Rey Bryant wiped the perspiration off of her forehead and concentrated on slowing down her respiration rate as Sutter flinched at the sound of the barking dog inside and knocked on the little white door again. She glanced over her shoulder at the rest of her team as they waited for an answer.
Hurst was fiddling with his gun as usual. Aceveds had broken formation and was staring off sleepily into the distance. At least Mullen was alert and ready to back up her team leader should this fact-finding mission turn ugly. The last thing Bryant wanted to do was report another casualty to her boss. This was supposed to be a peacekeeping tour of duty, not the bloodbath it had turned into with the death of Melvin Watts and the fiasco with the Swood brothers a few nights earlier.
The door creaked open just far enough for a thin, brown, frowning face to peek out. Based on the grey streaks in her hair Rey guessed the woman peeking out at them was in her late 40s or early 50s, but it was hard to determine how old some of these hillbillies were. They bred fast, died young, and were so uneducated and suspicious of outsiders that Rey doubted any of them had ever seen a proper doctor or had any interest in preventing the diseases they carelessly spread. Rey introduced herself and asked if she and her team could come inside. With Hurst’s and Aceveds’ help this was more of a command than a request.
“We’re here to ask for your assistance in a troubling matter,” Rey said. Perhaps diplomacy would work better than the more aggressive tactics that killed off half of Alvarez’s team. “One of our soldiers was found dead at your neighbour’s house, and we want to know what happened.”
“We don’t know anything about that,” Isaac said. Rey had nearly memorized the scant reports about the younger of Daphne’s two children, but he spoke so infrequently that the psychological profile of him was almost certainly incorrect. Their software had found it much easier to predict how Ephraim could be expected to act in an unexpected situation, and even though his possibly violent tendencies were concerning at this moment Rey wished the algorithm could have predicted something about this man-child.
“We mean you no harm,” Rey said as she flexed her calf and felt the cool, hard edge of the blade hidden underneath her pants dig into her skin. Something metallic in Mullen’s pocket made a soft clanking sound as she shifted position behind her commander. “But we have reason to believe that you or someone in this house knows what happened that night.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t.” Isaac said. Once again Rey wished her Reader was still working. The technology was still in its infancy and it wasn’t always correct, but the ability to surreptitiously scan a suspect for small changes in posture, vital statistics, and facial expressions would sure come in handy right about now. Her intel suggested that Isaac was more empathetic than the average person, not less, and she suspected that if he was lying about what he knew the stress of it would be affecting something in his physiology.
“Can I offer you something to drink?” Daphne asked. Yes, this was a good indication that the personality profile of her was correct. It had predicted she’d be initially taken aback by such a visit, but she would quickly regroup and offer the team a small sign of hospitality.
“Yes, please,” Aceveds said. Tension always dried out his mouth, and at the moment his tongue felt like it was wrapped in cotton.
“No, Ma’am,” Rey said as she rubbed her nose and glanced sharply at her newest team member. “Thank you for your hospitality, but we have a long list of houses to visit tonight and we still have questions to ask you.” Ephraim
“We’re happy to help,” Daphne said, “but as my son told you none of us know anything about what happened to your soldier. I’d be happy to bring it up at the next council meeting, though.” This was a surprise! All of Rey’s intel indicated that Daphne was not well-connected to the surrounding community. There had apparently been several instances of her flagrantly breaking the rules, and some of Rey’s sources said the twins were rumoured to have been conceived in an adulterous affair that had been exposed in a controversial manner. Either way it didn’t seem like a good idea to arrest this woman without concrete proof of what had happened.
Daphne’s answers to the next few questions about what everyone was doing the night of Watts’ murder were short, polite, and almost too detailed. Rey’s sources agreed that Daphne was an expert at slipping out of punishments and talking other people into seeing things her way. It was one of the reasons why she was so disliked by certain families in Mingus.
Isaac, though, was a different story. When the signal was given Rey’s team snapped into focus and prepared for the worst. Even Aceveds stayed in proper formation for once.
“We’ll need to take your son in for further questioning,” Rey said. Daphne felt her heart drop so fast she thought it would plunge through her diaphram.”We have some equipment that can help us get to the bottom of what really happened.”
“No, you can’t!”
Hurst straightened his posture and contracted the muscles in his stomach in order to feel the firearm nestled by his right hip. It was about time Rey skipped over the gooey diplomacy and got to the good stuff.
“I promise you’ll have him home safe soon. There is no need to escalate this situation.” Rey lifted the edge of her shirt to reveal a gleam of metal in the soft evening light. Ephraim crossed his arms and clenched his fists as Daphne slowly opened the door and watched her youngest child march away with strangers.