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Fic: Dominion
blacktop50
Title: Dominion
Author: blacktop
Characters: Joss Carter, Dominic, OC
Rating: PG-13
Warning: Hoodlum crime
Word count: 5,300
Summary: When her extended family is threatened, an undaunted Carter marches straight into the urban swamp to confront Dominic, the composed and ruthless leader of The Brotherhood. Spoilers for several episodes of season four.





Carter crept up the familiar stairs on tip toes, hoping that the waves of noise from the boisterous dinner crowd below would muffle her tread. She didn’t want to awaken the stricken little girl lying asleep in John’s bed. But she did want to see for herself that the child was unharmed.

She hadn’t visited this room, John’s old apartment above Pooja’s restaurant, since he had been forced to abandon it last summer.

He assumed that the surveillance of the marauding super intelligence Samaritan was pervasive and he needed to erase any links to his previous life as John Reese, including this beloved safe haven.

So when he left he hadn’t given his landlady, Mrs. Soni, an explanation for his hurried departure, simply telling her that he needed to take a new job and would be in touch when he could.

John’s description of this exchange with Mrs. Soni had been terse, his tone laced with bitterness and regret. Carter understood he needed to establish the new identity of Detective Riley, so she didn’t press him about it, letting the sorrow creasing his brow stand as the final commentary on that sad separation.

Over the summer, Carter had returned to the restaurant several times, usually for weekend dinners with her son, twice for lunch with her partner Fusco. Each visit, she had managed a brief private interlude with Mrs. Soni, just enough time to assure the old woman that John was hidden but safe.

The relief that flooded Mrs. Soni’s face during those conversations made Carter’s heart contract with chagrin. She wanted to say so much more, but she realized that expanding the account would only heighten the danger for John as well as his former landlady. Mrs. Soni seemed to intuit this double-edged peril and never asked any questions. She simply clasped her hands tighter in the skirts of her sari and nodded at Carter’s assurances that John was eating well and had a clean place to sleep, smiling wanly at these nondescript images of his new life in hiding.

Now Carter was making a return visit to Pooja’s, but under mysterious and unsettling circumstances.

Mrs. Soni had phoned her at five in the afternoon, abruptly demanding an interview, but giving no clue as to what was the matter. The old woman’s voice was strained and higher pitched than normal; her sentences clipped into a formality Carter had rarely heard before. Indeed the last time Mrs. Soni had spoken in such an abrupt manner, she had been serving breakfast to mob boss Carl Elias, held captive in her kitchen after Carter had rescued him from assassination.

So when Carter had arrived at the restaurant’s back door, she was braced for bad news of some sort.

“Detective Carter, thank you for coming so quickly.”

Mrs. Soni’s round face was gray with anxiety as she pulled her visitor into the little office off the kitchen. She sat down heavily in her rolling desk chair then nodded at a metal seat which Carter took without removing her overcoat.

“What’s going on Mrs. Soni? You in some trouble? How can I help?”

Carter didn’t mind ferreting out puzzles, but a mystery affecting people she treasured was frightening.

Shifting the folds of her dark green sari higher on her shoulder, the old woman pulled a square handkerchief from the short sleeve of her blouse and wiped her eyes.

“Bijal, my granddaughter…You know her…”

Mrs. Soni hiccupped a sob that she captured in her handkerchief.

During visits with John at the restaurant, Carter had met Mrs. Soni’s four grandchildren many times -- nine year old Bijal, her big sister Avani and younger cousins Leena and Hari. Carter found the children to be spirited, curious, polite, and completely enamored of their tall and secretive tenant.

“Yes, of course, I know her. What’s the matter with Bijal, Mrs. Soni?”

“You know she comes here to the restaurant most days after school. Almost every day, Avani walks with her too, but this afternoon Avani had a club meeting, so Bijal walked alone.”

Tears streamed down Mrs. Soni’s cheeks and landed on the smooth brown skin of her collarbones. Carter wanted to reach out to catch the dripping mess, but held back. Instead she took the old woman’s hand, squeezing it in both of hers.

“It’s only four blocks away and she walks the distance every day without incident. All the neighbors watch out for her, all the shopkeepers know her.”

Carter nodded encouragement, trying to strike a compassionate balance between offering comfort and pressing forward with the story.

“Is Bijal O.K.? Where is she now?”

She wanted to leap to the end of the narrative, but Mrs. Soni’s rhetorical style required a roundabout approach, even in a crisis.

“Today on her walk here, two men approached her. They jumped out of a black van and said they needed to talk with her and would give her a present after they were done. Bijal is a smart girl, too smart for that, and she refused to get into the van. But they grabbed her and pulled her into the van anyway.

“They told her they had an important message and only she could deliver it.”

Here Mrs. Soni paused to wipe her mouth and eyes again.

“A message? What kind of message?”

Carter felt the frantic beating of her heart escalate as her friend’s story wound to its climax.

“So the two men, they opened her coat and used a safety pin to fasten a piece of paper to the strap of her school uniform. When she struggled with them, the jumper tore. The waist ripped on the left side and buttons popped off too.

“But they got the note pinned on her just like they said they would.”

“Oh, Mrs. Soni! Is she all right? I have to see her.”

“These men, these strangers, stopped their van directly in front of the restaurant and pushed Bijal out onto the sidewalk. She skinned her knees when she fell.”

Mrs. Soni touched her own knee, pinching the fabric of her sari between two shaking fingers as she spoke.

“Where is she now?”

“After I cleaned up her bloodied knees, I read the note pinned on her jumper. Then I undressed her. She was unharmed apart from the scraped knees, thank God!"

Mrs. Soni pressed a hand to her mouth and then to her heavy bosom. But the relief in her words did not rise to her eyes, which were round with grief, shock, and some other emotion which Carter read as accusation.

The old woman swiveled in her chair and lifted from the floor behind her a dark pile of clothing. Bijal’s torn school uniform. She held out the navy and green plaid jumper at arm’s length, the ripped waistband gaping. Carter could see brick red spots of dried blood staining the skirt’s frayed hem.

“And so I washed her face and body and gave her clean clothes to wear. Then I sent her upstairs to rest in John’s room. She’s there now, safe and sleeping comfortably.”

Mrs. Soni stopped speaking, her story finished. But for one detail, the content of the note.

Since she had omitted it until now, Carter understood that the message was somehow the key to the matter. She felt her stomach clutch in dread.

“What did it say? The note Bijal brought?”

Mrs. Soni pushed back from her desk and tugged on its center drawer. From the cluttered interior tray, she drew out a white half-sheet of heavy paper, which she handed to Carter. The page was folded in quarters, its creases sharply delineated, the silver safety pin still glittering in one corner.

“You may read it, Detective Carter. It’s for you.”


XXXXXXXXX


On her way up the steps to John’s room, Carter thought over the meaning of the typewritten note. It was a succinct summons from the head of The Brotherhood.

In it, Dominic, the boss of this rising hoodlum gang, had been clear and menacing:

“Detective Jocelyn Carter. Meet up 8:00 tonight. North end Bronx Swamp. Alone or your family suffers. Don’t show and your family suffers.”

Carter knew the Bronx Swamp by foul reputation.

The proposed location for the meeting was a mile-long stretch of derelict rail line known as the Port Morris branch. Though the tracks dated from the 1840s, it had been abandoned by Conrail in 2003 when its tight curves and low tunnel under St. Mary’s park made it impassable for modern freight cars.

The area wasn’t truly a swamp, just a water-laden sink, undrained and neglected. She remembered the 2009 headlines when the city’s Department of Environmental Protection had used hydraulic pumps to draw more than six hundred gallons of stagnant water from the site. The project wasn’t a success, the city threw up its hands, and the Bronx Swamp remained a boggy mess.

She had only driven past it a few times, but colleagues from the 40th Precinct regaled her with stomach-churning tales of the rotting cross ties, putrid waters, and decades of neighborhood trash collected at the underpass. At one point, the railroad company had to mandate that all its trains running through the borough be equipped with snow plows year round to make their way through the debris tossed onto the tracks from the street above the noxious Bronx Swamp.

Alone or your family suffers.

Dominic’s idea of a rendezvous spot reeked, quite literally.

Now, arriving at the door to John’s old room, she gently pressed it open.

A narrow slice of yellow light from the stairwell pierced the darkened space. She could make out Bijal’s small form under the garish pink embroidered coverlet on the bed. The little girl was sleeping, curled into a defensive comma, knees against her chest, her black hair loosed from its braids to trail over John’s pillow. As she watched the shallow movement of the child’s chest for several minutes, Carter marveled that even in the aftermath of such trauma, Bijal could smile at a pleasant dream.

Don’t show and your family suffers.

Carter assumed that Dominic was referring to Taylor, perhaps her mother as well. But the circle was much wider than that now. If she didn’t make the appointment as demanded, she knew others might pay the price too. Lionel, Shaw, John, even Harold could be harmed. Bijal had already suffered this afternoon, as had Mrs. Soni.

There was no doubt that The Brotherhood intended to inflict damage as widely as it could across the city, using terror to achieve its criminal aims. If she could intercept the gangsters now, at the start of their rise to power, perhaps she could thwart them.

Images of strangling a writhing octopus in its crib leapt to her mind. She saw clammy tentacles wrapped around her wrist, squeezing until the veins bulged. But if she choked hard enough she was sure she could still get the job done and end the Brotherhood’s life in its infancy.

There was no alternative. She had to undertake tonight’s operation, regardless of the risk. And she had to do it without letting John know her plans. If she told him, he would follow her, guard her, perhaps even resort to force to prevent her from making the appointment with Dominic. Her foray to the Bronx Swamp had to be a solo expedition, a lightning strike without support.

Resolved, she pulled the pink coverlet up to Bijal’s chin and stroked the curling black hair as it lay on the pillow, breathing a promise against the child’s smooth brown forehead.


XXXXXXXXX


Carter left her sedan on a street bordering St. Mary’s park and walked the three blocks to the viaduct that overhung the Bronx Swamp. A derelict century-old shirtwaist factory and an abandoned tool works plant offered their pane-less windows as witness to her passage through the neighborhood.

In the precinct locker room she had changed to black jeans and turtleneck, zipped under black leather. She had jammed a black beret over her hair, slanting it down almost to her eyebrows. At the park, she left her watch and cell phone in the car, arming herself with only a revolver in her waistband and a knife tucked inside her right boot.

She clambered down the incline from the street at the north end of the railway underpass, hanging on to naked branches as she descended. A seven foot high retaining wall caused her to hesitate: jump and risk twisting an ankle or dangle from the concrete overhang to make the shorter fall to the uneven ground below. She chose to drop from the wall, landing on a pile of bricks and a garbage can cover.

Glinting in the shadows of the underpass, she could see the outline of a black Escalade, its headlights extinguished, but its motor humming.

As she walked toward the vehicle, three figures slid forward from the shadows on either side of the van.

The three men were of approximately the same age, mid- to late- twenties. Tall and lean, with skin colors ranging from deep tan to plum black, Carter assumed these were lieutenants in the Brotherhood, none of them had the carriage or authority to be the main man.

They weren’t in uniform exactly, but dressed in similar somber colors -- black, gray, one wore a sharp-tailored cloth vest over his navy sweater—they gave off a quasi-military air. Their hair styles were similar too, close cropped, although one man affected a high top with shorn sides, while another’s balding scalp shone in the scant moon light.

She spoke first, taking the initiative to show she wasn’t intimidated.

“None of you fellas are the Boss. He wouldn’t get his feet wet down here until he was sure I’d come alone. Am I right?”

When they said nothing, she advanced closer, stepping around a stained mattress and several wooden crates, the slats sticking up at precarious angles. She kicked at the remnants of a rotted rail tie and its splinters skittered across the ground to land at the feet of the man in the vest.

“Classy digs you got here. The Brotherhood really knows how to show a girl a good time, hunh?”

The man with the high top motioned her forward with his drawn gun.

When she was beside him, his comrade in navy patted her down with rough strokes, grunting when he found the revolver at the small of her back. He showed it to High Top.

“Shorty was packing, Curtis. Whatcha want me to do with it?”

Curtis shrugged, seized the weapon, and turned his eyes toward the van’s blank windshield. He tilted his head to the right, as if waiting for a command.

“Get in here.”

The order from the vehicle rumbled low and hollow, like an echo, so muted Carter wasn’t positive she had heard anything at all.

But the three men jumped away from her at the sound, creating a path to guide her to the Cadillac’s left side rear door.

She climbed in and waited in silence as her eyes adjusted to the dark interior. Smoky sandalwood blended with the softer smells of baby powder and new leather in the close atmosphere of the van.

Dominic wasn’t as she had pictured him. She had imagined a wiry man with a hard face and the weathered hands of a longshoreman.

But the man slumped next to her on the rear bench of the van was barely more than a boy. His plump brown cheeks were poreless, as though he had never shaved. The dark pouting lips pursed disproportionately small within the curve of his long jaw. His eyes, when he finally turned them on her, were small too, softly glowing with a hesitation she might have found endearing in other circumstances. He seemed shy to meet her, an impression reinforced by his hunched shoulders and lowered head. His hands had pickpocket’s fingers, long, slender, and clever. The tense clench of his fists against his soft belly set her nerves jangling.

“You came on time.”

Dominic’s first words carried a surprised tone, which he quickly erased with his next phrase.

“Smart move. I don’t like to wait.”

“Yeah, I’m here. Your invitation was hard to pass up.”

“I needed to get your attention and guarantee your cooperation.”

“Well, you got my attention. But I’m not guaranteeing anything. What do you want?”

Dominic turned his massive head away from her and looked out to the tunnel’s inky cavern.

“To talk.”

“So talk. Or are you waiting for an even bigger audience?”

Carter tilted her chin toward the shadowy figure in the driver’s seat in front of her. The boss’s face flashed a genuine smile then, but one so fleeting that Carter doubted her own eyesight.

“That’s Floyd. She sticks with me. Turn around, Crystal, and let Detective Carter meet you proper.”

The woman who craned her neck to catch Carter’s eye was no more than twenty years old, tiny and cocoa colored with delicate snub features slashed by a sneering smile. She pulled back the black hood of her sweatshirt, folding it around her neck after flipping out a long glossy pony tail.

“Carter.” Her voice was raspy and guarded, but confident.

“Crystal. The pleasure’s all mine.”

Carter felt old and cranky and she wanted to jab at both baby gangsters with a show of excess politeness.

Formalities done, Dominic took the lead.

“I want to talk with you about Detective John Riley.”

Carter felt her heart flip in dread at this turn.

“Riley? What about him?”

“He’s your boyfriend.”

Dominic offered this as a statement of bland fact rather than a question, but she had to challenge the assumption.

“Says who? Riley works in my precinct, that’s all. No boyfriend, just a colleague.”

Carter shifted in her seat, turning her shoulders to stare at the mob boss.

In response, Dominic barked out a command, as if calling upon a data base for an elaboration of the equations underlying the claim.

“Crystal?”

The younger woman raised her eyes to catch Carter’s glance in the rear view mirror. After a pause, she spoke without turning her head.

“She lying. He banging her back out, for sure.”

Crystal snapped off that accusation and then launched into the explanation, her cool gaze pinned on Carter throughout the speech.

“Yellow roses Riley brought to her apartment in September – eighth or ninth maybe. That wasn’t no crap bodega bouquet for twelve ninety five. Real fancy roses, that two dozen’ll set you back one hundred and seventy-five, eighty easy, maybe more.”

Carter shuddered in remembrance.

John’s extravagant gift of yellow roses had been the start of a dazzling birthday festivity, one he said she deserved because it was the first time they could celebrate her special day in public together.

Crystal continued her account.

“On a cop’s salary, that’s no chump change. So yeah, nice-looking dude like that? He tasted the honey, drank real deep, I’d say, real deep."

Her lip curled up in triumph, Crystal defied Carter to deny the conclusion.

Dominic took up the conversation when Carter remained silent.

“Riley’s been messing in the middle of several of my operations recently. He interfered with movement of some of my property…”

“You mean Colombian cocaine, don’t you?”

The question burst from Carter almost before she had time to consider whether it was wise to interrupt.

“…and he blocked me when I asserted my authority over my own people.”

Now the interruption was planned. She wasn’t going to let him finish his story without the corrections and she could see the needling was getting under his skin.

“That time you wanted to murder some kids who stumbled into your filthy schemes and took a piss-ant amount of cash, right?”

Dominic’s voice turned wheedling and small.

“I wasn’t going to hurt that little brother, just give him some much needed instruction in the way the world works.”

“The world according to Dominic, hunh? The way I heard it, that little brother wasn’t fooled by you and neither was Riley. You got played by a twelve year old and a white cop, Dominic.”

It took several deep breaths for Dominic to regain his composure after her disruptions, his agitated state revealed by flaring nostrils and a fixed stare.

“I’m going to overlook your poor manners, Detective, as well as your ignorance of the facts.”

His thick chest rose and fell in a ponderous rhythm, his black t-shirt tightening over clenched biceps.

“When I was in seventh grade I took art class from Mrs. Pappas.”

He looked at Carter to see if she would challenge this seeming digression. She shrugged and raised her eyebrows; the stage was his to command again.

“We didn’t have much in the way of supplies, only what Mrs. Pappas could buy with her own money – paper, charcoals, sometimes water color paints. I loved that class, I got to the studio early every Thursday all year long. I just wanted to fill up every corner of every page with sketches, pictures, shapes and words. Everything I had going on in my mind I wanted to get down on that paper.”

He shook his head in wonder, the residual excitement of those artistic hours burning in his dark eyes. Then a frown crumpled the broad expanse of his brow.

“Usually my teachers ignored me. They were just happy if I stayed quiet in the back of the classroom.

“But Mrs. Pappas, she encouraged me, said all kinds of nice things about my drawings: imaginative, creative, gifted. Stuff like that. I don’t know if she meant any of it, but it was nice to hear anyway. Kept me going when things were pretty bleak all around.

“But then one time Mrs. Pappas said something I’ll never forget. She told me that sometimes the spaces you leave blank can carry as much information as the ones you crowd with lines and images. She called it ‘negative space.’ ”

Dominic paused, his eyes growing filmy as he peered back into his childhood art studio.

“Negative space is like a pause between the lines of a song, making the words stand out more sharply, highlighting the ideas by defining the boundaries. Negative space is the quiet, the absence that brings balance and meaning to a composition. That’s what Mrs. Pappas said.”

Dominic stopped his story and pinned Carter with a laser glare.

“And that’s what I need from Riley now: quiet absence. I need him to be the negative space around my operations. I want him to stay out of my business, away from my people. And I want him to stand clear when I make my move.”

Carter took up the thread of the conversation, now that the reminiscing was over.

“So you’re planning to make a move in the city, are you? I’m guessing you mean a strike against Elias’s organization.”

Dominic nodded, his eyes chilly within the wrinkles of a smile.

“The old lion’s day is done. He either retires gracefully or gets trampled.”

“And by ‘gracefully’ you mean Elias should agree to be assassinated in a quiet little restaurant on some side street in Brooklyn.”

Now the smile burst full blown, its spark highlighting his youthful looks.

“Right, that would be preferable. Or he can launch an all-out war. Many of his people will get cut down in the battle and plenty of innocent civilians too. Choice is up to Elias, but the outcome is certain.”

Disruptions forgotten, calm again, Dominic’s face was glowing at the prospect of a bloody confrontation with the reigning gangland king.

“If Elias choses to go down fighting, he will lose. No way around it. Bulgarians, Irish, Russians, Mexican cartel, Trinitarians. All of them gangbangers came up against me and all of them bent the knee. Now Elias’s time is over. My time is dawning.”

“So I carry this message to Riley and then what?”

“Then Riley stays on the sidelines. Clears the field for me. Him and that little piece with the stringy black pony tail who’s his back up. They both need to take long vacations when the war comes.”

Carter knew he meant Shaw, but she folded her eyebrows together to mimic ignorance, hoping to keep Dominic’s knowledge of her circle as clouded as possible.

“Oh, come on. You saying you don’t know who Riley runs with? That little bitch underestimated me real good – chippy and clueless at the same time, a dangerous combination in somebody carrying such a big gun. You ought to keep closer track of who your man associates with. Help him stay alive.”

Carter let the implied insult slide.

“So now I’m your messenger boy, carrying notes just like that little girl your men messed with this afternoon.”

“My men didn’t mess with any little girl. They operate under strict orders from me. My rule is we respect girls and women like they were all our own mothers.”

“Yeah, well your little rule got broken this afternoon, Dominic. I saw her torn dress. And the blood on her skirts was hard to miss too.”

At this, a wrathful cloud darkened Dominic’s face. Carter saw the veins at the sides of his neck bulge, and the meaty blocks of his hands clutched at his thighs in anger.

He lowered the glass on the right side window and without actually shouting, he projected his voice into the void of the black tunnel.

“Curtis, get over here!”

The lieutenant scurried into place, his high-topped head framed in the window.

“What’s up, Boss?” His eyes darted from Dominic’s face to Carter’s, trying to assess the situation.

“Tell me about that girl today. Did you touch her?”

“Well, I pinned that note on her dress. Just like you told us, Boss. That’s all.”

“Did you touch her?”

“I never did! And that’s the truth. I swear on my momma’s grave.”

“Don’t tell me about your mother’s grave, Curtis. I know exactly how she got in it and who put her there.”

Carter leaned forward to interrupt, an inkling of the fatal import of her accusation scratching at her mind.

“The torn dress, the blood, I saw it with my own eyes.”

Dominic bellowed at his baby-faced driver, demanding a resolution.

“Crystal!”

The oracular voice from the shadows of the front seat rolled through the sandalwood and smoke:

“He lying.”

Dominic raised his hand, powerful fingers curved around a Glock.

Before the hapless Curtis could get off a further word of protest, his boss fired a single bullet through his eye.

His head framed in the van’s open window, Carter could see that the blast tore apart the socket and took off a quarter of the forehead, exposing its red interior like raw meat in the butcher’s shop. Then the dead man slumped to the ground, disappearing from the scene, his role finished.

She hadn’t meant for Curtis to die, to pay for his insult to Bijal in this final manner. She told herself that she had hoped Dominic would simply reprimand this lieutenant with a few harsh words, maybe a slap across the face, as a lesson to the other thugs in his command.

But if she was honest with herself, she admitted that she had anticipated Dominic’s brutal response to her provocation from the start. If Dominic’s reaction was disproportionate, that was beyond her control.

She had intended to cause mayhem in his organization, to disrupt the elemental bonds of trust that ran like connective tissue through the body of The Brotherhood. She wanted to rip apart the confidence Dominic had in his soldiers and that they had in him.

Or your family suffers.

She aimed to make his family suffer as he had made hers.

If she had achieved even a small success in that effort this night, then her promise to Bijal was fulfilled.


XXXXXXXXX


The drive through the city was silent, each passenger in the black van contemplating an unknowable future. Carter didn’t fear for her life or that of any one dear to her that night.

She didn’t think John would receive the request from Dominic with anything but derision, she was confident he would disregard the message from The Brotherhood. She didn’t think he would openly join forces with Elias, not yet. But threats from Dominic, especially in the form of an order to stand down, would only serve to push him in Elias’s direction, she felt certain.

Carter had thought Dominic would blindfold her to prevent her from discovering his favored paths through the boroughs. But he scoffed at the idea.

“I’m not going anyplace you don’t know, Detective. No secrets here, my operations are transparent.”

Crystal played mellow jazz on the ride across town. Cerebral Coltrane and long, involved cuts from Thelonious Monk wafted through the van’s interior from WBGO, The Jazz Source out of Newark. Carter wondered if the musical accompaniment reflected Dominic’s tastes or those of his driver savant.

After an hour of meandering, the van pulled up to a twelve foot high chain link fence, its gate sealed by a fearsome padlock. Dominic handed Crystal a key and while she wrestled open the heavy gate, he pulled a set of plastic ties from his pocket. He motioned to Carter to extend her wrists at waist height and fastened the cuffs over them.

“Just a minor inconvenience. I just want to make sure you don’t get out of here too fast.”

Once they had rolled the van inside the gate, they drove slowly across the grassy interior of an oval track, stopping near a high stand of slatted seats overlooking the track.

“Get out.”

Dominic was as abrupt now as he had been expansive earlier in the evening.

Carter obeyed, standing beside the van, leaning slightly so that her chest touched its ice cold door. She wanted to hear Dominic’s last words.

“You won’t be stuck here long, I expect. What with that cute knife you got hidden in your boot.”

She lowered her eyes, feeling as exposed and transparent as Dominic claimed to be.

He swiveled his huge head to scan the entire field and the dark buildings hulking at the far end of the enclosure.

“I guess you know where you are now, so I figure you can get home pretty easily from here, even without your cell.”

Dominic returned his blazing eyes to her face, lifting his chin in farewell.

“Take care of yourself, Carter. Tell Riley I’m counting on his cooperation.”

No smile, not even a nod. The window glided back into place and Crystal hit the gas pedal.

Carter shivered in the cold wave of air left in the wake of the van’s departure. As she watched it roll into the shadows, she reflected on this last unspoken message from Dominic. She did indeed know this place. These were the playing fields behind Taylor’s high school.

No space was sacred, no relationship off limits in the coming war. The Brotherhood’s reach was long and its grasp something to be dreaded.

As she bent to fish the knife from her boot she heard the grumbling engine of a light car behind her.

Crystal had left the padlock unfastened and the chain link gate ajar. Across the track, her own sedan was barreling down on her, kicking up dust as it raced forward.

John.

He had traced her abandoned cell, appropriated her car, and trailed Dominic’s van from its lair in the Bronx Swamp.

As the car skidded to a halt a few yards from her position, squinting into the headlight’s glare she could see John’s tight expression and narrowed eyes.

She braced for explanations, recriminations, tough pleading, quiet anger, and perhaps a goodly share of tears too.

These were their lot in this war, it seemed, burdens they could never entirely set aside.

But if she and John could shoulder it together, the war’s awful load of pain and terror could be managed and their family’s suffering made less onerous, she was sure of that.

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Ah, trust John to make a surprise appearance at the last moment! Joss has proven time after time that she can take care of herself (while also rescuing others), but part of what I love about John/Joss is how fiercely protective he is of her, always lurking in the background in case she needs him :D

I loved seeing Joss take matters into her own hands throughout this story and how she acted intelligently and bravely while facing this new threat to her loved ones. Her entire encounter with Dominic, Crystal, et al. felt authentic; you captured the raw feeling that anything might happen with The Brotherhood involved, so I was very happy that Joss stood toe-to-toe with these thugs and emerged with a victory for little Bijal and Mrs. Soni.

Thank you for another great, detailed, and beautifully written story!

I'm delighted you found and enjoyed this story! I think that Carter works perfectly as the intersection between the urban crime and artificial intelligence story lines of season four, so this story came easily to me. Dominic is such a complicated and sinister character that I had fun imagining his first confrontation with Joss.

And for me, an imminent threat to loved ones is far more dreadful than faceless and abstract dangers so it made sense to me that The Brotherhood would use Mrs. Soni and Carter to pressure Reese. I wanted this to be Carter's story, but since she is never really alone, I had to bring in just a glimpse of Reese at the end.

Thank you for your encouraging comments. As always, I appreciate hearing from you.

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