Camp Hell - PsyCop #5

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"So. You're here to gloat over how you'll nail me with your civil suit." Roger Burke nailed me with the world's smuggest grin, and when I didn't accommodate him by being lured into some sort of argument, he added, "I'd just like to see you try."

My civil suit. I checked that phrase against the known phrases in my admittedly limited catalog of things-I-knew-about, and came up blank. I was coasting on the sweet spot of my Auracel and I didn't feel the immediate need to tell Burke that I had no idea what he was talking about, so I stared at him instead.

He'd been grinning at me. His smile faltered. "Don't give me that look."

I attempted to look even more like I currently did.

"Go ahead and sue me. I've got less than five thousand dollars in the bank. And believe me, I've got my countersuit all planned out. You could've given me a stroke by shooting me up in the neck. I'm prepared to testify that a long-time drug user like you would know that."

It had never even occurred to me to sue him. I pressed the heel of my hand into my right eye. It felt great, and then it hurt, and then I saw a flash of pretty colors. "Would you shut up for half a second?"

"Think you'd win over a jury? Maybe they'd sympathize with you on the drug angle if you did your 'boo-hoo, I'm a medium' routine. But once my attorneys parade in that big, smug, steroid-pumped gorilla you play house with…."

"I was planning on talking about a way we could avoid the courtroom, but keep running your mouth, and my next phone call is my lawyer."

Burke crossed his arms over his chest as far as his handcuffs would allow, and he glared. He had a hell of a glare. I'd never seen him use it during the time he'd been my partner at the Fifth Precinct. He'd spent over a month projecting a wholesome, helpful, non-threatening persona as the Stiff half of our PsyCop team, and I'd been totally sold on his good-cop act.

Now that I knew him for what he was, I had no idea how I ever could have seen him as harmless. His eyes, which once seemed unguarded and approachable—at least, for a homicide investigator—now looked so cold and calculating that I wondered why I'd ever thought it was safe to get into a car with him, let alone accept a drink he'd bought without my surveillance.

He sat across the plastic table from me in the visiting room, with his pale, reptilian eyes trained on me so hard that I felt like I needed to go take a shower under a water cannon to wash off the evil. There was a repeater in the corner, the ghost of a former inmate who'd died pounding on the two-way mirror, who continued to slam his fists into the glass long into the afterlife. I'd been spooked by him when I first came into the room and discovered I hadn't taken enough Auracel to block him. Now I found his presence almost comforting. It meant I wasn't alone with Roger Burke.

I controlled my revulsion toward him enough to plant my elbows on the table and lean forward. I'd been hoping to buy his information with Marlboros, but the guards wouldn't let me bring cigarettes into the visiting area. His hissy fit had given me an idea, though. "Here's the deal. I promise not to sue you, if you tell me what you know about Camp Hell."

I did my best not to look too full of myself, but I had to admit: a promise to refrain from any future lawsuits seemed a lot more valuable than a few packs of smokes.

Roger eased back into his chair. I wouldn't say he looked exactly comfortable, but he was interested enough to stay awhile, if only to taunt me about things that he knew, and I didn't. It was a start.

"I assume that you're not talking about the new Heliotrope Station. You want to know about the real deal. Where you trained."

In name only, Heliotrope Station lived on. It was now a series of night-school classes they held over at the Junior College. None of it was even remotely like the original Camp Hell—not the administration, not the staff, not the location. Hell, not even the textbooks. Still, even the old name made me start to sweat, and swallow convulsively.

Roger's smug grin was back. "You'd need to talk to me 'til my release date to find out everything I know about Camp Hell. And given that they haven't even set my sentence, who knows when that'll be?"

Posturing. That was good. It meant that he wanted to seem like he had something valuable to dangle over my head. Unfortunately, I already knew that he did. Lisa's si-no talent had told me that Roger could not only tell us why stories about Camp Hell had never made it to the Internet, but who'd managed to bury them.

"I'll be checking out what you say to make sure it's true," I warned him. "I smell bullshit, and I'll see you in court."

Roger smiled. There was some genuine pleasure in that smile, along with all the malice. My creeped-out meter ratcheted up to eleven. "April eighteenth," he said. "It's a mild fifty-five degrees outside. The subway tunnels are being drained from a freakish flood incident that occurred when an old access tunnel collapsed and the Chicago River poured in. And twenty-three-year-old Victor Bayne was transferred from the Cook County Mental Health Center to Heliotrope Station at approximately fourteen hundred hours. In a straightjacket."

My right eye throbbed. I jammed my thumb into the corner of it at the bridge of my nose, and reminded myself to breathe. "Big deal."

"Could anyone else have told you that story? Your co-workers? Your lover?"

He said the word lover like it was something rotten he'd found stuck between his teeth. "You know things about me," I said. I think my voice sounded normal. Maybe. "I'd be surprised if you didn't, since you and Doctor Chance schemed to kidnap me for, what, a year? Maybe two? That doesn't mean you know Camp Hell."

"West Fifty-Third Place, behind an industrial park that housed a small factory that manufactured dental posts and implants. No address. No signs. But a big, electrified, razor wire fence covered the whole perimeter. Been there lately? Seems like the whole building, all sixty five hundred square feet of it, has just…disappeared. Kind of like the residents."

The front doors were black tinted glass. I blinked. Roger hadn't told me that. The fried remnants of my brain had cheerfully offered up the long-forgotten detail.

The gag reflex fluttered, deep down in my throat. How did I ever think I could hear about Camp Hell without shoving my keys into my ears and punching out my eardrums?

I stood. My cheap plastic chair tipped over.

"Am I wrong, Detective?"

"This was a dumb idea. Go back to your cafeteria food and your group showers."

"They didn't kill them all. Maybe half, give or take. But the ones who didn't pose any threat, or the ones they could use…." He spread his hands. His handcuffs clicked as the chain in the center hit its limit. "Well. They crop up every now and again. They might even be leading fairly normal lives. As long as they don't travel anywhere suspicious, like Afghanistan or Cuba, the FPMP is happy to let them go on thinking they're just plain, old, ordinary American citizens, just like you and me." He blinked in mock sincerity. "Although…come to think of it, neither one of us really does fit that description. I'm up on felony charges, and you're a class five medium—as far as they know, anyway."

"I tested at five a dozen times. That's no big secret. What's FPMP?"

Roger smiled.

Our little chat wasn't going anything like I'd planned. I was supposed to give him some smokes, and he would thank me for my present by telling me a name or an address, and that would be that. That's how it'd gone down inside my head, anyhow.

"A bunch of butch guys running around with letters sewn onto their windbreakers," I said, "right? Whatever. Look, I've got somewhere to be."

I went to the door and knocked. The guard opened it.

"You could always recant your statement, you know. Tell them it wasn't me holding you captive. I was just along for the ride."

Coffee I'd drank a couple of hours before burned at the back of my throat. I needed to get to a bathroom before I hurled. "Yeah. They'll believe that."

"Why wouldn't they? When you gave your testimony, you had traces of Amytal, psyactives and muscle relaxants in your system. You were confused." He stared me in the eye, and he'd finally stopped grinning. "C'mon, Bayne. I'd make it worth your while."

"Don't hold your breath."

"I can tell you about Camp Hell, but what's the point? You were there. A second point of view isn't going to change anything that happened. But the FPMP? The people who made it disappear? They're still around. Think about it. Can you really afford not to know?"

I was standing half-in, half-out of the room. The guard gave me an "are you through yet?" look. I took another step out the door.

"And…Detective?" He sounded so mild, so matter-of-fact, that I should have known a zinger was coming. But I couldn't stop myself from turning back around and taking one more look at Roger Burke's cold, pale eyes.

"What?"

Roger's grin reappeared, and spread like blood welling out of a deep papercut. "Happy birthday."

• • •

I lay in bed staring up at the tin ceiling, racking my brain and trying to figure out which was worse: knowing that Roger Burke would walk sooner, maybe even immediately, if I recanted my statement—or knowing that he could tell me everything I wanted to know about Camp Hell and then some, but that I was too gutless to pay the price he wanted for the information.

I heard Jacob come in and bound up the stairs. He's got energy to do things like that, because he eats right, exercises, and doesn't take questionable pills.

"Are you mad?" he said.

I glanced down from the ceiling. He stood in the bedroom doorway, loosening his tie.

"No. Why?"

"Me. Forgetting your birthday." He slipped out of his suitcoat and hung it in the closet. "Do you want to go out? It's not that late. I'll bet I can get us in at Villa Prego."

Villa Prego was fancy enough that I didn't think the staff would ruin my dinner by trooping out and singing me a half-hearted, cheesy birthday song. But they served fussy little portions of things that once crawled around on the bottoms of ponds. "Nah. Let's just get a pizza. I'm really not big into birthdays."

Jacob took off his holster and put it in a drawer. "How hungry are you?"

Thanks to my cozy alone-time with Roger Burke, my stomach felt like it'd been ripped out, switched with a giant wad of rotting trash, then stuffed back into my abdominal cavity. I shrugged.

Jacob flashed some skin while he pulled on a T-shirt and sweats, and even his unintentional strip tease wasn't enough to cheer me up. I was too busy mulling over just how much I hated Burke, and wishing that he wasn't the one who had the information I needed.

Jacob shut the closet door and looked at me hard enough to make him squint. "Something's wrong. Is it Lisa?"

"Lisa's fine. She sent me her e-mail address. Maybe one of these days she'll trust me with her phone number again."

He planted his hands on his hips and kept on staring. I felt myself scowl even harder. I know he was accustomed to teaming up with the Human Polygraph, but didn't he understand that sometimes people lied and minimized because they were wrestling with something too ugly to lay out there for everyone to see?

"You're mad that I borrowed your Auracel," he said, finally.

There—something I could hang my mood on. Thank you, Jacob. "Don't go through my pockets."

"I'm sorry."

Like I gave a damn that he'd slipped some of my meds to an astral rapist. It wasn't as if it was my last pill or anything. And it'd gone to a good cause. I did my best to scowl harder.

Jacob sat on the edge of the bed, pulled my foot into his lap and dug his thumb into the sole. I turned all to jelly inside, but I think my scowl didn't slip, much. "I'm truly sorry. I did what I thought was right at the time."

The nerves at the bottom of my foot seemed to be connected directly to my spine. I sagged into the mattress, and my eyes rolled up to stare at the ceiling again. Jacob swept his thumb over the ball of my foot, and I made a noise that I usually reserve for sex.

"Please don't be mad."

"I'm not mad," I said. "It's just been a rough couple of days."

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