Sunday, October 19, 2014

Episode Three: Eat Sleep Rape Repeat


“People don’t understand how heinous a crime rape actually is. Rape isn’t just a physical crime- it’s a psychological one too. Not only does the perpetrator hurt you physically, he takes away the one thing you guard the most- your intimacy. Because, once you lose control of that, what do you have left?” -Raven Elliott, “Sex Crimes in America”, pg. 96 (1984)

September 9, 2007,
00:56 local time,
Madison Police Department,
Madison, Minnewosin

“So, now that we’re settled in...Annie, how would you describe your assailant?” asked Madison Police Detective Cheryl Boyle to 18-year-old Annie Bellows, seated in Boyle’s office. Bellows’ makeup was smudged and ran down her face due to the tears induced by her predicament, with her clothes- a tank top and short shorts- featuring various rips and blood stains. She also had numerous bruises across her face and her arms, with a red smudge visible where her pants covered her groin.
“He was...tall,” said Bellows, shaking physically as she spoke, “he had big, blue eyes...they were so bright and so distinctive that they would light up the sky...every time I close my eyes they still haunt me, a visible reminder of tonight.” The shimmering blonde with the glowing tan took a few deep breaths to collect her thoughts before she continued. “He was, um,” Bellows paused to tilt her head to the left before she continued, “he was black, with dreadlocks that were a mixture of blonde and black and...um...”

Bellows lowered her head and cried some more, upon which Boyle placed her hand on Bellows’ back and rubbed it. “It’s okay,” said Boyle, “you’re doing great.”

“Okay,” said Bellows, wiping the tears from her eyes. “He was clean shaven, well-groomed, although his breath smelled and his fingernails...” Bellows paused to grimace, putting her hand between her legs as she doubled over in pain, “his fingernails they were quite long.”
“That’s good,” said Boyle, “what was he wearing?”
“Just an orange shirt and jeans...nothing special.”
“Okay...any other identifying marks?”
“No...no.” Bellows shook her head vigorously, “nothing else.”
“Thank you.” Boyle, who had been taking notes during the recorded interview, paused to write another note before moving on. “All right...can we move on to the attack itself?”

After a few moments to collect herself amidst her tears, Bellows finally agreed, though she paused frequently during her recount just so she could keep her composure.

A little over an hour later, Bellows would tell Boyle that, just after sunset while she out for a walk in the woods, her attacker tackled her from behind and forced her to the ground, where he smashed her head a few times. He then produced a knife and marched her to a nearby tree, where he took out a rope, bound her wrists together and slung the rope over a tree branch, suspending her high enough in the air that her feet could not touch the ground. He put a sock in her mouth and undid his and her pants, first scratching her vagina with his fingernails before ramming his penis inside her. He thrusted for over ten minutes, which caused Bellows to bleed due to the ripping of her insides. When he was finished, he put his pants back on and left Bellows hanging, forcing Bellows to figure out her own way down.

When Bellows finished her story, she curled herself up into a ball and started to sob uncontrollably. Boyle reacted with stunned disbelief, needing a few moments to collect herself before continuing.

“Wow,” said Boyle, unable to contain her disgust for what happened, “I am so sorry...I can’t believe someone would do that to you.”
“Thanks,” said Bellows through her tears, “that means everything to me.”
“Listen, you’re free to go...the secretary downstairs has a change of clothes for you, because we will need to process the clothes you have on now. We’ll take it from here, and if we need to discuss anything further we’ll keep in touch.”
“Okay.” Bellows nodded after taking a few deep breaths, allowing her to regain her composure.

A few hours after Bellows left, Boyle began receiving the evidence from the crime scene and the medical examiner, evidence she studied carefully. She contrasted it with the information Bellows gave her and made some observations.

Annie said she was blitz-attacked, but also that the perpetrator had with him a knife and a rope. Normally a blitz attack is a sign of low confidence, but he seems to have planned this quite extensively, she thought. Forensics didn’t recover the rope or any rope fibres at the scene, despite the fact she said that she was left suspended in the air by her attacker, and the bruising on her wrists are not consistent with a struggle against a ligature. I also have doubts that the man could have had sex with Annie while she was suspended in the air- the branch is too high off the ground for any man- regardless of height- to reach, let alone sling a rope over the branch, and the branch itself looks way too flimsy to support the weight of Annie, let alone an Annie struggling against her attacker. Furthermore, Annie’s legs were free to swing around- why didn’t she use those as weapons, and why would an attacker who so meticulously planned his attack forget this crucial step?

Boyle took another sip of her coffee and paced around the room for a bit to ponder the case some more. She landed upon the medical records and found her smoking gun.

“Bruising not consistent with a struggle against an attacker, they appear to be self-inflicted.” Interesting...“Although at first glance they do look like bruises one would expect from being tackled from behind, further examination reveals that it is not as extensive as they should be, with some blows being ‘softened’. Furthermore, the bruising is not consistent with the known foilage of the area of the alleged attack, and the lack of even minor scratches- as would be expected if the victim was tackled onto a ground that features many twigs, stones and other kinds of debris you’d expect to find in a forest. The tackling, therefore, appears to have been staged in what appears to be a hardwood floor.” Staged? Okay...but what about the sex? “Semen was found inside Annie’s reproductive organs, but close examination of the semen reveals that it came from a man of Caucasian origin. Her genitals do not show any sign of forced sex, or even ‘rough’ sex, indicating that this sex was consensual, and the injuries inflicted on the genital region appear to have been inflicted by nothing more than a toothpick.”

A toothpick, huh? So how do we explain the red smudge? She glanced to another report and found her answer. Makeup...figures. Annie made this whole thing up. Not surprising given that she’s on several antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, plus the fact she’s a frequent runaway...something’s going on at home that she doesn’t want to admit to, so she hid behind a false rape allegation. Well, I think I know what I have to do.

Boyle drove to Bellows’ home and confronted the teen with her findings. Despite Bellows’ repeated assertions that she was telling the truth, eventually she was forced to admit to the crime- she concocted the false rape in order to gain sympathy from her family, whom she felt showered her younger brother, Frankie, with too much attention and left her nothing. Her boyfriend, Pat Thomas, agreed to help stage the rape, meaning he would be arrested too, and Bellows came up with her rapist after stylizing him after an actor she saw on TV. Bellows and Thomas would both be convicted of public mischief, but because of their co-operation with investigators, both avoided jail, although the crime would remain on both of their records.

August 19, 2014
07:24 local time,
Danforth Grayson’s cell,
Amherst Imperial Prison,
Amherst, Roman New York

Mmmmnnn, thought Danforth Grayson to himself, happily munching his breakfast while seated at his desk in his cell, these avocados are amazing. Something must be in these things...I don’t know why the Romans would feed me something that I’d enjoy.

Grayson curled his lips and thought for a second, pondering the question even further. After a few minutes, Grayson gave up, deciding that eating the avocados was more important.

Towards the end of his meal, when Grayson tried to grab another avocado he noticed that they were all missing, which perplexed him since he knew how much he had left. He then looked ahead and chuckled to himself, seeing what happened.

“I’m surprised, Galla,” said Grayson, looking directly into the eyes of Antivirus Task Force Chief Galla Claudia of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who’d stepped into his cell and took a seat just moments before, “that you’d think taking away my avocados would rattle me. You should know by now I’m far too seasoned for that to happened.”
“Who says I’m trying to rattle you?” Claudia said, smirking. “We have business to take care of, Danny. You know that by now, and I hate it when people eat during meetings.”
Grayson pulled the plate back towards him. “Yes, but you keep forgetting that I have all the power in this situation.”
Claudia pulled the plate away again. “You called me in, meaning that you need me, not the other way around. Therefore, I have more power than you think, and if you want those lovely avocados back, you need to start talking.”
“Yes,” Grayson said before smirking, “but prison must guarantee, by law, food and shelter and this is my designated breakfast.” He again pulled the plate towards him before continuing. “Therefore, I get to eat and I will do so right now.” He grabbed his spoon and started to carve at the avocado, munching pleasently.

Claudia got up, readjusting her blazer over top of her blouse before turning to exit, making sure that each step of her high heeled shoes made an audible impression. Grayson, who made mental notes about Claudia’s appearance, decided to take one last shot at her before she’d be able to depart.

“Typical patrician you are,” said Grayson, referring to the Roman social designation for a typically white-collar, conservative, “high society” person, a contrast to the typically blue-collar, liberal, “down to earth” plebian. “Passive-aggressive...how snobbish of you...and yet you claim to be a plebian, you always did. Yet you treat the common folk as if we are nothing but dirt, mere playthings who must prove they’re worthy of your time.”

Claudia by this point had turned around, but she wasn’t rattled. “If you think that by questioning my accessibility to others will get under my skin,” she said, sternly but calmly, “you are sadly mistaken.”
“I didn’t think so,” said Grayson, smirking, “but I do know that you are frustrated. You, like many of your Roman brethren, work way too hard...that’s why you were only too eager to leave, because you can’t be bothered to deal with me if I was going to ‘take a while.’ Furthermore, you have an extra pound of makeup on, to cover the bags under your eyes to hide the fact you don’t get enough sleep. Heck, I bet you haven’t been back to your apartment in days, because you sleep at the office. Don’t deny it, your blazer is ruffled, no doubt from contorting yourself on the couch in your office.”

Claudia took a deep breath, but remained silent, knowing Grayson was right, even though she bristled at the notion. She, like many of her Roman counterparts, never thought of the concept of having a “day off”, which is why Roman law itself requires citizens to take prescribed vacation times and schedules a statuatory holiday every week, because every Roman- plebian and patrician- just wouldn’t take time off on their own. Claudia, though, was an especially egregious case- Roman law requires her to have time off from work every day, but with her boss’ silent acknowledgement, Claudia would stay behind at her office, always fearing she had too much work to do for her to be able to go home.

She wasn’t going to let Grayson enjoy the moment, though.

“All right,” said Claudia, “you got me there...but I will point out that I- and our society- didn’t get to where we are without hard work...and that involves time efficiency, something you have yet to show. You forget that I only came here because you wanted me to come here...and I find it quite rude that you did so only to waste my time with needless banter.”
“May I remind you that this started because you took my avocados,” said Grayson with a smirk. “You provoked me so I responded...it’s fairly straightforward.”
Claudia shook her head and let out a sigh of frustration. “Danny, get to the point!”
“Easy, tiger, easy...” Grayson took a toothpick and scraped his teeth with it before continuing. “You want me to get to the point? Fine, I will...a war is going to happen, and you and I will be involved.”

Claudia gathered her stuff and got up in a huff.

“All right, I’ve had enough,” she said as she got up. “Danny, we’re already at war with you and The Virus...you’re not telling me something I don’t already know. Thanks for wasting my time.”
“No,” said Grayson, “I’m not talking about you and I...I’m talking about The Virus and the criminal underworld as a whole. I don’t run The Virus...I haven’t for a while...someone is trying to usurp me from my original vision, a vision of justice...one that you will see that we both share. I’m telling you Galla, that you and I will be allies in this fight, and that you will have no choice in this matter. I don’t know most of the details, I’m still trying to figure it out myself...but The Virus isn’t what you think it is, and someone wants to use it for the wrong purposes...and we need to find out who...together.”
Claudia let out a sigh. “Allies? Why should I trust you? Why should I even believe a word you say?”
“What you believe is your decision...but you will see the reality sooner than you think.”

August 19, 2014,
09:21 local time,
Anti-Virus Task Force Bullpen,
Foederatio Borealis Imperiale Indagatores Headquarters Building,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Interesting,” said AVTF member Phineas Malcolm, engrossed with the information he was pulling from a database on his computer. “This is relevatory stuff...I can’t believe it...so this is why Julia Pearl has her tattoo.”

Before he could continue reading, a sound went off in the distance. It was Claudia, entering the bullpen after her morning session with Grayson.

“Good morning, Claudia,” said Malcolm as he minimzed the browser window on his screen, “how’d the meeting go with Grayson?”
“I get the sense that he wants to play us,” said Claudia. “He called me in today to warn me about some ‘war’ that will happen in the criminal underground, but he wouldn’t give me any specifics. He’s certainly up to something, that much I know- otherwise, why hasn’t he tried to challenge his jail sentence?”
“I don’t know why you keep placating him...it’s clear he’s just trying to manipulate you...there’s no benefit.”
“On the contrary...we need to maintain rapport with him, and let him feel like he’s got the upper hand. If we stop communicating with him now, whatever plan he’s up to we will never find out about...keep him on our side and eventually he’ll open up. This will be a process...so far no harm has come from us ‘playing his game’...so let’s keep it up.”

August 19, 2014
22:01 local time,
Thomas Bartlett’s Apartment,
The Lincoln Apartment Complex,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Meet Sarah,” said the broadcast coming from AVTF member Thomas Bartlett’s television set, with the broadcast playing circus music in the background, “she always lots of fun when she goes out of her apartment!” Bartlett was joined by his two friends, Roman Americans Licinus Mersus, 29, who is a Buffalo tour guide with a fondness for “safety vest” gear, and Alexandra Hecata, 28, a singer-songwriter who is a live music mainstay around Buffalo, clad in shorts and a blue/black plaid long sleeved collared shirt with the bottom two buttons and the top button undone. The three of them had just recently become friends at a drum circle event Bartlett liked to frequent on weekends, and they bonded over their love of marijuana, which Hecata also worked as a certified dealer.

Here they enjoyed their joint while watching TV. The show they were watching is called The Adventures of Central Park, a Roman sketch comedy series that spoofs the lives of New Yorkers. The sketch with Sarah was a popular one in the series, as it detailed the life of a young woman- played by 27-year-old actress Rufina Carra- who came from a small town who just recently moved to New York. Much of the humour in the sketch involves Sarah being oblivious to the realities of “big city living”, believing that life in New York was just the way it was in her old home. Here, the sketch started with Sarah prancing along to the beat of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” like an overexcited schoolgirl coming home from school, happily exiting her apartment as she always did, this time stepping in a puddle without realizing it was urine. Sarah’s wide smile complimented the sunny look of her bright, red and yellow polka-dotted strapless sundress (whose hemline barely reached past her buttocks), with knee-length high heeled boots and her red hair shimmering nicely contrasting with her pale white skin, one of her favourite looks. As always, she greeted her fellow New Yorkers, with a wide smile and a cutesy wave, sometimes even giving them a hug and a kiss, even if some of them shied away from the affection.

Today, the cheeriness of the tone was over the top, done with good reason since today Sarah’s adventures took her to the worst parts of the South Bronx, just because she felt like “exploring”. The buildings she passed by were all run down, with no shortage of drug addicts, homeless people and many other kinds of transients coming into contact with her, some of them calling her nasty names with others deciding to grope her with reckless abandon. There were rats on every turn, some of which took turns biting Sarah’s exposed feet, with needles, condoms and other assorted garbage dotting the ground below. None of this would dent Sarah’s sunny spirit, as she took all of the harassment and poor conditions with unrelenting glee, happily skipping along as if it were a day running through a farmer’s field.

As the scenes were unfolding, Mersus and Hecata, let out howls of laughter watching a program both had enjoyed for a while. Bartlett, seeing the program for the first time, sat on the couch, confused about where the appeal of the show was.

Eventually on the program Sarah came across a haggard beggar, who was missing all of his teeth, had an unkempt beard and hair with clothes looking like they were bathed in poop. Sarah initially greeted him with a hug and a kiss, and wrapped the beggar up with her embrace as tightly as she could. After the long embrace ended, she kissed him again and waved goodbye so she could continue her walk.

The beggar, though, had other ideas, grabbing her arm and pulling her back. Sarah struggled, and pleaded with the beggar to let her go but he wouldn’t relent. He eventually got hold of her waist, and held her with her back right against him, with Sarah continuing her struggle. His strength was too much, so when Sarah was bent over, her dress lifted upwards and her legs were pulled apart, Sarah gave up the fight. The beggar then dropped his pants and rammed his penis inside Sarah’s vagina, with the camera providing a close-up of all the details. The camera then panned out so that the entwining of Sarah and the beggar could be seen in full, with the beggar happily ramming away at the bent over Sarah, who at first grimaced but eventually wore a wide smile. When the beggar finished, he too wore a wide grin, with Sarah hobbling due to the pain in between her legs. She quickly recovered, where her smile reappeared, and gave the beggar another kiss before moving on.

“Another rape,” she said with a smile and a happy tone, “I can’t seem to avoid them...oh well! At least I made someone happy!”

Hecata and Mersus were at this point bowled over in hysterics, while Bartlett’s eyes were wide with disgust.

That wouldn’t be the end of the scene though. As Sarah continued, she came across another man, slicked-up and buff in a leather jacket, wearing an obvious fake tan and even creepier grin. He pulled Sarah towards him even though Sarah tried to get away, but, again, his strength was too much for her. Eventually, Sarah gave up, allowing him to bend her over, spread her legs apart and lift her dress.

“Oh all right,” said Sarah, sighing in a huff but cheerfully accepting her fate, “I’ll let you have your fun...just make it quick.” The man then dropped his pants and happily raped her, as Sarah smiled in between grimacing between the man’s intense thrusts. The scene then ended with the man continuing his rape, with the voiceover’s jovial baritone intoning, “yet another blissful day in New York City!”

As the show went to commercial, Hecata and Mersus couldn’t help but go into intense laughing fits, slapping their knees and tapping each other’s shoulders bowling themselves over, while Bartlett’s eyes were wider than the ocean, as he tried in vain to understand what he just watched.

“Wow...um,” he said, still in shock. “I can’t...I’m...I’m at a loss for words. How can you guys find that funny?”
“Oh come on Thomas,” said Mersus, “how can you not laugh at the absurdity of the situation? You have a sunny day with bright, happy music contrasting with the ugliness of the area, not to mention a gullible nuible who is completely oblivious to the situations and people around her.”
“Not just that,” said Hecata, “but Sarah is only too happy to be mistreated and violated the way she is. She refuses to acknowledge that the people here aren’t the friendly, good-intentioned townsfolk she knew, believing that the rapes are just ‘another way to show their friendliness’ when it isn’t.”
“...and that doesn’t upset you?” Bartlett said. “Sandra, you were raped and this show just trivialized what happened to you. I don’t understand.”

Hecata shifted herself in her seat towards both Mersus and Bartlett, emphatically placing her hands on her knees. She did experience a rape- nine years ago, when she was just starting out as a musician, she had a gig in Chicago. It was a cold autumn day so she had on a jacket and long pants, and carried her guitar via its suitcase handle. Walking back to her hotel that night, she decided to take a shortcut where, due to the darkness, she didn’t realize a man was in hiding. The man came up from behind her and punched her in the back of the head, causing her to lose her grip of the guitar which was used to strike her in the head by the assailant. She was knocked nearly unconscious, with her head in so much pain and feeling so much grogginess that she didn’t realize until it was too late that the rapist had pulled down her pants and underwer and was raping her. She had too little energy to struggle or scream for help, though luckily for her, all the man did was steal her pants and panties. While the assailant is still at large, she was fortunate another passerby found her in time to call for medical treatment, although the police weren’t provided with the information needed for an arrest.

“Yes I was raped,” said Hecata, getting poignant. “Yeah it wasn’t fun. However, there are a few things I want to mention:

“1) I made a decision from that point onward that I will refuse to let the rape or the rapist affect me...it’s in the past and it is imperative that I move on from it. If I continue to let it traumatize me or or scare me or change me in any way, then the rapist wins and I don’t want that to happen. You don’t grow as a person by letting things defeat you- you grow when you defeat them instead.

2) I find it weird and troubling that North American society can object to certain kinds of humour yet allow other things that a reasonable person could find ‘objectionable’ the latitude to be the butt of jokes. You have for years laughed at Jerry abusing Tom, Homer choking Bart, and many sitcom wives emotionally- if not, at times physically- assaulting their inept husbands. It’s all abuse, yet North Americans condone that kind of comedy but when it comes to a rape, they all back off, asserting that the rape victim is some kind of ‘delicate flower’ that needs ‘special care’, because if we aren’t respectful of her tribulations it might ‘trigger’ her into an even deeper depression than the one she’s already experienced...it’s all hogwash if you ask me.”

Bartlett sat up, his eyes widening having been taken aback. “Hogwash?” Bartlett said. “Are you serious? Your first point...that’s very noble, but that second point...” He gave his head a shake and flashed a look at Hecata, “really Sandra? Really?

Hecata could only smile. “Yes, really,” she said. “I find it abhorrent and offensive that people need to tiptoe around my experiences and walk on eggshells to talk about it...it’s as if society likes to keep treating me as a victim, as if, for some reason, I need to be a perpetually weak ‘damsel in distress’, unable to grow and become stronger as a person unless ‘others’ help me...seriously, that’s worse than being raped if you ask me.”
“Kind of sounds like you ask everyone who was raped to just ‘suck it up’, no?” Bartlett said.
“No, I’m not saying that,” said Hecata, “I’m saying what millions of psychologists have said for years- you cannot defeat your demons unless you confront them, and one of the ways you do that is by being at peace with what happened. Yeah, rape is no fun- but endlessly playing it over and over again won’t get you past the situation. You need to move on and put it in the past and leave it there, and if you need counselling or someone else’s help to do it, seek it. Just don’t go crying and continue saying ‘oh, woe is me’- you’ll never get past it, and the rapist does what he wanted to do to you and that’s gain control of your head. For me, being able to laugh at it is my way of getting past it.”
“How so?” Bartlett asked.
“Because,” said Hecata, “by laughing it means it no longer bothers me, and, by proxy, I get to laugh at the man who thought he could defeat me, because by ridiculing him, I get to say I defeated him.”

“Fair enough, I guess,” said Bartlett, who still didn’t agree but decided the conversation had gone on long enough so he ended it there. The rest of the night was spent talking about other things as the three of them happily shared their bong hits.

An hour later, while all three were happily giggling from the effects of the marijuana, Bartlett’s phone went off.

“Thomas Bartlett,” Bartlett said, trying his best to hide his giggles.
“Hey Tommy,” said AVTF teammate Julia Pearl, calling from her home in Amherst with frustration tinged in her voice, “how’s it going?”
“I’m good, I’m good...is everything okay?”
“No...” Pearl paused to let out a haggard sigh, “I’m all alone at home...Ryan is out playing with his band and I have to miss his show...again.”
“Why do you have to miss it?”
Pearl let out a sigh in disbelief. “That report on the serial killer in Omaha? You know, the one we need to hand in tomorrow?”
“That one? I finished it at work...Galla already has it, and she thought I did a great job.”
“Seriously?” Pearl let out another frustrated sigh, since she had only just got started in the process of writing the report, needing all evening just to collect her resources.
“Sorry...I don’t mean to make light of your difficulties...we work differently, that’s all.”
Pearl again sighed, frustrated at how quickly Bartlett got his job done.
“Say, why don’t you come over?” Bartlett paused to cough. “Come chill with and my homies...it’ll help take your mind off things.”
“Are you...are you high?” Pearl’s eyes were wide in surprise, disgusted with Bartlett for smoking marijuana.
“I’m not too bad actually...this is good weed...gives you a good vibe...it’s mixed with Texan avocado...my friend Sandra makes it herself...she’s licensed you know.”
“Thomas, we’re not supposed to do weed...I thought you knew that.”
“Not on the job, Julia. I’m doing this recreationally, on my own time...as per Roman law. This ain’t Coos Bay anymore.” Bartlett sighed, concerned for Pearl’s stress. “Would you like me to come over? I’ll help you finish the report.”
“It’s okay...I’ll be fine...”
“Well, if you need anything you know where to find me.”
“Thanks.”

With that the two said their goodbyes and resumed their activities.

January 3, 2013
22:19 local time,
Breeders’ Pub,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“Wow!” Annie Bellows said, letting out a large yelp as she put down her shot glass. Her friend, the petite blonde Penny Elizabeth, was overcome with hysterics at the sight, gleefully laughing as she downed another one of her shots. Bellows and Elizabeth met during their undergraduate studies at Old Dominion and became close friends pretty quickly, with the two of them deciding to work on the same project for graduate school.

Of course, schoolwork was at the back of the young women’s minds, as they wanted to have one last night out on the town before they had to endure another stressful semester. Today Breeders’ was packed with students returning home from Christmas with their families, and for two eligible bachelorettes, that meant the pub was rich in delectable offerings, and not just from the kitchen.

Many of those offerings were easily attracted to the women, who accentuated their shapely figures with “barely there” minidresses and high heeled stilettos. Elizabeth’s dress was halter-style and backless, while Bellows’ dress was also halter-style, though this covered her lower back. Her neckline, though, stretched all the way to her waist, with the front side of the dress only held together by a thin piece of fabric right below the bust connecting one side to the next. Her breasts were large, round and firm, giving the impression they were ready to pop out of her dress. It gave the eligible bachelors something to marvel at, and Bellows often made sure they did.

At first, the majority of the men Bellows and Elizabeth bumped into weren’t all that interesting, though the women kept their company since they kept buying them drinks. An hour later they were already four sheets into the wind having spent barely a penny, having lots of fun with the amount of attention they were getting.

At 11:30PM, Bellows saw a man in the distance, standing hunched over a ledge with a nearly full beer cup in front of him. The pale-skinned man was wearing a turquoise baseball cap and a turquoise golf shirt and white slacks, which seemed out of place at Breeders, but his jet black hair and bright eyes gave him boyish good looks and a very inviting smile. The slender man was fidgety, constantly rearranging the collar of his shirt or his cap, and seemed reluctant to drink his beer, despite the exhortations of his friend, a heavyset, bombastic man who carried around pitchers as if they were trophies. Bellows feared the slender man might not be having a good time, and, finding him attractive, decided to make her move.

“Hey,” she said, taking a place right next to the slender man, “how are you?”
“Um,” said the man nervously, pleasently surprised at Bellows’ move. “I’m good, I guess.” He kept flashing nervous smiles and rearranging his collar, fearing he might not look good enough for the woman who approached him. He didn’t know that Bellows found his fidgeting cute, although Bellows tried her best not to let him know that.
“I’m Annie,” said Bellows, extending her hand.
“I’m, um, Stephen,” said the man, Stephen Jessup, nervously and barely clutching onto Bellows’ hand. Bellows responded by softly cupping Jessup’s hand with her other hand, which seemed to relax him a little.
“You know, Stephen,” said Bellows, taking Jessup’s hand and softly caressing it with her thumb, “I couldn’t help but notice you from afar...you’re very cute, but you don’t seem like you’re having any fun. Why is that?”
Jessup smiled nervously again, blushing and lowering his head, though he offered no words.
“Aww...you’re just shy,” said Bellows, who followed it up by giving Jessup a big hug, which Jessup reciprocated. “It’s okay, honey, it’s just me.” She continued to cradle him in her arms, squeezing him gently and rubbing his back, which caused Jessup to relax considerably.

Meanwhile, his friend, the portly Jesper Odom, couldn’t help but laugh in between chugging his pitchers. Odom was happy for Jessup, since Jessup was always too socially awkward to have much success with women and avoided going out unless, like tonight, he was dragged out. Tonight was different, since this was the first time Jessup had actually managed to attract a woman’s attention in quite some time.

Eventually, Jessup and Bellows made their way to the dancefloor, where Bellows continued to court Jessup. Bellows began to grind Jessup, making Jessup hard. As Jessup’s penis got harder and firmer due to the excitement of Bellows’ buttocks rubbing against it, Jessup wore a smile that went ear to ear, and happily swung her hands high in the air. A few songs later, Bellows and Jessup went low to the ground in their grinding, practically inserting Jessup’s penis inside Bellows’ rectum (as far as it can go with clothing in the way). The two of them maintained their position for quite some time, with Bellows biting her lip as she exerted more energy into rubbing Jessup’s penis and getting it deep inside of her.

Jessup at this point was incredibly aroused, something Bellows noticed. They got up from their squat but Bellows continued to grind Jessup hard. She first caressed Jessup’s hands that were on her belly, increasing Jessup’s excitement, before simply placing them on her breasts. Within minutes, the excitement level for Jessup proved to be too much, causing him to have an intense, orgasmic ejaculation inside his pants. Bellows too was flush with excitement, as her face turned red and her eyes widened as she pushed herself harder on to Jessup. A few seconds after Jessup had finished soiling his pants, the pair ended their dance, which was followed by a deep embrace.

“Thank you,” said Jessup, fumbling his words in awe at what he experienced, “that was...amazing.”
“No problem,” said Bellows, giddy at the resolution.
“Listen, I...um...I need to go to the bathroom...I’m sorry...”
“No no no, don’t worry, it’s totally okay.”

The pair ended their embrace and Bellows pulled out her phone to take down Jessup’s phone number. After Bellows texted Jessup so that he got her number, Jessup departed for the bathroom, mostly just to get some air after a wonderful dance. Unknown to him, though, was that while he was gone, Bellows hit it off with another man, and excitedly left the pub with him to have a one night stand at her apartment, although Jessup was too far up on Cloud 9 to realize what had happened.

March 24, 2013
23:05 local time,
Virginia Star Theatres,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“I never realized how good Tom Hanks was until now,” said Bellows, walking with Jessup outside of the movie theatre after just finishing watching The Curious Tale of Tobias Browner.
“I’m telling you,” said Jessup, smiling, “Hanks’ abilities with his accents is just off the charts...he can play anyone from around the world...he proved that tonight.”
“...and here I was thinking he was just some strange ex-pat from Cracozia.” Bellows giggled, smiling as she turned to face Jessup.

Jessup too paused to reciprocate Bellows’ smile, one whose brightness shined so much more with every second he got to see it. She looks so beautiful...she’s everything I ever wanted. He outstretched his hands and grabbed hers, as the two of them stared into each other’s eyes. Jessup stood, looking at Bellows’ smile, and kept wondering in his head if this was the time he ought to take to kiss her. A few seconds later, he closed his eyes and prepared to dive in...until Bellows’ phone went off.

“Hello?” Bellows said. It was her boyfriend, Andrew Tarnasky, a linebacker for Old Dominion. “Yes babe?” Her expression grew increasingly annoyed as she continued to hear Tarnasky talk. “Seriously Andy? I’m a grown woman, I can take care of myself...and why are you so paranoid that I have to call you every so often just so you know what I’m doing and who I’m with? That’s none of your business...you need to trust me.” Her eyes widened with shock as Tarnasky responded. “Steve? You’ve met him, stop viewing him as some kind of threat...you know what, if you’ve called just to yell at me I’m going to hang up right now.” Tarnasky said a few more words to her, causing Bellows to roll her eyes and hang up the phone. She walked to a bench and took a seat, her mood deflated, with Jessup joining her.

“Andy is being annoying again isn’t he?” said Jessup.
“Yeah,” said Bellows with a sigh. “He never seems to respect my boundaries...I mean, yeah I know I have a history...so I guess it makes sense...it’s still frustrating.”
Jessup turned towards Bellows and held her hands. “No...your ‘history’ should not matter...that’s none of his concern. If he loves you he would love you for who you are and trust that even though you’d been promiscuous before it doesn’t mean that you can’t be faithful now.”
“You’re right...you’re always right...that’s what I like about you.” Bellows squeezed Jessup’s hands slightly and smiled before continuing. “So you don’t think he’ll get any better do you?”
“Of course not...guys like him, super control freaks...they only get worse. The next thing you know, he’ll start asking about your clothes and telling you when to go out, and that’s when the hitting starts.”
Bellows’ eyes widened as she shook her head in shock. “My gosh...you’re right!” She then leaned in and gave Jessup a big hug. “That’s why I love having a friend like you!” Jessup smiled, though he winced momentarily when Bellows described him as ‘just a friend’. He dreamed of the time when they could be more, but determined now wasn’t the right time to pursue it.

July 16, 2013
23:56 local time,
Stephen Jessup’s apartment,
The Winslow Narrows,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Jessup laid on his bed, silently, twisting and turning trying his best to catch some sleep. He knew in his mind that he wouldn’t, since all day and all night he thought of one thing- Annie Bellows. Sure, he loved the friendship and just how affectionate she is with him- she was like the sibling he never had- but Jessup always felt like the two of them should be something more than friends. They had such great chemistry and synergy that Jessup felt like it was only a matter of time, plus Bellows’ string of underappreciative boyfriends would have to run its course eventually. He laid there, though, wondering when that chance would come- and why Bellows could never see that he was right for her all along.

Unable to catch some Z’s he opened up his cell phone and began browsing the web. Thinking about Bellows, her past often came up in his thoughts, so when he stumbled upon the FBII’s web page detailing false accusations of rape- as Bellows had done- he was intrigued.

As his interest grew, he read more and more about rape, and thought that if Bellows wasn’t going to give him what he deserved, he’d take it himself. Jessup knew in his head that he had to be careful, because even though most rapists don’t get caught, he didn’t want to take any chances. Eventually, he came across The Virus, and their page on rape and learned everything he needed to know, with some tips that proved quite illuminating.

“Annie’s the perfect girl,” he said to himself, wide-eyed with glee. “I need to study this and make sure I get it right. This weekend or next, I make my move.”

July 20, 2013
16:08 local time,
Annie Bellows’ room,
Old Dominion dormitory,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

What the heck happened? Bellows thought to herself, woozy and disoriented from the night before, her eyes opening for the first time today. I feel SO sick...how did I ever manage to get here? Wait...what time is it? What did I do last night? Why is my body unresponsive and aching so much? She lay there in her bed, her senses in a haze due to a throbbing headache, with her mind racing but her body unable to exert much effort. She reached for her eyes to rub them, only to realize in doing so she managed to wipe away someone’s spit from her socket.

“What the f***?” Bellows said in disgust, “why in the world did someone spit in my eye?” She shook her head due to the shock, trying in vain to wake herself up, only for her eyes to readjust themselves but for the body to feel like it was being weighed down by a hundred elephants.

It was when she looked down that her energy- and her horrors would come to life. The left strap to her spaghetti strapped dress had been snapped off, leaving her breast for all to see. He just had to break it, didn’t he? She then cupped her breast and touched her nipple, immediately pulling her hand away as if it were on fire.

He was so gentle and his lips were so smooth...boy, he sure knew how to play with my nipples. Bellows put her hand back on her breast and wiggled her nipple some more, hardening it and giving her an intense feeling of euphoria. She started to recall Jessup, tearing down the strap of her dress and planting his mouth on her breast, sucking and flicking her teat to his heart’s content.

She grew nauseous the more excited she got. Oh gosh, f***...why did I let him do that? What got into me? I don’t care how good he was, I didn’t want him...how on Earth did he trick me? She felt the urge to throw up, but all she could get was some dry heaves.

Bellows then began to cry as the memories started to flood back in. There she was, alone in her apartment on a Saturday afternoon. A week ago she broke up with her last boyfriend, Jason Scott Thompson, the town drunk, and, feeling down, decided to invite Jessup over for dinner and drinks, hoping that they’d spent the night chilling and watching Netflix until they felt like going to bed. So it didn’t rattle her when Jessup brought with him four bottles of vodka, another bottle of tequila and several bottles of wine- Bellows wanted to drink, and drink a lot.

They had dinner, and everything seemed fine. Then Jessup insisted on an erotic thriller for the first movie, unbeknownst to her that he’d already seen it. As if on cue, when the movie cut to its first scene of intense sex (which titilated Bellows anyway), Jessup stuck his hand up her dress and began fingering her. She knew something was up when her arousal seemed more heightened then usual, which took her some time to remove Jessup’s hand. Considering both were, by this stage, intoxicated, Bellows wrote off Jessup’s faux pas as ‘just an alcoholic gesture’.

Her head began to throb again, as she became overwhelmed by her memories, but, try as she might to forget them, they just came back, like oncoming cars when she drove in the wrong lane.

She recalled Jessup trying his luck again, this time rubbing her thigh up and down first before thrusting his hand up her vagina. She couldn’t remember if she had told him ‘no’ this time, though she did remember feeling a soothing sensation mixed with sickness trying to grapple with what was happening, followed by a complete euphoria once he started wiggling his hands up her vagina.

She remembered yelping in excitement, but her memory blacked out at that point, picking up only momentarily later when, Jessup’s hand still firmly wiggling inside of her. She could remember wanting to pull Jessup’s hand out only to feel so good with his wiggling that she didn’t want it to stop.

Again, her memory went blurry, partly due to the dizziness of her condition. She seemed to faintly remember to weakly tell Jessup to stop, but Jessup kept going, pulling down the top part of her dress just so he could nibble at her breasts. Oh how wonderful that was! How I wish I had milk to nurse my man! Bellows mused, remembering the euphoria she felt as Jessup nibbled, before Bellows stopped the memory and let out another dry heave trying to remind herself that Jessup was still violating her.

She recalled seeing scores of empty bottles in front of her as Jessup sucked on her breasts, and remembered that she was drinking another bottle- of what she didn’t know, though it had a strong sting- but in her drunken stupor, she lost count. How many drinks did I have? Bellows wondered, moaning as her body refused to gain any energy for her to get up, with her head still feeling like a million wrecking balls were pounding it.

A cold chill came upon her as she continued remembering the night. In her memory bank, after her breasts were sufficiently aroused, Bellows felt intense arousal around her own body, which made Bellows, in the present, sick in her stomach, as the feelings of confusion and helplessness as being aroused the night before seemed to come to a head. Another dry heave came up, although this time the bile building in her stomach seemed ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. How can he be soooo good and make me enjoy it soooo much when I hated every second of it? How is this possible? She started to run her hands all over her torso, first sensually but then as if she had to brush a lot of dirt off of her body. I feel so dirty…how did I let this happen?

It was here that the bile that had been building up for so long in her stomach reached its crescendo. She sat up along the side of her bed, hunched over trying to contain the losing battle that was her nausea. As she tried, valiantly, to reframe the night before, she recalled in her haze she had laid down on her bed and started to stroke her own clitoris as Jessup happily nibbled on her breasts. Jessup’s hands, she recalled, seemed to move all over her body, stroking her with enough intensity to keep her excitement level extremely high. By this point, Jessup had undone his pants and dropped them, with Bellows not noticing by virtue of the fact that Jessup had moved to her neck and eventually her lips. Bellows and Jessup would passionately make out, all while Jessup’s hard penis teased Bellows with insertion.

Eventually, Jessup would insert, and thrust hard, though he made sure he was smooth enough so that Bellows wouldn’t get hurt. After a few thrusts, Bellows recalled that they got even faster as Bellows’ arousal grew and grew. She could remember her excited screams getting louder and louder, with her skin getting even more flushed as the sex got better. Then she recalled a loud yell, the loudest one she’d mustered in her life, and a feeling of the most intense, excited orgasm she ever had…

…and then she blacked out, which seemed to be her cue for heaving the contents of her stomach all over the floor. The bile and eventually the alcohol and the food that she ate the night before that refused to exit her system was finally regurgitated, laid out on the floor for all to see. After a few more heaves expended what she had left, she collapsed back on to her bed, all of her energy gone with the hurls. Her migraines, though, continued, forcing her to close her eyes as the lights now started to bother her. She rolled over and, overcome with extreme sadness, began weeping uncontrollably, crying at the loss of her innocence and realizing that the friend she thought she had was not the person he turned out to be.

Bellows then fell asleep again, overcome with emotions, waking up about an hour later. She decided that she’d get something to eat and try to make something of this day. She’d soon find out as the days progressed that repairing her life was tougher than she thought.

October 4, 2014,
12:32 local time,
Pleasure Hills Conference Hall,
Monte Carlo, Monaco, Roman Republic

“Well, Valerius,” said Aramean Chancellor Aris Pomas to Roman Caesar Gnaeus Valerius Maderia, or, more commonly, Valerius IV. The two were seated around a round table in a small room inside the Hall, with catering provided for them. “I can see why you like this conference hall...it’s very beautiful.” Pomas paused to take a slice out of his steak, “and the food...” Pomas nodded his head in approval after taking a bite, “it’s exquisite.”
“They don’t make it like that in Persia, do they?” Valerius said with a smirk.
Pomas playfully shook his head as he laughed. “Hey man...our beef industry is proud...I never said this was the best beef I’ve had.”
“Oh come on now...that’s 100%, pure Romagnan beef...right from the pastures of Perugia...one of these days I’ll convince you that our beef is superior.”
“You Romans...always trying to find some way to say you’re ‘the best’. Why can’t you at least admit that sometimes you don’t hit the mark?”
Valerius couldn’t help but chuckle. “Because...we’re Romans. We didn’t get to where we are by accepting ‘second best’.”
Pomas calmed down and pondered for a bit before responding. “Hmmmnnn...good point.”

“So,” said Pomas, taking a sip of his wine, “what brings us here today? Why did we need to do this in person?”
“Because,” said Valerius, “I have to talk to you about a threat that we both share, but one that we must keep absolutely secret.”
“Oh?” Pomas’ eyes and ears perked up, “and this threat is so severe that it couldn’t be mentioned in E-Mail or on the phone?”
“Yes...I cannot take any chances. Cybercrimes are part of their attack...we needed to go to a secure place, such as this in Monte Carlo. No one but us knows that I use this as a meeting place...if we met in London or Rome surely someone would spot us.”
Pomas wore a confused look on his face. “What is this threat and why are you so secretive about it?”
“It’s The Virus-”

Pomas scoffed, cutting off the Emperor in mid-sentence. “The Virus?” Pomas said, shaking his head, “Seriously? That’s nothing more than a few college students looking to have some harmless fun trolling the police...I can’t believe you brought me here for this.” Pomas started to gather his things before Valerius stopped him.
“The threat is real,” the Caesar said. Valerius then handed Pomas a package of documents 208 pages long. “We have extensive intelligence on the organization...what you have there is merely a brief.”
Pomas' eyes widened, having read a bit of the package. “A brief? How much more is this?” Pomas began reading with interest, with concern coming over him as he was reading.
“Lots...lots more. We have reason to believe that The Virus has an operation existing in North America that is using the site to target our interests, using an overload of crime as the weapon.”
Our interests? Oh.” Pomas' face was overcome with worry now that he understood the seriousness of Valerius’ words.

“Yes,” said Valerius. “Since we are the two primary players in North America, we are the targets of The Virus. There are groups, as you already know, that view us as ‘colonizers’ and are set to kick us out, and they’re using crime as the weapon.”
“So the goal is to create anarchy proving our system just isn’t working,” said Pomas.
“Precisely,” said Valerius.
“Yeah, but we’re rebuilding North America...don’t they see that?” Pomas said, shaking his head in frustration.
“Don’t think that matters,” said Valerius with a sigh. “We’re Empires...no matter what, we’ll always be ‘the enemy’.”
“Unfortunately,” concurred Pomas.
“The other thing that we need to make sure of is that The Virus threat is contained to North America,” said Valerius pointedly. “We cannot allow it to spread to our home countries...part of the package I gave you details hints of an attack on the rest of our Empires, spreading the ideals of The Virus across the globe...this is why we need to work together to stop it. I already have a FBII team dedicated to the crimes The Virus is committing, but we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“I’m in,” said Pomas. “This is worth co-operating on...the stakes are just too high.”

November 26, 2013,
17:09 local time,
Sixth Precinct, Virginia Beach Police Department,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“Apologies that we must keep on bringing it up,” said Virginia Beach Detective Cal Sawyer, a gregarious, muscularly portly middle-aged man in his office with Bellows, “but understand we need to do follow-ups to make sure we get the information 100% right. Catching your rapist expects no less.”
“I understand,” said Bellows, sullen in her chair, with her once vibrant skin turned a hollow pale and her locks turned into a frazzled, thinning mess, with her hair discoloured from too many attempts to change the colour. She trembled constantly, even when she was sitting still, and the joy and exuberance that was once in her voice was replaced by a darkened, weak tone at best.

“So, again, identify your assailant,” said Sawyer, leaning forward on his desk with his hands clasped in front of him.
“His name is...um,” said Bellows meekly. “His name is Stephen Jessup. I met him in January at Breeders’...we were...um...we were friends for a while...thought he was my rock.” Bellows then began to cry, sobbing for a few minutes before deciding to soldier on for Sawyer. “Then...I broke up with my boyfriend...I had many...and I guess Stephen thought this was the time to force himself on me.” Bellows began to cry again, sobbing uncontrollably for several minutes, but she still managed to describe, in grizzly detail, all the finer points of her rape, explaining to Sawyer that she had said “no” to Jessup many times during the ordeal, although there were still some hazy moments because both Jessup and Bellows were drinking.
“Yeah, I know I enjoyed it,” said Bellows meekly before Sawyer cut her off.
“That doesn’t matter,” said Sawyer. “Arousal is involuntary.”
“So do you think you’ve got enough to get this guy?” Bellows asked, a sliver of hope creeping into her voice.
“I think we do,” said Sawyer, confidently.
“Oh, thank you!” Bellows said in a rare moment of elation. “Can I give you a hug?”
“Sure,” Sawyer said with a smile. The two of them hugged for quite a while, with Sawyer holding her as if she was his daughter, a feeling Bellows enjoyed. She then departed the station, feeling overjoyed and hopeful that her ordeal might finally be coming to a fruitful confusion.

Sawyer, meanwhile, decided to take what he found to the local prosecutor, Jerry Milhouse, a recent graduate from law school, confident that he had enough to convict Jessup. Milhouse, however, disagreed.

“Cal,” said the strapping young lad, dressed to the nines in a business suit, “I know how badly you want to bury this guy but the truth is, you’ve got no dirt.”
“What?” Sawyer said, shocked.
“First, the rape kit.” Milhouse paused to dig up the kit results to show Sawyer.
Sawyer curtly cut him off. “I’ve seen those.”
“So you do understand that the kit does not show any signs of rape, right? No tearing, abrasions, lacerations, redness...nothing. It appears that the sex was entirely consenual.”
“Horses***. Even you know the absence of physical injuries is not an indicator that consenual sex took place.”
“I’m aware of that...but couple that with the other evidence. Both Bellows and Jessup admit they were drinking heavily, Jessup contended her ‘nos’ were simply playful and Bellows herself cannot keep her stories straight.” Milhouse paused briefly to pull out some more documents. “July 22, 2013- Victim states that she said ‘no’ clearly at first but then relented, allowing the sex to happen, though she never enjoyed it. August 29, 2013- Victim states she never said ‘no’ and may have swatted his naughty hands away at first before relenting, though she said she was never comfortable with the sex. September 16, 2013- Victim states that she enjoyed the encounter at first but then got uncomfortable when sex occured, though she did not verbally or physically object. October 25, 2013- Victim said that she objected to the encounter at first, but later relented and admitted that she enjoyed the sex. Then we get to today, where she asserts she said ‘no’ vehemently throughout. Her statements are all over the place. Plus she has a history of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and- the real kicker here- she’s lodged a fake rape report before. Annie Bellows just screams ‘unreliable witness’ all over the place, and thus I cannot, in good conscience, put her on the stand.” A pit developed in Milhouse’s stomach, pausing because his conscience was frustrated with what he had to say next, even though he had no choice. “Without her testimony, though, I don’t have a case- thus, I cannot press charges.”
“Yes, but she’s suffering from PTSD...her appearance and her demeanour confirms that. You can’t expect her to keep her story straight.”
Milhouse sighed. “I know...believe me, I want to pillory this guy too. I just can’t...it doesn’t matter that PTSD makes her memories unreliable...all a jury will see is that she’s someone who can’t keep her stories straight and is incredibly unstable. I’m sorry, but we must let this case go.”

Sawyer pursed his lips and got up, offering no words. He left the office upset, but he realized there was not much he could do. He decided to keep the case open, but it wouldn’t placate Bellows, who started to wonder if she really could trust the law to get it right.

October 12, 2014,
09:12 local time,
Galla Claudia’s Office,
AVTF Bullpen,
Foederatio Borealis Imperiale Indagatores Headquarters Building,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Lucius,” said Claudia, seated at her desk as FBII Director Lucius Black walked into her office and promptly took a seat. Claudia smiled warmly as Black adjusted himself in his seat, leaning back to rest his weary back.
“How are you today, Galla?” Black said, returning the smile.
“I’m doing pretty good. How are you doing?”
“As good as the FBII Director can be, all things considered.”
“I know how you feel...the threats never stop.”
“How’d it go with Grayson?”
“He gave me the run-around...no clear answers...just as I expected.”
“I know he’s a tough nut to crack...but I think you’re getting there. He wants to play a game...we just need to keep playing until we win.”
“Danny did mention to me that he believes that a war is taking place...and that we are going to be allies.” Claudia chuckled before continuing. “Can you believe him?”
“I think there may be some merit to that, given Grayson’s history, but you are right to question whether or not you should trust him. We do have intelligence that asserts that Viral factions have intentions to harm Rome itself, but as far as we understand there’s nothing credible. What have you uncovered?”
“This is our research so far.” Claudia paused to eject an external hard drive with a terabyte worth of data on it in order to pass it along to Black. “So far, what we know about The Virus is that it’s mostly just a collection of college kids looking for simply a discussion forum, but I’ve highlighted a few people who we think are ‘people of interest’, whose activity we will be monitoring. We so far don’t see anything closely resembling an organized terrorist activity- just some rumblings and attempts to organize, some more credible than others. We do believe at some point the potential is there for an organized assault and we’re monitoring that closely, but there’s little cause for alarm right now.”
“Good.” Black took the drive and got up from his chair. “Keep up the good work. I will study the drive. Thank you, Galla.” Black and Claudia shook hands before Black departed her office.

October 14, 2014,
11:02 local time,
The Office of the State Attorney General,
Norfolk, Virginia

“What are you talking about?” Bellows said, not hiding the exasperation and frustration in her voice. “What do you mean there is nothing you can do?”
“Annie,” said Virginia State Attorney General Carla Schultz, “I’m sorry...but I’ve gone over the evidence as best as I can and there is no case I can bring to trial.”
“Why? Why? WHY?!” Bellows began to cry, sobbing uncontrollably. She got up from her seat and paced around Schultz’s office, frantically sobbing. She was still pale, with blotches of red marks on her skin brought upon by drug abuse, with her hair having been shaved off. Her teeth- what was left of them- were rotted from neglect, with her eyes almost constantly bloodshot. Her look was the look of severe depression and frustration, since it took her months before she could get Schultz to review her case, and months later before she could get this meeting with her. Having expended her other options, including other District Attorneys and detectives, Schultz was her last chance, and Bellows cried knowing that it was fruitless.
“Darling...” The motherly, slim middle-aged blonde paused to find the right words to say, even though Schultz knew there were no words that could console Bellows.
Bellows responded by thrusting her forefinger at Schultz. “DON’T you ‘Darling’ me! I’m not your daughter...if I was, you’d have taken the case already.
“That’s not true...I have a daughter who is 19...I tell her all the time that I must follow the rule of law. It stinks because believe me, I agree your friend Stephen is a jerk who needs to be taught a lesson. Unfortunately, there’s just no way for me to do that.”
“How can you say that you agree that Stephen was a bad man and that he hurt me but turn around and say you can’t press any charges? Isn’t my word enough? Shouldn’t it be?”
“I wish it were that simple...but it isn’t. I can’t just rely on your word because, as you know, I have no idea if you are telling the truth. I need corroborating evidence, and I haven’t recovered any here.”
“Why? WHY?” Bellows’ sobs increased in intensity. “What am I missing?”
“I’ll tell you what- your rape kit showed no signs of rape. Stephen has kept all of his stories straight. You, on the other hand, have told many different versions of your story that no ‘official’ account can be made. You have a history of mental instability, plus- and this is the real kicker- you’ve lodged a fake rape report too. It doesn’t matter if that was seven years ago, it still got filed and will be used against you by a lawyer. As will all the other issues...all told, there isn’t a jury out there that will have the capacity to convict Stephen, so I apologize but I must decline the case.”

Bellows looked on in shock, paralyzed by the helplessness. She began trembling and stumbling around the room, before fixating on a bust of Schultz’s father, Jim.

“Is that what people really believe?” Bellows yelled. She started to breathe heavily, trying to contain her tears and letting her anger reach a boiling point.
“Yes,” Schultz saw the gravity of the situation and got up from her chair to confront Bellows, walking slowly. “I’m sorry if no one had ever told that to you before but I figured the least I could do was give you some answers...I know it’s not what you’d like, hun, but at least you can understand why these things are happening and move on with your life.”
“That’s what you’d like, huh? For me to just move on and forget about it? Meanwhile, my tormentor gets to walk around, scott free as if nothing happened, not having to know or care that he hurt me.”
“Annie...” Schultz put her hand on Bellows’ shoulder before Bellows swiftly moved away.
“DO NOT TOUCH ME!”
“Okay...okay...all right...I’m sorry.” Schultz scratched her head and took a deep breath. “Believe me...there’s a lot I want to do but I can’t. My hands are tied...besides, I know it’s small solace but situations like these are rare, because the law mostly gets it right. These procedures are in place to make sure no one gets arrested needlessly, because if the tables were turned you wouldn’t want it any differently. Look, Annie...please...don’t lose hope...maybe one day things will be different and we’ll be able to get that guy but right now we can’t. I’m sorry.”

Bellows stood, offering nothing but her stream of tears. She let out a few wails before her anger reached a boil, at which point she took the bust of Jim Schultz and tossed it across the room, splitting it in two, before throwing the remnants some more. Carla Schultz tried valiantly to say the words to calm Bellows down, but it was no use. Bellows continued her rampage, going to Schultz’s desk and throwing her papers everywhere and then tossing her laptop against the back wall. Bellows then moved to the mantlepiece and destroyed everything on it, including the photos, then moved on to Schultz’s library of books and began to toss them too. This cued Schultz to call in security to get Bellows out of her office. After a few more minutes of unmitigated vandalism, security officer Constable Harry Mikes, a towering, muscular man, came to deal with Bellows.

Then the real terror began.

Bellows saw Mikes come into the room, and ignored the man’s exhortations to stop her assault. Bellows zeroed in on Mikes’ gun, and before he knew it, Bellows had grabbed it, planted the barrel upwards in her mouth and pulled the trigger. In an instant, the bullet tore through Bellows’ skull, causing  her to crumple to the floor, her blood and brains oozing everywhere, with what little colour in her skin emptying immediately. Her last thoughts were ones of relief, as she had nothing left for her to live for, so as she felt her life emptying, Bellows smiled, dying with the expression intact.

Meanwhile, after getting over the near-deafening din of the blast, Schultz and Mikes stood in silence, panting heavily with shock. Neither of them knew what to think, nor could they expect what would happen next.

October 16, 2014,
11:02 local time,
The Office of the State Attorney General,
Norfolk, Virginia

“So glad to see you and your team here,” said Norfolk Detective John Browntree, a balding, middle-aged man whose wrinkles underscored the stresses of his job, shaking Claudia’s hand as the team greeted him. “As soon as I heard that Steven Jessup used The Virus I knew you guys were right for the job.”
“Does the public know about that?” Malcolm asked.
“No,” said Browntree confidently.
“Good,” said Claudia. “We need to keep it that way...we don’t want the public to go into a panic even though the threat is real. It’ll undermine our efforts to study The Virus if the public- and the faction using it- knows we’re on their case.”
“Good point,” said Browntree, nodding. “Though, the Daytona case...”
“All the public knows about that one is a suspicion that the Carolinian government set up the Florgians,” said Malcolm.
“Besides,” said Claudia, “we’re still studying that to see if there are other Viral links, as we suspect.”
“Ah,” said Browntree smiling. His expression turned serious as he looked back at the crime scene.

“So,” he said. “This crime...it’s an obvious reaction to Bellows’ troubles...but, I must ask, how are you guys certain that she isn’t making up her ordeal?”
“We’re not certain actually, though we have reasons to suspect that Bellows is being truthful,” said Malcolm. “Bellows shows a lot of the classic signs of PTSD...those are hard to self-induce, although it is possible. She also believes so stronly in Jessup’s involvement, and Jessup boasted about using The Virus to facilitate crime, though he never admits to anything specific.”
“Have we had any attempt to locate Jessup since the shooting?” Claudia asked.
“No, not yet,” said Browntree, downcast. “He’s smart...knew his case would likely be re-investigated.”
“Par for the course,” said Claudia with a sardonic chuckle.

Meanwhile, Pearl and Bartlett were carefully examining the rubble around the room.

“She did a number on this room,” said Pearl. “We’re certainly dealing with a victim with rage issues.”
“Annie was raped,” said Bartlett matter-of-factly after giving Pearl a look. “I think anyone would have rage issues after that.”
“While that’s true...this isn’t your classic ‘freakout’ with wanton destruction...some items she seemed to want to destroy more than others.”
“Makes sense...there are still many books left on the shelves but the desk and the mantle are completely obliterated. So, hidden amongst the wreckage, is the real source of her wrath.”
“Yeah...and I think it came out subconsciously. Annie was obviously mad at Jessup for what he did, but she saw something that triggered another bad memory of her. The question is...what?”
“So you think this goes beyond Jessup, then?”
“It has to...she’s a rape victim, Bartlett. Rape victims always go beyond blaming the perpetrator...they blame anyone they can think of, including themselves, out of the belief that someone, somehow should have done something to stop what happened to them. Your old pent-up angers emerge at this stage, and it came out here in a big way. She’s not just blaming Jessup or law enforcement for their failures...hidden in the rubble is the other person Annie is blaming for her assault.”

Bartlett scoured the room, hoping to find the answer having been swayed by Pearl’s explanation. He chanced upon the damaged photos, collecting them all and examined them fixatedly. After a few moments, he finally found the answer.

“Detective Browntree,” said Bartlett confidently. “What kind of relationship did Jim Schultz and Annie Bellows have?”
“Jim?” Browntree said, shocked. “What would he have to do with any of this?”
“My colleague and I noticed that of all the things Annie destroyed, she took special care to destroy anything related to Jim- his bust is completely destroyed and every photo he is in has been ripped apart at the exact point where he appears. So we’re thinking Jim has some significance to Annie.”
Browntree pondered the statement before responding. “Well, I guess talking to him wouldn’t hurt.”
“It’s a lark I know but at this stage we’ve got not much else to go on.”
“So let’s do it.”

October 16, 2014,
12:21 local time,
Jim Schultz’s house,
Zuni, Virginia

“Annie Bellows?” Jim Schultz said, his gravely voice not hiding the confusion he was feeling. “I’m sure she’s a fine dame but I’ve never met her in my life.”
“Explain, then,” said Pearl sternly, “why Annie took the time to destroy all of your pictures at your daughter’s office.” She adjusted herself on the living room couch across from Schultz. She gave Schultz a smirk while patiently awaiting his response.
Schultz adjusted his glasses and squinted, with every wrinkle on his face and his thinning gray hair fully displaying the confusion he was experiencing. “Once again,” he said, “I’ve never met Annie Bellows. My daughter handled her case...why don’t you talk to her!”
“She doesn’t get out of surgery until next Monday,” said Claudia, who was doing her best to be supportive of Pearl although she felt the interview was a waste of time. “We are planning to interview her once she is ready.”
“Well, you might as well go do that,” said Schultz in a huff. “I’m sorry for Annie but, once again I had nothing to do with her. I bid you two a good day.”
Claudia got up and forced a smile, shaking Schultz’s hand. “Thank you for your time,” she said. As she greeted Schultz she motioned to Pearl to get up and leave, though all Pearl responded with was a scowl.

Claudia laughed nervously not wanting to reprimand Pearl in the open, but after giving her another look, she was left with little choice.

“Julia, we need to go,” Claudia said sternly. “That’s an order.”

Pearl got up but not without letting out a huge, frustrated sigh. She didn’t even bother to say goodbye to Schultz instead opting to stomp out the door. Once inside the car, Claudia finally confronted her.

“Julia,” said Claudia, “I really enjoy your passion and your resolve to find the answer but when a member of the public doesn’t want to talk, we can’t make them talk.”
“He’s hiding something Claudia,” said Pearl, still frustrated. “I just know it.”
“If he is, we’ve got to find it through other means. We don’t have enough to arrest him and even if we did, he still doesn’t have to talk. Besides, trying to compel him to talk won’t make him co-operative...we need to be nice to him, and one of those ways is respecting his right to silence.”
“Fine.” Pearl let out a frustrated sigh but thought better about challenging her boss. “What now? We don’t seem to have any leads.”
“The father idea is still a good one...we just now need to figure out what kind of father figure we’re looking for.”

October 17, 2014,
13:09 local time,
Penny Elizabeth’s apartment,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“You know, it could be Annie’s father that we’re after,” Bartlett said to Claudia as the two walked to Elizabeth’s apartment. “So why don’t we just wait for her father to arrive?”
“Thomas,” said Claudia, trying to hide her indignation that Bartlett seemed to want some down time, “it may be a possibility but we still have other angles to explore. Such as interviewing Penny...she’s Annie’s best friend, so she knows best who Annie associated with...somebody else could come up. We have to do our due dilligence and look at all of our angles...besides, we have time...the Bellowses don’t arrive for another few hours.”

By this point, the pair got to Elizabeth’s home, and after greeting her, they set up shop on opposing couches in Elizabeth’s living room.

“I’m still in shock, really,” said Elizabeth, wiping more tears from her eyes, hunching over on her couch from time to time so that Bartlett and Claudia wouldn’t see her crying though both knew what was happening.
“It’s okay Penny,” said Bartlett, softly. “Take your time.” Claudia passed on a tissue box for Bartlett to hand over to Elizabeth, which she accepted.
“We had so much fun together,” said Elizabeth, wiping away tears. “When...when it happened I already felt like we died inside...Annie became a different person and it got harder and harder to reach her...and then when Stephen got away with it we got crushed some more...and now this!” Elizabeth put her head down and sobbed some more, with her wails becoming more audible by the minute. She gasped before she continued. “I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”
“Penny,” said Claudia warmly, “we understand that this is a lot to take in at this early stage...but know that by doing this, you’re helping us out and you are going to help Annie put Stephen behind bars. I’m proud of your bravery.”
“Thanks,” Elizabeth said, a smile escaping through her tears.
“You said you met Annie at the start of University,” said Bartlett, “what she like then?”
“Annie was so full of life and energy,” said Elizabeth. “I was always the quiet one...I remember sitting in the back of the class, just paying attention to the lecture, and there was Annie, right next to me. I remember at random points during the lecture Annie would whisper comments under her breath, though I heard them. If it was anyone else I would have been annoyed but Annie was captivating...eventually I mustered up the courage to banter with her myself and that’s how we struck up the friendship.”
“I see,” said Claudia, nodding her head. “So she was the one who ‘opened you up’ and you were the one that made sure she didn’t go too far over the edge.”
“Yeah,” said Elizabeth. “We balanced each other out. We went out a lot though, but I loved it, even though I was too cautious to make any moves. Annie, though, was fearless, willing to walk up to anyone just get a conversation going...and it worked, because she got a lot of boys. Looking back, I wonder if that’s what got her in trouble...” Elizabeth’s voice started to crack and she cried again briefly before recomposing herself.
“Penny,” said Claudia softly but assuredly, “This is a very specific crime…Annie didn’t do this to herself, Stephen did. Look,I understand that you’re confused and nothing about this situation makes sense...believe me, we are too. It would be nice if there was a ‘catch-all’ in place where we’d be able to quickly identify and convict everyone who commits a wrong but that’s not how it works...the rule of law has procedures and guidelines and we have to adhere to them or else justice won’t be served.”
“I understand that,” said Elizabeth, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a rape conviction.”
“Rape is a hard crime to prosecute,” said Claudia. “Whereas other crimes like theft or murder leave a ‘paper trail’ of evidence that can leave no doubt about what happened a rape is not so simple. Oftentimes, because rapes don’t generally have any witnesses and the body doesn’t always leave ‘telltale’ signs, a rape conviction boils down to the victim’s story against the perpetrator’s story...and that leaves a lot of room for error. It becomes a judgement call about who you believe, making it down to a “he said/she said” situtation and the law doesn’t like that...you have to be sure. More often than not, all we’ve got is the victim’s word that something happened and that’s not enough to be ‘sure’...since we don’t know the person, we have no way of knowing if they’re making up the story absent corroborating evidence. It pains me to hear rape victims complain that the police won’t catch their rapist because they ‘don’t care’ about the victim...I can tell you, surely, that we do...we are just bound by the rule of law.”
“Yes, but I’m sure Stephen did it,” said Elizabeth, banging her fist into the palm of her other hand.
“You weren’t there,” said Claudia. “It was just Stephen and Annie...Stephen’s story was consistent throughout and Annie’s changed all the time. Her rape kit also showed no physical injuries, and she’s had a past where she invented a rape...the evidence just isn’t there to provide a conviction. Look, I’m not trying to upset you...I just need you to understand how the evidence process works.”
“Okay,” said Elizabeth, slumping back into the couch. “Though I didn’t know she invented a rape previously...still, that won’t change much.” She sighed before continuing. “So this is all a waste of time then...you just wanted to come here so you could tell me something I might have figured out myself.”
“No,” said Claudia assuredly. She took a deep breath before continuing. She wanted to bring up The Virus but knew doing so would cause unecessary worry and explanations, so she found a different answer. “We’re here because Annie’s death raised concerns about whether or not the investigation went as it should.”
“What do you know about Stephen?” Bartlett asked. “Did you two interact much?”
“Stephen was always very nice to me,” said Elizabeth, “but I didn’t really talk to him much...there was just something ‘off’ about him with me, you know? Not that I think- or thought- of him badly...I just never ‘clicked’ with him like he seemed to click with Annie.”
“You were at Breeders the night Annie met Stephen, correct?” Bartlett asked, leaning forward.
“Yes,” said Elizabeth. “I don’t recall Stephen much before he met Annie, but I’m sure he was there. I remember Annie was drawn to him very quickly, darting towards him the minute she saw him. They clicked almost instantly...she brought the life out of him like she brought the life out of me.”
“So you seem to believe that Stephen and Annie were meant to be,” said Bartlett, staring intently at Elizabeth while leaning back and folding his arms.
“I always thought they clicked,” said Elizabeth, “so yeah, I thought they were meant to be. Stephen...he tried so hard for Annie...” Elizabeth’s voice trailed, overcome with emotion, as she began to cry again, struggling to find the words to finish her thought.
“It’s okay Penny,” said Claudia, who sat down next to Elizabeth and put her hand on her shoulder. “You’re doing great.”
“I felt,” said Elizabeth, talking through her sobs, “I always felt that if Annie would have just fallen for Stephen she would have avoided all of her problems...Stephen...he was such a nice guy and her boyfriends were usually such assholes.”
“No no no,” said Bartlett, waving vigourously his hands in front of him, “I can safely say you have it all wrong. Stephen was the biggest asshole of them all.”
“Excuse me?” Elizabeth said in shock.
“You heard me,” said Bartlett, leaning forward. “Stephen Jessup is nothing but an entitled narcissist who believes everything should be handed to him on a platter, and he cries and whines when he doesn’t get it. His ‘nice guy’ routine was just an act- he doesn’t care about anyone other than himself, and is only nice out of the expectation that he’ll ‘get’ something out of it. In Annie’s case, he believed he was entitled to sex- that’s why he decided to steal it from her. If he was a really nice guy, he would have respected Annie and her wishes and not tried to get sex from her.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” said Elizabeth, “Stephen never seemed like he could hurt anyone.”
“Penny,” said Bartlett, “that doesn’t matter...a lot of people can put up fronts and appear non-threatening when they actually are. Now, Stephen may not be the type who’d readily hurt someone- he probably needed to work up the courage to do so- but make no mistake, he’s capable of harm. It’s likely he was patient with Annie before something made him snap and lose the patience he had.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” said Elizabeth, “but what makes you so sure that Annie was raped when the police contended that she wasn’t?”
“She suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD,” said Claudia. “Usually PTSD doesn’t arise after a fictitious event.”
“So why did the police dismiss it, then?” Elizabeth asked.
“We think it may have been nothing more than a judgement call,” said Bartlett. “They noted that she was depressed but also noted she has a history of battling depression so they likely contended it ‘flared up again’ or something, with something else being the trigger. We don’t know...this is why we’re investigating.”
“I guess so,” said Elizabeth, “but then, why would Stephen talk to his father about how to treat women well? He always seemed to make sure he did the right thing.”
“Again,” said Bartlett, as Claudia pulled up a file on her phone, “Stephen knew what he wanted and his patience ran out...he thought he could have procured sex the ‘legal’ way before he realized he couldn’t.”
“Wait a minute,” said Claudia, “you mentioned Stephen’s father?”
“Yeah, why?” Elizabeth asked, confused.
“His father is dead,” said Claudia, looking at the file on her phone, “and his mother never remarried. In fact, as far as we can tell, for the past two years, Gina Jessup hasn’t dated anyone. Did you get his name, or what he looked like?”
“Nothing stands out, and no, I didn’t get a name,” said Elizabeth, saddened. She then wore a confused look on her face, though the shock of the moment visibly resonated with her. “If I had known this would have been important I would have paid attention. So, then…who’s his ‘father’?”
“That’s what we need to find out,” said Claudia.

October 17, 2014,
13:24 local time,
Saint Christine General Hospital,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

As soon as they got out of the car, a steely determination overcame Malcolm and Pearl. With their badges firmly in hand, the two of them walked purposefully, pushing people aside and zeroing in on the door to the hospital. When the pair finally got inside- with Malcolm entering first- the door swung closed violently after Pearl flung it open, causing it to crash into the frame and close with a loud bang, shaking up almost everyone in the reception area.

“Careful,” said the receptionist, Bea Young, an African-Virginian whose skinny frame contrasted with her strong, assertive interior. “If you break that frame, you’re paying for it.”
“Bill me then,” Pearl replied flippantly as he approached the desk. “I have more important things to take care of.” She then thrusted his badge in Young’s face. “Julia Pearl, FBII!”
“FBII, huh?” She inspected the badge for a moment. “Pull it out please.”
“Seriously? I don’t got time for this.”
“Well I don’t got time to allow a fake cop to come through my doors.”
Pearl’s eyes widened in disbelief. “You think I made this up?”
“You look like you just graduated middle school...of course I think you made it up!”

Meanwhile, Malcolm caught up to her and already had his badge out, with Young inspecting it.

“Just pull it out Pearl,” said Malcolm sternly. “We don’t have time for an argument.”
Pearl let out a huff but complied, with Malcolm apologizing to Young about the situation.

“Why do I need to keep babysitting you two?” Malcolm asked angrily as the two walked towards Carla Schultz’s room.
“What do you mean?” Pearl said, getting defensive.
“You and Bartlett...neither of you seem to understand the realities of this job.”
“Oh yeah...and you know all the answers, right?”
“No I’m not claiming that...but I seem to think you think this is all fun and games. If that was Claudia there instead of me, you would have been reprimanded.”
“As if it’s not happening now.”
“If you want to call this a reprimand then be my guest. I’m only trying help, because I believe in you and Bartlett and I don’t want you two to fall victim because of your foolishness.”
“My foolishness?”
“What you did with that receptionist was foolish...you clearly abridged all kinds of rules about decorum and procedure, plus you were rude to someone you needed help from. You don’t get to make the rules...the rules are there so we get and keep the public’s trust. Antagonising them will get us nowhere.”
Pearl pursed her lips to the side and was fuming inside, but thought better of continuing the argument.

Once inside Schultz’s room, they found a weakened Schultz essentially motionless on her bed, with a bandage over her left ear, whose eardrum was ruptured by the gun blast. She had also been in shock over the proceedings, with her body developing ulcers due to the stress of the situation.

Still, she wore a smile, and despite her frazzled state, she gleefully greeted the agents, although neither returned her smile.

“Carla Schultz,” said Malcolm, showing his badge with Pearl following later, “Phineas Malcolm and Julia Pearl, FBII. We need to ask you a few questions about Annie Bellows.”
“Oh gosh,” said Schultz, “am I being charged?”
“No,” said Malcolm, stoically.
“Then why do I need to answer questions about a case I already closed?” Schultz asked, as she clutched her ear in pain.
“Because a new piece of evidence has come to light,” said Pearl. “One that might lead us to convict Stephen Jessup.”
“Oh for crying out loud,” said Schultz, “there is no evidence...it’s impossible to prove...it’s he said/she said...unless you somehow got footage of the encounter, I fail to see what that evidence is.”
“Stephen Jessup’s father,” said Malcolm, “why didn’t it come up in the investigation?”
“Um,” said Schultz, dismissively. “Why would it? This was a matter between Stephen and Annie...their parents had nothing to do with it.”
“Stephen’s father is dead,” said Pearl authoritatively, “yet Penny Elizabeth claims she saw him talk to his father about Annie.”
“Yes,” said Schultz, giving a look imploring the agents to get to the point, “and?”
“You don’t find it interesting that Stephen received ‘advice’ from an unknown man, about the woman he raped?” Malcolm asked.
“No, I don’t,” said Schultz, “because it means nothing.”
“Not even if we point out that Annie destroyed the bust of your father, making a point of doing so?” Pearl asked, grilling Schultz.
“Oh,” said Schultz rolling her eyes, “so you’re going to pull some profiling crap and make a spurious claim about Annie blaming a ‘father figure’ for her rape despite having no evidence other than the destruction of my father’s bust? Is that why you harassed my father earlier? Are you unreal? Maybe she just found it ugly, hence the destruction. You know, I used to think you FBII guys were all about the truth...well, unless you’ve got something substantive to talk about, I’m done here.”

Schultz then went peacefully back to bed as the agents left the hospital, frustrated.

October 17, 2014
14:42 local time,
Virginia Beach Police Headquarters,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“How’d it go?” Claudia asked as Malcolm and Pearl returned to the station.
“Not good,” said Malcolm, frustrated. “She shooed us away because we don’t have anything ‘substantive’...she’s got a point, we don’t have anything other than a hunch that Stephen did all this.”
“It’s still a pretty good hunch though,” said Claudia, “people don’t develop PTSD without a corollary event. Plus Jessup committed the crime a bit too well for us not to notice.”
“Where do we go from here?” Pearl asked. “Do we continue with the father link?”
“It’s something,” said Bartlett. “It’s not much but at least it’s something, and it might lead us to Jessup. I refuse to think Annie so completely obliterated Jim Schultz’s bust because she found it ‘ugly’.”
“So if Jessup’s father is dead,” said Malcolm, “and Jim isn’t a part of this, he got his advice from someone else.”
“On tap are his best friend and Annie’s parents,” said Claudia. “Let’s get to it.”

October 17, 2014
14:09 local time,
NAU Presidential Chambers,
Presidential Palace,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Hello Mr. President,” said Black as he entered the office of North American Union President Joseph Reddick and sat down in a visitor’s chair. “So glad you could meet up with me today.”
“I’m glad I could do so too,” said Reddick, flashing a smug smile while leaning back in his chair and clasping his hands together. “I hear the AVTF is doing extremely well, I’m happy for you.”
“Heh. Thank you for the compliment. I’m still trying to figure out what is going on with our friend in Amherst, though.”
“Oh Danny, he’s a tough nut to crack...I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually.”
“I was hoping you could help me out...he likes to dance around the truth.”
“Fair enough...but, what’s so strange? He’s in jail, as he should be, for the attempted murder of your agents and for assaulting Sarah Briar.”
“That’s the thing...he’s still in jail.”
“...and that’s odd?” Reddick gave Black a puzzled look before leaning back in his chair.
Black leaned in and spoke ominously. “Without having launched any kind of appeal.”
“Okay...what’s so strange about that? Maybe he’s convinced he won’t win one.”
“Come on now, Mr. President...we’re talking about a lawyer who once won an acquittal for a man who carried through a plan to kill his brother, doing so in broad daylight with multiple witnesses, having a legitimate confession to police and multiple psychological evaluations of extreme competence and intellect at the time of the murder...and you’re telling me Grayson can’t find something to get him out of jail?”
Reddick nodded pensively before answering. “Good point...I remember that case...Grayson did really well.”
Black folded his arms and looked intently before answering. “So what’s keeping him in jail?”
“I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that Marla Kirk’s arrest upset the balance in Florgia...the people there, they don’t know what to believe. Everyone wants to believe their own pet conspiracy theory, with some believing she’s an agent for Carolina sent to destroy Daytona’s hedonist lifestyle with others believing the Florgians used her as a sacrificial lamb to galvanize the troops against Carolina. I believe it’s the opening salvo of a much bigger war, one that I believe your agents have unwittingly agreed to take part in...I hear reports that someone wants to cause anarchy in North America by taking down each government one at a time.”
“The Global Anarchists’ League...they and Grayson don’t always see eye to eye...Riley Murray tried to use their animosity to his advantage.”
“I suspect it’s the GAL...he believes he’s not ready to confront them.”
“What do you mean?”
“A few months ago I tried to convince him to try to get out of jail, because I’m worried about the scope of the problem...and Grayson refused. It’s not like him to refuse a fight.”
“So people are questioning his leadership, and since he got arrested many of the people who used to look up to him no longer see him as someone worthy of praise...he’s weak now.”
“Exactly...a lot of people wanted to take him down before he went to jail...imagine what they’d do once he got back out.”
“Then I think I know what we need to do.”

October 17, 2014
15:24 local time,
Interview Room,
Virginia Beach Police Headquarters,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“To say we’re still in shock is an understatement,” said Jerry Bellows, Annie’s father and a Madison University professor, seated across from the table from Claudia and Bartlett, with his wife, Carrie, by his side. The two had flown in from Madison. “I still don’t understand why that Stephen guy is walking free.”
“Jerry,” said Carrie, who was apoplectic. “She’s made something like this up before...I don’t know how you can think that didn’t happen this time.”
“I think I know my own daughter,” said Jerry, indignant.
“Okay, guys,” said Claudia, “let’s not fight here...we’re only after the truth.”
“Well it seems funny that you say that when you are certain of Stephen’s guilt,” said Carrie, folding her arms.
“Mrs. Bellows,” said Claudia, “I assure you that I’m looking at this as impartial as I can...right now we are operating on a theory that says that Stephen committed the crime, because I find it hard to believe Annie’s PTSD was caused by anything else.”
“I do find it odd you’re her mother and you’re not siding with her on this,” said Bartlett. “If this were my daughter and she was screaming ‘rape’, I’d believe her without a question.” Jerry gave Bartlett a knowing smirk, while Carrie looked stunned.

A pit developed in Carrie’s stomach, as she paused to collect her thoughts.

“I’m not denying Annie’s feelings,” said Carrie, poignantly, “and I never said to her face that I thought her stories were untrue...she called me a lot, and I tried to help her through her problems...there was just not much I can do. It saddened me to see Annie so sad, and I wanted so desperately to comfort her and fix her problem but I couldn’t...still, just because I wanted to help doesn’t mean that I had to believe the story she spun, especially when she spun the same story before.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure she heard your disbelief in your voice,” said Jerry. “There’s only so long you can put a front up.”
Carrie gave Jerry a look before Bartlett intervened.

“Okay, okay, guys!” Bartlett said, waving out his hands furiously, “let’s not fight here...we’re not here to pillory anyone...we need to figure out what happened to Annie.” After seeing that things had settled, he continued. “Now, how often did she call and what was the nature of her calls, before and after the encounter?”
“That Stephen guy haunted us for a while,” said Jerry. “He seemed nice at first but something seemed ‘off’...I can’t remember how many times I flew in from Madison just to talk to Stephen...I mean, I always thought he meant well...he was just going about things the wrong way...I could never think Stephen would hurt her but I guess I’m wrong.”
“You believed that Stephen was right for Annie then,” said Bartlett, as Claudia had a thought in her head.
“I think he was,” said Jerry. “He was nice, charming, good looking, diligent...everything you’d want in a guy.”
“That’s why I don’t believe the rape happened,” said Carrie. “Stephen was just too nice.”
“A lot of nice people can and do mean things,” said Bartlett pointedly.
“Annie lived a life of hedonism and poor responsibility,” said Carrie, “it was going to catch up to her...I blame her other boyfriends, not Stephen.”
“Jerry,” said Claudia, with a look of urgency on her face, “how often did you see Stephen? Carrie, did you ever go with him?”
“A couple of times,” said Carrie. “I’ve met Stephen…never chatted for long, because I just left that for Jerry…Stephen and Jerry bonded real well.”
“Well, it was a couple of times each month,” said Jerry, “whenever downtime at school allowed for it.”
“Did Stephen ever introduce his father to you?” said Bartlett.
“A couple of times he did,” said Jerry. “Why is this important?”
“Because Stephen’s actual father is dead,” said Claudia. “We believe that the man posing as Stephen’s father helped him in his crime, because Annie took the time to destroy a ‘father figure’ type at Carla Schultz’s office.”
“Oh,” said Jerry, understanding the gravity of the situation. “Well, sadly, I can’t recall anything about him that was extraordinary…I mean, he’s a New England Revolution fan, just like Stephen was, but other than that…nothing special.”
“What’s his name?” Bartlett asked.
“Harry,” said Jerry. “Didn’t catch his last name.”
“Harry, huh?” said Bartlett, as if the name clicked in his head but he didn’t yet know why.

October 17, 2014,
15:38 local time,
Jesper Odom’s Apartment,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“You’re just chasing ghosts, agents,” said Odom, whose large frame made his couch audibly rumble as he adjusted himself, “Stephen didn’t commit a crime.”
“You let us be the Ghostbusters,” deadpanned Malcolm sternly.
“I find it odd that if he’s got nothing to hide,” said Pearl, folding her arms, “then why won’t he talk to us.”
“Because he’s a smart guy,” said Odom, “he knows that you can’t gain anything by talking to cops.” He then grabbed a hot dog that he had placed on the table beside him and took a bite, causing ketchup to ooze out of the bun and land on his shirt, which Odom didn’t seem to care about.
“So why are you talking to us, then?” Pearl asked, pointedly.
“Because I’m his best friend,” said Odom in between bites, “and I want to clear his name once and for all.”
“All right then,” said Malcolm, furrowing his brows. “As we understand Mr. Odom you were present the night Annie met Stephen, is that correct?”
“Yeah,” said Odom, scoffing. “Kind of silly to ask me that, isn’t it?”
“Jesper,” said Pearl, “we’ll decide what’s silly and what isn’t, thank you.”
“Says the agency’s resident teenager,” said Odom with a scowl. “I bet your snatch is still tight.”
“Excuse me?” Pearl said, taking off her leather jacket to reveal her blue racer-back crop top underneath, with her muscles fully flexed and her hands clenched tightly as fists.
“All right,” said Odom, scared at the sight. “Take it easy...I’m sorry.” Pearl sat back down, satisfied, though she kept her jacket off so her muscles were in Odom’s plain view.

“Anyway,” said Odom after a calming sigh, “yes I was at the same bar as Stephen was that night. I saw it all happen.”
“How did it all go down?” Pearl asked. “How did Stephen behave that night?”
“Stephen?” Odom said leaning forward, wide-eyed. “You think it was Stephen who misbehaved? Nuh-uh...Annie...she was an animal. I mean, Stephen’s a shy guy...he’s too scared to make any kind of move...Annie, thus, walked up to him.”
“Okay...” Malcolm said, folding his arms, “and then what?”
“So here’s Annie,” said Odom, “dressed in this knockout red dress, and I mean knockout. Her hemline barely got past her ass, and her boobs looked like they were about ready to pop out the front of her dress...I mean this girl...she was after it, man.”
“That won’t excuse a rape,” said Malcolm sternly.
“Oh come on,” said Odom, “I know that...but a girl like that...how could she possibly get raped? When they were dancing together, she was grinding Stephen’s dick harder and deeper than I’d seen any stripper, and she put his hands on her breasts...I don’t believe for one second that she was raped...based on her actions that night...she was going to go after Stephen, no question.”
“You know,” said Pearl with a snark, “people do change and that still doesn’t excuse a rape.”
“Please,” Odom scoffed, “she made up a rape once before, in Madison...why wouldn’t she do it again? She probably regretted the sex and made up the rape to hide the fact she couldn’t control herself.”
“Right,” Pearl scoffed, “because women only scream ‘rape’ to attack men, right Jesper?”
“Yes,” came Odom’s straight-faced answer.
“Seriously?” Malcolm said, disgusted. “I’ve had enough of your crap...she suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was so severe that she destroyed her hair colouring it so many times, lost many of her teeth due to neglect, and cut herself several times. That doesn’t happen after a one night stand she regretted.”
“Well,” said Odom, looking right into Malcolm’s eyes, “like I said, she’s made up a rape before...what makes you think she’s not just a great actor?”
“So she’d been ‘acting’ for over a year then?” Malcolm said, chuckling disbelievingly. “Do you not realize how silly you sound?”
“Doesn’t matter, agent,” snarled Odom. “The police couldn’t find a single piece of evidence to charge Stephen with...so you tell me...how can you prove Stephen did it?”

October 17, 2014,
17:02 local time,
Virginia Beach Police Headquarters,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“You know, Claudia,” said Malcolm, frustrated, as he walked into the AVTF’s room at the police station, “maybe we ought to bite the bullet and just admit we don’t have a case.”
“Phineas,” said Claudia, seated looking over files, “I know it’s frustrating but we can’t give up.”
“Galla.” Malcolm paused to take a seat. “What if this whole ‘father’ thing is just Annie being upset at her father for what happened to her? We’ve jumped to the conclusion that a ‘father figure’ helped Stephen.”
“Phineas...Penny described the man giving advice to Stephen as Stephen’s father...doubt she’d confuse him with Annie’s. Furthermore, Jerry defended Annie...doubt he wanted to hurt her. Her mother on the other hand...”
“Yeah, her mother was weird…but, Galla…again, I look at everything we’ve got and we don’t have anything. We aren’t any closer to getting Stephen than we were when we got here.”

“I think I got it,” said Bartlett, walking in with a file folder which he placed on the table as he sat down to join Claudia and Malcolm. “Do you remember when Jerry Bellows mentioned Stephen’s father’s name is ‘Harry’?”
“I do, actually,” said Claudia, listening with interest.
“He misheard his name,” said Bartlett, “it’s not ‘Harry’ but ‘Horry’, as in ‘Horatio Hornblower’.”
“Hornblower?” said Claudia, nodding her head pensively, “as in the Napoleonic Era British Naval Officer C.S. Forrester immortalized in a series of novels in the early 20th century?”
“That’s the one,” said Bartlett with a satisfied smile. “Well…someone is copping his name.”
“What makes you so sure?” Malcolm asked, skeptical.
“I remember coming across ‘pathogens’ while researching The Virus,” said Bartlett. “They all have assumed identities, and they’re people the Site’s users can contact for help on Viral info…now, all the information I have indicates that the help a pathogen provides involves clarifying things for student lab reports and the like…nothing illegal. Of course, I always wondered if at least some of these pathogens aren’t just helping with school reports and doing more…and I think today we have our proof.”
“Quite the leap,” said Malcolm. “I mean, it’s a reasonable suspicion, but we don’t have anything actionable on it.”
“There is an IP address close to where Stephen lives that interacted with Hornblower,” said Bartlett, “although I can't link it definitively to Stephen. What I do know is that Hornblower, who was extremely self-loathing, would appeal to Stephen, for what that is worth.

“How are we doing?” said Pearl, walking in, leaning up against the wall with a coffee in her hand and her leather jacket zipped up. “Tell me we’ve got something.”
“Bartlett thinks Stephen contacted a consultant that works for The Virus,” said Claudia, “since Jerry said that Stephen’s father was named ‘Harry’ and The Virus has a consultant named ‘Horatio Hornblower’, after the Naval Officer.”
“I guess it’s something,” said Pearl, “what do we make about Odom’s repeated assertions that Annie made the rape up, like she had before?”
“You know,” said Claudia, a thought coming to her, “if I recall correctly, Penny said that she didn’t know Annie had a false rape claim on her record…yet Jesper Odom, someone Annie didn’t interact with much, knew about it.”
“Wait,” said Pearl, as if the statement made something click in her mind, “that’s it…if Annie didn’t tell her best friend about the false rape claim, then she sure didn’t tell Jesper…or Stephen for that matter.”
“So that means Odom and Jessup got their info from someone,” said Malcolm.
“Illegal too,” said Claudia, “members of the public cannot access criminal records without consent.”
“A private investigator can,” said Bartlett.
“Call Sophie,” said Claudia, referring to FBII Technical Analyst Sophie Mullens. Bartlett dutifully dialed the number, placed the phone on the table and put her on speakerphone.

“Sophie Mullens, FBII,” said Mullens, answering the phone, with faint sounds of springs creaking coming in the background. “How can I- oh yes, that’s the spot- how can I help you?”
“Sophie,” said Claudia, trying her best not to be distracted by the noise in the background, “I need you to look up-” Claudia was interrupted by a loud grunt, followed a loud scream of elation by Mullens, with the bed Mullens was on starting to rock audibly and faster. “Sophie, what the heck are you doing?”
“Well if you finish your question, I can do my job,” said Mullens as the bed continued to creak in the background. Mullens’ voice then got even more excited. “Oh yes! Oh yes! Deeper baby! DEEPER! Oh yeah, oh yeah, OH YEAH! You sure know how to get me wild!”
“Are you…are you…?” Claudia said, not even trying to hide her shock.
“Yeah I’m having sex,” said Mullens, nonchalantly. “Don’t worry, I can do my- oh, oh yes! Oh yes oh yes OH YES!- I can do my work…and I’m not at the office.” As she spoke Malcolm and Pearl could only shake their heads in disbelief, while Bartlett chuckled. Claudia sighed, but otherwise offered no emotions, trying to keep her own composure.
“Okay then,” said Claudia, “I need you to look up the credit card information of Jesper Odom and Stephen Jessup…we need to know if they’ve hired any private investigators recently.”

Mullens didn’t respond, as she was conducting the search, all while concentrating on the fabulous sex she was having. On the other side of the phone, all the AVTF could hear was more of the elated grunts, screams and moans of the sex, with the creaks in the bed getting louder by the second. After a few minutes, the team all received the requested information, with loud screams coming from Bartlett’s phone. Claudia, having heard enough of the sex, decided just to turn off Bartlett’s phone, forgoing the pleasantries.

“She’s a piece of work, isn’t she?” said Claudia. “The nerve of that girl…”
“Yeah,” said Bartlett, “that is true…but she gets her work done. Anyway…what do we got?”
“Enough to bring Jesper in,” said Claudia with a knowing smirk, “and likely once we find Hornblower, we’ll find Jessup.”

October 17, 2014
21:04 local time,
Interrogation Room,
Virginia Beach Police Headquarters,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

“You’re looking at a lot of time,” said Claudia as she walked in on the bemused Odom, who had been asleep hunched over the table. “Conspiracy to commit rape…that’s quite the charge.”
“You’re ridiculous,” said Odom. “Stephen committed nothing…therefore, there’s no way I did anything.”
“Oh yeah?” Claudia smirked and looked straight into Odom’s eyes. “Then why don’t you tell me who Horatio Hornblower is.”
“He’s that guy C.S. Forrester wrote about.”
Claudia shook her head in disbelief, then pranced slowly around the interrogation room, her knowing smile still not leaving her face. “No Jesper…try again.”
“I…I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Odom took some deep breaths, with sweat starting to form on his forehead.
“I know you do…because there’s no way you knew about Annie Bellows’ past convictions without hiring a private investigator.”
“Bulls***! She told Stephen.”
“No she didn’t…if Annie couldn’t tell her best friend, Penny Elizabeth, about the charge, why would she tell Stephen?” She then strolled to her seat across from Odom, and casually sat down. “Besides, we know you hired a private investigator…John Dowry. We found it in your records.”
“Hey man, you need a-”
“Subpoena?” Claudia smiled as she interrupted Odom with the notice of the court order obtained mere minutes after Mullens procured the information for her. “Believe me, Jesper, we know what we’re doing. So…again, do you want to tell me who Horatio Hornblower is?”

Odom took several deep breaths and ruffled his hair, burying his head in his hands. He eventually looked up before cussing loudly, knowing he didn’t have a card to play left.

“All right…so Stephen really wanted to get with Annie,” said Odom after a heavy sigh. “It was…July something, I don’t remember.”
“July 10, 2013, actually,” corrected Claudia.
“Whatever…anyway so I look on The Virus to see if we could get any information on rape…found this page, and then we found this guy who claimed to be a ‘pathogen’. I saw that the page had a disclaimer saying that moderators cannot discuss the committal of actual crimes, but Stephen and I were so set on ‘teaching Annie a lesson’ that we said, ‘f*** it’ and asked him anyway.”
“Him?”
“Yeah…Hornblower. Anyway, he gets us in touch with John who pulls up Annie’s records, and Hornblower tells us we’re very lucky, because getting Annie would be that much easier.”
“So what else did Hornblower tell you?”
“He told us that if you’re gentle and get Annie really excited you can beat the rape kit…furthermore, if you plied her and yourself with alcohol, then you can gain plausible deniability in case she screams that she couldn’t consent because she was drunk…because then Stephen would have been drunk too. That, and alcohol screws with your memory, so her stories could never be straight.”
“So why were Stephen’s stories all straight? How was he able to avoid that problem?”
“Stephen knew he didn’t have to have too much…he just had to have a few drinks. We also had to wait until the right time, of course…when Annie would have wanted to drink heavily…she broke up with her ‘boyfriends’ a lot, so we knew an opportunity would present itself soon.”
“So Stephen didn’t actually have to get drunk then.”
“Yeah…it’s not like the police was going to do a breathalyzer right then and there.”
“This is very interesting stuff…thank you Jesper…but…I need to know…where can we find Hornblower?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that question.”
“I’m sorry…that’s not good enough.”
“Well, it’s what I can give you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Odom sat in silence, glaring at Claudia, though the agent didn’t flinch.
“Here.” Claudia put a document on the table, one that Odom looked at with interest. “This is a contract from Carla Schultz, the State Attorney General…says that if you tell us where Hornblower is, she’ll reduce the charges against you, because you assisted in the investigation. If you decline…you’ll get saddled with a rape charge, and all that comes with that…come on, Jesper, do the right thing.”
Jesper looked longingly at the contract, and let out another heavy sigh. “All right, I agree.”

October 18, 2014,
10:05 local time,
Beluah Hollow,
Morgantown, Virginia

Wow, thought Rita Mason as she stopped to catch her breath. The short redhead with ivory skin had been on a run for almost two hours, and knew now, with her lungs dry and gasping for air, that the time had come for her jog to take a momentary break. Clad in a white sports bra and grey track pants- with her jacket slung around her waist, Mason readjusted her contact lenses, took a drink out of her water bottle and began to just walk, slowly, so that she could regain the energy needed to go back on her run.

Hmmmmnnn…that’s odd, she thought as she looked at her water bottle. The water’s a bit low…I thought I filled it up before I left home. She then scanned the landscape, hoping she could find a convenience store that could help her out but, predictably deep in the far reaches of Beluah Hollow, there wouldn’t be a store in sight. There was nothing but trees and grass in front of her, with the scene especially pretty due to the different colours of the fall foliage, but that was small solace for the thirsty Mason.

As she finished the last of her water, she continued to walk, keeping her eyes glued to the scenery in case she found somewhere that could help her out. Feeling the nip in the air after her sweat dried up, Mason decided to put her jacket back on, though she found the small chill in the air refreshing.

Eventually, Mason came upon a small, two-story cabin in the middle of the woods. There was a small dirt road that connected the house to the main throughfare, with a Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in the driveway, indicating that someone was living there. However, despite those reassurances, Mason still felt uneasy about the scenario, since other than the rustling of leaves and the occasional chirp of the birds, the scene was eerily quiet.

Mason, though, decided that despite her worst feelings that she had little choice but to approach the house if, for nothing else because the person living there might be able to help her refill her water bottle.

She nervously knocked on the door, looking down at her feet and shifting them back and forth. She ruffled her hair and took a few short breaths, thinking that it was taking the people living here a long time to answer the door. Eventually, a Caucasian man with a full head of white hair clad in a thick wool sweater and khaki pants opened the door.

“Hello?” said the man, wearing a confused look on his face. “How can I help you?”
“Listen,” said Mason, nervously fidgeting with her thumbs and struggling to make eye contact. “My name is Rita Mason…I’m just in the area for a bit of a run, but my water has run out. Do you think you could let me in and use some of your water? I’m really thirsty.”
The man didn’t even hesitate. “OK,” he said, as he gleefully let Mason in.

As Mason walked in, the man walked upstairs to his bedroom to continue reading a book. Coming downstairs was a skinny boy with dark hair who looked no older than a teenager. At first the teen walked down with purpose but upon seeing Mason slowed his steps. The teen was surprised at seeing the guest, but, determining she seemed nice, he decided to walk to her, sheepishly.

“Corky,” said the teen, nervously, giving Mason a fishy handshake. “Corky Meadows.”
“Rita,” said Mason, giving the teen a firm but warm handshake after placing her other hand on top of Corky’s. “Rita Mason. I’m so glad to meet you.”
“Yeah…me too.” Corky nervously looked at the ground, anxiously chuckling while trying to figure out the right words to say to Mason.
“I do have one suggestion for you.”
“What’s that?”
“Your handshake…you need to improve it…employers and other people of power…they like confidence and nothing confidence like a firm handshake.”
“Yeah…I…I guess so.”

Mason then took a walk into the kitchen and took out her water bottle, filling it under the sink.

“Are you sure you want to drink that?” Corky said, rubbing the back of his head as he did so. “The water here…it’s mountain water…they don’t filter it.”
“Eh,” said Mason, smiling. “I’m from California…I’ve drunk worse.”

She then decided to walk towards the couch by the TV and took a seat on the left side, and quietly started to drink her water. She saw Corky emerge from the kitchen, and decided it was the right time to take off her jacket. After she did, she placed it carefully on the coffee table to her right, with her bottom pocket open but not positioned where any items inside were visible.

“Boy,” said Corky, sitting down right next to Mason, “you must be tired.” He then put his right arm up on the top of the couch, allowing him to get his torso right next to Mason. Because of this, Mason felt every pant that came from Corky’s body, as well as what became obvious in his increasing excitement.
“I am a little tired,” said Mason, “but it’s okay…I’m glad I have such wonderful hospitality here.” Mason then turned her head and gave Corky a smile, which seemed to be his cue to plant a kiss on her lips.
“Um…Corky…um…I wasn’t expecting that.” She then flashed another smile, this one regretful.
“What’s the problem? It’s just a kiss.” Corky began licking his lips and brushed his hands through Mason’s hair, which Mason found strangely enjoyable.
“You’re cute…but…” Mason let out a sigh and fidgeted with her fingers, fumbling for the right words to say.
“…but what?” Corky continued to brush her hair, with his excited smile and eyes getting wider with each second.
“I…I don’t know.” Mason shifted herself a bit on the couch, in doing so revealing the bright yellow thong she was wearing. Corky saw the thong and his eyes lit up, after which he looked at Mason, licking his lips and looking like a puppy who seemed excited their master had arrived home.

It was at this point that the man started to come downstairs from his study, but as soon as he got within eyesight of Corky he stopped and went back upstairs. Corky gave him a nod, a nod that was a signal to the man that his book was more important than what was happening downstairs.

“Corky,” said Mason, getting up to stand in front of the fireplace. “I’m sorry…I think you seem like a nice enough guy…but…I didn’t come here for that. I just wanted to come over to get some water, that’s all.”
“Don’t you feel the chemistry?” Corky said, getting up himself. He got closer to Mason and wrapped his arms around Mason’s waist, placing his hands on the small of her back. Mason allowed the taller Corky to bring her closer to him, a move that Mason responded to by wrapping her own arms around Corky, allowing the two of them to share an embrace.
“I do actually feel the chemistry.” Mason, knowing it had been a while since she had a nice hug of her own, enjoyed the feeling she was having, happy that for once in her life someone seemed to be giving her actual warmth.
“Then why don’t we try to make this work?”
“I just…it’s so soon. I mean, we just met. I think we need to get to know each other better before we do anything…I’m sorry.”

Mason followed by holding Corky tight, rubbing his back as she did so. She then planted a loud kiss on his cheek before ending the embrace. Corky, though wasn’t about to back down, grabbing Mason’s arm tightly as she was walking away.

“Corky…I already told you ‘no’,” said Mason, getting angry. “Please let go of me.”
“Oh no, no, no, no,” said Corky, galvanized. “You’re wearing a thong…you want it…you just don’t know it.”
“Is that what you think? A thong means I want sex? Are you out of your mind? I just happen to enjoy the feeling of thongs…is that so extraordinary?”
“Then why make it visible? You did that on purpose.”
“My pants shift you know…it happens, just like your pants. Doesn’t mean a thing.” Mason then gave Corky a steely glare. “Now, for the last time, Corky, let go of me.”
“No.”

Corky responded by throwing Mason back on to the couch, where he proceeded to get on top of her. Mason tried resisting, but her flailing hands were useless, as Corky proceeded to punch her in the face a few times. He rested himself on top of the now compliant Mason, who took a few deep breaths to regain her composure, and, after seeing Mason had relaxed herself, he put his hands on her track pants and began to pull them down. That was when Mason used her knee and flipped Corky off of her and onto the ground, allowing her to get up off the couch and quickly grab the gun located in her open jacket pocket.

“Julia Pearl, FBII!” said Pearl, who was Mason all along. “Stephen Jessup, you are under arrest.”
“What?” said Jessup, who used “Corky Meadows” as an alias ever since hearing of Bellows’ suicide. “I don’t get it…you…you set me up.”
Pearl was authoritative in her reply. “No…you did everything. You forced yourself upon me…you punched me to gain my compliance…you refused to listen to me when I said ‘no’…you did this all yourself, just like you did it with Annie.”
“Oh, so this is what this is about…Annie Bellows. That b*** didn’t know what she had…she wanted me, she just didn’t know it. Besides, you can’t prove our encounter wasn’t consensual.”
“On the contrary…your friend, Jesper, told us everything, including the plan to recruit your ‘father’ to help facilitate the rape…you thought you had the perfect crime, until Annie made sure you wouldn’t get away.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Annie took special care to destroy a bust of Carla Schultz’s father…and since we know her own father didn’t hurt her and that Penny said you frequently sought the advice of ‘your father’, even though your own father is dead. That gave us a track, leading us here- the home of ‘your father’, who goes by the name of Horatio Hornblower, or, as he really is, Frederick Craddock.”

“Okay, okay,” said Craddock, walking down the stairs, with a sniper rifle resting on the railings trained on Pearl. “I’ve had enough of the exposition…I’m going to give you two options, Julia…either you walk away from Stephen and let us be, or I blow your brains out. I used to be U.S. Marie Corps…top of the class, too, so don’t doubt my shot.”
“I take the third option,” said Pearl, who turned and fired at Craddock in one swift motion, hitting him in the stomach causing him to fall against the wall. She then trained her weapon on Jessup as the rest of the AVTF and the SWAT team rolled into the house, both tending to and arresting Craddock and Jessup.

Outside of the house, as Pearl and Claudia looked at Jessup and Craddock- who would eventually survive the gunshot- being taken away, they couldn’t help but reflect on what happened.

“Are you okay?” Claudia asked, putting her hand on Pearl’s shoulder, Pearl having put her jacket and pants back on.
“Galla,” said Pearl smiling, “I’m always okay. I never worry about anything. Claudia was, though, considering she put Pearl in danger, but Pearl insisted on being a part of the sting, knowing that since most rapists would try to rape again, so would Jessup, and she was right. Did you guys get everything?”
“Yeah…the camera on the bottom of your gun worked real well…sometimes the jacket fibers got in the way but we got the audio clear and enough of a video to put away Stephen and Frederick for good.”
“Good…that’s all I want.” Pearl then let out a sigh.
“Julia, what is it?”
“I only wish Annie was here to see all this.”
Claudia let out a sigh of her own. “I know…I wish she was too.”

The two agents then shared a communal, wistful smile before going back to their cars to get back to the station.

October 19, 2014,
16:23 local time,
Virginia Beach Northern Cemetery,
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Bartlett stood in front of Annie Bellows’ grave pensively. Having wrapped up the case, the team attended Bellows’ funeral that morning, but Bartlett decided to stay behind. Thinking of Annie reminded him of his own sister, Florence, who, at 18, was just starting to delve into the dangerous world of dating, and would soon do that alone. He constantly worried about the guys Florence would meet, with Annie’s case reminding him that the threat of her meeting a guy who “wasn’t as nice as he seemed” being very real in his mind. Still, no matter how many times he thought to himself that Florence is old enough to make those choices on her own he still worried, if, for nothing else, as a brother it’s the only thing he knew what to do with his siblings.

As he looked at the tombstone, he noticed its many details. There was her name- “Bellows”- written in large letters at the bottom. Above was a large square, with its borders adorned with roses, with a polar bear engraved in a circle at the top, a symbol of Bellows’ favourite film, The Polar Express. The square itself was largely empty, since it would be used to include the story of Bellows’ life, as well as a description of the charity organization dedicated to helping rape survivors Bellows’ family planned to start in Bellows’ memory.

However, despite the blank slate and all the good that would come after the funeral, Bartlett stood there, thinking only of Bellows, and the ordeal that got her to this point. He was overcome with sadness, with thoughts racing through his head of the many things that could have been done for the case before Bellows committed suicide. He began to cry, sobbing audibly, even collapsing to his knees so that he could bury himself in his hands. These cases, thought Bartlett, they told me one day it would hit me, just how ‘real’ they are…well, this feels like a ton of bricks.

Eventually all Bartlett could hear in his head was Bellows shouting over and over “why aren’t you listening to me? Why didn’t anyone listen to me? I might still be alive you know…I might still be alive you know!” He continued sobbing, mouthing over and over to himself, “I know Annie…I know Annie…I wished things turned out differently.” After ten minutes of uninterrupted crying, Bartlett got up from his knees and picked up the roses he was going to leave in front of Bellows’ grave.

“You know Annie,” said Bartlett to himself, wistfully. “I hear ya…I hear that you wished someone had listened to you…well, know somebody did. I just wished you were alive to know that.” He then left the roses by her gravestone, sighed and walked away pensively. However, as he started to walk he noticed a light peek from the clouds, shining directly onto a red rose, signifying her favourite colour. He smiled, wistfully, thinking that maybe Bellows knew they’d solved her case all along.

October 20, 2014,
09:11 local time,
Galla Claudia’s Office,
FBII Headquarters,
Buffalo, Roman New York

“Hey Alexandra,” said Claudia, getting up to greet Hecata as she walked into her office. “Glad you could come today.”
“I’m glad you could see me so quickly,” said Hecata, shaking hands with Claudia and greeting her with a warm smile.
“Thomas has told me a lot about you…if I can do anything for a friend, I’ll gladly do it.”
Hecata smiled as she closed the door and assumed her seat in front of Claudia’s desk, as Claudia sat back down herself.

“I heard you guys managed to catch the uncatchable,” said Hecata with a smile. “I read the Stephen Jessup case with interest…I can’t believe how he managed to evade capture for so long.”
“Thank you,” said Claudia, smiling wistfully. “I’m glad we caught him too, but I always worry there’s others out there that we can’t get to.”
“Oh? How so?”
“I can’t help but think we got lucky…if Annie didn’t destroy Jim Schultz’s bust, we might not have had the break in the case needed to crack it.”
“Come on now…don’t beat yourself over it…you listened to Annie and dug for every morsel that you could. You pressed on when so many law enforcement officers would have given up…you probably saw it yourself with Annie’s case, all those detectives that concluded ‘he said/she said’ and just gave up. You refused, and saw past all that…you really should be proud of yourselves.”
“I guess…and, if our case helps other LEOs tackle rape easier, then all the better.” Claudia still let out a sigh because she still worried if she had, in fact, made things easier for future rape cases, but thought better of continuing the discussion.

“So,” Claudia said, shifting gears, “what brings you here?”
“Hearing that you guys solved a rape case made me wonder if you could help me with mine,” said Hecata. She then described the rape in great detail to Claudia, though she admitted some of her memories were a bit hazy in the eight years since the rape happened. When she was done, Claudia sat back in her chair, her eyes wide.

“Wow,” she said. “You poor thing…you’re very lucky that all he wanted was a trophy.”
“Don’t I know it,” said Hecata with a knowing chuckle. “I guess it makes sense…I mean, he got away, so there would have been no point to killing me.”
“I guess not…but still…you’re very fortunate.”
“Thank you.”
“I also have to say, I admire your bravery about being upfront about all this…I also note that you’re very well kept together despite your past…you’ve recovered well.”
Hecata let out another knowing chuckle. “Yeah I know…it’s strange. The world wants me to continue being the victim, and to always brood over what happened to me and feel hurt about it…but I made a decision I would not do that. Why? Because, if nothing else, that’s what the rapist wants…he wants me to be hurt…he wants me to be the victim and, most importantly, he wants me to keep on thinking of the attack, because that means I’m thinking of him and he gets control of me…and I don’t want that. I don’t want him to control me, because then that means he wins…and I won’t allow that.”
“Wow…I admire that courage…how’d you get through it? Did you get help?”
“Fortunately I had a loving family that I could talk to about anything, as well as friends that loved and cared for me…plus, my music is very therapeutic. So it didn’t take me long to get past my trauma…though I realize not everyone is that lucky. I think about Annie and how it seemed like no one wanted to help until it was too late.”
“Penny said she tried, as did her father…but there was only so much they could do. She needed real counselling, and it’s downright shameful that no one at the University or the Police thought to point her in that direction.” Claudia sighed again, as she often thought of the frustrations of the Bellows case and wished there was more she could have done for Annie when she was alive.
“Well, as long as you learn from Annie’s case and use it to improve further rape cases, then you’ve done your job. Annie may no longer be around, but at least she’ll know she didn’t die in vain.”
Claudia smiled. “You’re right.”

With that, the two of them talked productively about Hecata’s case, with Claudia having something to start an investigation of her own.

October 20, 2014,
10:10 local time,
Sea of Blue Warehouse,
Outskirts of Denver, Colorado

“You know,” said Blue, a large, muscular African-Albertan man with a deep baritone, dark sunglasses and a soul patch. “If there’s one thing I don’t like, I don’t like it when things are messy.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” said Hubert Cumberbatch, a skinny, babyfaced man whose eyes were wide and his mannerisms as twitchy as his hair was wild. “I…I know exactly what you mean.” Cumberbatch looked at Blue, terrified at his sight and laughed nervously to hide the fact he was hyperventilating profusely.
Blue was unyielding, ruffling his suede jacket before looking Cumberbatch in the eye and putting his hand on the terrified youngster’s shoulder and gripping it tightly, clenching his grip every so often. “Then you know what I do to people who leave me a mess, right?”
“Um, um…” Cumberbatch, feeling the pangs of pain in his shoulder as Blue’s hand pressed on it, started to twitch more noticeably than usual, with sweat beginning to ooze out of his pores at a frightening rate. “Please sir…don’t worry…I…I can handle it.”
Blue released his grip, which caused Cumberbatch to stumble forward. “All right then…mop this up, will you?”
Cumberbatch nodded “yes” nervously, saluting Blue as he walked towards his mop bucket and put the mop inside the ringer to begin his job, where someone working overnight at the bottled water storage facility had spilled an entire case of water and hadn’t bothered to clean it up.

Blue smiled, proud of Cumberbatch, though he rarely let him know that lest it get to the young adult’s head. I like that kid…one day, he’ll be something special. It was here that Blue received a phone call.

“Blue speaking,” said Blue into his phone.
“Danforth Grayson is out of jail,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.
“What? I thought the Romans got him.”
“That’s not our only problem…after letting go of Danny, they brought Freddy in.”
“They got Freddy? That’s no good.”
“So what do we do now?”
Blue sighed, frustrated at the thought of what he had to do next.
“Blue, are you still there?
“Yes I’m still there…I’m just frustrated that now I gotta deal with both Danny and the Romans…well, if they wanted a war, they’re sure going to get it.”

Blue ended the call, his worries only beginning and looked longingly at Cumberbatch, his janitor, gleefully mopping the water. Oh, he thought, if only my worries were as small as his…

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”- Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture (2008)