Curveball Issue 29: Truths and Lies

Part Five: Jacob K. Javits Federal Building, NYC

The Division M conference room is a large, well-equipped meeting room with a long table and comfortable chairs. Special Agent Phillip Henry sits at the middle position on the right side of the table, staring across at the two men on the left side. The two men—one a heavyset, sweating Federal Agent, the other a hardened, weather-beaten NYPD Cop—stare back grimly.

The heavyset sweating agent is Oliver Nuzzo. Henry doesn’t know a lot about him. He’s pulled the man’s file: sixteen years in the FBI, a career that started out promising but petered out six years in. It’s the kind of thing you might expect to find on someone’s file, if he was suddenly transferred into a top-secret task force.

The hardened, weather-beaten cop is Captain Clive Darius. Agent Henry knows a lot more about him. One of the most celebrated officers in the NYPD, credited with single-handedly cleaning up some of the more nefarious parts of the city, and—according to recently obtained video evidence—secretly working for an organization that may have been responsible for the murder of America’s greatest hero.

Instinct tells Henry that Clive Darius is a dirty cop. The problem is, Darius and Nuzzo have an explanation for everything Henry has discovered. It’s a good explanation. It fits. And what’s more, Special Agent Phillip Henry—the only man alive with the ability to detect when someone is lying to him—can’t detect any lies.

“Agent Henry, with all due respect.” Nuzzo wipes sweat off his forehead with a thick, stained handkerchief. “I’m not happy about this meeting. I understand why you want it, but we feel exposed—given Captain Darius’ circumstances, I’m sure you understand why.”

Everything Nuzzo says is the truth. Henry is absolutely convinced of that. That doesn’t mean Nuzzo isn’t trying to play him—it is possible to “lie” to Agent Henry by saying true things in just the right way, to make him assume things that were never said—but it’s not as easy to do as it was, when he was young, and cocky, and relied on his power too much.

Agent Henry adjusts the sunglasses on his face—the only thing preventing him from making eye contact and compelling them to speak only the literal truth at all times—and nods.

“Thank you for coming down.”

“If we could get to the point,” Nuzzo continues, “then we could—”

Darius interrupts the agent in mid-sentence. “Don’t worry, Oliver, I get it. We’re here because Agent Henry still thinks I’m dirty. I get it. I would too, if I were him.”

Darius is not, it seems, a man with much patience for dancing around the subject.

“I have a video of you talking to armed men dressed in outfits matching the bodies of the men who attacked Martin Forrest’s residence—men also linked to the murder of Alexander Morgan. You were clearly giving them orders, and they appear to have been sent to intercept a fugitive we were chasing at the time. I have the written testimony of both Sky Commando and one of my own agents that you deliberately attempted to keep us out of the TriHealth building, where something metahuman-related clearly happened. And now all of a sudden we’ve been ordered onto a task force—headed by you—which is supposed to take on the people you’ve clearly been working for.” Agent Henry leans back, studying both of them. “Yes, I find it very difficult to take at face value. Especially since Division M is more than cleared to know about any investigations in this city that might cross into our own, and this obviously does.”

Nuzzo coughs uncomfortably. “That was my decision. I didn’t want the DHS interfering with our investigation.”

An entirely plausible reason—a reason Agent Henry has run up against, and used himself, many times. It’s also a lie: it was not Nuzzo’s decision. That in itself means nothing, of course. Higher-ups force agents to lie on their behalf all the time. And the apologetic look on Nuzzo’s face clearly shows that he knows exactly who Agent Henry is, and what he can do.

That’s the problem with bureaucracy. Lies don’t necessarily mean what you’d think they’d mean. Sometimes they don’t mean anything at all.

“That’s entirely possible, Agent Nuzzo. But I’d like to focus on Captain Darius for the moment.”

Oliver Nuzzo wipes his forehead again and nods. He’s not nervous, as far as Henry can tell. He’s a man who sweats under pressure, which makes him look nervous, but he doesn’t show any other physical signs of nervousness. He wonders what that means, or if it means anything at all.

“Let’s just resolve this,” Darius says. “Once and for all. Agent Henry, will you please remove your sunglasses?”

Agent Henry manages to conceal his surprise. “I’m not authorized to—”

Clive Darius slides a sheet of paper across the table. It is one of their own release forms, authorizing Agent Henry to use his full ability on the signatory. Clive Darius has signed his name in tight, neat script at the bottom. Off to the right, he sees the signature and seal of one of the judges they’ve used in the past.

Agent Henry stares at the paper. “You’re certain?”

“I signed my name,” Darius says.

Henry nods. “Very well. I will need witnesses present.” He reaches for a phone sitting at the head of the table, picks up the receiver, and holds it to his ear. “Send in Frank and Malloy.”

Moments later, the door to the conference room opens, and Special Agents Brian Frank and Desiree Malloy step in. They move to Agent Henry, one on each side, and sit at the table. Both have their poker faces on.

“Captain Darius has asked me to remove my sunglasses,” Agent Henry says. He gestures to the release form.

Agent Malloy picks it up, scans it over quickly. She nods once, then hands it over to Frank, who looks it over curiously.

“We ready?” Darius sounds impatient. That’s not usually how these things go.

“All right, but I need to explain how this works first. I don’t have the power to force you to speak. Anything you say to me, for as long as we maintain eye contact, must be the truth. But you can still choose not to speak. You can also break eye contact at any time. I’m told some people find it more difficult to do than others, but it’s possible.”

“Whatever,” Darius says. “Take off your goddamn sunglasses.”

Agent Henry looks at Agent Frank, then Agent Malloy. Both nod. Then Agent Henry takes off his sunglasses, and looks Clive Darius in the eye.

Darius stiffens for a moment, then relaxes. “Six years ago I was approached by someone who claimed to be from the mayor’s office. He asked me about some evidence we recovered from a sting the night before. I answered his questions, didn’t think too much about it—I figured someone the Mayor knew had been part of the roundup and they were just trying to prep for the potential fallout. Next night someone broke into the evidence room, stole some of the evidence, all the paperwork on that evidence, and deleted the computer records about that evidence. Very thorough job. We never recovered it.”

Agent Henry says nothing. He maintains eye contact.

“A week later the same man visits me in my office. I’m pissed; I threaten to arrest him on the spot. He tells me to shut up and listen, and then says that in return for my future cooperation he’ll give me information on some of the better-hidden vice rings in the city. It’s the kind of stuff we knew was out there, but could never get anyone to roll over on—child prostitution, slavery, that kind of thing. I’ll admit I was tempted. I didn’t really care about the little stuff. But I was also pissed. I didn’t know who I could talk to about it—the guy was from the mayor’s office, he might have other cops in his pocket—so I called the FBI. That’s how I met Nuzzo here.”

Nuzzo doesn’t say anything.

“Turns out the guy who talked to me was a guy they were trying to learn more about. That’s how I got sucked into Operation Bad Seed. I agreed to help the man—he only went by the name ‘Andrew’—and that’s when I first went undercover.”

“Are you a dirty cop?” Agent Henry asks.

“Yes,” Darius says. “I broke the law plenty of times. I used my position to make it easier for Andrew’s people to get away with whatever it was they were doing. I did so under the supervision of the FBI, and I documented every illegal activity I was involved in.”

“What were they doing?” Henry asks.

Darius grimaces. “I don’t know. I mean, I could never figure out a big picture. Lots of smuggling, but I don’t know what. Some theft, but I don’t know what. There seemed to be two areas they were interested in—some kind of medical stuff, and antiques.”

Agent Henry frowns slightly. “Antiques?”

Darius shrugs. “That’s what it looked like to me. Stuff with some kind of historical value. I don’t know why. I wasn’t able to get far enough inside to figure out what was going on. I was starting to make inroads, the last couple years. Andrew left the picture and I started working for a guy named ‘Douglas’ and a woman named ‘Veronica.’ At that point I knew a lot of the things they did came out of the TriHealth building, but I felt like I was being groomed to meet the organization behind that one. I met a few people I think were part of that other organization. I saw a few things that make me think I know where to start looking for more. I don’t think they know I saw those things, but I can’t be sure.”

Darius sits back, still maintaining eye contact. “I was contacted by someone in the DHS—on Veronica’s behalf—when Special Agent Peter Travers called you on your phone. They have someone in your group, Agent Henry, because they gave me his location based on a trace you ordered from your phone. They told me to coordinate with some of the enforcers this group uses—the ones you say you have on tape—in order to capture Travers before you arrived on the scene. Seems he was expecting us. Anyway, it all unraveled pretty quickly after that.”

Darius falls silent at that point. Waiting. He doesn’t break eye contact.

Agent Henry reaches for his sunglasses. He doesn’t break his gaze with the captain until he puts them on. As soon as the glasses are back in place it’s as if a spell has ended: Darius exhales, Nuzzo stretches, and Malloy and Frank push their chairs back from the table.

Agent Nuzzo is the first to stand. “I hate to be abrupt, but it’s time to go.”

True statement. Nuzzo genuinely hates being abrupt.

“That’s fine,” Agent Henry says, and stands as well. Frank and Malloy follow suit. “Thank you for coming by.”

“I hope it helped.” Darius this time.

“It did,” Agent Henry says. “Thanks again.”

“We’ll contact your team when Operation Bad Seed is ready to move forward with its next phase,” Nuzzo says. “It shouldn’t be too long from now.”

True statement, as far as Nuzzo knows. Division M will be contacted soon.

“Thank you, Agent Nuzzo,” Agent Henry says. “We’ll be ready.”

Henry, Frank, and Malloy watch Nuzzo and Darius leave. None of them say anything. A few minutes later, the phone on the meeting table rings.

Agent Henry picks it up. “Henry.”

“They’ve left the building.” It’s Erin Collins, his second.

“Thank you Agent Collins. Please show Sergeant Webb and our consultant into the room.”

Moments later the meeting room door opens again, and Agent Collins, Alishia Webb—Sky Commando—and a tall, thin black man in a trench coat enter the room.

Brother Judgment.

Agent Henry is uneasy about bringing a vigilante telepath into this matter, but he doesn’t have any good options at the moment.

“Everyone have a seat,” Agent Henry says, and they all sit down. His team relaxes almost instantly. Webb, out of uniform, is nervous but only a little. Brother Judgment sits, but he’s obviously not comfortable. He looks like he might be in pain.

Agent Henry looks to Collins. “Are we all set?”

“Worked like a charm,” Collins says. “Video feed was perfect. Something definitely happened though. Brother Judgment froze up shortly after Darius started talking. Won’t say why.”

Agent Henry glances over at the vigilante. His brow is furrowed, his face is twisted into a mask of concentration. “Is something wrong?”

A brief flicker of something like pain crosses the other man’s face. With a great deal of effort, he manages to nod, once.

Agent Henry looks at Webb.

“I don’t know,” Webb says, voice full of concern. “Like Collins said, this started when Darius started talking.”

“I don’t understand what—”

“Sunglasses.” The word sounds like it’s ripped out of Brother Judgment’s mouth against its will. “Take. Off. Your. Sunglasses.”

“There are papers you need to—” Agent Henry looks at the man and sighs. “Nevermind. You heard what I said over the feed?”

Brother Judgment nods.

“Fine.” Agent Henry removes his sunglasses. “Look me in the eye.”

Brother Judgment does. Immediately his face relaxes.

“What’s going on?” Henry asks.

“I’m not sure.” Brother Judgment’s answer is immediate, his voice full of relief. “Something was preventing me from speaking. I don’t understand why. Gambled your ability might override it. Gambled right.”

“Can you be a little more specific?” Agent Henry asks.

Brother Judgment nods. “When Sky Commando told me about your situation, she wondered if it was possible Darius or someone else was doing something to you to keep your ability from working. So I had to get a baseline on you, to figure out how it worked.”

“That would have been our interview this afternoon,” Agent Henry says.

“Yeah. You were asking me twenty questions, I was reading your mind to see how it worked on your end. It’s weird—I assumed your thing was some kind of telepathy.”

“It’s not telepathy,” Agent Henry says.

“Yeah.” Brother Judgment shakes his head. “Point is, I knew what it was supposed to feel like when it was working. Figured I’d be able to tell when it was being messed with. It was a good plan—if all I did was read your mind, with your consent, you’d be able to present what I found if it was being messed with.”

“But it didn’t work that way,” Agent Henry guesses.

“No it didn’t. Any time Captain Darius started talking, you got nothing. That didn’t make any sense. Your thing isn’t just a lie detector, it’s a truth detector too—you get a reaction any time someone tells you a truth or a lie. And Darius… well. He didn’t give you anything at all.”

“I know that.” Agent Henry tries to keep the frustration out of his voice. “What I don’t know is why.”

“Well I do.” Brother Judgment’s voice is troubled. “I know why. But it won’t be admissible in court.”

Agent Henry narrows his eyes. “Explain.”

Brother Judgment exhales heavily. “I thought maybe it was me. Like maybe my telepathy was on the fritz. Never happened before, but that didn’t make any sense, so I did one of my easiest tricks. I started pinging minds. Best explanation is ‘telepathic radar,’ OK? Not reading thoughts, just detecting a location.”

“I’m not sure what good that would do,” Agent Henry says. “We knew where everyone was.”

“I was just trying to make sure everything worked,” Brother Judgment says. “It’s easy for me. If you blindfolded me right now and moved around the room, I could point to each one of you and call you out by name. It’s easy. And pretty useful. But here’s the thing, Agent Henry: there were only four minds in that room.”

“So something was wrong with your telepathy,” Agent Henry says.

Brother Judgment shakes his head. “It was fine. I panicked a little at first, thinking the same thing, but then I realized I could detect everyone else—you, Nuzzo, Webb, Agent Collins, Agent Frank, Agent Malloy—but I couldn’t detect Darius. It was like he wasn’t there.”

The room is very quiet. Agent Henry tries to wrap his brain around the concept, and fails.

“That’s when I… froze up.” Brother Judgment’s eyes are wide with fear. “I tried to say something about it, and suddenly I couldn’t speak. Any time I tried to say anything about it, or even refer to it sideways… I couldn’t say anything at all.”

“I see,” Agent Henry says.

“You don’t see,” Brother Judgment says. “I don’t see how you can, until you experience it. I knew there was something fucked up about Darius, but it was like something was building a wall between what I knew and what I could say. It got to the point where I was spending all my time trying to keep the last few bricks in that wall from being put in, and I wasn’t going to hold out much longer. Whatever it is you do when your glasses come off… it seems to counteract that.”

Everything the man says is coming in as true, true, true, true, true… normally, Henry wouldn’t even stop to consider that—his glasses are off, he has eye contact, so it has to be true—but it’s an extra layer of confirmation he finds he needs right now.

“All right,” Agent Henry says. “All right. I know you’re telling the truth. I just don’t understand it right now. What was strange about Darius? I’m positive he’s lying to me now, but I still don’t get anything from him when he talks. No sense of lie, no sense of truth—I just get nothing. Why?”

“Your ability,” Brother Judgment says. “It only works face to face, right? Doesn’t work over the phone? You can’t tell when someone’s lying on TV?”

“People are always lying on TV,” Agent Henry says. “But I take your point. Yes, it must be face to face.”

“Well that’s it,” Brother Judgment says. “There were only four people in that room: you, Frank, Malloy, Nozzo. There was no Clive Darius. Whatever you were talking to in there, it wasn’t Clive Darius. Maybe it was his body, but it wasn’t his mind. Agent Henry… that thing didn’t have a mind.”

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