J.J. came back to herself to find she was looking into a pair of pale green eyes suspended in fuzz that resolved itself into a vision of a woman with a look of concerned concentration on her kind, round face. She had a broad, strong nose, soft-looking, brown skin, and dark hair pulled out in two puffs that seemed to catch strands of light in tight orbits around them.
“Are you an angel?” she asked. Her mouth, uncooperative at the best of times, felt sluggish and unresponsive.
“What?” the maybe-angel said. “Did you say…”
She could hear Susan’s voice, amid others, somewhere far off and possibly underwater. She couldn’t make out the words, but it had the cadence of “Oh, thank goodness!”
“What…” J.J. said.
Her vision continued to clear, until she was seeing with startling, hyper-real clarity the contours of the woman’s face, the winged splash of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the concern in her eyes.
The impression of a halo around her receded. The impression that she was an angel did not.
The ringing in J.J.’s ears subsided. She’d expected it to be replaced with silence, but sound came back at normal volume. The gallery echoed with the sounds of multiple voices and much activity: heavy footfalls on tile, shouted instructions. She lifted her head and looked around: a couple uniformed police, crime scene investigators in their vests.
“Hey, you just stay still, okay?” the green-eyed woman said with gentle firmness. There was an almost musical lilt to her precise staccato speech. She pulled out a pen light and checked something about J.J.’s eyes. It was bright, but not painfully so. Maybe it was a special kind of medical light?
J.J. could now see that the angel wore a navy blue blazer like Susan and the docents did, but with a pin showing a heart overlaid with a caduceus on the breast. J.J. gulped, focusing her gaze on the woman’s speckled face when she realized how much of her blouse wasn’t covering her blouse area—one of the more ample features on her already ample figure—as she leaned over more.
“Is your mouth dry?” the woman asked with a tone that was not just calm, but calming. “Does your throat hurt?”
It took J.J. a moment or two, probably shorter on the outside than it felt on the inside, to realize that these were questions that required answers and not just soothing sounds to settle back down into.
“What? Um, no,” she said. She worked her lips, tried to swallow again on purpose, considered her answer. “I mean, maybe? A bit?”
It seemed to her that her mouth was dry, and getting drier. Was that bad? It seemed like it must be… and worse, the longer she looked into those pale green eyes, the drier her mouth seemed. Her tongue was thick and heavy, just about stuck to the bottom of her mouth.
“Are you dizzy?”
“I’m getting there,” J.J. said. She could smell something, baby powder maybe. The floor was hard against her back, but that didn’t bother her. It had to literally be stone cold, but she didn’t feel it.
The woman, who J.J. had now worked out was some sort of medical professional, put two fingers to the artery in her neck.
“Your pulse is stronger,” she said. “A lot stronger. You’re still a little out of it. I don’t like the look of your eyes.”
“Really? Because yours are super,” J.J. said.
“Hey, just hang on, okay? An ambulance is supposed to be on its way,” the woman said in a tone of voice that suggested she was somehow skeptical about this. “You know what happened to you?”
“Explosion,” J.J. said. “The bronze… bull thing?”
“You saw who did this?” said an unsmiling white man who radiated plainclothes cop so hard even J.J. could see it. He’d appeared so quickly in her field of vision that he might have teleported. “Did you know him? Could you describe him? Did he have… powers?”
“No, yes, I don’t know,” J.J. said, trying to sit up.
“Ma’am, please lie still,” the medic said, pushing her gently back down. “You could have a concussion.”
“…if I try really hard and believe in myself?” J.J. said, almost automatically.
“Wait, which is it?” the cop said. “Yes, no, or you don’t know? You keep changing.”
“Sir, if you could please give her some space?” the medic said. “This young woman is very confused.”
“That’s normal?” J.J. said.
“You asked her three questions, Einstein!” Susan called from the edge of the room, where she was talking to another detective. “She answered them!”
“Oh,” the cop said. “Right. Well, here’s another question: what were you doing in the museum so close to closing?”
“Looking at the exhibit?” J.J. said.
“I told you! She’s a regular,” Susan said. “She came here for the exhibit that’s closing. Listen, she’s a smart kid. You just have to know how to talk to her. Ask her exactly what you want to know.”
“I think I’m talking to her just fine,” the cop said. He looked at J.J. “Maybe you come here so often because you’re casing the joint.”
“Oh, wow,” J.J. marveled. “Do police really talk like that? ‘Case the joint’? That’s not just a TV thing?”
“Hey, that’s some lip you have,” the detective said.
“Thanks. I have another one kind of like it, but upside down and shaped different?” J.J. said. “That’s technically true no matter which lip you’re talking about.”
“It’s not lip,” Susan said desperately.
“No, it totally is?” J.J. said, touching her mouth. “Lips. Two of them.”
“She’s very literal!” Susan said. “You have to know her.”
“You need to lie still and let me do my job, okay?” the medic said to her. She turned to the detective. “Can we maybe take this down a notch? This woman has a severe concussion, and who knows what other injuries. She could have swelling in her brain, okay?”
“That would explain a lot,” the detective muttered. “Starting with the haircut.”
“I am fine, really?” J.J. said.
“You should be in an ambulance already,” the medic said. She said something in rapid-fire Spanish. J.J. didn’t really have an ear for spoken languages; her own was hard enough. The woman sounded pretty hecking steamed about something, though. “Why is it taking so long?”
“Problem with the motorcade has the Artery cut off completely,” someone said. “First one got stuck in gridlock before they realized. Replacement is coming from St. Vincent’s, now ten minutes out.”
“I am fine! Really!” J.J. repeated.
“You are not, really,” the medic said. “Your speech is slurred…”
“That’s just how I talk?” J.J. said.
“Well, your pupils are totally… the exact… same… size?”
“Are they not supposed to be?” J.J. asked.
“They are,” the medic said. “They weren’t. And I swear your swelling has gone down.”
“Well, that’s good, too, isn’t it?”
“So, I’m fine and I can sit up without you shoving me the heck back down?” J.J. said, then regretted it.
“I… guess so? But you really should let a doctor check you out.”
“Isn’t that you?”
“Registered nurse,” she said.
“Why does a museum have a nurse?”
“Insurance. It’s cheaper to have me on the payroll than not. You didn’t question the museum having a doctor?”
“Hey, go easy on me,” J.J. said. She winced at how whiny she sounded, even to herself, and rubbed her head. “I think I might have a concussion.”
“Kid, please don’t joke about that,” the nurse said.
“If you’re good enough to ask questions, you’re good enough to answer them,” the detective said. “Start with why you’ve got what looks like a mask around your neck.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s just a balaclava!” Susan said. “Anyone can see that!”
“Ski mask,” J.J. said. She pulled it off and held it up so he could see it. The convertible mask consisted of multiple pieces of smooth fabric joined together so it could be folded or pulled to cover anything from almost the entire head except the eyes to just the mouth and nose.
“Oh. Well, that’s not suspicious,” the detective said.
“I know, right?” J.J. said. “But most people just give me sketchy looks when they see it?”
“Are you being sarcastic right now?” the detective said.
“No? Oh. Were you being sarcastic before?” J.J. said. “I’m not so good at telling?”
“How about you can the comedy, and explain the mask,” the detective said. “And quit mumbling, while you’re at it! You sound like you’ve got a load of marbles in your mouth. Got one of those tongue rings, I’m sure.”
“That’s just my voice!” J.J. said, raising it and speaking a bit slower.
“Detective, the girl clearly has a speech impediment,” Susan said, with a tone of indulgence barely concealing withering impatience. “And it’s November. If she had a scarf instead, would you think anything of it?”
“Maybe if she wasn’t wearing spandex gloves with it,” the detective said.
“They’re not gloves!” J.J. said. She lifted her layers of shirts. “It’s a whole bodysuit. See? I’ve been wearing it for two weeks. Keeps the cold out?”
“It’s not even that cold out,” the detective said.
“It’s a bit cold in here,” J.J. said. She was aware of coolness, but strangely unbothered by it. “Well, not cold, exactly. Airy?”
“Go figure. November or not, I don’t like masks in my town,” the detective said.
“Oh, dude. I have some bad news for you about October,” J.J. said.
“That is some delirium,” the nurse said. She laughed nervously “She probably doesn’t realize who she’s talking to.”
“I think she knows,” the detective said. “I just don’t think she cares. This kind of banter is consistent with a certain disregard for authority and the rule of law some individuals are known to show. Well, listen up, chuckles: Calvary Crossing has never been a cape town, and we’ve got along just fine with regular cops and regular crooks.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you’re talking to a child!” the medic said.
“I’m seriously not?” J.J. said. “I’m a for-real grown woman, seriously! The admission stub is a mistake.”
“Look at the facts from my point of view,” the detective said. “There’s an explosion at a museum only there’s no bomb casing, no debris, not even a blast pattern… just a lot of noise and displays thrown everywhere. The only person on the scene has gloves and a mask…”
“In November,” Susan said again.
“And then there’s that.” The detective pointed to the side of the room, and J.J. realized why it was so drafty in the hall: a hole had been blasted through the thick granite wall of the museum.
“Now, I know damned well that once certain parties catch wind of this, the word’s going to come on down that nothing very interesting happened here and it’ll all be covered up. The experts will conclude that the bomb that supposedly blew up here—leaving you completely unhurt and most of the items it scattered unbroken—somehow punched clean through three feet of granite over there, because no one really wants to admit what’s really happening to this city.”
“Surely you can’t think that J.J. had anything to do with it,” Susan said. “She’s the victim here! She was hurt in the attack!”
“She was out cold when I got here,” the nurse said.
“Yeah, and now you say she checks out okay,” the detective said. “And she’s carrying a mask.”
“Sweet almond pretzels, it’s just a dang ski mask!” J.J. yelled, her voice cracking. “For the cold? Look, you want to ask questions, I’ll answer questions. You want to know what the guy looked like? I’ll tell you what the guy looked like, distinguishing characteristics and whatnot and everything. But if you’re going to act like I’m suspect number one or something, we can do it with a lawyer present, and I’m sure that’ll be harder.”
“You should really have a lawyer with you anyway,” the nurse said. “Anytime you talk to the police. It’s your civil right. Don’t they teach you anything?”
“Doesn’t who teach me anything?” J.J. said.
“Anyone?” the nurse said.
“I guess not?” J.J. said, getting to her feet. “Good thing I’ve got you to teach me. Sorry, Detective, but I can’t talk to you without a lawyer. That’s medical advice. I can’t ignore that.”
“If you’re going to start taking advice,” the nurse said, “then you can please sit down and wait for the ambulance.”
“Can you just cancel it?” J.J. said. Her insurance hadn’t kicked in yet, and while she imagined the museum would have some liability, she was afraid the bill might get kicked back and forth a few times before it was settled. “I’m fine.” She looked at the detective. Her head was starting to catch up to what was happening, and she realized she had read a few things about dealing with the police. “If I’m not being detained, detective, then my lawyer will be in touch so that we may help you with your inquiries.”
“Alright, alright!” the detective said, throwing up his hands. “How’s about we both drop our respective tough guy acts and you just give me your statement while it’s still fresh?”
“Am I free to go?” J.J. asked. Her experience with the police was limited, but once the nurse had prompted her, she was starting to remember advice she’d read and shared online.
“Yes. Sure. Whatever. It’s a free country and you’re free as a bird,” he said. “Now, you want to freely give a statement and help us out?”
“I’ll talk to anyone who isn’t you,” she said. “As long as I don’t have to go to the hospital?”
“Fine. Somebody cancel the EMTs. Geisler!” he said, waving at a uniformed cop. “Get over here and take our star witness’s statement”
He did, and she filled in as much detail as she could about the guy’s looks as she could remember.
“Military green?” he repeated when she described his attire. “Like camo? Was he in uniform? Hunting gear?”
“No, just sort of like business casual fascist?” she said. “Nothing on him said military, but everything about him sort of whispered that he’d like to have been?”
“Like a militia type?” Geisler asked.
“I don’t know, we didn’t exchange political views or anything,” J.J. said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised? He gave off some seriously sketchy energy.”
“Did he have anything with him in the way of equipment? Anything that might have let him do… that?” Geisler pointed at the hole in the wall.
“No,” she said, frowning as she pieced the conversation together again in her head. “The way he was talking, I don’t think he could do that, before. He was more concerned about getting in than getting out… he said that if he could get to ‘his prize’ then no one could stop him.”
“Christ!” the detective said from nearby, where he’d been listening quietly up until that point. “I knew it. A fucking supervillain in Calvary Crossing.”
“And it’s not me,” J.J. said.
“But you fought him,” he said. “And you’ve got a mask. What’s that make you?”
“In the wrong place at the wrong time?” J.J. said. “I’m pretty hecking sure he wasn’t ‘super’ when I tangled with him. He was trying to like, twist open the statue or something, and when he did, it… changed? Somehow. And then exploded. And that’s the last thing I saw before I woke up. Do you believe me or not?”
“Not sure I believe you just said ‘hecking’, but the rest, sure. So far. You give Officer Geisler your name and address?”
“Yes, sir,” Geisler said.
“Yeah?” she said.
“Real one?” he said. He reached for the clipboard where the officer had written it down. “Ms. Jennifer Joy Masterson. 2222 The Heights. The Heights?”
“Yeah. Big ol’ dang painted lady dollhouse, right off Park Court?” J.J. said. “Wrought iron fence and a big lawn, and everything.”
“Bullshit! You somebody’s kid?”
“My parents?” J.J. said. “Oh! But it’s not their house, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No shit. At that address, it’d have to be their mansion.”
“Yeah, it’s a mansion, but it’s also a co-op. See, a bunch of dirty hippies and queermos pooled their money together and bought it at an estate auction.”
“Queermos, even. Are you for real, kid?”
“As far as I know?” J.J. said. “I feel a little… off, right now?”
“What do the neighbors think of your little social justice collective?”
“You know, I don’t think they really approve? They don’t think we should be living up on the Fort any more than you do.”
“They’ll like it even less when we park a cruiser in front of your house and haul you out of it,” the detective said. “Which I will do, if any part of your story doesn’t check out. Your description’s a good start, especially with that scar, but will you come down to the station and sit with a sketch artist while it’s still fresh in your head?”
“I’m not coming in without a lawyer,” J.J. said.
“I work tomorrow,” J.J. said. “But he should be on tape?”
“Should be,” the detective said. “Isn’t. We’ll try to clean them up, but there are… issues… with the video.” He waved a hand at Susan. “You and Ms. Miller are maybe the only ones who know what this guy looks like. She just saw a man come in. You’re the only one who can both describe him and put him in this room.”
“Okay. Give me a card. My lawyer will be in touch.”
“Where you going to find a lawyer?”
“I thought I’d try across the hall from my room,” she said. “But I’ll go downstairs if I have to. Do I get a card, or what?”
“Here’s your fucking card,” the detective said. He handed her a card that identified him as Detective Francis X. Gilbert of the CCPD.
“That’s rough, buddy,” J.J. said, reading it. “Do your friends call you Francis or Gilbert? I think I’d go by X., personally. It’s mysterious? But then, I like initials.”
“You don’t have to worry about what my friends call me,” he said coldly. “We’re done, for now. Go on, get out of here.”