Tampa, Florida, 2008
Eric was sitting on the bed in the holding cell where he spent all of his time these days -- at least, all of the time he wasn't in the car with Enano and another generic agent, showing them all of the horrible things that had been going on right under their noses.
The cell was located in the basement of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tampa. Eric guessed that the cell itself wasn't used often, or at least not for more than a night or two. He'd been there two weeks, and had only had one roommate so far -- a tiny, frail accountant-looking type. Eric had considered fucking with the guy just for entertainment, but the poor tiny man already looked scared to death.
Instead, Eric tried to be as cheerful as possible around the guy, but that only seemed to make him worse. In the end, he'd just decided to ignore his cellmate, who was moved out the next morning, still wide-eyed and shaking.
As holding cells went, he figured, this one wasn't too bad. It was clean, for starters -- the one other time he'd been in a holding cell, it was in the Pinellas County Jail for a night. That place wasn't clean -- it looked like it had last been mopped in about 1972, and only then by someone who was working just hard enough not to get fired. He hadn't had much space to himself, either -- the jail was so overcrowded that the staff had to set up cots and mattress pads in the common areas in addition to packing three people in each two-person cell. The nightmare toilet situation there still made him shudder a little.
The Federal cell was the @Marriott_Tahoe by comparison -- roomy, only two beds, and even a little writing desk (bolted to the wall, with a stool bolted to the desk). Most of all, though, it had semi-private bathroom facilities, which was unfortunately where the little accountant had spent the most of the night hiding.
Eric just happened to be looking out the tiny perspex window in the huge steel door (there wasn't much else to do, as he was alone in the cell and had been for three days) and caught a glimpse of Enano talking to another man, a man who had all of the bearing of the generic agents Eric had been in the car with, though he wasn't FBI.
The back of the man's windbreaker said "U.S. Marshal."
When Enano noticed Eric looking at him through the glass, he quietly ushered the Marshal away from the door and into the hallway where Eric could no longer see them.
* * *
Later that night, Enano came to visit Eric's cell. Eric had a raging headache, one he wanted to blame on boredom but knew was the result of withdrawl from alcohol, tobacco, and any number of recreational drugs. He'd already burned through the hydrocodone they'd given him for his still-healing knife wounds, and he desperately wanted something stronger.
"Got a minute?" Enano smirked.
"Let's talk, then."
"It interrupts my busy 'staring at the wall' schedule, but sure. I can squeeze you in."
Enano took a seat at the writing desk, facing Eric, who was still sitting on the edge of the bed.
"So I've noticed some things during these last couple of weeks we spent together. You're a smart guy, Eric. Really smart."
"Yeah, I'm pretty much a super-genius," Eric grinned.
"You're also a third-rate, lowlife thug. You don't often see the two traits together, but here you are."
Eric was about to say something, and it wasn't going to be nice at all -- but Enano held up his hand.
"The reason I bring this up is that I see potential in you. I think you could be a lot more than you are. In fact, I think you could actually turn out to be a halfway decent human being."
"Thanks. For the decent human being bit, not the part where you called me a bag of crap."
Enano grinned again.
"You're a reader, right, Eric?"
"I used to read a lot, yeah."
Enano reached into his jacket and pulled out a thin black paperback with some sort of red design on the front -- three swans in a circle that sort of reminded Eric of the biohazard symbol.
"Think you can power through this by tomorrow morning?"
"Shouldn't be too tough."
"Good. I'll be back at 8 am. At 9, we'll be joined by another visitor," Enano tossed him the book.
"You've got some reading to do," Enano grinned as he was let out by the guard.
Eric looked at the name of the book, also written in red on the plain black background: Hagakure.
* * *
According to the cell's clock, embedded behind two inches of steel grating, Enano was two minutes early the next morning. He was dressed, as usual, in a dark grey suit, but this morning he had something new -- two cups of @Starbucks coffee, one of which he handed to Eric.
"You, sir, are a god, and I plan to build several churches in your honor," Eric said, quickly taking a large gulp of the dark blend. It burned his mouth and throat, but he didn't care. It'd been weeks since he'd had caffiene.
"You read the book?" Enano asked, taking a much more civilized sip from his own cup.
"There's something there, isn't there? I mean, not dedicating yourself to your Lord or your master, as, you know, Feudalism died out quite some time ago."
"Ready to have your mind blown?" Enano smirked. "What if your 'master' is an ideal rather than a person?"
Eric sat back and considered this for a moment. He hated to admit it, but it all sort of made sense now.
"You get it. I can see that you do," Enano nodded. "You see, there's a way that you can be a warrior in today's society. There's stuff in that book, when looked at through a certain lens, that tells you exactly how to do so."
Eric nodded back. He wanted to say something, but his mind had suddenly gone blank -- too many wheels were turning too quickly in the back of his head.
"Remember I said we'd be joined by another visitor?"
"I want you to keep thinking of the things that are obviously bouncing around in your brain right now when you talk to him. He's going to offer you a choice, and if I've read you right, then you'll take it."
Eric nodded dumbly again.
"Good. The guard will be bringing in breakfast in a few minutes. After you've eaten, we'll begin."
Eric's breakfast was horrible -- lukewarm oatmeal, soggy toast. Still, he barely even noticed he was eating it. When the plate was clean, he pushed it out through the slot in the door, and the guard took it away. For the next twenty minutes, he just sat on the edge of the bed, his mind blurring along. He knew, now, that he was done with drinking. Done with amphetamines and barbiturates. Hell, done with smoking, if he could manage it.
The door opened, and Enano escorted in a young man in a very nice suit. This man nodded to Enano, indicating that the agent should wait outside.
"Mr. Austen? Hi, James Lombard, U.S. Department of Justice," the young man stuck out his hand, and Eric shook it.
"Please, have a seat," Eric told Lombard, indicating the small stool attached to the writing desk.
"Thank you. Mr. Austen, I'm going to cut right to the chase, here. Agent Enano has recommended you for Witness Security in exchange for your testimony against Julian Clayton, among others, whom the FBI took into custody last night."
"That was very kind of him."
"Well, it wasn't an easy sell. We usually don't offer this program to people with. . . well, let's just say you've admitted to killing three people. That would normally exclude you from consideration. But Agent Enano really went to bat for you."
"He's a good man. I'm very appreciative."
"Well, don't be too appreciative," Lombard smirked. "You did just make his career, after all."
Eric simply nodded at the comment.
"Right. Um, now, there will be some conditions to this program. The Marshals Service, who you'll meet with later today, will fill you in a little more thoroughly, but in the broad strokes -- you won't exactly be a free man. You'll be constantly monitored by a Federal Marshal. You'll be required, because of the violence in your background, to meet with a court-appointed therapist at least once a week for at least two years. Your communications will be monitored. You'll be expected to find gainful employment in whatever city we choose for you, though there is some provision for your needs during the time it takes to find work. Am I going too fast?"
Eric shook his head.
"Let's see. . . what else. . . oh, you won't be allowed to own a firearm. I figure you can guess the reason there. You'll be transported back here to testify in the trial in a few months, though we'll keep your identity secret during the trial. Sound good?"
"Except for one thing."
"You don't have to keep my identity secret. I want to show Julian who it was that turned him in."
"I'll. . . see what we can do about that. But the rest of the terms?"
"'It is said that one should not hesitate to correct himself when he has made a mistake. If he corrects himself without the least bit of delay, his mistakes will quickly disappear.' You'll get no argument from me, sir."
"Sign here, please."
* * *
It wasn't directly after Eric put his name to paper that the door was opened and left open, but it seemed that way. Enano was waiting out in the hall with a huge grin.
"You can come out now," he winked at Eric.
"What? No shackles?"
"Nope. You're a quasi-free man, sir."
Eric tugged at the bright orange jumpsuit he was wearing.
"Any way we can do something about this?"
"Yeah. I brought you some of my stuff. You look about my size," Enano said, pulling a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt out of a plastic grocery bag. He handed these over to Eric.
"After you get changed, we'll go see the Marshals. They'll bore you to tears with all of the many, many details of your release and relocation."
Eric stepped into the bathroom and exchanged his prison togs for the clothes Enano had brought for him. He was a little taller than the agent, but fortunately, the jeans were cut long, so he didn't look too ridiculous. His arms were still covered in bandages from the elbow down, making it appear as though he were wearing a long-sleeved shirt under the black T-shirt, which Eric noticed had an FBI Academy logo on it.
Enano walked Eric upstairs and dropped him off at the door reading "U.S. Marshal's Service."
"Well, it's been interesting, Eric. I do want to say thanks, if I haven't already -- you really helped my career out a lot here, and Tampa's looking to be a much safer place for the near future."
"At least, until someone steps in to fill Julian's shoes."
"Unfortunately, you're right. But we can dream, can't we?"
Enano shook Eric's hand, and with a final grin, walked off down the hallway. Eric watched him go, then walked into the Marshal's Service office. There was one desk with a receptionist -- Eric gave her his name, and she made a quick phone call. Not thirty seconds later, two agents, one male and one female, came out to meet Eric. She was tiny and quite attractive, and he was tall, bearded, bald, and overmuscled.
"Good morning, Mr. Austen," @OValencia, the female agent, greeted.
"Though that won't be your name for long," the male agent, @Valder137, smiled at him. "I'm Marshal Valder, and my lovely associate here is Marshal Valencia. We get to sit with you through the most boring PowerPoint of your life."
"Any questions before we begin?" Marshal Valencia asked.
"Yeah. Where am I going to end up?"
"That's yet to be decided. You'll be funneled through several different safehouses in different cities until the trial. After that, we find you a permanent home. Los Angeles, maybe? We place a lot of people there."
Eric nodded. A part of him wanted to ask Marshal Valencia if she'd be the one "handling" him, but he shut that part of his brain down right away. Gotta stop thinking like that. 'It is because a Samurai has correct manners that he is admired.' Damn, that book really did get into my head.
"Los Angeles," Eric said instead, "I could definitely see that. Also, if I can ask another question?"
"You're awfully polite for a criminal," Valencia smiled at him.
"I make an attempt, ma'am."
"Go ahead and ask," she replied.
"What will my new name be?"
"You get to choose, Sport. The only thing we recommend is keeping your first name -- that way, someone says 'Yo, Eric,' you're not stuck for a response. Any ideas?"
"Hawkins. I think I'd like to be called Eric Hawkins."