A few months before my twenty-fifth birthday, my friend Kato got arrested. I’d recently convinced a judge to convict the emperor’s cousin of rape and murder, so I wasn’t surprised when my supervisor dropped a file on my desk saying, “Jaconovich, bring me a conviction on this piece of scum.”
I thought this would be another rape/murder case. I opened the file to see charges for arson against one Kato T’KU. I saw red and my heart ached. I wondered how I could recuse myself. I shuffled through the file to determine that the arson occurred at a laundry then grabbed my suit jacket and stormed out the door ready to kill or at least bellow at Kato. I walked from my office to the jail hoping to cool down before I actually got my hands on the man.
The guards at the jail knew me and waved me through doors and down to the cells in the basement of the building. The place stunk of urine, excrement, vomit and blood reminding me of the tenement I grew up in. I took a deep breath anyway then yelled, “Kato” I had no intention of looking through cells for the man I wanted.
“Jake!” Kato’s voice rang with pure joy.
“What the hell are you doing in here?”
“They said I set the fire at the laundry, but I didn’t do it.”
My heart softened, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “Where were you at the time it started?’
Kato turned red and looked at the floor.
“He was at The Pleasure Palace with a woman who calls herself Cleopatra.” One of the few men I didn’t know snarled.
I looked at Kato and raised my eyebrows. “Cleo, will vouch for you. She’s honest enough.”
Kato looked me in the eye, “Thanks Jake. You know me. I’ve got a good job in security for Soyet. Common, I walked home from school with T’SU’s son. Why would I hurt a friend?”
I knew Kato as one of the most easy-going and compassionate persons I’d ever met. I suspected his list of friends included most everybody in the city. My gratitude for his quiet friendship the year after Kaylee died ran deep. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here. Do you know who set the fire?”
Kato shook his head.
I turned to the waiting guard and nodded for the cell to be opened. The other men in the cell pressed forward so the guard hit at them with his stick. I drawled, “Guard, it’s okay. I need some exercise and those fellows look like they could use a little nap.”
The men watching the scene who knew me as more than Prosecutor Jaconovich laughed and shook the bars of their cells yelling, “Let ‘em out. Let The M’TK Sewer Rat at ‘em.” They laughed when the men in the cell with Kato fell back against the back wall dragging their ignorant cellmates with them.
Kato laughed and assured his cellmates, “He is, you know. I went to school with him. Saw him take down three big bullies when we were ten. He walked back into class looking so neat and tidy the teacher thought everybody lied about him fighting.”
I laughed at the memory as Kato escaped his cell. “I need this man over here, too.” I pointed at the stranger who said Kato had been at The Pleasure Palace.
Alas, the stranger had never heard of The M’TK Sewer Rat. When the guard opened his cell, he pushed the guard aside and made a run to push past me. Anybody could have tripped him. I caught him in front of his hips with my right leg, lifted him off his feet then dropped him. He stretched out flat on the concrete floor. Men in the cells whooped and hollered. I scowled at them. “Hold it down or next time you’re in my office, it won’t go so easy for you.” I held no illusions that they wouldn’t be in my office soon, and they knew it. The noise level dropped.
I figured the prisoner on the floor might decide to give me more trouble so I removed my jacket and handed it to Kato. The men in their cells cheered again. I hauled the stranger up off of the floor. “Do you have any other stupid ideas? If so, we can settle our difference of opinion, now.”
The man shook his head more to clear it than to answer my question.
I snarled, “Now, you are going to come along to my office, peacefully and give a deposition. This little outing will give you an hour or so out of this stench. You cannot escape me. Do you understand?”
The prisoner paused. He looked at Kato grinning and bouncing at my elbow while holding my coat. He looked at the other men in their cells smirking at him. He looked me in the eye and nodded.
“Good, let’s go. You look like a laborer. What are you in here for?” I thought to keep the man talking in hope that I wouldn’t have to chase him down later.
The witness turned out to be a laborer who’d come from the capital looking for work. He’d gotten picked up for brawling after leaving The Pleasure Palace. He told me he’d been in jail for two weeks and hadn’t been processed. After he gave his deposition, I sent him off to our holding room to wait to be processed and released. I decided he’d served his time for brawling.
I released Kato.
My next step made visiting the jail a picnic. Male criminals I can handle. I needed to work up my courage before visiting The Pleasure Palace, which is a grand name for an encampment of tents and shacks on the outside edge of the city limits. It had sprung up after the day I’d bellowed in frustration at the women filling our holding room, “Take your profession outside the city limits so I don’t have to process you every week.” Now, I must face the prospect of going out there.
I had a good idea how this chore could go. I’d started processing women picked up for prostitution as an intern well before my twentieth birthday…I guess age is no excuse. The problem remained that the women liked to see me blush or sweat. I thought about sending a police officer after Cleo, but The Pleasure Palace is outside the city jurisdiction. I would go.
I needed to walk the last few blocks from the trolley past the city limits to the encampment huddled under the trees beside the river. Walking toward my destination, I endured knowing looks and snickers along with some remarks about my disgusting nature from people on the street. The humiliation I endured walking toward The Pleasure Palace proved to be nothing compared to what happened when the women saw me.
I’d timed my arrival for mid-afternoon hoping that most of the women would be asleep or busy with day jobs and chores. I entertained a fantasy of quietly sending someone to bring Cleo to me.
I didn’t recognize the voice of the woman who sounded the alarm, or call to attack as it was. “It’s the young prosecutor come to visit.” She yelled.
Women poured out of their tents and doorways. A woman with improbable red hair reached me first and draped her arms around me. “Come with me dearie. I’ve got just what you need.”
“Don’t listen to her. She dyes her hair. It’s plain black down there. I’ll give you some real pleasure.” The second woman jostled me as she also draped an arm around my neck.
“Listen, those girls just want your money and will give you the clap. Now, I’d be happy to have you between my legs just to get my hands on your body.” The third woman blocked my path.
I remembered my training in martial arts and tried to breathe and concentrate only on my errand. I held up my hands. “Ladies please, I’m here on business. I need to see Cleo.”
“We’re all about business here. Forget Cleopatra. She doesn’t have anything I don’t have.”
I kept my eyes focused on a tree branch just above the women’s heads as the safest place to look. “I need her to come to my office and make a desperation, uh deposition.” Inspiration struck. “Actually, I need all of you who were here the night of the laundry fire to come to my office and make depositions. A man named T’KT claims he was here, a stranger from the capital, couple inches taller than me, scar on the inside of his right hand.”
The women backed away and began to eye me warily. Angel asked, “What do you want with T’KT?”
I answered, “He’s a good enough man. Claims he was here and that you all watched the fire together. I need the person he was with to make a statement he was here.”
Angel sidled closer to me. “He was with me. Will I get arrested if I come into the city? Or if I say what we were doing?”
“No. You’re free to walk through the city. Just don’t work there. You’ll be safe enough. Where’s Cleo?” I let my eyes rest on Angel’s eyes.
“Not here. Her mama’s real sick so she went to Sylvana to get her.”
My heart sank. “I need a statement from Cleo as soon as I can get it. Listen, I’m willing to pay one of you to go get Cleo and bring her and her mama back. I’ll give you rail passes. Angel, can you come back to my office with me now?”
Thus it was that I returned to the city in the company of five prostitutes, willing to state that T’KT and Kato had been at The Pleasure Palace when the laundry burned. As we walked toward the trolley, I endured more ribald comments and a few slammed doors. I think the worst encounter occurred when the shoe repairman stared at me with open-mouthed envy.
In the end, we completely cleared Kato. We eventually determined that he’d been accused because he’d overheard something of value that his innocent heart could not understand. Months later we caught the real arsonist, and that adventure is detailed in M’TK Sewer Rat: End of Empire