by Nestor Rodriguez

Enforcer tilted his head back to get the last of the beer from its bottle without losing sight of his target, Blade. He grimaced, partly from the bitter dregs of the home-brewed beer, and partly from his current predicament. He looked around from his well-hidden booth at the 93 Underground, confident that Blade was not aware of his presence there.

What the hell is wrong with you, he chided himself mentally. You've got no reason to be here except for some cockamamie hunch on why she is.

Blade had come around asking about the types of girls that had been disappearing in the Zone in the recent weeks. At Jagger's questioning look, she had calmly (and somewhat huffily) stated that she wanted to get a profile of the typical victim, so as to know how best to lure the scum responsible for the kidnappings.

Enforcer had given her the information, but not without some misgivings that he couldn't honestly attribute to anything in specific. And when he had spied her leaving the compound in the evening, some unidentifiable urge had led him to follow her as she entered the Zone and made her way to the club.

Now he sat, feeling more like a fool very second. He really had no reason to mistrust Blade. At the same time, he had been previously doing some research on her background, to satisfy a dash of curiosity brought about by her strange reaction to Takeda's obvious similarity to a more famous denizen of the Zone.

His investigation had been cut short by Sylvie's call for help and by the accursed trip to Mega-Tokyo, but Jagger had been able to garner some significant nuggets about the young girl's background.

She was not a Zone native, that Enforcer had guessed and his information had verified. Where she had come from originally, there was no firm evidence, but his suspicions leaned towards an Arc runaway. She had been running with a wizgang before joining the Force, and some additional research had indicated it to have been the victim of one of Ran's frequent rampages.

That would explain her reaction to Tak, Jagger had surmised, but there were still a number of small nagging questions.

It still was not enough to prod him into playing shadow, though. He tended to trust his hunches, as good detectives were wont to do, but he usually liked to have a nice chunk of established fact to base them on.

There was a stir near the entrance as one of the club's regulars, Megumi, made her usual show of arriving. Enforcer's senses were sharpened as he saw Blade react, moving with what seemed to be the intention of intercepting the attractive woman. Based on Blade's earlier questions, he suspected her of playing her own game of detective. This was further confirmed as Blade and Megumi sat at one of the tables and started to converse.

One of the club's waitresses came by to replenish his drink. Jagger took another bottle and brushed her off, trying without success to catch the two females' conversation amid the noise. Gotta check with Doc if there're any good aural amps in stock, Jagger mused, although he usually steered away from headware. He liked having cybernetic limbs and armor, but tinkering with his head and brain felt like truly losing parts of himself.

Resigned to keeping his surveillance of Blade to a visual level, Enforcer slumped back on his chair and picked up the cold bottle. His frustration and the recent thoughts about his current physical condition put him in a contemplative mood, and memories floated up from his subconscious like the foam bubbling inside the brown, beaded glass...

Detective Jagger rode the elevator up to the upper stories of the renovated Savoy Hotel. Bought by a consortium of corporations, it now served as a neutral ground for visiting VIPs to stay at and mingle while visiting the city.

His current partner rode the cage with him. A taciturn Polack, Kowalski was short on words but a good man at your back. Jagger and he had just cracked a case involving an embezzling scheme at one of NYPD, Inc.'s client's warehouses, and had been assigned bodyguard detail as a reward.

Since most corporations used their own security forces for protecting high-ranking executives, any bodyguard missions which were assigned to Nypdink officers were milk runs, babysitting low-risk (read expendable) corpies. This particular assignment was unique in the sense that the executive in question was higher in the corporate ladder than usual, but the risk factor was still considered minimal and the client had specifically requested the Department as security, assumedly for political purposes.

The elevator door opened and the two officers stepped out to a luxuriously carpeted foyer. Whatever the reason for using NYPD, Jagger was not going to complain. The accommodations assigned to the security personnel had been first-rate, and so far the actual work had been minor.

Jagger and Kowalski followed the hall down to one of the suite entrances, currently flanked by the two cops they were on their way to relieve. The bodyguards noted their relief's arrival and relaxed from their alert stance.

One of the guards grinned and gibed, "Hey, Chuckie! Ready to play with the big boys?"

Jagger winced. Sullivan usually got the good assignments more by dint of his skill at brown-nosing, rather than by any actual accomplishment. His reputation as a loud-mouthed, null-brained blockhead was well-deserved.

"Hell, Sully, someone's gotta do the real work around here. What's the status?"

"The pigeon's inside," Sullivan pointed with his thumb at the closed door. "He went in about fifteen minutes ago with a nice-looking chit. Figure he's getting his money's worth about right now."

"Stop drooling, Sully. You're staining your tie."

The other two officers chuckled and Sullivan shut up, frowning. Jagger and Kowalski positioned themselves at the door as the two other cops made their way back to the elevator.

A few more minutes passed before Jagger became aware of a strange sound emanating from the door behind them. Jagger cocked his head and unsuccessfully tried to identify the noise. He turned to Kowalski.

"You hear anything?"

Kowalski responded with a negative grunt.

"Stay here. I'm checking this out."

Jagger drew his Manhunter as he opened the door and made his silent way into the suite. Once inside, the sound that had alerted him was stronger. Although rhythmic, it did not sound like what he expected to hear, according to Sullivan's report.

He made his way across the suite's main room to the bedroom beyond, where light and shadows could be seen dancing on the slightly open door. He eased the bedroom door wider apart and looked in.

His police training helped him take the scene in an instant. The body of a nude girl, barely pubescent, hanging from a contraption resembling a collapsible rack, her moans barely audible through the ball gag in her mouth. The plastic sheeting at her feet, for the obvious purpose of collecting the blood and other fluids emanating from the girl so that they would not stain the rug. The collection of tools arrayed on the bed, their specific function unknown but their general purpose all too clear. The executive, wearing a loose robe now stained, holding what looked like a whip made of barbed wire, obviously aroused from the pain he had inflicted on his victim.

The corpie paused in the act of coiling the whip back for another strike as he noticed Jagger frozen at the door. His voice was a masterful mix of frustrated lust and dripping contempt as he addressed the stunned cop, "What do you want? Can't you see I'm busy here?"

Jagger did not treat the executive any tougher than the usual perps he arrested. And, as he testified at the board of inquiry afterward, the only reason he broke the executive's arm was because he had tried to resist arrest.

Not that it helped any. By the end of the session, the charges against the corpie were dropped, the girl had been placed in "protective custody" and Jagger found himself on indefinite suspension. The only satisfaction Jagger had was that details of the arrest had made it to the newsnet, reported by an up-and-coming reporter by the name of Corey Emerson, and the account of the corpie's "extracurricular activities" had cost him substantially in corporate standing.

Jagger was fully expecting to be summarily discharged from the Department and spent a rather depressing couple of weeks before he was called again to Headquarters. To his surprise, the Department had decided to keep him, ostensibly because of his good record. Of course, he had been demoted back to street patrolman, but the hint had been made about reinstallment once the heat had died down.

That promise was never fulfilled. Less than a week later, Jagger responded to a report of gang violence near the Bowery. He drove his cruiser down to the scene and into hell.

An anti-armor rocket took out the cruiser's front. Jagger felt the firewall buckle from the shockwave of the explosion. His ears bleeding from the concussion, he vainly tried to reach for his weapons as heavy fire pounded on the battered cruiser's chassis. He felt bullets smashing against his ceramic torso armor, breaking the ribs underneath. A glancing shot shattered the visor on his helmet, driving shards into his face and eyes. He lost consciousness as he felt his unprotected left arm blown away from his body by an explosive round.

Jagger had died that day. For 65 seconds, his heart had stopped beating as paramedics had rushed his torn body to the nearest hospital. As he lay on the bloodstained gurney, other hands had taken charge and forced his torn body back to life. He found out later that Avatar had ordered his personal team of emergency personnel to take over from the hospital's staff.

He also found out that NYPD, Inc. had given him up for dead. And, with less than half of his body still functioning, he might as well have been.

Then Avatar dropped the shoe.

Jagger could have a new body, the best in cybernetic replacement. The only catch was that he had to consider Avatar's offer of employment. That's what blew Jagger's mind. The man (he assumed it was a man) didn't even demand that Jagger work for him, just that he "consider" it.

As far as Jagger was concerned, he was Avatar's man.

Jagger disgustedly finished the rest of his beer.

So the reason I'm sitting here like an asshole is because Blade there reminds me of that girl and I don't want it to happen again? Jagger berated himself. Bullshit!

He remembered a talk he had had with a veteran officer back when he was a rookie. The old guy had warned about developing a 'soft spot', letting some emotional bushwa cloud your thinking at the wrong time.

Yeah, he had a soft spot, all right. On his head! It had already gotten him killed once. And it was about to make him into an idiot again.

Enforcer saw Blade and Megumi stand and head toward the door, obviously leaving the club to some other destination. What I should do, he mused, is sit right here, get gloriously drunk, and head back to the island to sleep it off.

He sat at the table for a few seconds, then stood up and angrily threw some nuyen down for a tip. He made his way quickly to the entrance, making sure he hadn't lost the two girls' trail.

Dammit, Jagger thought for perhaps the first time, I'm getting too old for this shit.

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