We crossed the city limits at a different point. Just in case. We didn’t have to get too far into the city before every one of us knew exactly how to reach the precinct. It was late though. So we were going to have to see Lieutenant Ember at home. Sam insisted that at any hour there were honest cops at his precinct. I asked him if he really wanted to risk this much on that piece of loyalty. “I guess not.”
Instead of driving to the precinct directly, we headed to a nice, green grass and picket fence neighborhood with two story houses. “You cops really live the life,” I said.
“You don’t keep the peace in Pantheon City for nothing,” he said.
I couldn’t argue with that, so I didn’t. I just accepted the entry level to the good life as a necessary fact. I pulled into a particular driveway at Sam’s direction.
I wasn’t going to ring that doorbell. I let Sam do that. I watched over the prisoners while he and Hell woke their boss. I kept watch for anyone who might be too curious about us. I didn’t have any reason to suspect anything, and I would have been right not to. I couldn’t be too careful though. The hard part was over, but in my line of work, I couldn’t assume that.
Sam ended up practically pushing a very irritated Han Ember to the vahana. The poor guy still had bed head and his pajamas were all crumpled. His surprisingly attractive wife stood in the doorway grimacing. I couldn’t imagine it was the first late night call, but you couldn’t tell that from her eyes.
The Lieutenant peered through my window. “Well, what am I looking at?” I didn’t even have to point. I don’t know what Sam told him, but Ember was stunned when he saw the fade. “It’s him! Holy Urge it’s really him!”
“No,” I said, “It’s just someone who looks like him. We need to get a lot of cops. We need city auditors. We need to get to the Midas Bank right now. No delay. I don’t care that it’s the middle of the night.”
I hadn’t realized that Hanuman Ember was quite the badass he turned out to be. Without a moment’s hesitation, as though I had ordered a hamburger, he said, “Let’s go.” He climbed in, taking over the front passenger seat.
We were still paranoid about being noticed because we were in a Temple vahana. I doubted that the Temple even knew they had a problem. I will never know. It does entertain me to imagine someone waiting by the phone for the confirmation call, and not receiving it. I love the idea that some corrupt Temple personnel were frantically rushing around, knowing that they couldn’t possibly find out what went wrong until someone went to the Icarus place personally to see.
In the middle of the night the eleventh precinct was a dark and forbidding building. I appreciated that. Anyone getting arrested at that ungodly hour deserved a bit of a threat. Lieutenant Ember had us pull to a side gate that was shielded from street view by an alley. The cop there looked bored, but that changed when he saw his boss in the passenger seat. We didn’t trust even the cop at the gate. All of our prisoners were covered up with a tarp. The Temple guys were moaning as though someone might help them, but we weren’t in the right place for that.
The Lieutenant was on the phone before long. We had all the evidence we needed for fast warrants. Calls were made, officials were roused from sleep, and the bank was going to open well before the appointed hour.
Most people assume that I used to be a cop. I wasn’t. So racing along the streets in a black and white vahana with the lights on and the siren blaring was a thrill. We had a small battalion of armed cops. Some of them even had machine guns, rare weapons in our world. We were taking on the bank and the DemiUrge Temple. We needed a show of force. We had it.
The thing that surprised me was just how seriously the cops took all this. That’s the way it goes though. You can’t trust a single cop to be honest, but you can trust a mob of cops to be honest. They didn’t have much choice, because even the dishonest cops didn’t know which ones they could count on to keep a secret. Not that many of them knew what the secret was.
Ember wasn’t in charge anymore. It was a police commissioner, Mohammed Storm. He sent pairs of cops to bring some bank employees to us right away. They weren’t just going to place some calls. They were going to escort people to their work to make sure it got done without anyone knowing why.
It was like the pursuit through the trees out at the edge of our reality. It started intense, charging into a bank before opening hours, shaking gods from their beds and dragging them to work. Then it got to the actual work. That meant that most of us were doing nothing but sitting around while a bunch of clerks, tellers and accountants went over numbers in quiet rooms. Yes, the sharp cutting drama turned to dull reality again.
I will say that there was some small entertainment. The bank gods were timid to the point of quivering under the orders of the city auditors. I couldn’t blame them. They had to do what they could for the bank. Disloyalty there could cost a god a job or even an entire career. The auditors were not gods that you could defy though. City auditors weren’t often let off their leashes, but they had big teeth. Failure to support an auditor’s authority when he was backed by a warrant brought serious penalties. I’ve always suspected that our financial world is less corrupt than the mortal one. There is corruption and greed of course, because there’s money. There’s a difference though. When you’re immortal, living in a world of immortals, you have to be careful what crimes you commit. You have to be careful what kind of laws you skirt. If you lose your position in Pantheon city, the loss doesn’t last fifty or eighty years. It lasts for centuries. Or more.
There was nothing I could do. I could keep an eye on the bank employees to make sure they weren’t doing anything shifty, but I wasn’t as effective as the auditors. I wasn’t always certain what to look for.
I wasn’t the only one who got too acclimated to the process. I watched the people around me. The bank employees stayed nervous. The auditors stayed hard, vicious and demanding. The rest of us got softer if not more relaxed. Cops were sitting down with their guns across their laps. Coffee was guzzled and refilled again and again. I tried to stay engaged. I really did. I was exhausted though, and I had been fighting and driving for far too long. And my bullet wound was starting to hurt worse because I was ignoring the doctor’s advice. I wasn’t going to quit until this was over though.
Then it happened. I was lucky enough to be in the same room. A shaky little guy brought a stapled stack of paper to one of the auditors. It was Yu Di Paint, the Auditor in Charge, and that was his actual title, at least for this operation. Auditor in Charge. And believe me, if you were being audited you wouldn’t want this stocky, dog faced bastard to be the one handling it.
“Sir,” the quivering teller said, “I, uh, I’ve found something.”
The Auditor in Charge didn’t even blink. He didn’t smile. He needed his question answered. “There’s an overage in a Temple account?”
“Uhn, it’s over two and a half million drevens that are not accounted for.”
Everyone went dead quiet. Even the sloppy cop in the corner was suddenly consumed by it. Yu Di repeated the number, “Two and a half million?”
“That’s right. It was transferred over uh, from the Expansion Branch Account to the Fade Rehabilitation Account.”
“The what?,” I asked.
“The, uh, the account the Temple uses for fade rehabilitation funds. There’s two and a half million there that shouldn’t be there.”
“From which account?,” Yu Di said.
Just like that they went back to details that would lose most gods. I listened carefully. The account the money came from was an account that the Temple didn’t use, that lay dormant for years at a time. No one had touched it for over a decade before Triumph took that fortune out.
It was a shell game. Where did that money come from? Where was it going? The second question didn’t have an answer. That was a violation, but it didn’t prove any crime. That could have been an act of malice or even a big mistake made by a fade trustee. The problem was, when the money was in the Expansion Branch Account, it wasn’t marked for anything but transfer. Business as usual? Or something illicit?
The more they went at it, the more tangled the Temple web became. Most of their money was honest. Enough so that you wouldn’t find even a tidy sum like two and a half million unless you were looking for it. I don’t understand the financial policies of the banks or the big outfits anywhere near enough to know how the Temple had hid the money or how they intended to use it. I didn’t have to know though. That’s what the city’s economic bloodhounds were for. From that day forward I would always try to speak well of the city auditors. They did their job. They did it so well that it wasn’t long after official banking hours began that they had enough of a case to get Judge Well from the finance court to issue arrest warrants that no one would have imagined.
Talk about a public storm. It was a given that someone on the force was going to leak it to the press. The reporters and shutterbugs were there in the dog eat dog mob they formed when they were competing for a scoop. I made certain that Olive was at the head of the pack. I owed her that. The rest of the press wouldn’t hold that against me when they found out that she had done me a couple good turns. All it meant was that when the next inevitable Detective Axiom headline broke that I would work with whoever was smart enough to get ahold of the story.
The police presence at the bank was small compared to the one needed to keep the peace at the Temple. Not to mention the fact that they had to go inside and enforce their arrest warrants. There wasn’t any resistance. I imagine the Temple had men on hand that could put up a struggle. The kind of people that keep Ares Hammer on the payroll had to have others. But why bother? There was no way out. Sooner or later they would lose and any violence would only go against them in court. Right then they were calling lawyers, not gun hands. It didn’t do them any good. There were fingerprints all over the paper trail at the bank. When that started to unravel, it all came apart. It was the big names. Of the Temple’s official board, only God Stone was taken into custody. The rest were the shadowy figures that everyone knew about, but that no one ever saw. Aphrodite Fire, Islam Clash, Atheism Scent and, much to my satisfaction and relief, even the famous, cold hearted, old world savage, Moloch Winter. They didn’t have him for the bank transactions. He made one mistake though. He had hired me himself. He was the one who set up the fake crime to draw attention away from the bribes. There was no believable story that could keep him from an arrest. Especially with the others in custody. Any of them, or more likely all of them, would turn on him. If he was the brains, we would know it. Even if he wasn’t the head of the conspiracy, he was a major part of it. At long last that relic of theological ancestry was going to reap the rewards of his life of manipulation.
There were camera flashes all over as the rich and powerful Temple heads were brought out and deposited into black and white vahanas. They weren’t even driven away immediately. There was plenty of time to enjoy the cursing, the fuming and the tears of the powerful gods as they sat in the backseats, handcuffed, waiting to make the best plea bargain they could.
The last one was the one I waited for. Moloch. He looked every bit himself. The son of a bitch in his suit with his expensive hair cut looked like he expected to walk. Not even he could delude himself into thinking he could escape prison, but he wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction. The bastard actually smiled for the cameras and gave a two handed, manacled wave.
He saw me, and I could catch what no camera could. That hateful glint in his eye. The threat of an eternal enmity. I was there at the appointed vahana. The cops couldn’t get Moloch into the car until I stopped leaning on the door. No one was moving me, and no one wanted to. I was going to have my moment with this nightmare of a god. I gave him a smile similar to the one he had given the cameras.
He returned that with all the grace and style he had accumulated in his years of high society. “Where’s Ares? Did you kill him?”
Oh, what a perfect question. I couldn’t hide my gratification. I could feel my smile go from Detective cool to wide humor. “Ares helped us get your patsy from the border.”
Moloch was more himself in that instant than he had been for decades or maybe centuries. There was a moment of shock. Who could believe that? But he knew Ares. He knew it was true. He knew I wouldn’t say that if it was a lie. The debonair theocrat turned to his true self. He didn’t rave or scream. That was never his way. But his eyes blazed, and the predatory scowl that I hadn’t seen forever was right there. He didn’t care who heard him. “You and him. And everyone you hold dear.”
I would have been afraid if there had been any reason to be. He would have been the worst enemy I would ever have if his fate wasn’t certain. “Moloch, you’re going to be in a cell for so long there’ll be nothing you can do. You’re nearly forgotten by the mortals. You’re a name. Nothing more. There are so few Molochs left in the city that I haven’t met another in years. You’ve survived through ill gotten gains, and now they’re gone. You’ll fade in prison. By the time you get out, no one will even remember you. By the time you’d be able to do anything, Ares and I won’t even remember that you threatened us. You’ll end up in a sanctuary, where you pulled Triumph from. He’s the one that put you there. Triumph. A god who owed nothing to the city or the mortals who feed it. He’s the one who made sure that you were going to be caught. Think about that while your mind still works.”
It was less than a minute after Moloch was being driven away that the reporters descended. Do they think a person can hear them when they all talk at once? It didn’t matter. At that moment I had an obligation to give the first interview to Olive. I promised the rest their time. It wasn’t easy because my time wasn’t my own. I’d have to be on hand when they called me as a witness.
* * * * *
“No further questions, Your Honor.”
“You may step down, Mister Hammer.”
Ares swaggered back to his seat next to me and Aggie. The entire time he was on the stand he maintained a challenging stare at the defendants. I couldn’t see it, but I knew that Moloch was threatening him with his own eyes. “How’d I do?,” he whispered.
He was the only person I knew who could whisper like a slamming door. I told him, “You did great. By now it’s practically a formality anyway.”
As the trial unfolded, things got worse and worse for Moloch Winter and his cronies. None of his accumulated wealth or influence could help them now. Moloch was learning the price of being the power behind the throne. When the tide turned, the actual throne might not feel overwhelming loyalty. Temple personnel ranking from file clerks to the head of the Temple’s official board were all ready to give their testimony. They weren’t going to sacrifice themselves or their church for Moloch, a shadowy presence in the corners of their paradise. The snake in their garden. They’d wanted to be rid of him for centuries, and now they had the chance. The Temple was stained with scandal, but at least they could stay in one piece if they let the city cut away the cancer that had infected them. Convicting this long lived cabal would be easy. I had testified early. Moloch had hired me to build their story. Once the jury believed that, every witness that followed knew they had to separate themselves from Moloch as much as they could.
Everyone rolled on him, and some were unlucky enough to get caught in the machinery. One corrupt official led to another, which led to corrupt building firms and corrupt pioneers. Every working class stiff in the city tuned in to the radio to hear the dominoes fall. More bribe money was uncovered, hidden in Temple accounts, supposedly without the knowledge of Mary Iron and her board. They might have even been telling the truth.
I’ll be honest though, it got a bit tiresome. One after another, after another. I had the time. We weren’t taking on any cases until the trial was over, and we could easily afford that.
“Do we have to stay here?,” Ares asked.
“No, we can go.”
There was a brief pause in the proceedings while everyone watched. Ares and I got out of the aisle. Then we had to help Aggie lope his way off his seat. He was recovering, but it would be a while before he’d be able to get out of a chair comfortably.
Ares asked, “You sure they’re going to convict him?”
I smiled. “There’s no way for him to escape now.”
“You guys are getting your just due.”
It was true. The city was forced to play by their own rules. When the city confiscated the bribery funds, we got the reward fee, like a finder’s fee in a way. I hadn’t expected the city to do the right thing, but since Aggie and I were headline heroes, I guess they didn’t have any choice. The illicit funds of the Moloch crew were all confiscated, put into city accounts. All of it, except the legally required reward. It was less than ten percent, but when the total was well over six million drevens, ten percent was a pretty sum. If we were mortal, we would have been set for life. When you’re a god though, you can outlive a fortune like that. Besides, we loved our work.
Another reward was the knowledge that an innocent man would go free. We couldn’t prove Ganesha Walker’s innocence, but as soon as the trial ended, there would be evidence of a frontier sabotage conspiracy that went at least that far back. Mayor Vishnu had already promised that if the cabal was convicted most of Ganesha’s sentence would be commuted. The Board of Judicial Equity had agreed. So instead of serving centuries, Ganesha would likely serve only a few decades longer. Less if he was lucky.
Not everyone was better off though. Ares was out of a job. I already knew the answer, but I asked all the same, “How are things going for you?”
“Not good. I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again. It didn’t do me any favors though.”
Aggie and I had talked about this already. We didn’t know if we hoped this conversation would come up or not. Aggie asked him, “The Temple wouldn’t hire you back?”
“They can’t. People associate me with Winter. I got a severance package, but I’m out of work. I’m hired muscle. Now everyone knows that they can’t count on my loyalty.”
“You were loyal to the city,” I said. “You were loyal to what was right.”
“Try to find a god in need of my services who stays in the right.”
“Yeah,” I said. Aggie and I had a career that depended on that as well. “So you need an employer who needs ethics along with brawn. We could use the help.”
I thought he was fishing for a job, but he wasn’t. Ares wasn’t subtle enough to fake the surprise that we saw in his eyes. “Me?”
“We end up in hard situations. We don’t always get into gunfights at the border, outnumbered by mercenaries, but it can’t hurt to have a leg breaker, button man of our own. That’s the city we live in. The bad guys have the guns. We need ’em too.”
“I can’t say no.”
Agnosticism couldn’t help giving him a little shit. “I’m a full partner now. You come on board, and I’m your boss.”
“I don’t like you that much,” Ares said. “I can’t say no though. Okay. When do we go to work?”
“Not until the trial is over. In the meantime…” What would I do in the meantime? Enjoy a real bar like the Golden Fleece after my time in Primum Mobile? I didn’t doubt it. It wasn’t the only place I was going to go. No one knew it, because no one knew who I was. Not even Aggie. My old name was counted among the losses. I was presumed dead before I developed the new face, name and mannerisms. I remembered Moloch for a reason. I had fought him in the old days. In person. And I had lost. After all this time, I had won. But it wasn’t revenge. It was faith. I helped build the DemiUrge temple when it was new. I’d been a believer in the god of gods before there was a Temple. And today? After everything we’d been through, protecting the city and the frontier both? Weeding out the evil elements that refused to die? I noticed that the weather was warm and the sky was bright. Everything was beautiful. It was as though our world was grateful. I’m not naïve enough to think a thing like that is a miracle, but I gave a whisper to the DemiUrge all the same.
I left the Temple after Moloch and his bastards infested it. I never stopped believing though. Now I could return to worship in a Temple free of their influence. I could only imagine the stares of the people who had always taken me for an agnostic.