After I cooled my heels in the blessedly dark, empty cell for about a hundred years, or maybe just a few hours, some uniformed cops came, handcuffed me with far more sturdy cuffs than before, and led me out. As soon as the door opened, I squeezed my eyes shut against the glare, and spent the rest of the time catching glimpses of what was happening through brief peeks under my lashes. I could tolerate most indoor lighting, but fluorescent lights had a disorienting strobe effect with my new senses, and a constant grating buzzing hum. At least I wasn’t totally blind like in sunlight. I shut my eyes, tucked my weird left hand into the back of my pants so it wasn’t showing, and trusted the cops not to lead me into walls.
I heard a familiar voice and peeked through one eye.
“But detective, the surveillance tapes don’t show …” He didn’t get a chance to finish.
A broad-shouldered, tough-looking white guy in a maroon shirt with a blue tie said, “That’s up to the judge to decide, Flynn. And you’re still on my list for that fiasco with the Death Dealers. I don’t know what your beef is with the supes, but if you don’t stay out of Protectors territory, you’ll be checking parking meters.”
I opened an eye a crack to see Officer Flynn glance my way, and shake his head. He said, “Yes, sir,” to the broad-shouldered man, and walked away through the crowd of desks.
Well, at least he tried. I appreciated the thought, especially from a guy who disliked me on sight because I wasn’t a normal.
I’d called Ma when they first brought me in and gave me my phone call. I don’t know what I expected her to be able to do, but I knew she was the one person who would move heaven and earth to get me free.
“Dee!” Jack sat next to Ma in a small area of chairs off to one side separated by a low wooden fence. Ma had her knitting bag with her. Judging by the number of little knit baby caps sitting next to her, they’d been there a while.
“Hi, Ma. Hi, Jack.” I would have waved, but my hands were still cuffed behind me. “You here to bail me out?”
“They won’t set bail for you until after a hearing, dear,” Ma said.
“Oh, right.” I didn’t really know much about the legal system. I needed a good lawyer. I didn’t have any money to pay a lawyer, though. They’d probably give me one of those public defender guys, overworked, and barely paid enough not to starve.
“It’ll be all right, Dee,” Jack shouted as the cops escorted me into another room.
Jack’s an optimistic kind of guy. I can’t say as I felt like agreeing with him just then.
The room was small, and I felt like I’d stepped into a cop show cliché. There was a mirror on one wall, which my new eyesight saw right through to the little observation room on the other side, and a table in the middle with a few chairs. The uniformed officers escorting me sat me down in one of the chairs, cuffed me to it, and left.
The only difference from the usual cop show set was that my chair appeared to be made of heavy duty titanium or some mega-alloy and was an integral part of the concrete floor, probably all the way to the steel beam understructure. Only way out of that chair was to take the building with me. Interrogation room for supe criminals. Kinda cool really. I’d have gotten a kick out of seeing it if I hadn’t been the one cuffed to the chair. Blessedly, the lights were incandescent. Still painfully bright, but no longer strobing.
I wondered when the good cop and the bad cop were going to show up.
I sat there for quite a while, long enough to get pretty bored, but finally, I heard voices outside the door.
“This is ridiculous. You can’t hold my client for armed robbery. She wasn’t armed, and she didn’t steal anything.”
“Attempted armed robbery. And you know the laws concerning supes with offensive abilities better than I do, Mr. McMillan. This suspect is always considered armed.”
“Armed or not, you’ve got no evidence that …”
“I’ve got a dependable eyewitness, the bank manager, who says your client tried to rob the place. That’s plenty of evidence for me.”
The door opened and the harried looking broad-shouldered man in the nice maroon shirt and blue tie walked in. The rich colors suited him well, and made the conservative male uniform look less severe, a cop with some personality. Behind him, came a tall, handsome black man with a briefcase, wearing a charcoal gray suit with matching gray silk tie that cost more than I make in a month. Not hard to tell which one was the lawyer. The trouble was, I couldn’t possibly afford any lawyer wearing that suit.
“Ms. Emerson, I’m Jerry McMillan, your lawyer. Mr. Tchovsky sent me.” The tall guy in the suit I couldn’t afford held a hand out for me to shake.
Unfortunately, I was still cuffed with solid bands of tempered steel alloy as wide as my belt.
“Who called Vlad? How did he know I needed a lawyer?”
“Mr. Tchovsky was contacted by your friend, Jack Nguyen.” He dropped his hand as he realized I couldn’t shake it, and turned back to the other guy.
“My client has shown no indication that she is not cooperative. I don’t see why cuffs are necessary, Detective Long.”
“I don’t have the key,” the guy in the blue tie grumbled, and sat down in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table from me.
“Then send for someone to get it,” McMillan said, without sitting down. “My client shouldn’t be subjected to this unnecessary humiliation because it’s inconvenient for you to do anything about it.”
The detective gave a long suffering sigh, pushed himself back to his feet and stepped outside the door.
I glimpsed another familiar figure with bright red and black body armor just outside the door, but the detective wouldn’t let him in.
“At least give her these,” TakeDown said.
The detective came back in holding a set of keys and a pair of wraparound sunglasses. I’m not sure which one I was more glad to see.
“Thanks, TD!” I shouted.
The detective unlocked my cuffs and handed me the glasses.
“Thank you, sir.” I put the glasses on with a sigh of relief.
Mr. McMillan, the lawyer, sat next to me. Detective Long sat down across from me again.
“So, Ms. Emerson, or is it Endriago? Or, Drake, perhaps?” Det. Long asked. He laid all my fake ID’s on the table.
“It’s Drake, I suppose, legally, Damson Diane Drake. My dad was Sir Robert Drake.”
His eyebrows went up. “Sir?”
I shrugged. “My dad was an English knight. So?”
“You do realize that it’s illegal to use false ID’s, Ms. Drake?”
“Yes, sir.” It grated on me to be called Drake. Yeah, it was my father’s name, but that’s because it was the English term for a male dragon. I’m not a male dragon, so I’m not a Drake. I didn’t think Det. Long cared, though.
“So, if you knew it was illegal to use false identification, why were you doing it?”
I started to answer, but the lawyer put a hand on my arm. “My client is not under arrest for using false identification, and in fact, you have no evidence that she ever used those ID’s.”
“Right. There’s the little matter of robbing the bank to consider beyond the ID’s.” The detective looked me hard in the eyes, or at least in the glasses. “Your three friends have been telling me about how you planned the robbery.”
“Uh, what? What friends?” I was confused for a second, then I realized he meant the three guys who actually tried to rob the bank. “Wait, they’re saying I planned it?”
“They seem pretty angry with you for dragging them into this and then throwing them under the bus when the cops showed up.”
“But … I didn’t. I mean, why would they even say that? I don’t even know those guys.”
My lawyer put a hand on my arm again to stop me from talking. “Detective, if you have statements from the other suspects in this case, I should be privy to them as the lawyer for the defense.”
Det. Long’s eyes flickered over to the lawyer for just a second. “Only if you intend to defend all of the suspects in this case. Otherwise, their statements are privileged information, only available to their lawyers and the prosecuting attorney.” He raised his eyebrows a bit as if in only mild curiosity. “Do you intend to defend all of the suspects in this case, counselor?”
“I have only been employed to defend one client.”
The detective nodded slightly as if that confirmed something he already knew or suspected.
“So, tell me, Ms. Drake …”
“Just Dee, please. Drake was my dad’s name. It’s not really mine.”
“I see.” He seemed to file that away mentally. “So, in your own words, Dee, tell me why you were in the bank today.”
“I haven’t been able to work for a while, and I needed money to pay my rent and stuff.”
“Do you have a family, Dee?”
“Just my mother. She’s in her 80’s and her health isn’t all that great, so she counts on me to take care of her.”
His demeanor seemed to soften a bit. “That can be tough, having someone depending on you, and not being able to provide for them.”
I started to like this guy. If anyone would understand my situation, it would be a cop. “Yeah. After Domina Death zapped me with that gizmo, I just haven’t been the same. My eyes are messed up, my hand is so strong I can’t control it sometimes, and my balance is off. I’m getting better, but there was just no way I could do my day job, or really my night job, since I work night shift.”
“I understand you’re an EMT?”
“And you helped out with that bomb threat on the dam a while back when the Protectors were in Japan?”
“You’ve done a lot for this city. And now, because of it, you can’t work to support your mother. That’s not very fair.” He nodded understanding.
I nodded with him. “Yeah, I just need something to get me through the lean spot, though. I’m adapting to the changes. I’ll be back fighting crime and saving lives soon.”
“Of course, all you need is a little money to tide you through. So, you went to the bank.”
“Right. I didn’t want to take money out of that bank, but I figured I’d put it back once I could work again.”
“Of course you would. The city owed you a bit after that last go-round with a super-villain messed you up, anyway.” He nodded again.
I started to nod with him, then stopped and thought about what he was getting at. “Wait, no. You don’t understand. I have an account in that bank. I was just going to withdraw some money from my rainy day account. This is sort of a rainy day for me, since I can’t work.”
He looked a bit confused. “That’s funny, the manager checked her records, and there’s no Diane Emerson in the computer.”
“I wasn’t Diane Emerson when I made the account.”
“Ah, back to the fake ID’s, that your lawyer tells me you’ve never used, since, of course, that’s illegal.”
The lawyer put his hand on my arm again. “My client has no intention of admitting to illegal activity of any kind.”
I picked up his hand off my arm, carefully so I wouldn’t damage him. “I didn’t hire you, and while I could use a good lawyer just now, I’m planning to tell the police the truth, and you can figure out what to do about it later.”
“That’s going to make defending you a lot more difficult, Ms. Drake.”
Again with the male dragon thing. “My name isn’t Drake, dammit. My dad was a drake, not me.”
Det. Long’s eyebrows about crawled up into his hairline. “A drake? As in a dragon?”
I suddenly got really nervous. Now that I wasn’t cuffed to the super-chair, I might be able to get out of the building. I’d have to grab Ma, split town and become someone else, with no money, but that would beat being trapped and helpless if any of these cops were Georgians.
“It’s just that I change my name a lot,” I said, avoiding the question. I realized I’d used my scaly hand to get the lawyer off of me, and I wasn’t wearing a glove. I hid the hand under the table.
“Why, Dee? Why do you need to have multiple names? And how would a young woman, no more than 25 at most, have a 30 year old bank account under one of the names on these ID’s, some of which are older than I am?”
I swallowed. He’d already found the account. I didn’t realize I’d set it up that long ago. “I don’t age like other people do, and I don’t want people to know I’m different, so I move around and change my name a lot.”
“How old are you, Dee?”
“64 next April, but Domina Death’s machine added somewhere between 60 and a hundred years to me, so I guess more like a hundred forty, give or take a few decades.” I fiddled with my scaly knuckles under the table, and flexed my claws in and out. It reminded me a little of clicking a pen repeatedly. If I wasn’t careful, it could develop into a nervous habit.
“Dragons live a long time, don’t they?”
“Yeah, thousands of years. I’m just a kid still.” Then I looked up and realized what he’d tricked me into admitting. This guy was the good cop AND the bad cop. And if he knew about dragons, he could easily be a Georgian. I might have just gotten myself killed with my stupid mouth. I got a rush of adrenaline and tucked my feet up under me, ready to launch myself over the table and out the door. I could feel every muscle in my body tense and my heart pound.
The Detective held up his hands in a calming motion. “It’s all right, Dee. No one’s going to hurt you here.” He sat very still for a moment and let me breathe. “You didn’t just change your name and move because you didn’t want to stand out. You were scared of something, weren’t you? You still are.”
I licked my lips. This guy was good. I really wanted to trust him, and tell him everything. The lawyer was practically dropping his head in his hands in frustration. He kept making shushing motions at me with his hands. For once, I did the prudent thing and clammed up. “I’m sorry, sir. I can’t really talk about that.”
Det. Long sighed and sat back in his chair. “That’s all right. I think you’ve said enough for me to fill in some blanks.”
The lawyer brightened up now that I seemed to be listening to him, and jumped in. “The civilian vigilante laws clearly allow for a superhero to go by an assumed name for the protection of themselves and their loved ones.”
“True, for registered heroes, but I understand you’re freelance, Dee? Not on the payroll or registration of any government or privately sponsored hero agency or group?”
“That’s true, sir. The Protectors have asked me to sign with them, but I said no.”
“Really?” I seemed to have caught the detective completely by surprise, rather than the feigned surprise and curiosity before. “Why would you do that? You do realize the Protectors get a good salary from the government, and benefits, including full family and disability benefits, particularly from injuries suffered in the line of duty?”
“I don’t like that they leave when we need them.” I fiddled with my knuckles under the table. “And, I don’t, you know, get along with all of them very well.”
The door opened, and the Protector I like least walked in. White Knight was actually the second one through the door. The first was the Devastator, middle-aged, average height and weight leader of the Protectors, and the most intimidating individual I’ve ever encountered.
Detective Long stood up, glanced at White Knight’s shield, with the silhouette of a knight slaying a dragon on it, glanced at me, and nodded slightly, as if he’d added up a few more things, and knew exactly which Protector I didn’t get along with so well.
The Devastator said, “Detective, we’ll be taking custody of this prisoner until the hearing. Super-crime is our jurisdiction, and we have reason to believe that she was acting in the line of duty as a civilian vigilante.”
“Really? Well, I guess she’s yours then,” Det. Long said, and I could tell he was feigning surprise. He already knew this was going to happen.
My heart started racing again. I had no way to cover my scaly hand. It was hidden under the table for the moment, but the minute I stood up, White Knight would see it. And I was legally going to be in his custody. He could kill me easily. I swallowed hard, and looked at the lawyer. The lawyer seemed pleased. Great, he didn’t know. I looked at the detective, desperately hoping he wasn’t another Georgian. Then faced the dark leader of the Protectors, “It’s fine, Devastator, sir. I appreciate the offer, but I’ll stay here.”
The Devastator and Knight both looked stunned. White Knight said, “Dee, whatever our differences, heroes look out for each other. You’ll be safe with us.”
That tightened my jaws. I’d seen him try to kill Vlad right after he saved the city. “Yeah, right.”
Det. Long turned to the tall lawyer. “Counselor, actually you and your client are free to go. The DA has decided not to prosecute.”
Gratitude and relief flooded me. “But you said the robbers claimed I planned the crime. Why would you let me go?”
The detective grinned at me. “I lied. The only person claiming you robbed the place is the bank manager.” He ran a hand across his brown buzz cut, and the harried look was back for a minute. “I’ve had TakeDown and one of my own beat cops in my office for hours insisting that the idea that you would rob a bank was ridiculous. And every shred of evidence, including the bank’s records of your account and the tape of the robbery corroborate your version of events. The only thing that looked suspicious was the way you broke down the door.”
“Sorry,” I clenched my scaly hand under the table. “I don’t have full control of the increased strength from Domina Death’s attack, yet.”
“You gained strength from Dr. White’s machine?” the Devastator said. “I was under the impression that it nearly killed you.”
“It did, but I survived, and it made me more powerful. I’ve just been having a hard time adjusting.”
“Knight has been trying to convince me that we need you on the Protectors. I’m beginning to think he’s right. I’d like you to interview for a place on the team.” The Devastator said it like the honor that it was, with the assumption that my acceptance was never in question.
“No, thanks, sir. I prefer to be independent, like TakeDown.”
The Devastator blinked dark eyes in surprise, but nodded. “That’s your choice, of course.”
We all stayed where we were in awkward silence for a few seconds. Everyone expected me to stand up from behind the table that was hiding my scaly hand, and walk out the door. Wasn’t happening. Not with a Georgian standing right there.
The detective came to my rescue again. “Gentleman, Dee will need to be formally released from custody, and her effects returned to her before she goes home. It looks like you won’t be needed after all.”
The Devastator nodded crisply. “Let me know if you reconsider.” He walked out and White Knight followed, shaking his head, no doubt amazed at my level of mule-headed stubbornness.
When the room was clear, I thanked the lawyer, and told him I wouldn’t be needing his services after all, especially since I couldn’t afford to pay him.
When it was just me and the detective, I finally stood up, although I kept my scaly hand behind my back. “Look, I know you have all this recorded and stuff, but if the wrong people find out I’m a dragon …” I’m dead, and they might even hurt Ma or Jack, I didn’t say, but I was thinking it pretty hard.
“What people, Dee?” The intensity in his eyes wasn’t the least bit feigned. He was a detective after all, and I was talking about a possible crime.
I looked at my feet and fiddled with my scaly knuckles some more. “The people who kill dragons.” I cleared my throat, and whispered to him, “The people who killed my dad.”
The detective squeezed my shoulder gently, and looked vaguely surprised when he touched something hard under the long sleeved t-shirt. “Matters related to a superhero’s identity and powers are automatically marked as extremely confidential. I’ll set you up as an officially registered Austin hero, an independent on call for supe emergencies of lower than Protectors level priority, similar to TakeDown. I’ll make sure the part about you being a dragon doesn’t go into any records, or beyond this room.”
That was a big load off my mind. “Thank you, sir.”
He chuckled. “You know, I never met a dragon before.”
“There aren’t many of us left.”