"Spit it out. I've been here 15 minutes and you aren't talking. I'm beginning to think you just brought me over here to see me," Apollo states.
It was early in the morning when I reached out to Apollo to come over. Ryder had gone on his morning run. I brought Apollo over while he was out. This is important. I'd found out where Simeon was. Ryder knew about him. This was the best time to tell him that my husband Ryder was working with Simeon. My husband Ryder was a conspirator. I had to tell Apollo. I trusted Apollo and I knew that he was would be fair and balanced when he prosecuted both Ryder and Simeon.
"Supposedly every year there is a new Zodiac killer right?" I ask Apollo.
Apollo nods. He leans up against my wall, "Yeah. Just like clockwork. Last year it was Silas. This year the Zodiac killer is Simeon."
"Why do they kill?" I ask.
Apollo shrugs, "They're crazy. Who knows. Who cares? When I find this guy I'm going to let you guys judge him. Us Aquarians are just the police. We just find the terrorists. You know? Who cares about motivation."
"It just seems weird. Terrorism doesn't make sense. I know being crazy is one thing but for some reason things just aren't adding up with the system."
Apollo gives me a long stare.
He checks my forehead.
"Are you sick?"
I slap his hand away quickly, "Apollo I'm serious. Don't you have the feeling that something isn't right here?"
"The system works. You ARE the system. I believe in the system and I believe in you. What's on your mind Law. It looks like you have something you want to get off your chest."
"I may have some information."
"I just wanted to know something before I told you. If someone knew about the Zodiac Killers and didn't turn them in what would happen. If someone might even be helping them...what would happen?"
I'm not sure if Ryder
is helping Simeon. All I know is that I saw them kissing. Simeon's photo was
appearing all over the city. Words were starting to spread and they were
starting relatively quickly. He was the next Zodiac Killer. Ryder had to have
known that but for some reason Ryder was kissing him. They were going at it.
What if Ryder was helping Simeon? What would that mean for Ryder?
"It's treason. They'd probably be found guilty. They'd probably be killed," Apollo explains bluntly before crossing his arms.
"That seems kind of harsh."
"You're on the list Law," Apollo explains, "Silas wants you dead and Simeon is the one who is going to try to do it. I don't care if it's harsh. I have all my men on the streets of the City trying to solve this case and make sure you are good."
Apollo was just what I thought he would be. He was the protector just like most Aquarians. He was fierce when it came to protecting the ones he loved. He wouldn't drop the ball here. He would find Simeon. He would arrest him and he would arrest Ryder as well if he knew about this. I would be responsible for the death of Ryder if I told Apollo what I knew right now.
The right thing to do would be to come clean. That would be the fair and balanced thing to do. Why wasn't I doing it? Why was I hesitating to snitch on Ryder?
"There has to be another way. What if the person who knows where Simeon is helps with finding him? Could he be given immunity?"
Apollo stops talking.
He crosses his arms and gives me a stare. It is a suspicious stare. I'm asking a lot of hypothetical questions about this and I'm really starting to show my hand.
"What do you know?" he asks me, "I know you Law. You have some info and I want you to tell me."
Suddenly Apollo's phone rings. Apollo looks down at the screen. The screen lights up and a hologram appears on the little screen. It is a cool little gadget and Apollo seems used to using it. They didn't have anything like that back on the mountain. I watch as the man who appears in the hologram seems to be one of Apollo's officers.
"Sir we need you," the person says.
"What is it?" Apollo asks, "I'm busy."
"There has been an attack sir. A murder. It's the Zodiac Killer sir."
Apollo grunts, "Fuck. Ok. I'll be there when I can."
Apollo hangs up the phone. He takes his time though. He looks at me. He's probably breaking protocol. He should probably be out the door right now but I think he knows what I have to tell him might be important. Maybe that's why he puts his hands gently on my arm.
"You can go ahead," I stated, "You can do your job."
"Making sure you are
OK is my most important job," Apollo argues, "What did you have to tell me Law?
You can trust me with anything. You know that right."
I couldn't hold onto this secret. Could I? Ryder was kissing the Zodiac killer for god sakes. God knows what kind of relationship they had but it had to be somewhat important because Ryder ignored me for it. I'm hesitating but the more I think about it the more I realize I may not have a choice here. If I lie to cover up for Ryder, I would be covering up for the Zodiac Killer. I would be helping the same guy who would probably try to kill me at some point. There was no way in hell I was going to do that.
"It's Ryder..." I start off.
"What's up with Ryder?" he asks.
Just at that moment the door open and Ryder walks in. He hears his name. Whistler is waiting at the door silently but steps aside to let Ryder in the door. Ryder looks at me. He looks at Apollo. He looks back at me. As usual he has his shirt off and is dripping with sweat from his exercise.
"What's up with me?" Ryder asks, "Go ahead. Finish what you were saying."
I hesitate. Apollo could probably take Ryder down. Apollo was a cop. He'd been trained for these kind of things. He had a gun for god sakes. He was skilled in subduing people. The problem was I wasn't sure if I wanted to see Ryder subdued. Why the hell was I hesitating to turn him in even though he was clearly having an affair on me with the Zodiac Killer.
Apollo gives me a look, "Are you sure?"
Ryder gives Apollo a long hard stare that speaks a million words, "He said nothing didn't he? Do you want him to say it again?"
Apollo ignores Ryder. There is some real tension there. I figured it would be. These two were cut from a different cloth. They were nothing alike and it showed. Apollo leans into me. He gives me a hug. It's a close hug. It's almost as though he's claiming me. I know it. He knows it and most of all Ryder knows it. Apollo kisses me on my cheek very close to my mouth. He lets it settle in for a minute. He lets it simmer.
Then he finally steps back and tells me, "I'll talk to you later OK?"
With that Apollo just walks away. The entire time Ryder is standing there watching us. He gives us a hard look in the next few seconds.
"Do you mind not inviting your boyfriend to our apartment while I'm out?" Ryder asks going to the fridge angrily, "I'm sure there are other places you can go."
He was one to talk. He had his boyfriend in the lobby instead. I shake my head. I didn't want to argue with Ryder. The last thing I wanted to do was talk to him at all. I'd have to be turning him in soon.
"Ok," I state.
It's no argument. It's no back and forth. I just agree and start walking away. Ryder must notice how nonchalant I'm being because he follows me all the way into my room. He stands at my bedroom door and squints at me.
"You're acting weird. Since when don't we argue?"
Since I found out he was dating the Zodiac Killer.
"Nothing to argue about. I'm late for work," I respond.
He stands at the doorway and I stand there until he finally starts stepping aside. He continues to follow me into the hallway. Before I get to the door Ryder grabs my hand.
"You aren't giving me any eye contact," he responds, "What's wrong?"
"Here we go with the Libra passive aggressive bullshit," he responds, "Can you just be blunt for once in your life and tell me what's wrong because I just asked."
Maybe I was a little passive aggressive. Maybe I did sometimes not know how to just come out and say when I was angry but I did petty things to get by it. I didn't care. This wasn't a conversation I wanted to have with Ryder. Honestly I was disappointed in him.
"I'll be filling in my paperwork for the divorce today. You should see it in the mail in a few days."
I don't think he expects that.
"Wait. Wait hold on. Let's talk about this. Hey! Law! HEY!"
I don't wait up for Ryder. There's no point in talking to him. There is no point in looking him in his eyes. As soon as I got the chance I was going to report him to Apollo. Ryder was going to be dead man.
Work is awkward to say the least. I have Ryder on my mind but that isn't what's making it so awkward. We are trialing a case. I'm sitting right next to Lloyd. A Cancer stole some money. He started to go on this deep long explanation about his circumstances. The majority of people found him guilty except me and another Libra. It was deemed a mistrial and he was set free. I could see the look of annoyance I got from the High Liberty when I didn't say he was guilty. He didn't say anything but I could tell he didn't like it.
After the trial I see my friends sitting at a table. They are watching a video. I walk up behind Lizabeth and notice they are watching a video about Simeon.
"They caught him on video camera killing people," Lizabeth tells me, "Innocent people. Then he just disappeared right after."
"You'd think the cops would do a better job, huh Law," her sister says before stopping and telling me, "No offense to Apollo though."
"Apollo is my husband. I'm the one who should be taking offense to that," Lloyd says.
The sisters sit up straight. The awkwardness in the air is clear as day. Loreal is the one who nods with Lloyd. I could tell she's been waiting for this little crack. It's a little awkward.
"Can I have a minute with Lloyd you guys?" I ask.
Loreal shakes her head, "Why can't you just say it to everyone? I'm sure we all want to hear."
Lizabeth grabs Loreal from behind and drags her away. Loreal is a such a bitch you would have sworn this had anything to do with her. Within a few minutes I'm sitting at the table with Lloyd. It's been the first time in a long time that we have been sitting at a table together. It's crazy that someone I once considered my best friend is now acting like this.
"I know you have a lot to say to me," I start off talking to my best friend, "But I wanted to start this off by just apologizing for kissing Apollo."
There is a silence that follows. Lloyd is thinking.
"He's going to divorce me isn't he?" Lloyd asks, "Because of you."
I cross my arms, "He told me that the two of you didn't have sex that day I found out you were married. He said you were working out. He said that he really isn't into you Lloyd. I don't want to sound petty but..."
"You do sound petty," he responds, "He's lying to you. Working out? Seriously. Apollo was fucking me and deep inside you know it."
I stop breathing for a minute. Lloyd is a lot of things but I never really took him for a liar. The fact that Apollo might have lied to my face about having sex with him annoys me at that moment. I turn away a little bit. I'm a little irritated. What was up with these guys lying to me all the time? First Ryder and now Lloyd. Why didn't anyone want to tell me the truth?
"I didn't know that."
"It's still you though. He is still in love with you regardless," Lloyd states spitting the words out of his mouth almost, "Ever since he kissed you that day of the execution he hasn't slept in the same bed as me. He barely talks to me. I know the divorce is coming. I just need to know when."
"We talked about it."
"And I was under the assumption your relationship wasn't physical. I don't know if I can still do it now that I know that you two were intimate. Apollo isn't as honest as I thought."
"You don't know the half."
Lloyd looks away. I stare in his eyes. There is something there. I know my best friend. I know my best friend well enough to know that he knew something.
"Spill it," I respond.
"Did you know the marriage was fixed?"
"What? No. What are you talking about?"
"Your marriage was
fixed. I did some digging. You'd be surprised how much you can find out for the
right price. Your marriage to Ryder was fixed. They didn't give me a name of
who did it but I did some thinking. Who would want to fix your marriage to Apollo?
Who had something to gain? I'm thinking Apollo knew how much you hated Ryder.
He knew there wasn't a chance you'd fall in love. Then he'd come like the
knight shining armor and he would save you."
I shake my head. That's a blow to my esteem. Had Apollo planned it all along?
"He's not who I thought he was."
"He's exactly who you thought he was. The problem is that the person you thought he was being my husband," Lloyd said, "I let you know these things not to hurt you but to let you know that the grass isn't greener with your best friend's husband. Do you understand Law?"
Lloyd stares me down. I can tell what he means.
"I'll stay away from your husband," I tell him.
Lloyd nods, "Good. Then maybe we can continue to be friends."
Lloyd is blunt with it. He's clear on what his intentions were telling me all of this. The thing about Lloyd's revelations is that they worked. I can't believe I was about to break the law and have Apollo arrange a second marriage between the two of us. I can't believe he'd been manipulating me this entire time.
I try to clear Apollo out of my head. With the understanding Lloyd and I had it is clear that he still wants to be friends. He even waits for me after the end of work and offers to walk home with me. As I am about to agree however I notice someone else standing there. The person walks right next to Whistler and stops.
"Come on. Now!" Ryder says.
Ryder grabs me. He grabs me so quick and pulls me into a vehicle. I'm shocked when he does it. He's quick and fast. He damn near is kidnapping me!
"What the fuck is wrong with you!" I ask him as we get in the car and he starts speeding off.
"I couldn't have
Whistler come with us," he explains, "There's something I wanted to show you
and you alone."
I turn around. Sure enough Whistler is chasing down the car from the distance. The cyborg isn't slowing down either. She's fast as hell. She is damn near catching up with the car. It isn't until the car changes into a hovercraft and Ryder zooms off that it is clear that we lose Whistler.
I look over at Ryder. He's lost his mind. He's completely lost his mind. I was supposed to stay with Whistler at all times.
"Stop the car. Let me out."
"Do you trust me?" Ryder asks.
"Absolutely not!" I respond, "Let me out."
Ryder seems disappointed at the fact that I said I didn't trust him. Did he really expect me to trust him after all that bullshit? No. I didn't trust him. He was sneaky. He was shady and he was full of shit. There was something very odd about his behavior recently and the more I learned about who Ryder was as a person the less I really started believing anything about him.
"Well I trust you," Ryder explains out of nowhere, "Call me stupid I guess. I know I shouldn't but I trust you. So I wanted to show you something. Plus, for some reason I don't like the fact that we aren't arguing. I don't think that's normal for us. Looks like our relationship needs some help."
I lean back in the chair.
"What relationship?" I ask.
"We are still married aren't we?" Ryder asks me.
It's a weird question. The answer to it is yes. The problem with that is I still planned on turning him in. He was still going to die. I was going to be a widower soon and I'd be free to marry again. My only problem is that Lloyd was clearly devoted to his relationship with the man that I was supposed to marry.
"Listen Ryder. You don't know me and I don't think I know you."
Ryder shrugs, "Well that's why you're here. To get to know me."
"Where are we?"
Ryder doesn't answer. We land the car in a different side of town. I look around. The place looks a mess. It must be on the outskirts of the city far away from the Justice building. We get out of the car and all I can see is dirty roads and hungry looking people. I see a girl about my age digging through the trash next to the car. I try to stop her. I try to help her but she looks at my face once and jets down the street. I don't get it.
"Why was she digging in the trash? That's unsanitary..." I respond.
"Sanitary. She is hungry. What the hell does she care about sanitation?"
I get a little sick at that moment. I grab onto my chest. As I do some shady looking guys walk past me. They weigh me up and down with their eyes. They are assessing me.
"Give me your hand," Ryder says, "Stay close. This place isn't safe."
"Then why are we here?"
"Because you need to see it."
Ryder offers me his hand. I look at his hand. A part of me is freaked out by this place. It's getting darker and I'm in this strange area with this strange man that I'm married to. I hesitate to take his hand but for some reason Ryder is completely patient. It's almost like he knows that this is going to be hard for me. His eyes are gentle, more gentle than I feel comfortable with. They are welcoming.
I accept his offer and put my hand in his. He holds onto me tightly. He guides me through the streets. He points out run down houses. He points out the food assistance building that has a "closed" sign next to it. A few feet away he points out a place where he says people go for drugs. He points out the weathered building and the roads that look like they are about to cave in any minute now. This place looked like it survived a nuclear bomb.
After a few minutes I can barely take it anymore, "Where are we?"
"The slums. If I hadn't married, you this is where I would have ended up. Cancers stay here. A lot of Pisces and Sags too. You might even see a Leo end up on these streets if they really get down on their luck."
I shake my head. It's sickening that this place is inhabitable. It looked inhabitable. The buildings I lived near were nicely constructed. They were clean. You could eat off of the ground really. The fact that this is where Ryder would have lived if he didn't marry me blew my mind. How could the city allow anyone to stay here?
"I'm sorry," I tell him.
It's a simple thing but he turns and looks me in my eyes when I say it. I don't think he expects it. He just stares at me at that moment as though trying to figure me out but then he tightens his grip around my hand.
We walk down the street until we get to this house. The roof of the house is missing. A tent like thing has been put over it probably to block out the rain. As we walk into the house I realize the first thing that I smell is straight up piss. As I walk past an open room I realize that must be because the sewage is backed up completely. It's spilling over into the hallway.
"Oh my god," is the only reaction I have.
"Watch your step OK?" Ryder asks, "I didn't bring you here to disgust you. I brought you here because I think you're different for some reason. I think you're different from those other stuck up Libras. You care. I don't know why and I don't know what you're willing to do about it but I had to share this with you. I wanted you to meet a few friends of mine."
We are in the living room. I see a guy standing there. He isn't attractive in the slightest. He had a round face and a missing front tooth. At first when he gets up I swear he is going to just try to rob me or something. That isn't what happens though. He walks up to me and he gives me the brightest smile I've ever seen in my life. It warms me up.
It's almost like a glow of sunshine.
"Hey how are you. I'm so happy to meet you. Ryder you didn't tell me you were bringing a friend," the guy says.
Ryder smiles, "Law this is Corey the Cancer. Corey lives here with four other Cancers. I finish my work early and come down here a lot to try to build up some of these houses. As you can see they aren't in the best conditions."
I had no idea Ryder did charity work. I don't know why this causes me to just stare at him for a few seconds. Both of our eyes linger on one another. For some reason Ryder is really impressing me. If I knew some place like this existed, I definitely would have come and helped him do some charity work.
"It's nice to meet you Corey," I state offering him my hand.
"We don't shake hands here," Corey responds coldly.
"We give hugs," Corey finishes.
He reaches over and gives me a hug. It's the most random thing in the world. I'd never hugged a stranger. The weird thing is that I feel like he means it.
"What's for dinner Corey?" Ryder asks.
"We are barbequing outside. Why don't you bring you friend and you guys can join us? We don't have much but whatever we have we share," Corey responds.
Corey gives me another smile again. It's a wide and happy smile. He goes into the backyard at that moment. Ryder is about to follow but I grab Ryder's hand.
"We can't eat these people's food," I say to Ryder.
"What you too good for the food?" he asks me.
"Of course I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that they don't have enough for themselves, Ryder. I have more credits then I know what to do with. There is no way I'm going to eat their food."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions about your intention for saying that," Ryder stated, "Sometimes I look at you and I still see just a stuck up Libra. Other times I look at you and I realize that you're special."
Ryder leans over and puts his hand on my cheek. He does it in an intimate way. I don't know why he does it and I don't know why I let him do it. We are in a dirty apartment. I am lost and confused. Yet somehow this experience is the most interesting thing that I've ever been involved in.
And Ryder brought me it.
"I don't want to eat their food, Ryder."
"If you insist but these people are Cancers. Cancers may not have all the money in the world but they are homely. You guys make fun of them being emotional. Cancers have to be some of the nicest people I've ever met in my life. And they are all about family and belonging. The sense of community down here is something real. They wouldn't mind you eating their food, even if they didn't have much."
I shake my head, "I can't. Not knowing how much I have. I'll send some money maybe when I get back. Maybe some credits will help this situation."
"It's not just them. There are hundreds of others like them," he explains, "Not even you have the money to help them all."
"I had no idea this was going on."
"There's a lot of things happening that you don't know about. Come outside."
"I said I didn't want to eat."
"Not to eat. I want you to meet someone. Someone special to me," Ryder explains.
Ryder walks outside with me. He leads me to what seems like a fireplace that has been set up. I notice the community that Ryder was talking about. The Cancers have gathered around the fire. They are laughing and joking. So many of them seem so convinced that their homely life is really something. It is amazing to see people so happy with having so little. I could only imagine how the twins would kill themselves if they were down here or how Loreal would make sure to spray herself with anti-disinfectant a million times before she touched anything down here.
Ryder leads me to a corner waving at Corey as he goes. The friend he is introducing me to is sitting in the corner.
"I wanted to introduce you to someone," Ryder explains, "And I don't want you to panic."
"Why would I panic everyone is smiling at me down here. Everyone is so nice. I told you a million times I'm not like that Ryder," I explain.
"I know you aren't. So keep an open mind OK?" Ryder says.
Just at that moment Ryder pulls me up and I see the person he is introducing me. I drop my mouth. I think about running. Was this a set up? Is this the reason that Whistler wasn't here?
The Zodiac Killer was here! I screamed it so loud that a couple of the Cancers turn over to me to make sure I'm OK. The Zodiac Killer gets to his feet. He makes a few steps towards me. Ryder stands between us. I start moving back so fast that I trip over my own feet and end up on my ass. Ryder walks over to pick me up but I push his hand away.
"Him. I shouldn't have come. This is a set up."
"I'm not going to kill you," Simeon says shaking his head, "Not yet at least..."
"What the fuck!" I scream, "What the fuck did that mean?"
Ryder looks over at Simeon, "You aren't helping."
Simeon shrugs, "I'm telling him the truth. I'm going to have to kill him soon just not now."
"You set me up," I tell Ryder.
Ryder shakes his head, "I haven't been completely honest with you. My name is Ryder. I am an Aries. I'm a member of a resistance group."
"Oh my god...you're a Zodiac Killer."
"Not quite. There's no such thing as a Zodiac Killer...not in the way that you think. Things are complicated," Ryder explains.
"He's killing people!" I scream.
"Yes. He is but there is more to the story," Ryder explains, "There is always more to the story."
"Get away from me," I state.
"When we arranged for you to marry him you said that you had a feeling that he was different from the others," Simeon states crossing his arms, "He doesn't seem that much different to me."
I stop in my tracks after attempting to get up and make a run for it.
I turn to Ryder.
"You. You arranged this marriage."
It wasn't Apollo. It was Ryder all along. Ryder bribed the matchmaker to end up with me.
Ryder pauses for a few seconds before continuing, "Yes. There's an explanation for this. There is an explanation for everything...but you might want to sit down. Get your balance. Your life is about to be turned upside down."
To read the next chapter in advance go to www.crushedcrown.com