Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 6, Scene 1a

TOC page here.

New chapter, new character: Jack Carter from the FBI. Normally, the relationship between anal-retentive, territorial Feds and the regular cops is portrayed in crime fiction as being contentious, so the camaraderie here is meant to be jarring enough to conceal the fact that most of this is repetition and infodump:

Diana stifled another burp as she walked back into her office. She thought briefly about becoming homeless just to get free Indian food, then felt bad about it. Mustapha was pouring fresh tea for a guest, Jack Carter, head of the Atlanta FBI office. “Hi, Jack,” she said. “Please tell us that as a matter of national security, you’re taking this case off our hands.”

“We should be so lucky,” said Mustapha. He poured her a glass, and put it by her computer, where by sunset it might be cool enough to drink.

“Hey, Diana,” said Carter. “I was just telling your partner we’ve got nothing in our databases that even resembles this, so we are adopting a hands-off approach and letting you folks work your magic.”

“Worst of both worlds,” said Diana. “What do your databases tell you?”

“Not a whole lot. Mustapha said you already know that particular verse isn’t widely used: we got zero hits plugging it into known rhetoric.” He sipped his tea. “Man, that’s good. You know I’ve been doing this at home? Had no idea you could just grow mint and put it in a teapot.”

Mustapha said, “At my house, I gotta mow it.”

“I think I’d have to use more sugar, to get the taste right. But that will get my wife on my butt: she’s on this crusade about carbs. Anyhow, the one thing that everyone is clear on is that ISIS and other jihadi groups don’t strangle their victims. Apparently it’s not really kosher unless you cut the throat—but given your background, Stoph, you probably already knew that.”

Diana said, “You can call him Brother Mustapha, now.”

“Knock it off,” said Mustapha. “Yeah, I caught that one. It’s halál, by the way, not kosher. Pretty much the same thing, though, as far as slaughtering animals is concerned.”

Jack sipped again. “No real Muslim would strangle if it was a political thing, is what the guy up in DC tells me. So, not our circus, not our monkey. This homeless guy pissed someone off enough to dress him up like a terror victim?”

Diana sat, called up the crime scene photos on her desktop. “We have no idea. Chief Purcell is going to call us in real soon, because of course he wants a quick clearance, and we’re going to disappoint him. Everyone kind of liked the guy, and nobody with a good structural reason to want him gone seems to have the…”

Mustapha said, “Mental infrastructure, to pull off something like this.”

Diana said, “Mustapha has the best theory so far, I think.” She sketched out the folie à deux idea while trying not to flinch whenever Jack sipped his tea.

Jack drained the glass, put it aside, declined Mustapha’s proffered teapot. “Sure, that could be it. Like the Columbine killers. Saves you from having to figure out why they picked your victim, since it’ll be squirrel logic the whole way down.”

So I get to do two things here: repeat the theory so that readers who are more skimming than reading catch back up, and also push yet another barrier between Alex Dawson and the Reaper. In addition, I get to drag in more tea-making, while using it as a way to emphasize the bond between the detectives and Jack. Plus I can throw in the phrase “crusade against carbs”, which made me giggle when I first wrote it. This is usually a cue it needs to be removed, but it actually fits in to the dialogue about jihadists, so it gets to stay.


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  1. Novel 3: Act I, Chapter 5, Scene 4b | Julian Cage

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