2007-03-24: Not Guilty By Reason Of Mental Defect


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The twins Jones discuss the burglary and averted arson of the family store. What already hits too close to home becomes even worse when Nima details what Ramon relayed. Uneasy about how and why they've become involved in the plans of a serial killer, the first decision (of what will be many) is made.

Date It Happened: March 24, 2007

Not Guilty By Reason Of Mental Defect

East Village, NYC — The Jones Residence

Lee comes over after school with his bag stuffed full of papers to grade from the post-Easter quiz. "It's me," he calls out. "What the hell happened down there? Smash and grab by some maniac who thought the 'varieties of kryptonite' display was emeralds and rubies?"

Turns out that the emergency window repair didn't have what she was looking for, so now a large sheet of wood has been rigged as a stand-by. With the metal 'shades' that have been added, plus an update to the outside shop gate, the store really isn't in much danger of being burglarized. Not nowadays, anyway. 10 years ago might be a different story. 15 definitely would. "I really don't know where to begin, to be honest, apart from nothing was stolen." Nima even did inventory… right after she retrieved — with a cloth — the handgun slug that she found… which was right before she very carefully moved — also with a cloth — the handgun it came from. "It's weird but not Cass weird."

Lee says, "What's the story? It looks like Baltimore in the 80s down there. Try the beginning." He flops down into 'his' chair and fusses with his papers and a red pen. Every teacher's got a favorite red pen.

Start at the beginning? Okay. Nima goes to the desktop that catches the multiple feeds of shop surveillance that are continuously recorded and manually burned to back-ups. Truth be told, it's a /really/ sweet set-up that she has running from downstairs to upstairs 'cos, really, she's /very/ tech savvy. The proper section has already been cued to be viewed. As for current events, Tito is on-shift — and it looks like Milo, who is a strapping guy, is also there. Good enough for the shop owner. "Here," she says, ready to give the blow-by-blow commentary.

Lee observes the rising action, as the Cake video says, with a dubious expression. At first sign of break-in he looks at her with a decidedly "What the hell?" expression. "Who's /this/ asshole?" he asks.

It shows glass shattering and one Ramon Gomez entering through the new opening, placing a gun in a holster that is hidden within his coat. Not much of a leap to conclude that he shot his way in.

It shows him crawling about and taping a /plastic/ lightsaber over what he believes to be a motion sensor.

It shows a curly-haired woman taking him somewhat by surprise with her unexpected arrival.

It shows them both frozen at the sight of a third figure soon enough standing outside the shop. A somewhat heavy-set man with a drawn down baseball cap and gun leveled at the Ramon. Someone who ultimately does not shoot and instead runs away, dropping a canister of gas.

Zooms are used to excellent effect in this segment, although the man of mystery's face is pretty much obscured by the angle, his hat, and the onslaught of rain outside. Also, at this point, the tape is paused.

"His name is Ramon Gomez," Nima replies. "He's an IT specialist at RTS. He also says that he's tracking the serial killer that murdered his wife and that his most recent lead led him to the shop. He had a half-burnt Lair business card that he claims he got from Ameera Natal. He's convinced that the fire at Sousa is related. Plus, supposedly, the man who ran away was there to burn down the store."

Lee says, "What a loony tune. A serial killer? I'm guessing the FBI won't return his calls….wait, he mentioned the school fire? Ameera…why would she have a Lair card? She's the school administrative assistant. Unless you brought a bunch to the school to stick up on the bulletin board in the front hall the last time you came to visit that dump?"

Nima's reply is a shake of her head. "I assumed she had it 'cos you placed it in your file for emergency contact info and that she removed it, intending to call, but then got distracted, put it in her desk drawer, and then forgot about it." That sure as heck is a more probable scenario than anything Ramon was alluding to. "He also said that some personnel files were taken. All of the letter N and part of O." So, with J still there, why the frak go to the shop? Srsly. "And he says that the heavy-set man that was outside the shop that night, supposedly to burn it down, was seen at the school on the day of the fire." And only when she relays that does the arson connection click in her mind.

Lee says, "I didn't use a card. I don't tell anyone I'm connected to that place. But maybe something like that." He hasn't admitted any connection to the Lair since he was ten. He even tried to go by a fake name for a while. It didn't work. "So he's a firebug /and/ a serial killer? Why would someone go after the school personnel files? The sad sacks and dumbasses /I/ work with…?"

"I dunno," Nima says. "Ramon mentioned something about pure and virtuous women. Good women. I got the impression that he meant religiously devout women. Speaking of which…" At this point, she goes for her PowerBook, which is hooked-up to the surround sound speakers and is running Logic 7. "He made me listen to this message. The Janica in question is supposedly Janica Morris. Y'know, the Reverend's wife who offed herself on church grounds, last month? Ruled as a suicide?" Play is pressed.

"Hello, Jancia. Happy Belated Valentine's Day." The voice is deep, and gravelly, the whispery quality giving it a smoky, but sinister quality. The voice is definitely a man's.

"Our hope of immortality does not come from any religions, but nearly all of those religions come from that hope," the voice continues. "I am calling you today because you and I are to embark upon our Grail Quest together for, after all, those whosoever believe in Him would achieve eternal life. We will help each other to that end by a fruitful exchange of favors. I will provide you with the means to achieve your own immortality, while in the methodology of you doing so, you will help me achieve mine."

"I am ever so grateful for the assistance you have bestowed upon my associate," continues the voice. "You are indeed, a spiritually beautiful woman and your altruistic nature would have been, perhaps, the key to saving this world. I am afraid I am a selfish creature after all, and your sacrifice today would not be saving the world, but me. There is a box in your husband's office I want you to have. It contains within it a token of my appreciation, and I would very much like you to wear it."

"You will sit in front of your husband's desk, and with the knife I have provided, you will insert it into your beating, gracious heart. As you feel your life slipping away from your lips like gossamer wings, I would like for you to think about your soul, the time that you could have had remained upon this cursed Earth, and find joy and relishment in the idea that in your death, you are saving a life."

"Goodbye, Jancia."

Lovely, innit?

"I've been trying to analyze for background noises, distortion effects, and other clue-like things. All I can say is that weird stuff is going on with his voice. I'm talkin' /seriously/ weird. The sound patterns can't be duplicated or created. And I've /tried/. I'm considering asking someone at the 9th to take a listen."

As for more philosophical points: "No doubt, you recognize the Ingersoll quote." How does she know the source, though? Oh, she could've Googled it, like most people. Or learned it in college, like her brother did. Instead, she first read it in an RPG book. They are so fond of starting chapters with quotes. Subsequently, she thought it was cool and read more from and about the former Colonel.

What Lee has said about the shop has not escaped her, though. It just is not being addressed. Yet.

Lee says, "Yeah, Ingersoll, but wait, go back a little. This guy who came breaking in looking for this arsonist gave you that recording? Saying the arsonist is this serial killer that talked the woman into killing herself. What do you mean there's something you can't replicate about it, I mean…voicemail isn't some high-end digital archive. Even if this dude has some kind of low frequency, subliminal X-Files nonsense, or is masking the message somehow, how can that get across in /voicemail/?"

"Janica Morris' husband found it on her voicemail, after she was already dead. Which, to me, seems shady." In what way? "I think Ramon is on-the-level, /in his/ mind. It's evident that he's stressed and suffering from the loss of his own wife, which happened 3 years ago. And he definitely has something of a paranoid streak and crucifiction complex about not having the cops or the DA believe him that her death was murder and not a suicide. To be honest, in his current mental and emotional state, it is extremely possible that — if there really is some conniving killer responsible — Ramon is being played for a crusading fool and is in no condition to recognize that the leads he's been finding may have been specifically placed for him and with dubious purposes."

"Aaaanyhow," Nima continues, "The Reverend let Ramon forward that message to his own voicemail. And when he had me listen to it in his own voicemail, I forwarded it to mine and then ported it into Logic." Ah, the beauty of Bluetooth technology. What happens next is a mild rolling of her deep blue eyes. "Yeah, 'cos, y'know, X-Files nonsense is /exactly/ what I was looking for. Now, check this…" she goes on, gesturing for her brother to take a look at the frequency captures. "/That/ is not normal." And even Lee could see what she means by strangeness. "And if it /is/ some kind of subliminal, super-hypnosis," which, hey, it could be, "this goes back to what I said before: this could be a false lead." Which, y'know, it could be without the possibility of subliminal, super-hypnosis.

Lee says, "It's clearly not the first message he's left for her, not the first communication he's had with her, so yeah. It could just be a charismatic guy overwhelming a disturbed woman." He wrinkles his nose at the screen. "That is weird. Not sure what it means." He looks back at Nima. "So, once the cops ran this Ramon guy in, that's when you got his story?" he asks.

Yeahhh. About that… "They didn't run him in." What? All will be explained. Just, y'know, not necessarily to Lee's satisfaction. For a moment, Nima considers playing the rest of the tape and decides against it. Knowing her brother will really flip — as opposed to the more standard flippage — if he isn't given more, she nonchalantly adds, "He was especially cooperative once I confiscated his gun and the boys in blue arrived."

Lee says, "So that /was/ a gunshot at the beginning. How did they not run him in if he had a gun?"

It's a good thing that Nima was still awake, being that she typically can sleep through things like gunshots and sirens. The store alarm feed into her room, though, might actually rouse her. And if not, the way it's configured is enough to rile the dog in a manner to wake her up in the most effective bark-bark-whine-whine-nudge-nudge-tug-tug-facelick-facelick-jump-all-over-the-bed-until-the-unresponsive-human-wakes-up way. To answer Lee's question, though, all is said is, "Check the freezer."

Lee doesn't. He knows what's there. Sometimes twin moments work /against/ them. He says, "You kept it? What the hell for, are you crazy? This guy busts in with a /gun/, intending to commit a murder on your premises and you make yourself an accessory?"

It sounds so much worse — and stupid — when Lee explains it. All Nima knows is that she was trusting her gut, which, sadly, may have been nothing more than unconsciously acting appropriately comic bookish. Somehow, she just /knew/ the gun was illegal and getting Ramon busted struck her as the wrong thing to do. She did eventually find the slug and casing, which she carefully wrapped, while wearing gloves, and put aside — and will give to the cops. And it's all the kind of oversight that happens when the local police take the word of a 'victim' that they like, know and trust. Besides, they even came by to lift prints from the counter 'cos Nima asked, and nothing turned-up in the data banks. True enough, she could probably concoct a story that the 9th would buy. Just as true, she probably would fail in selling it, being that she really rather sucks at lying. "I'm not good at multi-tasking."

Judge: How does the Defendant plea?

Defense Counsel: Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Defect.

Lee shakes his head, leaning back in his chair, just staring at his twin sister for a long moment. "You /are/ going to turn it in at some point. Not just keep it in the freezer next to the popsicle molds in the shape of famous imaginary spacetravellers," he says. "This guy must have really sold you a sob story."

"It's just… it's some things that he said — and did." Notwithstanding the Transmutation Circle talisman appealing to her sense of geekey, a few ideas clung to her unwitting unconscious. "I overheard them when they were trying to leave. And there is /no way/ they knew I was there." And what she heard causes a furrowing of her brow. "It's all on the tape," she explains, "but the short end of it was that he was talking about Sousa, and the fire, and he was looking at the photo I keep of mom and pops on-display behind the main counter… and then he was telling the woman with him that the heavy-set man they thought originally was the killer was actually a puppet, and that he was someone who would've been really upset once he 'woke-up' and realized that he'd burned down the store, and that /that/ guy was an unwitting puppet, who was under some semblance of mind-control and had to be helped…" It all comes out in one long, run-on sentence.

"Look," Nima is clearly upset, even a little emotional, "I don't like it. I don't like that your school was set on-fire. I don't like that the business card was some kind of plant to bring Ramon to the store, that night. I don't like that /maybe/, although I really don't think that's the case, Ramon is playing me instead of being played by someone else. I don't like," and this part is a HUGE understatement, "anyone breaking into the store, feeling the need to break into the store, talking about or intending to burn down the store, or otherwise hitting too close to home. And I /really/ don't like the idea that someone might be trying to send us into a tailspin." The parents gone was hard enough. She took it as well as she did because there was still the shop, which was so very much them. Never did it cross her mind that the place might ever be destroyed. And if something were to happen to Lee…

"But if what he said was true — about his wife and the other victims — then, yeah, that /is/ really sad and unfortunate." Just maybe not enough to move even kind-hearted Nima as much as she's been affected.

Lee listens. "…I agree. It's got to have something to do with us, it's just too much a coincidence otherwise, and it /can't/ be good, but what could possibly come of it? I mean, this serial killer is after women, and he may have people working for or with him voluntarily or by force or coercion or…" Mind control. "…or whatever, but why target us? The store keeps barely in the black, I make about as much as a high-end waiter." He rubs his mouth and looks away, which means he's thinking about their parents. "Maybe I should contact Aceveda again, see if there's any…changes," he mumbles uncertainly. He went a long time after Nima let it go.

She may have let go of the investigation but, in her own way, she clung as desperately to their parents as much as her brother did. "Yeah," she murmurs. The woman has a scary knack for tactics and strategy. Up until this very moment, though, it has never been applied to anything other than games. When finally forced to examine all possible angles in a matter so personal and destructive, Nima's insightfulness and imagination fervently scrutinize countless scenarios, which leaves her triple-guessing quadruple double-crosses. It is not at all pretty. What makes it all the worse is that she knows it's happening and she's helpless in shutting down the process. Aceveda, though, sounds like a good idea, and this brings some semblance of relief, which results in a vaguely melancholy look of gratitude that is flashed at Lee.

Lee smiles back at her rather wanly. "That's just a guess," he confesses. "We both know Aceveda is going to say there's no changes. There's got to be another angle on this that we're not seeing." He pauses. "We've got this Ramon over a barrel as long as we have the gun he was carrying. And the tape."

Faintly, Nima nods. No more guesses. No more angles. She can't handle it, right now. If she were to start thinking about it, she'd be hard-pressed to stop. The permutations she'd conceive would be practically endless. And she outright refuses to let the onslaught of plot point possibilities barrage her any further. Lee, however, has limited himself to listing their resources and current options. This is much needed structure and focus that Nima is painfully lacking. Feeling overwhelmed, she moves to hug her brother the way one lost twin seeks the guidance of the other — and the way orphaned siblings tightly bind.

Lee hugs her back, without reservation. "…It's okay, it's going to be okay," he says. "We'll work it out. You'll make it right with the police, they'll protect you. You make them those crazy Greek cookies. Nobody's going to set the place on fire, and if they did, it's all insured, it would be back to normal before you knew it." Big brother stuff.

Maybe her brother is right. Even if he isn't, Nima is going to believe him, anyway. She sniffles a little, those deep blue eyes of hers gleaming with barely held in-check tears. After a long moment, she finally asks, "How would you feel if it was all lost?" The entire building could've gone up in flames. The shop. The apartment. The places they grew-up in and still live in. Lee has no qualms or hesitations in denouncing The Secret Lair, which has long been the not at all secret recipient of his scorn. Without a second thought (or so it always seemed to his sister), he didn't hesitate in leaving everything behind. Deep down, she's even convinced that if their parents were still around, Lee would still be maintaining his self-righteous, self-imposed exile.

Lee knows she doesn't want a fight, so he says, "Of course, I'd miss this place, but it's not going to happen, so don't worry. Don't worry. The main thing is that you're safe and okay. That's all that matters to me," urgently, holding her shoulders in his hands.

No, Nima doesn't want a fight. What she wants is something her brother is unwilling or unable to give her. While she knows he's not lying about his care or concern for her, she also knows that he's sidestepping the issue. Maybe he really isn't just protesting too much, though. Maybe he really means all the scathing things he's said over the years. Maybe, if he had his way, their childhood would have been entirely different and all the things that she loves and he apparently despises would never have transpired. They would not exist. Their parents would not be their parents. Their home would not be their home. It would all be something entirely else. And that just breaks her heart.

All she does, though, is nod a little and play the role of good sister. She doesn't speak of any of it, knowing that Lee has been suffering despite all that he feels has been a total waste. Nima even manages to quirk a small smile, for his benefit. "I know," she says, which is true enough. With one final, definitive sniffle, she then adds, "I should head out. Tito finishes his shift in a bit and I want take Chewie to the park before taking over."

Lee says, "I'll come with." Anything to avoid the papers he's got in his briefcase - he is an unhappy man in many ways. And the two of them could hardly fathom the changes that would surely come. "We'll grab takeout?" Even eat it at the counter with her, in the place he blames for the upbringing she loved and he hated.

Perhaps she also wishes some things were different. After all, Lee will just snicker and snark in the shop. Even so, Nima tells him, "Sure." Even if he's unhappy to be there, it wouldn't be the same if he weren't.

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