1 Chapter One

SIX YEARS LATER

In the city center of Maple, specifically in the CCC (Center for Combating Crime), inside the office of that department, a young man typed endlessly on his computer, filing a series of registered crimes that were still in process in that unit.

"The crime rate has risen by more than sixty percent in the last year..." — those were words from a report that was on TV next door.

"- Experts say this factor is due to the liberal policy implemented by Governor Dom Cernuno, which facilitates the direct purchase of firearms for the entire population."

The young man had his eyes clear glazed on the screen of his computer, still typing quickly, filing all remaining criminal cases on the online platform of the CCC. It was clear that his greatest wish at that time was to finish all that service as soon as possible.

He had a large hair of black threads, messy and with long tips. In addition to a thin body, he wore a kind of simple social clothing.

— SLEZZY! — shouted the Lieutenant of that unit. He was of average height. His black and fallen hair camouflaged certain part of his face. He appeared to be too young for such a high police position. — You will break your fingers... if you continue at this pace!

The young man, embarrassed, slowed down the pace at which he scanned the files.

Then the Lieutenant pronounced all:

— Attention! Everyone reports to the briefing room in two minutes! We have matters to deal with the whole office — he concluded his speech, already leaving for the same room soon after, carrying with him some folders, under the arm. A man in a suit was with him.

As Slezzy had scanned all those files with extreme speed, he was already with his entire daily service; and as he was only a police investigation recruit, he would already be cleared to leave his shift shortly after that meeting. This relieved him, causing him to breathe a great deal before he got up.

On the way to the meeting room, the young man was still able to hear the last lines of that report.

"- Some Internet users and conspirators, are linking such an explosion of the criminal rate with something supernatural, based on recent and curious testimonies of some people, who reported..."

The policeman who was at the door of the meeting room closed it abruptly, thus preventing Slezzy, who was the last to enter there, from hearing the conclusion of that matter.

"Something supernatural? They must have nothing to talk about..." thought the boy.

In the room, the young man could see all the employees of that sector, from secretaries to police officers and undercover investigators.

— Attention! — The man in the suit, still mysterious, who had accompanied the Lieutenant, overturned the silence from there. — My name is Edward Darrim, and I work for Government Security. Today, I'd like to share some information with all of you, employees of the central sector of the CCC, who are present in this room.

Everyone in the room, they focused all their attention on that man.

— After a private meeting with the security committee and the lieutenant of this unit, Jan, we decided that the time has come to implement a new measure, in partnership with the CCC, given the situation we are living in — finished his speech; taking a step back and staring at the Lieutenant.

Lieutenant Jan sighed; and soon after, he stepped forward, speaking:

— At first, I would like to thank everyone for coming. Some investigators are on duty at the moment, but will then receive the report of that meeting.

The Lieutenant took a short break, placing the folders he was carrying on the table, resuming shortly after:

— It is common knowledge that the crime rate of our streets has increased dramatically. Honestly... it's getting tiresome to hear this every day in a lot of reports, so... let's cut to the chase.

The Lieutenant took a serious stance, sighed and proceeded:

— We will reduce the number of police officers on the streets by eighty percent... in all units of our city...

The staff, astonished, began to whisper among themselves.

Slezzy stared at the lieutenant with angry eyes.

— The new measure is to prioritize police lives. Therefore, from today, those who walk away from the streets, will be only on standby in their unit, ready for any action after complaints or commands from our superiors. — The Lieutenant realized that many faced him with a certain indignation; but he just ignored it and went on. — The government has come to the conclusion that we are not having any major improvement with the...

— ARE YOU CRAZY!? — confronted Slezzy, taking a step forward, interrupting the Lieutenant's speech, with a tone of bravery and dissatisfaction. After a few seconds, the young man had gained every eye in the room for himself.

Out of there; an investigator who had just returned from his services on the streets, listened lightly to the discussion coming from that meeting room. He'd been in that institution for a long time. He was tall; he had long curly hair, embarrassed by the laziness of dressing, but still had a beautiful golden glow when illuminated by sunlight. Unlike Slezzy, his eyes were brown. In the conference room, a sergeant drew the attention of the "young rebel":

— You're just a secretary in this department, boy! Have you gone mad enough to question government decisions and those of your superiors!? Do you know how many police lives are lost every day in this city? How much these agents put their own lives at risk!? The possibility that these men will never come back to their families at the end of the day?

The Lieutenant, thinking of his next attitude after the event, was with his vision focused on Slezzy.

— I don't know why they still call secretaries for these meetings nowadays... — commented Edward, coughing afterwards.

The sergeant resumed his line:

— Enjoy your stay, still as secretary boy, because with this posture... you will not last long there…

The door of the room opened slowly. A tall man had pushed her. It was the investigator who had just arrived at the department. And as much as there was present in that room, some of his superiors, due to the great respect they apparently all had for him, no one questioned his entrance.

The Lieutenant received it:

— Investigator Sanches... I'm glad you're here! However, it's a shame you came at such a bad time of the meeting. Let's just say... we're facing certain... objections from one of the recruits.

The investigator responded with a calm and challenging tone:

— Actually... I've heard a good deal since the moment I got to this floor. You need to cover this room... with some sound buffers! — laughed ironically then. His voice was deep and persuasive. — I see we have a prodigy in this room... what's your name, boy?

Everyone there was tense with such a situation.

With all eyes turned to Slezzy again, he replied firmly to the Investigator:

— My name is Slezzy Kaliman; and I have only been at this institution for a few months. I still find myself as a recruit, working on the CCC digital system. And I will not go back on my word... when it comes to this new, cowardly order!

It ignited the eyes of most of the superiors present there. They would never accept such an attitude, coming from only an inexperienced recruit.

— We will do the following... — said Sanches, without fear of being interrupted by the other superiors. — How about... after our lunch break... you accompany me on my services... outside the department?

Everyone was surprised by such an attitude. Lieutenant Jan expressed a small smile; for he knew that this could cause young Slezzy to change his mind, as he had never had a similar chance: to actually witness a police operation.

Slezzy froze for a moment. That opportunity would be the greatest chance to finally prove its worth to the CCC; and perhaps even get a promotion to act under the city streets.

An alarming noise echoed over the entire building, announcing the lunch break of all staff at the institution.

— Okay. We will continue our topic after the break! However, it is a pity that we will not have the illustrious presence of our newest "mini-sanches" — Jan paused his speech for a moment, due to slight laughter coming from the back of the room. — Anyway, be aware of the newest measure, which will take effect from next week. Dismissed!

All slowly left the room; only Slezzy, Sanches and the Lieutenant remained. — Sanches... I hope you know what you're doing. I don't want a CCC secretary to just turn a statistic in the newspaper! — He warned Jan, turning his back on the other two; and leaving for another room on that same floor.

— Come with me, boy! It's time to take a walk! — invited Sanches.

— Aren't we having lunch... here in the department?

— Definitely not...! I'm already completely sick of the food here. Besides, we should celebrate your rebellion, don't you think? — concluded Sanches, leaving towards the stairs of the building. Slezzy followed him.

On the way, the two debated:

— Hey! Agent Sanches, do you think... there's any danger of me resigning from the institution after that?

— I'm sure of it! — he said with a sarcastic tone. — So, I think it's best... that you concentrate after we leave the building, so you're able to prove your arrogance from now on. Otherwise, you're in great danger of never coming back here.

After descending the stairs; and arriving at the ground floor, they proceeded out of the building.

Sanches walked up to the front of a stylish car; and soon unlocked the doors of it, with a control he had in his hand.

— You must be joking, right? This is your car? This dark paint... Mustang? — asked Slezzy, totally surprised and excited.

— That's the price of being the best Agent working on the streets of this city, boy! — Sanches replied, laughing then. — Before you go in, be aware that in case you screw up any little thing inside this little cutie... I'm sure you'll need to work for a few more long years in that office!

Slezzy laughed his head off. That was the best day of his life; the CCC's dream of playing on the city streets was finally coming true.

The pair got into the car, and then left from there.

Sanches squandered the roar of the powerful engine of his car, through the streets of the city.

After a few minutes' drive, while observing the huge traffic in downtown Maple, Slezzy asked the driver:

— Agent San...

— Please don't. Stop calling me that! From the moment we're on these streets, just call me Sanches! Consider yourself as my new partner, however... temporary — concluded with a slight smile.

— Okay, Sanches. Why... did you help me in that situation, in the conference room?

Sanches remained silent for some time before answering:

— Listen... son, most cops are starting to create a fear within themselves... due to the rise in crime in the city. Personally, I wouldn't trust an agent who's not fully prepared for his job.

Slezzy stared at the agent next to him, attentively.

— We need agents on the streets, with the same kind of energy you have! I wasn't kidding when I called him a "prodigy"... in that room, even though he was known for his sarcastic personality. In the end, what matters is... you're really willing to take action... and that's clear.

They stopped in front of a diner, which was considerably away from the CCC base in the East Region of the city.

As they got out of the car, they faced strange, evil looks from mysterious people all along the street. Soon after, they walked to that establishment.

Sanches walked in and walked to one of the tables farthest from the main counter of the gloomy diner. Slezzy accompanied him and sat there.

It was possible to see the outside through a glass pane adjacent to the table.

— Order whatever you want, kid! It could be... your last meal!

— What an honor! But... I think I'll have the same dish as yours!

— You will regret it! — laughed then.

— Han?

A waitress suddenly approached the table. Her blond hair was tied by a thin rubber band. She wore a white blouse, accompanied by a bow tie. In addition, she possessed the same youthful affection as Slezzy.

— Hey! Valentina! How long, right? — asked the older agent.

— Sanches, did they not warn you that Crow was watching this corner of the city? — said the girl, with a tone of insecurity.

Sanches put his elbows on the table, so that his hands supported his head. Soon after, he replied with low intonation:

— I am well aware of this, Valentina. By the way, this boy right here... — Sanches pointed to him. — It is the reason for my coming! So... please bring the same as always! But this time, two portions.

The waitress wrote down that order and walked to the back of the diner.

— Who is "The Raven", Sanches?

— He is the current head of Black Wing, one of the largest mafias in the city a few years ago. You probably don't have access to your name in the CCC database, since most of your gang's crimes are committed by your henchmen. That way, he always gets out... and gets out, unharmed.

Slezzy stopped himself; and soon after, he looked out of the glass. Several people, who were leaning against murals or cars, were watching them.

— If it were any other agent here; they would have already set fire to the car and created a war zone inside that diner — Sanches' speech provoked fear in Slezzy. — But you are lucky to have at your side... the best agent in this city! Besides, I don't think Crow is investing his chips in this area.

— You like to brag, don't you!? — he replied.

After a few minutes, the waitress brought two portions of an unusual dish to the table: they were just pieces of raw fish, lightly toasted, with a red sauce on top.

— Is that... what you eat for lunch!?

— After years of walking these streets... you manage to have the ability to renew your palate, go for me! — Sanches answered, fixing his silverware.

At the end of the meal, they got up, and prepared to leave that diner.

However, as they walked towards the exit of the establishment, an old woman, who had a round appearance and whitish hair, spoke, almost screaming, from the back of the restaurant:

— Don't tell me... that you will hang the bill for the fourth time, Sanches!?

— Ah! Relax... Vella! I said I'll still get it right! — replied the agent, with a charismatic face.

Then they left there.

Certain eyes of the street were still directed to the duo, who quickly got into the car and left that place.

On the way, the young man confronted the agent once again:

— Sanches, why are you hanging bill... in a diner down the street?

— Boy... you still haven't recognized the wickedness of this town. You know... it may sound silly, but in the future, if you don't die today, maybe I can tell you.

They headed towards the center again. During the entire journey, they took the opportunity to talk about the most diverse and parallel subjects.

*

After exactly ten minutes, Sanches arrived at his destination: a place close to the city's central square. He parked his car in one of the corners of that busy street; then warned: — We arrive! Here, we will stay the rest of the afternoon; just waiting for the sound of this radio! Ah, don't expect too much; it's been almost a week since I've received even a notification...

— What? — replied Slezzy, almost screaming, seized by the shocking news.

Sanches laughed at the young man's reaction; then he resumed the conversation:

— Now it's my turn to ask, boy! Where did you come from? Why are you so bent out of shape... to be out on the streets, even with these absurd crime rates?

— Sanches, it may sound crazy, but... I don't remember my past and previous life... at the age of twelve.

— What? Did they brainwash you? — Pinned the agent, giving his classic sarcastic laugh, right after.

— Honestly!? I don't know. This is still a big mystery. But about the talk of working on the streets... I want to prove myself useful to the CCC! I'm tired of just sitting backstage... filing crimes at the same time the other cops risk their lives for the rest of the population. However, what really matters to me... is to wipe out all the criminals in Maple! So that one day, my family can walk quietly around the corners of the entire city!

— Family?

— Well... I don't remember my past life; so I don't know if my real parents are still around... if they're still alive...

Sanches faced the young man with a serious look from that moment on.

— But that doesn't make much difference, since nowadays, I can count on the support of my companion, Emmeline, besides my younger brother, Rainn! — Slezzy spoke with great conviction.

— A younger brother? And a girlfriend? Did you consider this when you joined the CCC!? And still want to go out on the streets... take more risks?

— In fact, he's just a caring brother. We were raised in the same home; and with the same mother, Diana. And contrary to what you think, our bond... does not repress me. In fact, it is what strengthens me the most!

A brief silence dominated the inside of the car.

— They're great dreams, kid. I just felt like I was in a fairy tale!

— Han!? What are you talking about? — asked Slezzy, laughing angrily once again that same day.

— You're right in front of you, kid! Just look! You know... I've known you less than a day, and I already know you're a man of great personality! However, I can't let you think that all of this... will be as simple as you think.

Sanches opened the side window of the car, lit a cigarette and continued:

— Since the last five years, no CCC police officer has retired. Every day are marked by another death at least. Maple is no longer the same. Crime is growing from the outside in, and in a matter of months, criminals will be attacking the center of everything; and the worst thing is that this whole process... can get even faster with all the current decisions of our government. So... think about what you really want.

Slezzy faced the agent sensibly. Soon after, he reflected.

*

The day came to an end; Agent Sanches' hours were over, and no notification had reached the radio of that car.

Slezzy, upset at the thought that he would not witness any action that night, stared at the radio, hopefully.

— Yeah, kid, looks like today's not your lucky day...

Sanches was interrupted by the sudden and disturbing whistle of that apparatus, followed by the warning of a female voice, which came from it:

"- Attention! To all units of the central sector of the CCC, repeat! To all units! Move immediately to Dominic Street! We've received reports of a possible kidnapping!"

— You better put your belt on, young man! — said Sanches, starting the engine of your car, forcing some roars.

They left at high speed.

After a few minutes, the pair reached that destination. There were already vehicles, negotiators and flank snipers positioned on top of nearby buildings.

The center of attention was a pharmaceutical store. There was only one man in a white mask, who covered most of his face, except for the part of his eyes. He embraced a pregnant woman from behind, using her as a shield; while pointing a gun at his head.

Upon observing that situation, Sanches got out of his car and walked in quick steps to an area close to all the drama.

Slezzy did not hesitate; and also got out of that car, chasing Sanches, later. Ignoring the harsh cold, that with the night, arrived in that region.

The young man reached out and asked him, in whisper:

— What is the protocol for such a situation, Sanches?

— We don't have much choice but to observe. Usually, the negotiators and psychologists are in charge of this type of case, whose main objective is to rescue the victim, not neutralize the target.

A negotiator, who was a few meters ahead of the pair, announced from outside the establishment, through a megaphone, to the kidnapper, calmly:

— We are willing to listen to any request; in return for the safe delivery of this woman! Please! Let's talk!

The kidnapper, with red eyes and full of fear, pointed the gun at a store site that was completely empty. Next, he screamed deafening, tearing.

— I DO ANYTHING! I SWEAR! BUT PLEASE... GET THOSE CREEPY CREATURES... AWAY FROM ME!

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