“The last police academy in the country has just passed out its last officer. That’s you.”
The latest novella in the critically-acclaimed series exploring the early days of Justice Department and the Judges is out now!
In the united States of America in 2041, all Errol Quon ever wanted was to be a cop. Friends, family—even the instructors at the academy—urged her to quit, but she stuck to it, becoming the last cop ever to graduate. Quon’s assigned to Golgotha, Alabama, and partnered up with Judge Unity Kurzweil, hunting a lead on an old case. And there’s still a few things the last cop can teach one of the first Judges…
Writer Michael Carroll continues his series about the creation of the infamous Judges in this new novella, available as ebook or limited edition print copy!
St. Christopher, Connecticut
Tuesday, January 4th 2033
“Niño’s gonna flake,” Gabriel Drake Nyby told his boss. “He’s not built for this kind of pressure.”
The passenger seat of Romley’s Tesla was warm and comfortable, and much as Gabe was afraid of Romley, part of him wanted the conversation to go on longer. It was cold out there and the cops were pissed that one of their own had been shot by a Judge. They were liable to take it out on anyone who crossed them.
A block ahead, the four cop cars parked at awkward angles in front of the main entrance to Mercy South Hospital were tinted orange by the setting winter sun.
Romley pursed his lips. “All Niño has to do is put an end to Officer Chaplin. Once that’s done, Chaplin’s colleagues will rebel against the Judges. That’ll give us time to recover our stock.”
Gabe’s phone buzzed in his pocket and he dug it out and flipped open the cover. “Aw man… That’s not going to happen now.” He glanced to the side: Romley was still staring straight ahead, towards the hospital, and as usual wasn’t showing any emotion. “Nodge says the Judges’ve already destroyed the stock. Piled it in the empty lot across from the factory and just torched it. Damn Judges work fast.”
“Yes. They do.” Romley tapped a rapid beat against the steering wheel with his thumbs. “All right… So in your judgement, Niño is not going to be able to go through with it?”
“I doubt it. He’s no killer, Mister Romley. I mean, not in cold blood like that.”
“Is he still using?”
Gabe hesitated long enough that there was no need to answer.
“I see. I thought so. My own fault for relying on an addict. I should have dealt with him sooner, but he had such good contacts…” More tapping on the steering wheel. “But he’s out of our reach now, and out of our control.”
Gabe’s phone buzzed again. “Aw hell no… Now the senior Judge is on the scene, along with Captain Witcombe. Niño’s got no chance now.” Another sidelong glance at Romley. “He’ll talk, or he’ll run. He’s not going to be able to stand up to them.”
“Okay.” Romley continued to stare towards the hospital for a moment, then turned to Gabe. “Mister Nyby… Consider yourself promoted, on the grounds that you do me two small favours. You’re unlikely to be able to get to Niño, so forget about him. There are only three others in the organisation who know who I am. You, Francie Hamilton and Merrick Bergin.”
Gabe almost flinched at that last name. “Bergin’s one of yours? We’ve been in a low-level turf war with him for years!”
“Jesus. All the trouble that guy caused us. You know he offed three of—”
“You’ll drop that subject, Gabriel. You’re going to take Hamilton and Bergin out of the picture, permanently. And immediately. Then you’ll go west. Chicago at least, preferably further. One way or another Niño Aukins is going to talk to the Judges and we can’t stop that. He doesn’t know you’re working for me, but he’ll name you as a friend and that might be all the Judges need to come looking for you. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, but, look, Niño’s built a network of contacts over the years. If they can get that out of him—”
“None of them know anything that could lead back to me. So we’ll let the Judges have Niño as their prize.”
“If you’re sure. But I can’t just take off and—”
“You’re either an asset or a liability. Choose now,
“Good. I want Bergin and Hamilton dead tonight. Get to them before the Judges do, and then leave town. I’ll find you when I need you.”
“Look, I can’t just take off. I’m gonna need—”
“Glovebox. Forty thousand. Take it. And if you squander it, or draw the wrong sort of attention with it, I’ll find you that much sooner.”
“I understand.” Gabe popped open the glovebox and pulled out the thick envelope. “Hamilton and Bergin. Two in the head, two in the heart. Not a problem.”
“One last thing.” Romley reached over and rested his hand lightly on Gabe’s arm. “I know you have a fouryear-old son you’ve avoided telling me about. His name is Raphael, chosen to please his mother who has a thing for angels. Which is also one of the reasons she chose you as her partner. You’re embarrassed about that, so you’ve told your friends that your son is named after a turtle.”
Gabe stopped breathing.
“You didn’t tell me because you were scared I’d use him against you.” Romley patted Gabe’s arm, and smiled. “I was right about you from the start. You are a good judge of character. You only see the boy once every couple of weeks anyway. He barely knows you. A clean break really is the best way. And it won’t be forever, I’m sure. A few years and things will have settled down enough for you to come back.”
“What about my—?” Gabe cut himself off. There was no arguing with Romley. When you went to work for him, he learned everything there was to know about you. Treated you like you were the only one he really trusted
just so that you’d trust him in return, until the day you realised that he was doing the same thing with all of his other seconds-in-command. Gabe had known about Niño and Hamilton, but that was all. He’d never even suspected that Merrick Bergin was in anyone’s pocket, let alone Romley’s.
“Go,” Romley said. “I know I can rely on you to do the right thing, Gabriel. Your son is also relying on you.”
Clutching his envelope full of fifty-dollar bills, Gabe climbed out of the car and clicked the door closed behind him.
The Tesla moved away gracefully, the only noise being the hiss of its tyres on the asphalt.
Gabe zipped up his jacket, then stuffed his hands deep into his pockets as he quickly crossed the road. His old Lexus was three blocks down. He knew it had a little over half a tank—enough gas to get him out of the state, but first he had to make two stops.
Hamilton would be easy enough: Gabe and Francie had known each other for nearly thirty years. Not exactly friends, but close enough that he knew she’d open the door to him.
Gabe unlocked his car and climbed in. It started first go, which he took to be a good omen, and he let it idle for a while in the hope that it would warm up.
Francie Hamilton fronted as a respectable woman, in a nice neighbourhood, the sort where the houses still put Christmas wreaths on the door and the local kids loved the winter because they’d make fifteen or twenty bucks for every drive they shovelled.
Gonna have to leave the engine running… a gunshot on that street will bring every neighbour to their windows.
He hoped that it would be Francie herself who answered the door, and not one of her kids.
Getting to Merrick Bergin was going to be a lot tougher. Gabe didn’t even know exactly where the man lived— but he knew enough people who did. A couple of them owed him favours. He’d start with them first, then move on up the chain. But it had to be done fast, and without alerting Bergin. Simple rule: if you’re gunning for a guy, don’t tell him.
Before the night was out, a lot of fingers and teeth would be broken. And families.
Gabe reached under the passenger seat and groped around until his fingertips brushed against his old reliable Sauer Mosquito. The Lexus had been sitting there for so long that the gun was almost too cold to touch.
But it would warm up soon enough.
Thursday, May 5th 2039
Errol Quon had daydreamed about the graduation ceremony for most of her life. She’d always pictured a bright sunny day. A pool-table-flat lawn covered with perfect rows of wooden chairs occupied by the cadets’ proud family members. The cadets in their dress uniforms, crisp creases, polished brass, everything a perfect fit. Beaming smiles as they accepted their certificates. A rousing cheer as they tossed their caps into the air.
That’s how they did it in the movies. A ceremony to mark not the end of their training, but the beginning of a new life.
Whenever some friend or relative had been boasting about their kid’s wedding costing a fortune, Quon’s mother Sharlene always commented, “A wedding is not a marriage.” Likewise, a graduation ceremony was not a career. It didn’t matter that there was no band, no press photographer, no flags or ribbons. What mattered was the intent.
Eighteen of them started together at the Police Academy in Merrion, a much lower number than in previous years, but that was no surprise. Almost no one wanted to be a police officer any more. Quon’s one remaining friend from high school, Jess, had begged her not to join the academy: “What’s the point of trainin’ to be a cop? They’re already obsolete. You wanna be a Judge, that’s the future.”
Her own parents agreed. “I know you had your heart set on it, punkin,” her father, Nicholas, said, “but you have to face up to the fact that life won’t always work out the way you want.”
But she’d signed up anyway. She’d always known that being a police officer—especially one of mixed race here in the south—was going to be tough. Old prejudices often ran deep, and with the rise of the Judges, she felt that ordinary cops would be needed more than ever.
On the first day, at orientation, the academy’s lecture hall echoed as the tutor read out each cadet’s name and details, then he said, “This day ten years ago, this hall was full. One-forty cadets. Now… eighteen.” He looked at the students in turn, and to Quon it seemed that he settled on her. “A lot of you aren’t going to make it.”
He was right. Of the eighteen cadets in her class, four
quit in the second week. Three more before the end of the first month.
The others stuck with it, though. At first. But oneby-one, they’d fallen away until only Quon and Milo Visconti remained.
Visconti was exactly a year older than Quon, which they’d discovered during that orientation class. It had given them a reason to talk to each other, and to bond.
Their relationship was intensely physical at first. Frenzied nights of dorm-sneaking and perspiration and giggling and stifled cries of ecstasy, but that aspect quickly faded as appetites and curiosity were slaked. They remained friends, no hard feelings, no recriminations.
Quon thought of it as her first grown-up relationship. Jess had once told her, “You know you’re grown up when you can break up with someone and not hide when you see them coming. Though I suppose that might mean maybe you weren’t so interested in the first place.”
Aside from Jess, Quon had never managed to cultivate any close friends; just people she knew. She was okay with that. People were complicated and didn’t stay inside the lines. Jess was a good example. If you wanted her to do something, you just had to tell her that she wasn’t allowed to do it. Or that she wasn’t able to do it.
Opposites attracted; Jess was spontaneous and reckless and dangerous, and Quon was careful and considerate and respectful.
But it was only when she left home for the academy, and no longer had her parents and Jess to act as landmarks, that Errol Quon realised who she really was.
Three months into their training, she told Milo, “Some people live to bend the rules… I like to straighten them. Neat rows. Order over chaos. If everyone obeyed the law, we would all be much happier. It’s that simple.”
He laughed at that, “Yeah, good luck surviving in the real world with that attitude, Quon. They’re gonna grind you into paste on the first day. I’m not saying we should totally go with the flow, though. I figure we should make the flow go with us. You know what I mean?”
“Be the pace-setter, not the follower.”
But a month after that, Visconti told her, “I’m done. This job is a dead end, Quon. The Judges are running the show now.”
“They made you an offer,” Quon said. A statement, not a question.
“Sure did. I’m surprised they haven’t talked to you yet.”
Her only response was a shrug. Representatives from the Department of Justice had approached her twice, and both times she’d immediately turned them down. She’d never told Visconti about that: much as she liked him, she knew his ego wouldn’t respond well to learning that the Judges had favoured her over him.
Visconti was gone within the hour.
The following morning, Captain Deitch called Quon to his office.
She knew what he going to say: it was obvious from the cleared shelves, the packing crates piled up against the wall, and the stack of folders on his desk that he was steadily sorting into two smaller stacks.
“Cadet Errol Quon. With your friend gone you’re the last one standing.” He gestured towards the packing crates. “Told you last month they were gonna shut us down, and now they have. As of tomorrow morning, the contractors are moving in. Gonna strip the place, remodel it for the Judges. The first Academy of Law in the Magnolia State. Guess we should be kinda proud of that, in a way.”
The captain regarded her in silence for about five seconds, then said, “Sorry, kid. We’ve all been retired or sidelined, so…”
Quon didn’t move, didn’t change her expression. She’d always been good at keeping her emotions under wraps. But inside she felt like she was standing on the edge of a cliff. “Sir… I request a transfer. To another academy. I think that’s within my rights and—”
“Yeah, it’s within your rights. But it’s not gonna happen. All the academies are winding down. They’re trying to shed their cadets, not take on more. The Department of Justice cut every goddamn state’s police training budget down to near zero.” The captain picked up the final folder and moved it over the stack on his left, hesitated, seemed to come to a decision, then dropped it onto the other stack. “We have no staff, no money, no academy. Quon, if you don’t want to be a Judge, go get yourself a job in a library or something. That’d suit you: they like to keep everything neat and tidy, same as you people.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You people?”
He nodded. “Yeah. Well, no, I don’t mean you people like… you know I don’t give a damn what race someone is, or who they—I mean…”
She knew what he meant. What they always dance around. If you’re female and tall, with a strong build and short-cropped hair, the average person will assume you’re a lesbian. It suits them to categorise people. Makes things easy. She understood that.
She let him off the hook. “What about you, Captain?
You’re only, what? Fifty? That’s young to retire.”
“Not as young as some.” He dropped into his chair, leaned back with his fingers interlocked and resting on his chest as he looked around the office. “Nineteen years I’ve been here. I’ve seen it all, Quon. Good cops, bad cops, clock-watchers and thugs and those goddamn ghouls who want to become a cop because they got a thing for seeing dead bodies. Every kinda weirdo and freak came through those doors and it was my job to knock the rough edges off them, mould them into a shape that’d fit neatly into society. So I can tell when someone’s got it, and when they haven’t. Quon, you’ve got it. Ten years ago, you would have passed with honours. You’d have made a great cop. Now…” He shrugged. “You seriously never gave any real consideration to joining the Judges? Just say the word and I’ll contact Judge Leverett. Give
you my highest recommendation.”
“I don’t want to be a Judge, sir. Just a cop.”
He smiled. “That’s because you’re an idealist, Quon. Your biggest flaw.”
She decided to cut him off before he embarked on his ‘You want everything to be sunshine and roses’ speech. “Yes, sir. You’ve told me that before. Sir, what do I do now? Are you telling me that I have no choice but to quit?”
“Well, no academy, so, yeah. You kinda do have to quit.”
She nodded slowly. She’d seen this coming. They all had. When Fargo introduced the Judges, everyone knew that it wouldn’t be long before there were no more ordinary police officers. That day was some ways off— there were still a lot of cities where the Judges barely had a presence—but no academies meant no new officers coming down the pipe. That had been one of Visconti’s strongest arguments: “You’ll be signing on to a ship that’s already sinking, Quon.”
She still had five weeks to go. If the Judges would just hold off that long, then she’d be a police officer. Sure, in time the Judges would take that away, too, but it would be better to be an obsolete officer than an obsolete cadet.
Captain Deitch gestured towards the door. “Take off, Quon. You’re just making this harder on yourself. Clear out your locker and… I was gonna say if you hurry you’ll catch the next bus home, but what the hell, it’s not like
I’ve got anything else to do. I’ll drive you.”
“Or you could not.”
“Meaning that the contractors might be coming tomorrow but they won’t be doing all the work at once, right? So we’ll stay on. You train me. It’ll go faster with just one student. We’ll work around the builders and decorators, not give them any reason to complain about us still being here. And when we’re done—if I pass— you’ll give me my commendation and find an assignment for me, just like you would if none of this had happened.”
She had more prepared, but the captain jumped to his feet almost immediately.
“All right. Yeah. Let’s do that. Screw Fargo and his dead-eyed dreadnoughts, pushing us around like we’re no better than cold broccoli on a kid’s dinner plate.” He began rummaging through one of the crates piled against the wall. “Your records are here somewhere… We’re gonna finish your training, Quon. You’re gonna graduate and become a damn good cop and we’ll show those pushy bastards that they’ve got a long way to go before they can control us.”
Quon knew that a lot of other people would have smoothed the path for her, but Captain Deitch had a point to prove to the Judges. He push her hard, personally supervising every minute of her training even as the physical building was being noisily stripped and rebuilt around them.
On the day of her unarmed combat final she was already on the mat in the academy’s gymnasium, waiting for her opponent to finish warming up, when the doors were pulled open and Senior Judge Leverett strode in.
Leverett stopped in front of the captain and glared at him. “The hell is this, Deitch? You know you’re trespassing?”
“No, we’re not. This precinct was absorbed by the Department of Justice, and I haven’t quit yet.” Deitch stepped to the side to see past the Judge. “Cadet Quon is about to take her finals in U.C. You’re interfering with that.”
Leverett pulled off his helmet and looked towards Quon. “My offer won’t remain open forever, cadet.”
She shook her head. “Thank you, sir, but I don’t want to be a Judge. I believe that the law should work for the people, not the state.”
“Then I’m shutting this down. All of it.”
Captain Deitch said, “We’re not costing the department anything—I’ve been paying the instructors from my own pocket—and the country’s still going to need cops for a few more years. You should be thanking us, Judge.”
Leverett smirked. “All right, then. Quon, let’s see what you’re made of.” He called out to Quon’s instructor, Blake, a former Marine who was charging them a hundred bucks an hour. “Unarmed combat. Right?”
“Yes, sir.” Blake approached the mat wearing his usual smug grin and cracking his knuckles—he knew Quon hated that.
“She any good?” Leverett asked.
“She’s fast. Got a strong right, a little weak with her left. And she’s hesitant. She pulls her punches.” Blake’s grin spread wider as he stared straight into Quon’s eyes. “Because she’s too dainty. The little princess doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“Then I’m giving you both permission to let go,” Leverett said. “Three minutes, no rules, no consequences.
Captain Deitch grabbed the Judge’s arm. “That’s not how this is done.”
Leverett shrugged him off. “It is today.” He nodded to Quon. “If this man is not unconscious or begging for mercy by the end of your three minutes, I’ll consider this—whatever this is… Captain Deitch’s experiment— to have failed, and you’re both out of here.”
“We don’t agree to that!”
“I don’t care what you agree to, Deitch. I’m a Judge. I make the rules, I give the orders. Quon, your three minutes starts… now.”
Blake lunged at Quon and she immediately raised her arms as she shifted her weight back on to her left foot.
He was only a little taller than her, but at least twenty kilos heavier, and with two decades’ more experience. And strong, too. Tendons like steel cables, skin like leather.
She pulled her head back and to the left as Blake’s clawed fingers slashed her face, close enough that the hairs on the back of his hand brushed her cheek.
He’d been aiming for her throat. If he’d connected…
She’d known he was dangerous, but a killing blow, in front of a Judge?
You have been holding back, she told herself. Blake and Captain Deitch have both told you that.
It wasn’t that she was afraid to hurt someone: when it came to physical force, there was no point in using more force than was necessary. Keep things neat. Stay inside the lines.
Blake faked a jab with his left, but she’d seen him do that before, and easily blocked his right fist.
She ducked back and to the side, shot her left leg out at the same time. Slammed her heel straight into his groin.
The impact told her he was wearing a protective cup, which she’d expected: he was a thug, not an idiot. But he flinched all the same, pitching his top half forward and dropping his hands to protect himself.
An elbow to the side of his head, hard. He stumbled, and she body-slammed him, crashing into him with her shoulder.
His feet skidded, lost their grip, and as he hit the mat butt-first, he tried to grab onto her. He was too slow. Her knee cracked into his chin and sent his head crashing backwards, then two sharp punches to the solar plexus and a final jab to the throat stole his breath.
Clutching his neck as he gasped and shuddered, Blake stared up at Quon, eyes wide from shock more than pain.
She straightened up. “My advice… Lie there for another two minutes, fifty seconds and then beg for mercy.” Quon stepped back, and looked towards Judge Leverett.
He was silent for a moment, then turned to the captain. “All right. Point made. Carry on.”
The graduation ceremony took place indoors, in what was once Deitch’s office. Instead of a crowd, the only onlookers were Quon’s parents and two contractors who agreed to cease hammering for five minutes.
Captain Deitch shook Quon’s hand. “Congratulations. The only graduate of the class of 2039. I am… very proud of you, Officer Quon.”
Quon’s mother began to applaud, and was quickly joined by her father and one of the contractors. The other one cheered and tossed his hard-hat into the air. It clunked loudly off the freshly-plastered ceiling before hitting the floor and rolling away.
As they watched the contractor chase after his hat, Captain Deitch said, “I’m sorry there’s no certificate or… well, anything else.” He lifted an envelope from his desk, handed it to her. “Your assignment.”
Quon opened the envelope. “Golgotha, Alabama.”
Deitch nodded. “Best I can do. No other force is taking on anyone else. And even this one had closed its ranks, but Captain Bonacki owed me a favour. The Judges are making it very clear that the old ways are gone.” He shrugged. “You realise what this means, Officer Quon?”
“You have graduated so now this place…” He glanced around the room. “As of now, this academy is officially defunct. The last police academy in the country has just passed out its last officer. That’s you, Quon. You are the last person to become a police officer in the United States of America.”