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New Rourke Unmasked
Into the Middle of Things
Head First | Burnt My Bridges | Up Against It


"I don't like it." Kendra said apropos of nothing.

Oscar, who had been in the middle of enjoying a quiet lunch, put down his sandwich and leaned back in his chair. "What?"

"The Raleigh case." Kendra said, still frowning off into the distance. "I don't like it."

Oscar huffed. "You're not supposed to like it."

They were sitting in their cramped office just outside the larceny department. In terms of building real estate it was not great, but it was their own little domain and that suited them fine. Two chairs, one square table, one computer, several filing cabinets, and a tiny non-openable window, inhabited what had once been an overflow storage room, but now housed the NRPD Major Crimes Task Force.

Due to the nature of their work, their position in the police department was variable. They answered to the head of whichever department a case involving "super humans" normally fell under, but that allowed them the authority to call on whatever departmental resources they required. A complicated system of bureaucratic juggling, indeed, but they made it work. Most cops referred to them as "Cape Squad".

"It's just bugging me." Kendra continued, while her food went cold. "Where it's neat, it is very neat. Where it looks like there would be holes, there's something terribly convenient."

Oscar clasped his hands atop his head. "Kendra, you just described how most cases are resolved."

Kendra waved off the snide comment. "Look at Raleigh. She tells us a story about a cop who doesn't show up in any of our records, and says he told her to respond to a bank robbery that didn't happen."

Oscar watched Kendra expectantly, knowing full well that when she got like this it was best to let her ramble through her thoughts until she came to a conclusion. Whenever he felt conflicted, he would enjoy a nice quiet think and the sensation of rubbing his palms over his short, bristly, hair.. He valued Kendra's adherence to the concept of everyone being innocent until proven guilty, but tenacity was a game for the young.

"Yeah, I know people lie." Kendra said, talking more to herself than her partner. "But then there's the mayor's murder. The only leads we have are the video and the consistency of the wounds. Two pieces of evidence that rely entirely on the first murder going down like a mugging that went bad. I mean, why kill Griswald in the first place? Money? That's it? Then we've got CCTV video only being visible for the short time that the fight took place."

Oscar looked squarely at his partner. "She wouldn't be the first cape to go bad. You weren't here during the 'Backlash'. Far too many people in masks thinking what they were doing was right, tearing up the city."

"I'm not saying it isn't possible." Kendra waffled. "There's just too much 'right place, right time' for my tastes."

"Fine." Oscar shrugged. "What do you want to do? We have no credible leads to go after anyone else. We can't chase after a conspiracy on the word of our prime suspect that some guy, who is most likely imaginary, was involved. Where would we start?"

Kendra sighed and stared at the ceiling. "You're right. I'm probably just chasing windmills."

Kendra reflected on things seemed a lot simpler in hostage negotiation. At most she only had to deal with one or two people with antisocial disorders at a time. Now there were potentially dozens of nuts in long underwear that had to be approached with very calculated measures of tact. That was where the police use of "capes" as a derogatory term had come from. Good or bad, some of these people could snap at a moment's notice.

Kendra glanced back to Oscar who had resumed eating. He had seen his share of extraordinary fights back when he was running around in spandex. Now, he was an old warhorse, watching both sides of the law for the first sign of trouble.

"Do you think she did it?" Kendra asked.

Oscar swallowed what he had been chewing. Without looking up, he said, "I think I did my job.", then returned his focus to lunch.

Yep. Kendra thought to herself. Calculated tact.

* * *

Because of the high profile nature of the case, and lack of evidence to support her, Elisabeth's options were limited. Under advisement from her attorney, she offered an Alford plea for involuntary manslaughter, in order to maintain some glimmer of innocence. Unfortunately, the DA refused any chance of a plea bargain.

Elisabeth learned that court was very different from how it was portrayed on TV. Rules of order were honored, becoming flustered was easy, a case could be built entirely on circumstantial evidence, and it always felt like the other side had a stacked deck.

Elisabeth sat in an uncomfortable wooden chair, wearing an unflattering prison jumpsuit and handcuffs. The overhead fans hummed and swayed keeping the court at room temperature, but she was sweating nevertheless. She felt like every eye in the room was boring down on her, and more besides, as the judge had opened up proceedings to the media. It was a show trial, and it soon became clear that more than just her freedom was at stake.

"We are here today," the DA said during his opening statements, "because we can't go on like this anymore. There are people among us with extraordinary powers and abilities. It is not just the obvious monsters, but the subtle ones as well. Oh, they may dress in colorful costumes and use grandiose names, but one thing ties them all together. And that is they don't think the law applies to them."

He turned to face the gallery, two stories of people packed into small chairs, elbow to elbow, in suits and dresses. Most of them Elisabeth did not recognize, but some faces stuck out. Her parents sat behind her, looking miserable. Her step-brother leaned over the railing of the upper balcony with questioning eyes. Jaime Lent and his parents were also up on the balcony. She saw Akiva sitting two rows back on the lower level, her expression impassive. Next to her was a teenage girl with mocha-skin and curly, brown, hair streaked with red and white. Elisabeth suspected this was Calico Jones in street clothes. If so, that meant the large, black, man next to her was her father, Praxis, another retired hero. She thought she also recognized Darrel Humphreys, a.k.a. Grey Vigil, but she could not be sure. The turn out of support comforted Elisabeth, especially since most of the superhero community barely knew her. Unfortunately, only those who were willing to publicly reveal their legal identity could testify on her behalf. She could not expect such a sacrifice from them. It would have been hypocritical, since she had been so adamant about concealing her own identity from them.

"We owe several of these people a great deal." the DA continued solemnly. "But they also owe us much more. We have given them admiration, and they have taken advantage. We have given them leniency, but they don't take responsibility.

"Elisabeth Raleigh", he said pointing to her, "put on a costume and took to the streets. No one asked her to. She appointed herself judge and jury. And now, after she has killed two men, in cold blood, we can no more sanction her activates as we could those of any other gang member."

Elisabeth had expected harsh treatment. Still, the DA's zeal felt excessive. He was conflating her motivations into something obscene. She had saved people from fires, stopped muggings, and even convinced a swarm of hive-mind rats that humans were too dangerous to confront. Sure, she was on trial for double homicide, but that did not make her a bad person.

"This detective," the DA asked the clearly uncomfortable Kendra Wellers in the witness stand, "who was he?"

"Objection!" Elisabeth's attorney shouted. "Irrelevant. My client was under duress when this was said and misspoke."

The DA turned to the judge. "Your honor, these statements were both material for justifying the arrest and establishing witnesses to the crime."

"Overruled." the judge answered.

Kendra shifted in her seat. "The NRPD has no record of a Jerry Delview, or any detective matching the description Ms. Raleigh provided."

Elisabeth hunched her shoulders, staring at the table in front of her. She knew she had been naïve. She should have gotten a badge number, checked his credentials, anything. She had been in contact with him for months. He would call about some crime, and she responded. Almost every time she made a police report, she went through him. How many other times had she been set up? How long had this been building? How many other crimes had she committed?

"As you can see by the diameter, shape, and consistency of bruising, these blows were created in the same fashion."

The forensic analyst displayed on the wall monitor several charts and detailed pictures of the corpses. Whoever was behind this was intimately familiar with how Elisabeth's powers worked.

The DA nodded as he followed along. "Could these wounds have been made by some tool? Like, say, a hammer of some kind?"

"That is unlikely." the analyst said, changing the display to what looked like a physics diagram. "With a hammer or any swung instrument, we would see indications of an angled impact. The force of impact on each of these wounds is orientated perpendicular to the body, just like how Ms. Raleigh's strikes are shown in the video."

"And as for that video, it was found in the mayor's safe correct?"

"Yes."

"What else can you tell us about it."

"It is a copy of a digital file burned to a disc."

"Were there any fingerprints found on that disc."

"The only prints we were able to lift matched the mayor's."

"Interesting." the DA said, pacing in front of the witness stand thoughtfully. "So it would stand to reason that the mayor knew of Ms. Raleigh's fight with Griswald. A fight that ended in Griswald's death. Information like this could easily destroy her reputation. But murder to cover up another murder?" The DA shook his head. "That's sloppy."

"Bastard." Elisabeth muttered, locking eyes with the DA. His cocky manner made her hate him even more.

She seriously wanted to pound his smug face into the floor. Maybe then, he would be able to tell a real expression of her power from an imitation. But she sat and stewed, because she still had hope that somehow this could turn around.

"It is not possible." Akiva Shen said when called for character testimony. "I know her. Murder is not in her nature. Moreover, there was not enough time. That alley was only ten minutes away, by car. Elisabeth arrived in less time than that."

"Thank you." Elisabeth's attorney said, then returned to his seat. "Your witness."

The DA stood up for cross examination, but instead of approaching the stand just stood behind his table. "Only a few quick questions, Ms. Shen. Where did you say you were meeting?"

"The pet shop on North Amberly." Akiva answered.

"And this is right next to one of the doors leading to Candlebrook Tavern, correct?"

Akiva set her jaw firm. "Yes."

The DA looked to the jury. "For those of you who don't know, this is a bar." he said, then addressed Akiva again. "Do you usually go to bars in the middle of the day?"

"With all due respect," Akiva said sharply, "I have a much better grasp of the passage of time than anyone else."

"Even when you're intoxicated?"

Akiva didn't answer, but just glared at the man.

"Ms. Shen, you are familiar with perjury, correct?"

"Yes." she snapped.

The DA grinned slightly. "That's all I needed."

Elisabeth's attorney called several people, but the DA struck down each of their testimonies on technicalities. Family relations were biased. Her Springer persona was always clad head to foot, so Elisabeth could not be positively identified when doing good things. And when she could be, her heroics were transformed into a parade of mistakes.

"Springer saved me!" Jaime protested again from the witness stand.

The DA nodded. "After causing several hundred thousand dollars in damages to city property, and putting you in direct physical danger."

Elisabeth had reached her breaking point. It was bad enough that her good name was trampled; now her friends were insulted, other heroes were called deviants, all the while the real criminal was getting away. Jerry Delview, whoever he was, had to be found, but Elisabeth could not do anything about that from prison.

"Put me on the stand." Elisabeth whispered urgently to her attorney.

"We talked about this. It wouldn't help."

"Damn it," she hissed, "I've got to do something!"

"No!"

The judge banged his gavel for silence. "Is there a problem?"

Her attorney started to answer, but Elisabeth stood up and cut him off. "Yes. I've got something to say."

The judge looked to the DA. "Any objections?"

The DA shook his head, confident of an imminent victory.

"Proceed." the judge said.

"I…" Elisabeth paused. She had been reacting to every aspect of this case on instinct instead of thinking things through. Even now, she was about to protest her innocence again.

The judge leaned forward. "Well?"

Elisabeth knew she was being set up, but why her? Anyone could be an assassin, but the people responsible framed an idealistic superhero. She had been studied, examined in detail. A thought occurred to her; maybe whoever was behind this had taken into account her superhero fanaticism. The media coverage and public shaming, all this was to give superheroes a bad name. If the purpose was to defame a community, then maybe an individual could pull focus and allow the rest to redeem themselves.

"Ms. Raleigh, we are waiting." the judge insisted testily.

Elisabeth held her head up straight and responded, "Shove it up your ass."

The judge huffed and shook his gavel at Elisabeth threateningly. "I will find you in contemp, young lady!"

"Too late." Elisabeth spat back. "I couldn't have more contempt for this court."

"Bailiffs, arrest that woman!"

"Hey, Mr. DA." she said, smiling mischievously at him. "You still think I'm a monster?"

Elisabeth held up her handcuffed hands in surrender as the two bailiffs moved towards her. Each took one of Elisabeth's arms and started pulling her across the courtroom to the exit between the witness stand and the jury. When they were in the open area in front of the judge's bench, Elisabeth said, "Come to think of it, I've got something else I want to say. Catch me if you can."

Elisabeth's handcuffs exploded and the two bailiff's rocketed away from her; one flew into the jury box, the other collided with the stenographer.

Over the next few seconds, several things happened at once. The jury box and spectator galleries turned into a panicked crowd of people literally trying to climb over each other to escape. Elisabeth jumped onto the edge of the judge's bench, and then ricocheted up to the balcony railing. Oscar Guerra dove on top of the judge behind his bench. Kendra Wellers went to secure the DA but was intercepted when Elisabeth landed in front of him.

"Look! Angles!" Elisabeth said, and kneed the DA in the groin then thrust an elbow into Kendra's stomach, blasting her across the floor.

The plain-clothed superheroes in the crowd struggled to direct bystanders out of the room. Darrel Humphrey's even had to manhandle a stubborn camera operator who would not stop filming. Akiva managed to break out of the crowd and helped Kendra to her feet.

"Elisabeth, stop this!" Akiva shouted at Elisabeth who was now hanging upside down from a ceiling fan.

Elisabeth glanced at her friend, responded, "Do what you have to do.", then made another jump for the judge's bench.

Partway through her jump, Elisabeth saw the courtroom blur, and then suddenly there was a net in front of her. She landed in a pile on the floor, tangled up in heavy nylon ropes. The courtroom was now empty except for Akiva, Oscar, Kendra, and several more police officers pointing guns at her.

Elisabeth smirked without much mirth. "Looks like you can take me alive, coppers."

To Be Continued

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