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“What do you think they’re talking about up there?” As he asked that question, Eits stood at the base of the building their whole group had been working on top of to sort through all those files. Broadway, Pack, and Grandstand were around him. The other half of their little alliance had requested a few minutes to discuss… things, and asked that he make sure no one went up the ladder to disturb them. Or, of course, eavesdrop. For whatever reason, they trusted him the most out of everyone here. Which was weird and made him feel a little uncomfortable, to be honest. But he wasn’t about to betray that. He’d promised he would let them know if Grandstand disappeared, or ever really left his line of sight. Her power made it easy for her to do something like that, but he was pretty sure the nearby security cameras he had tasked to watch her as well would do a good enough job of alerting him if that happened. Maybe. Hopefully.
His eyes were on the blonde woman who had so recently been Cuélebre’s second-in-command. Cuélebre, of Oscuro. What would Blackjack think if he knew they had been helping her?
Honestly, what would he think? Eits had no idea. Yes, she had been an enemy, but she had also abandoned the man right in the middle of a war with Blackjack’s own organization. There was a good chance he would appreciate that, especially since they were keeping her busy with this other thing. But then again, Cuélebre had still managed to get other reinforcements, and all but crippled La Casa’s primary ally in the process. All put together, it was definitely a complicated situation. And Eits was pretty sure he didn’t even know everything that was going on.
Pack, squinting up toward the roof, shook her head. “I’ll tell you what they’re talking about. That name. Something about it set them off. They must have recognized it, right?”
“Jerry Meuster,” Grandstand noted in a dark voice. “They know him. Whoever he is, they recognized it. He must be a friend of theirs, or a classmate, someone they recognize.”
“Does that mean he’s from out of town?” That was Broadway, sounding uncertain. “I mean, they’re from out of town, we met them all the way down by Monroe, not here in Detroit. But wait, no, he couldn’t be from Monroe, because his records were here. What?”
“Yes,” Grandstand murmured softly, “there seems to be certain details about our friends up there that are not what we assumed, or were led to believe.” She trailed off, head tilting thoughtfully. “I wonder… perhaps this ‘Jerry’ is the reason they came to this place to begin with. He could have recruited them under false pretenses, making them believe they could work together to carve out a piece of their own territory. But now they’ve seen what he’s capable of. Hold on, what was it they wanted help with, again?”
“Finding out who tried to kidnap Facs and Yeet while they were visiting this place–” Pack started, before stopping short. “Wait, you think this Jerry guy might’ve been behind that too? Maybe he stepped in to pretend to help and that’s how they got that whole recruitment thing going in the first place. That…” She shook her head, expression hidden behind that full-covering black mask. “Okay, no, that would be way too big of a coincidence. What are the odds that the person we’re looking for would be the same one who brought them into this?”
Broadway shrugged. “I mean, we did all end up chasing down that same forger guy. Maybe they actually are connected. The whole reason we met them is because they were after the guy who made the fake documents for their wannabe kidnappers. If this Jerry Meuster guy was already connected to them… hang on. Jerry Meuster. I’ve got sixteen results inside the city limits with this search. Forty-one if we extend that to names like George, Gerald, Jeremy, Jeremiah, and so on. Any idea who I could narrow it down more? You guys see any other details in that file before they took it back?”
Eits sighed. “Guys, let’s just wait a minute. We’re all speculating wildly and they might just tell us exactly what we need to know if we hold on for a minute. Give them a chance to talk it over. If it was something important, we’d want the same.”
“I am giving them a chance,” Grandstand informed him. “That’s why I’m not up there right now being a lot more demanding. And believe me, it’s tempting. But no, I’m standing right here, waiting for them to decide if they’re going to do this the easy way and tell me what I need to know about the person responsible for killing my friend.” Her voice had grown colder through that, before she ended with a flat, “And they had better make the right choice.”
Despite his words, Eits had been running the same search Broadway had been doing inside her armored suit. He did want to give their companions the chance to tell them the truth on their own terms, but it never hurt to check on things himself, just in case. The girl was right. There were forty-one people with variations of that name within the city limits. He had no idea how to narrow it down further than that, considering he hadn’t even managed to get a glimpse of that file. All he had was the name. There were four who were connected to known gangs, and another three in law-enforcement or linked to that directly. On a whim, he tried connecting the name to Ten Towers, but got nothing. None of the Jerry Meusters within the city limits had any known connection to Ten Towers, or any other Star-Touched group. At least not that were within either public domain or the servers he currently had access to. Not that that was conclusive in any way. Still, whoever this person was, the answer wasn’t going to be that easy to get.
Or it would be, if the people up on that roof decided to share everything they knew.
“Are you serious?” Staring at Damarko-Colt and Jae, Lexi Chambers opened and shut her mouth a couple times behind the simple ski mask she wore. “That can’t be a coincidence, dude. There’s no fucking way. Why would the name of one of your Minority teammates just happen to end up in that list?”
Colt shook his head. “Maybe it’s not a coincidence, but that doesn’t mean that he was connected to it. This could be a deliberate red herring. You know, someone who knew that trail could be followed, so they deliberately set it up to make him look guilty, since he was part of the escort party.” As he said that, the boy checked in with his other three selves, all of whom were secretly keeping their eyes on the group below to make certain none of them decided to eavesdrop after all. Eits may have come off as the most trustworthy member of that group, but there was still no sense in taking risks.
Jae sighed. “But how would they know that? Think about it, they said whoever this was stole those files a year ago, and had the forgeries made over all that time. How could they possibly have known that they’d need a patsy like Jerry that far back? There’s no way they could have known Pencil and Cup’s identities would get out, leading to all this. Unless we’re talking about some sort of future-seeing Touched power or something, and that’s getting a little too weird and out there for me.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t really seem likely, does it?” Zed murmured, plopping down with a heavy sigh. “But does that really mean he had something to do with killing that reporter lady? One of the Minority? You guys are supposed to be, like, the heroes and stuff. Aren’t you vetted?”
Colt snorted. “Let’s be honest here, it wouldn’t be the first time a Star-Touched went bad.” Even as he said that, however, the boy felt bile rising in his throat. How could they even consider this? Jerry was their teammate and friend. They had fought bad guys, saved people, bled and suffered alongside each other for all this time. He was one of them, wasn’t he? He… he was a good guy.
And yet, they had to look at the evidence. Jae was right, why would whoever was actually responsible for this have started the process of framing Jerry almost a year earlier? Unless it was someone who was also connected to the Minority program and saw him as a useful patsy almost the second he joined the team. Because the odds of this whole thing being just a coincidence, that his name had just happened to be included in that list while he himself had been part of the escort group who had been responsible for Jolene Iverson before she was killed were… astronomical. It wasn’t even worth entertaining the idea. But Colt, and the rest of the Damarkos, couldn’t help but try. They’d almost rather pretend something like that was possible than admit what had to be the truth, even amongst themselves.
Jae, who was obviously going through the same inner turmoil, stood and paced back and forth agitatedly, shaking her head. “Don’t forget the other problem with telling those guys the truth, even if we want to. If we do, we won’t be able to hide who we are. They’re gang members, Fell-Touched gang members, and we’ll have to let them know our real identities.” Belatedly, she amended, “Our ‘real’ Touched identities, I mean. There’s no way we could hide that from them if we tell them who he is. They’d put it together pretty quick even if we tried.”
“And if we do,” Colt noted, “they’ll want to go after him. They won’t listen if we tell them to let the authorities handle it. You saw how angry Grandstand is. You heard about what she’s been doing since this whole thing started. Jolene Iverson was her friend. She won’t let it go. We’d be sending her, and the rest of them, after him. After Jerry.” Again, he felt that bile. Could Jerry actually do something like that? He wanted to say no. Every interaction he’d had with the boy kept playing through his head, through all four of his heads, as they all desperately searched for some sign of the truth. But that was the worst of it, there was no sign. Jerry was their teammate, their friend. Or he was supposed to be. How could he possibly be responsible for something this horrific? It just didn’t track, it didn’t make any sense.
It made them want to scream and punch things, to be honest.
“I mean, why shouldn’t they?” That was Zed, his voice a dark mutter. “Think about it, if this is true, if we’re right, then Jerry Meuster has been posing as a hero while doing pretty evil shit. Dudes, I know you want to think the best of him, but if he’s been auditioning for the Scions, you can’t just let that go.”
“No one said anything about letting it go,” Jae informed him. “It’s just–we can’t sic a bunch of Fell-Touched on him without any proof. What if this is a mistake, or a coincidence, or a trick? Yeah, I know the odds against that, but what if? With Touched involved, you never know. We can’t just expose ourselves and him to whatever Grandstand and those guys decide to do. We can… we can tell someone in charge, like Caishen, let her take him in and deal with him. They can dig into things better than we can, find out the truth if we just point them in his direction, right?” Even she sounded doubtful while saying that.
Colt glanced at the others, conferring with the rest of himselfs before sighing heavily. “Grandstand’ll still go after him, even if they take him into custody. And with her power, she’s got a better chance of getting to him than most. The second she finds out who he is, she’ll want to kill him herself, no matter who happens to be in the way.”
Kicking the nearby air conditioning unit, Lexi lamented, “What if he’s done other things like this? What if this isn’t the first time he killed someone? I mean, going from a big damn hero to trying to join the Scions, if that’s true, is a pretty big jump, right? Seems like there might be other bad things in his history that you don’t even know about. What if you could solve other murders he’s responsible for?”
Jae and Damarko-Colt were silent for a few long seconds, staring wordlessly at one another as they both thought that through. Lexi had a pretty good point. It was incredibly unlikely that this was a one-time thing, or that Jerry, if he was truly responsible for this, had just randomly decided to switch sides on a complete whim. What if he really had killed other people? What if… neither of them wanted to continue that line of thought, but it was impossible not to. What it came down to was that Jerry could have been responsible for a lot of very bad things without them knowing about it. And neither of them could live with themselves if they just dismissed that possibility. Not considering everything they knew right now.
“Okay,” Colt finally murmured after going over their options for another couple minutes, “let’s call them back up here and talk this through. I just hope we’re making the right choice, and don’t end up regretting everything.”
“Believe me,” Jae informed him quietly, “there’s already a lot of things I regret.
“But if Jerry’s really responsible for this, doing something about that won’t be one of them.”
“Okay, we gave you a chance to talk it over.” With those words, Grandstand stared intently at the quartet who had been so mysterious ever since they found that file. “So are you going to tell us what’s going on and who that person is now? Or do we have to play more games?”
Pack, standing slightly behind her alongside her two teammates, gave a short nod of agreement. “Yeah, I mean seriously, you guys obviously know something about him. Time to share with the rest of the class. How’s this Jerry Meuster guy connected to you?”
“We’re gonna tell you, probably,” Facs informed them. “We just need–”
“Probably?” Grandstand’s voice was dangerous. “How about you definitely tell us? Because I am not going to let this turn into another dead end.”
T jumped to her feet, her gaze locking onto the woman. “Look, we just need some assurances. The stuff we have to tell you, there’s no way to do it without exposing more about ourselves and other things. And if this guy really is responsible for what happened to your friend, then we have to stop him. Stop him, not kill him.”
Grandstand gave her a long, incredulous look. “Excuse me? Maybe you’ve completely lost your mind, because if you think I’m going to let him sit in some cozy jail cell and then get off on some technicality–”
“He won’t,” D interrupted. “Not like this. We won’t let that happen. But if he’s really the one who did this, then he’s probably responsible for other things too. Other things he needs to be brought to justice for. You think you deserve to pay him back for what he might’ve done? Believe me, this guy is in a position where he could’ve done a lot of bad things. And if he did, everyone he hurt deserves the chance to get closure, not just you. If he’s responsible for other bad things, then we need to find out what they are, and how many other people he’s hurt. This isn’t only about you and your pain.”
Eits spoke up carefully. “It sounds like you really do have a lot of experience with this guy. So is he from here or what? We thought you were all from out of town. Except that kidnapping thing…”
“It’s complicated,” Yeet replied with what sounded like an exasperated sigh. “Really complicated. And like she said, as soon as we tell you some of it, you’re gonna know a lot more than we expected. So if you want to know the truth, if you really want to stop this guy, you’ll have to agree to some conditions. It’s the only way this can work.”
“First,” T put in, “no trying to kill him. We find out if he’s guilty, and we find a way to prove it, then we get him locked up. You want justice for your friend, we want that too. And justice for everyone else he might’ve hurt. We have to get real answers. Real proof. We have to expose everything he might’ve done, so all the other people can get closure too.”
“Hey, I’m in this to track down the girl he’s been competing against for Scion privileges,” Broadway pointed out. “So yeah, I’d like to get a few answers out of him myself.”
She, and the rest, all looked toward Grandstand then. The blonde woman stood stiffly, taking all that in as she tempered her rage and focused on thinking it through. “What makes you think I won’t just agree to this and then go after him myself anyway?”
“We think you really cared about your friend,” T informed her softly. “We know you’ve been hurting this whole time, knowing what he did to her. So, we kind of hope you’ll think about that, about how everyone else he’s hurt might feel about not getting any real closure. Do you really want to take that chance away from them? Think about all the pain you’ve been in since you heard what happened. If we don’t do this right and get the whole truth, everyone else he hurt will feel that same pain forever.”
There was a long moment of silence before Grandstand gave a heavy sigh. “Fine, for the moment. I’ll keep it under control and do this the ‘right way.’ Now what do you know about him?”
The quartet exchanged looks for a few seconds before D spoke once more. “Okay, before we tell you who he is, you need to know something about who we are. Then we can talk about how we’re gonna trick Jerry into exposing himself so we can prove what he did.”
“Who you are?” Pack echoed, squinting that way. “So there really is more to this whole… thing.” She indicated their group with a twirling finger. “Which gang do you actually work for?”
The question made all four of them cough and look at each other, before T spoke up. “Well, see, that’s a funny story.” As she said that, two soda cups, a broken piece of pipe, several abandoned folders, and an actual tire that had all been scattered across the roof came flying toward the girl, all of them shrinking down to become equally-sized as they circled her form.
Seeing that, along with the other three versions of D who made themselves visible at that point, made Pack and the rest recoil in surprise. Eits found his voice first. “Minority?! You’re–you’re both–wait–” He looked to the other two.
“Not us,” Yeet noted. “We really are from out of town. Just visiting for awhile. And the bit about people trying to kidnap us was true.”
“But you–you’re both part of the Minority.” Broadway was pointing at the newly-revealed Syndicate and Carousel. “Which means–”
“Yeah,” Jae confirmed. “Jerry Meuster’s one of us. Or he’s pretending to be.
“Now it’s up to us, all of us, to prove what he really is. And find out everything else he’s responsible for.”