have seen . . . something. What if Maxwell's company made contact--"
         "Come on, Zack. Don't you get crazy on me like Schmitty did."
         Zack glared at me. "Crazy? I'm not the one who has been acting strange."
         I waved him off. "Forget it. We have to get to the bottom of this. We need to confront Sherman."
         Zack shook his head. "But if I'm right. If he can control thoughts, then it would be dangerous. Maybe we should--"
         "What? Ask for back-up because we are confronting a mind-controlling freak who associates with space aliens?"
         Zack's jaw tightened.
         I realized that sounded harsh. Zack was just trying to help, but he was off and running in the wrong direction. "Look, I'm only going to talk to him. But if you want to bow out, I'd understand. Maybe I should go this one alone."
         "I'm in," said Zack, but he didn't sound happy.


         "Aaron Troy and Zack Coleman for Stewart Sherman," I said to the smiling receptionist in Sherman's lobby. It was easy enough to get an appointment. After all, I was the "prosecutor" on the case Sherman had won only a week ago. It gave Sherman the perfect opportunity to gloat.
         Sherman's San Diego law office was on the top floor of a high rise. From the panoramic wall window in the luxurious lobby, I could just make out the Pacific Ocean, dotted with boats of various sizes and stretching toward the sky.
         The receptionist spoke into her headset. "Mr. Sherman will see you now, please follow me." She led us to an office bigger than the space occupied by some twenty-lawyer law firms.
         "I must admit I'm surprised to see you," said Sherman.
         "Why?" I asked. "You didn't think there would be any post-trial issues in the Wang case."
         "No," said Sherman with a negligent wave of his hand. "You looked pretty depressed after trial. I was afraid you might . . . do something to yourself. It's happened before, you know." He sat forward in his stuffed leather chair, as if anxious to see my reaction.
         "We have a few questions." I flashed him my badge.
         Sherman giggled. "Well, there's more to Mr. Troy . . . or should I say Agent Troy . . . than meets the eye. And I suppose Coleman is your partner in bureaucracy?"
         "I'm his partner," said Zack. He'd positioned the video recording device in his briefcase perfectly.
         Smile for the camera, I thought.
         Sherman obliged. He didn't seem the least bit upset that we were breathing down his neck. In fact, he acted as if he were enjoying himself. "I suppose I could indulge you two for a little while. Ask away."
         Good. Sherman was overconfident. He probably thought he was too smart for us to pin anything on him. "Tell me about your connection with Amber Imports."
         For once, Sherman's shit-eating smile disappeared. "The Bureau managed to find an agent with more than a couple of brain cells. I'm impressed. Am I to assume that you were behind the break-in at the Alamosa warehouse yesterday?"
         "I thought you said you'd answer some questions." Zack shifted in his seat. He looked nervous, as if he were looking for an excuse to grab his gun.
         Sherman sighed. "Very well. Scientists describe the human brain as the most sophisticated computer yet developed, but, in reality, our brains are not sophisticated at all. Those who truly understand it can change it: erase files, input new information, even add upgrades."
         "You're saying you got a brain upgrade?" I asked.
         Sherman smiled. "Something like that. It turns out that persuasion is one of the easier features to improve."
         "You never answered my first question. Where did Amber Imports get this brain upgrade technology?"
         "Off-world trading partners."
         I glanced at Zack. Could he possibly have been right? No, it was another one of Sherman's ploys. He wanted us to get off track.
         "You're saying that this technology allowed you to influence the outcome of jury trials?" I asked. "That's why you keep winning?"
         "That's right," said Sherman. "I suck as a lawyer, but I'm very persuasive." He chuckled.
         We had what we had come for. This would be good material for the tape. Brimmer would hate the alien stuff, but it may be enough to get a search warrant for Amber Imports. Aliens or no, the Bureau would find out the truth about Sherman. We'd finally be able to charge him with jury tampering or obstruction of justice.
         I stood. "Thank you for your time." "It's
         true, you know," said Sherman, grinning maniacally.
         "What?" I asked.
         "What I told you last time we saw each other. You're worthless."
         The thunder crashed in my head. What the hell was I thinking? If I went to Brimmer with this information, I'd be the laughing stock of the Bureau. I had nothing on Sherman, just wild hunches and stupid theories. I flopped down in the chair across from Sherman's desk. My legs were too weak to hold me. God, I was horrible, I was less than a man. I still had my gun. I could reach for it now and end it; no one would care, I'd be better off.
         Sherman stared at me with his squinty eyes, as if he were waiting for something. What the hell was he waiting for?
         The word "worthless" resonated in my mind. Had I heard it someplace before? Sherman tended to repeat himself. He'd repeated himself when he'd done the closing in the Wang case. And, of course, in the courtroom after the trial. I'd blocked out that memory. What had he whispered? Oh, yeah. I was worthless. It seemed to be a theme for this guy.
         I went cold. What if Zack was right? What if it wasn't just juries that Sherman could control? Zack had showed me the file from Sherman's ex-wife. He'd pointed out that Sherman-an ugly, middle-aged balding guy-began having affairs with young, beautiful women. I hadn't seen the connection at the time, but now it hit me. Could Sherman have persuaded these women to sleep with him? And, if so, could Sherman persuade anyone to do anything?
         Sherman had told me I was worthless, and I'd almost offed myself. The poor US Attorney on the Maxwell case had committed suicide-or had Sherman persuaded him to do so? Sherman was not only guilty of jury tampering; he was guilty of murder.
         It all seemed so obvious, something I should have seen long ago. But whatever weirded-out brain voodoo Sherman did to me had prevented me from thinking straight. It was over now. The thunder had faded, and the sun was shining.
         I stood again. Zack had been right. Sherman was very dangerous. We needed him off the streets. I pulled out my cuffs. "It's over, Sherman."
         Panic flashed across Sherman's face. "Are you going to stand by and let this happen Agent Coleman? This is a false arrest. Troy deserves to die for this injustice. He deserves to die--"
         "No!" I shouted, as I lunged at Sherman. But I wasn't fast enough.
         "He deserves to die!" shouted Sherman.
         I tackled Sherman and brought him to the ground.
         Zack dropped his briefcase, drew his weapon, and tried to get a bead on me.
         "Zack, no!" I shouted. "Don't listen to him! He's trying to brainwash you!"
         Sherman slithered around until he slipped out of my grip. Zack fired, and a bullet ricocheted off the floor next to my head. I rolled and pulled my gun from the holster.
          "Zack! Don't shoot!" I shouted.
         Zack shot again, and pain seared through my shoulder. I fired, and Zack went down.
         "Freeze!" I shouted at Sherman, who was nearly to the door of his office. Sherman kept moving, and I pulled the trigger. Sherman crashed to the floor with a wound in his back.
         Blood flowed freely from my shoulder. It must have been more serious than I thought. I put pressure on it and crept toward where Zack lay, unmoving. I checked for a pulse. Nothing.
         "Shit, Zack," I said. My shot had hit center chest. "I'm sorry."
         Sherman groaned and crawled toward his office door. Wasn't that the way it always worked? The assholes get lucky and live.
         The briefcase lay open next to Zack's body. The "record" light flashed red, the same color as the blood smeared across the marble floor. At least I had enough evidence to put Sherman away-unless, of course, he presented his own defense at trial.

© Electric Spec