Maybe half an hour later, a pair of guards came in. I was pretty sure one was the same guy who’d searched me; the other was new. Both of them were armed, although they had pistols and Tasers rather than military-grade hardware.
“Hi,” I said. “What’s up?”
“Your lawyer got here,” the one I recognized said. “We’re taking you to meet with him.”
“Cool,” I said, standing and walking over to the door. They let me out and then escorted me down the hallway, up the stairs, and through a heavy steel door. They made it clear that any sudden movements on my part would not be appreciated, and I was very much aware of their presence flanking me. At least they didn’t feel a need to handcuff me for the walk.
Inside, I found myself in a small, sparse room. The only really notable features were a metal table bolted to the floor, a pair of battered wooden chairs at that table, and extremely obvious security cameras in the upper corners of the room. I’d expected there to be a mirror, with more cops watching from the other side, but apparently that had been phased out in favor of the cameras.
I sat in one of the chairs and the guards took up positions by the doors. Maybe a minute later, the door opened again and a guy in a suit walked in. He was maybe in his sixties, with a confident demeanor and steely gaze that suggested it would be wise not to underestimate him.
“Good morning,” he said. “I apologize for not getting here sooner. I didn’t hear about your arrest until this morning.” From his tone, and the way he looked at the two guards while he said it, I gathered he was rather offended by that.
“No worries,” I said easily. “I guess you wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes,” he said, looking at the guards. “Gentlemen, this is a confidential discussion with my client. I would appreciate it if you waited outside.”
The talkative guy frowned. “This man is dangerous,” he said. “He’s supposed to be under armed guard.”
“There’s only one exit from this room. You can wait at the end of the hall.”
“That would put you in danger,” the cop insisted stubbornly.
“I’ll take my chances. Oh, and turn off the cameras, too.”
They complied, albeit reluctantly, and the guy in the suit sat down across from me and set a paper bag on the table. From the smell of it, the bag had some kind of meat in it, which reminded me rather intensely that I hadn’t eaten since last night.
“Good morning, Mr. Wolf,” he said. “I brought you some breakfast, if you’d like.”
“Thanks,” I said, grabbing the bag without waiting to be told twice. “And call me Winter.”
He smiled. “You’re quite welcome. My name is Alan, by the way.”
“You aren’t quite how I pictured a public defender,” I said, my mouth already full of sandwich. It was pretty bad, a cheap steak sandwich from a fast food restaurant, and at that moment it tasted like heaven.
He pulled a clipboard out of his briefcase and set it on the table before replying, “Oh, I’m not a public defender. I work for a criminal defense firm here in the city.”
I paused. “Who hired you?” I found it a little hard to believe that an actual lawyer would have taken this case willingly.
“A pleasant young woman named Selene,” he said. “I was actually planning to retire at the end of the month, but this was simply too interesting to pass up on.” He smiled. “And also she paid cash.”
“Ah,” I said, relaxing a little. That explained it. Money could work wonders when it came to making people cooperative, not to mention that Selene was one of the more persuasive people I’d met. “That’s good, then.”
“That you have a personal lawyer, rather than a public defender?”
“And also that you’re about to retire. I can’t imagine representing me is the sort of thing that would be good for your career.”
He sighed. “I take it you aren’t optimistic about your chances, then.”
I snorted. “With what I’m accused of? No, not really.”
“Well, I suppose that’s our cue to move on to business,” he said dryly. “Did they tell you what you’re charged with?”
I shrugged. “Maybe. I might have been asleep for that part of the conversation.”
“All right,” he said, pulling a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase. “I’m going to just run down their list of charges, then. I want you to comment on whether they’re accurate. Don’t worry about whether they can prove it or not just yet; I just want your gut impression on whether the charges are true or not.”
I glanced at the cameras. “You sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. “They might be listening.”
He smiled. “I doubt it. They’re smart enough not to try and use evidence from a confidential discussion with your attorney.”
“Okay,” I said, shrugging. “You’re the expert.”
“Thank you. First up, premeditated murder of Catherine Lynch. Yes, no, maybe?”
I frowned. That was…something I hadn’t thought about in quite a while, actually. It was almost funny; for a long time I’d felt incredibly guilty about it, but now there was just a sort of quiet regret.
I supposed I had worse things on my conscience, now.
Alan was expecting an answer, though, so I nodded. “Sort of,” I said. “I didn’t kill her, but I knew it was happening.”
“Right,” he said, making a note on the paper. “If we can show that someone else did it, we might be able to talk that one down to a conspiracy charge. The evidence is fairly thorough, so I don’t know that we could get it dismissed entirely. Moving on, it looks like a charge of assault against a Jason Hoover.”
“I don’t know him.”
The lawyer looked at the paper. “He’s an inmate at a correctional facility,” he said. “Looks like he filed a report shortly before his arrest claiming that you threatened to, and I quote, ‘cut off his nose and feed it to a dog,’ end quote.”
“Oh,” I said. “That guy. Yeah, that one’s accurate. Does that count as assault? I thought you had to hit someone for that.”
“You’re thinking of battery,” he said absently, writing another note in his file. “Assault can cover any plausible threat of violence. Okay, I think that one we can probably get dismissed. It’s your word against his, and considering that he was convicted of hate crimes and complicity in numerous murder cases, his word isn’t so strong. Next up, voluntary manslaughter of Preston Balstad.”
“Apparently he tried to rob a restaurant you were eating in. You threw a rock at him and killed him. They’re claiming it was unnecessary force that you knew to be in excess of what was needed to defend yourself.”
“Right, I remember that now. Yeah, that one’s accurate too.”
He nodded. “Again, I think that one can probably be dismissed. There are multiple witnesses agreeing that he stated his intent to kill people based on their membership in a social group, which means we can spin it as a hate crime. Under the circumstances we can probably get them to dismiss that as reasonable force for self-defense purposes. Next, we have the false imprisonment and premeditated murder of Olivia Robbins.”
“Guilty.” There wasn’t much more to say on that topic.
Alan seemed to agree with me, since he just nodded and made another note before flipping the page. “Continuing, we have…twenty-three counts of second degree murder, a few days later.”
I tried to figure out what he was talking about, and realized it must be when I took down Jon. He’d had a lot of human mercenaries with him, and while I’d tried not to kill them, I hadn’t had that much choice.
“Guilty,” I said. “For some of them. Not sure how many. How do they even know about this?”
He looked at the paper. “It looks like they have testimony from an undercover police officer,” he said. “Someone named Enrico Rossi? Frankly, I doubt they’ll even bother prosecuting this. All they have is testimony from one person who can’t appear as a witness. No actual evidence.”
I didn’t care. This was…well, further evidence that the man I’d been friends with really was just there to take me down. Not very pleasant to hear.
“Next, we have one count of arson on the same day.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Again, they don’t have much evidence linking you to it. Next, the premeditated murder of the same officer, Enrico Rossi.”
“That was a suicide,” I said, unable to keep some of the anger from entering my voice. “I wouldn’t have killed him.”
“All right. It does look suspicious, however, in light of comments he made to his supervisors. Moving on, there’s an obstruction of justice charge a short time later. Something about falsely reporting a hostage situation?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Did it, didn’t think anything would come of it.” I frowned. “I didn’t make the call, though. How do they know I had anything to do with that?”
He scanned the paper. “It doesn’t specify,” he said. “We can press them on that, if it comes to it. They’ll probably drop the charge. Next, tampering with evidence in a murder trial.”
“Yeah. I took it from storage. It was…yeah.”
He nodded. “All right. Next, premeditated murder with extreme brutality of Erica Reilly.”
“Didn’t do it,” I said.
“That might be difficult to demonstrate,” Alan said mildly. “Considering that there are multiple reports suggesting that you claimed otherwise at the time.”
I winced. In hindsight, getting on Pellegrini’s good side seemed…less than worth it.
“Continuing,” he said briskly. “We have twelve counts of second degree murder. The bodies were found in a house in northern Colorado Springs, dead from a wide variety of causes.”
It took a moment to figure out what he was talking about. The only thing I could think of was the house full of rakshasas and their slaves, which de Sousa had wiped out. For once, I hadn’t had anything to do with it. “I didn’t do that one,” I said.
Alan looked at me doubtfully. “This is the only one where they have DNA evidence to support it,” he said gently. “The chances of you getting out of it are…very slim.”
I shrugged. “That’s fine. I’m just saying, I didn’t do it. I honestly have no idea why my DNA would have been there.”
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Moving on, it looks like…thirty-six counts of extortion, over a period ranging from shortly after those murders up until the present.”
“A protection racket,” I explained, feeling almost grateful to hear one that I could clearly place. “Although I should point out that all of them volunteered.”
“Right,” he said, making another note. “And…it looks like that brings us up to the big one. Three counts of domestic terrorism, two around a year and a half ago and one last week.”
I blinked. “That’s all?” I asked. “I was expecting they’d hit me with, like, a thousand murder charges for that or something.”
Alan sighed. “Mr. Wolf—Winter—I don’t think you entirely grasp the magnitude of what you’re dealing with. The minimum sentence for even one conviction of premeditated murder is life in prison. That’s the minimum sentence. Considering the number of charges against you, I think there’s a very real possibility of capital punishment. I would strongly recommend you take this seriously.”
“Oh, I am,” I assured him. “I just think it’s funny. Did they just get tired of writing out murder charges or something? Oh,” I added as an afterthought, “and also I didn’t do that. The terrorism bit, I mean.”
“I believe you. But considering the amount of evidence they have, and the fact that you’ve avoided arrest for so long, it’s questionable whether anyone else will.” He looked over the papers again, then folded them and put them back in his briefcase. “It looks like that’s everything,” he said. “Now, as your attorney, may I offer you some advice?”
I shrugged. “You’re the expert. Why hire an expert you aren’t going to listen to?”
He smiled. “You’d be surprised how many people do. Anyway, Winter, I would advise you to seriously consider plea bargaining. I’m confident that I can get you off of many of these charges, but the ones I might not be able to are among the more serious. If you take the plea bargain, you can probably get your sentence reduced to life imprisonment without parole. If it goes to a jury trial, there’s a very good chance that you’ll get the death penalty.”
“No offense, but that sounds considerably more pleasant than life in prison.”
“If you’re sure,” he said. “It’s your choice. Anyway, I’m going to consult with some of the partners at my firm and see if we can come up with another option. In the meantime, I strongly recommend you think about what I said.”
Maybe half an hour later, I was lying on the mattress in my cell. There was still nobody around, although any illusion of privacy was ruined by the cameras. There was the constant feeling of being watched, as though there were someone looking over my shoulder.
Still, there was something different right then. I still felt like being watched, but all of a sudden there was also the feeling of presence, like I wasn’t alone anymore.
It was a vague feeling, but I hadn’t lived this long by ignoring vague feelings. I immediately froze and looked around the room, trying to find any slight anomalies.
It only took a couple seconds to figure out what it was. There was a presence in the air, something I couldn’t see or hear, but which smelled like magic in the gentle tones of a morning breeze passing through the forest.
“Hello,” I said, looking its general direction. I was tensed now, ready to move. Air spirits were generally harmless, but I’d rather not take chances under the circumstances. “Do you have something to tell me?”
The spirit’s mind brushed gently against mine, conveying meaning and ideas without really shaping it into words. I got an image of Aiko—not a visual image, per se, more a summary description of who she was, her shape, her scent, the way her magic felt as it brushed against the air spirit. I felt frustration, regret, disgust. I got an impression of freedom, and then a sense of offering, of question.
I thought for a moment and then returned the idea of negation, rejection, refusal. I added feelings of caution, patience, and confidence, then topped it off with another sense of question, of request. This last was directed to the air spirit specifically, requesting that it return my reply to Aiko.
It hovered there for a moment longer, then vanished. It was hard to be sure whether it would do what I’d asked—air spirits are flighty, and almost mindless—but I suspected it would. Air spirits tend to do what Aiko asks them to.
If I got lucky, she might not decide to break me out anyway. At the moment, that seemed like a bad idea.
If I got even luckier, I wouldn’t regret asking her not to.