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The Fourth Branch
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#1
The Essex County Sheriff's Office in Sandsbridge was one of ten throughout the county. The others were located in Lawrence, Lynn, Middleton, Salem, and Salisbury. It was a very small outpost, with desk space for the Sheriff herself and just 3 deputies. She only had two at the moment. Carl Addlebury had retired three months ago, and she still hadn't found his replacement.

In truth, in the official overall county rank structure she was just a Sergeant, reporting to the elected Sheriff back in Salem. But everyone here, and everyone in town, called her Sheriff, a tradition that dated back to the 1800s when the Sheriff really would have been the top dog of law enforcement here in town. And Coppinger, the actual elected county Sheriff, rarely checked up or even checked in. As long as there were no significant deviations in arrest and conviction rates, or significant deviations from her budget, he wouldn't, either. 

The set-up, and the attendant tradition, were a testament to the ways in which Sandsbridge was often a sort of world unto itself, set apart from the rest of the county and the rest of the state in subtle yet palpable ways. Another difference between her and many of her compatriots in the other cities...her work rarely took her outside of the boundaries of the city. 

State and local government probably could have easily incorporated everyone in this office into Sandsbridge PD, in fact, but...there were traditions that kept the little outpost plugging along. Meanwhile, Justine took pains to make sure their relationship with SPD was cordial and professional. There was enough work to go around, and jurisdiction friction was foolish when both departments were so small. 

One break room, one interrogation room. The break room was simple. Coffee pot. Coffee cups. Sink. Fridge. One little circular table with chairs stacked around it. 

The building was adjacent to a small county lock-up that was mostly just a holding tank. Most of Carter's collars were either transferred to the larger lock-up in Salem within a day or so, or set free after being held. They generally walked perps through the back and next door, rather than through a single building, a feature that might have been a severe security risk if they weren't mostly dealing with misdemeanors. The felony arrests were transported to Salem straight away, a fact that Sandsbridge defense lawyers didn't love when dealing with anyone taken in by the Sheriff's department vs. SPD. 

The place was relentlessly clean courtesy of Mrs. Meyers, the old widow who had been taking care of the office for over 30 years. Even as she worked, Justine Carter could smell the fresh scent of the lemon and vinegar cleaners the woman not only favored, but made herself. She was eating at her desk as she typed up a report, careful not to let the crumbs from her BLT spread too far from the perimeter of the paper wrappings it had come in. Marring Mrs. Meyers' work just felt wrong.

There was no big "case board" like one might find on TV. There were too many cases for all that, though Carter had found the team a piece of software that essentially served the same purpose. One could drag and drop photos into place, type notes on them, build mind-map style connections between them. The program was a godsend for those helped by such visual tools, though Carter herself was considerably more verbal, typing notes in linear fashion until the whole story fell open in her hands like the blacksmith's puzzles she'd loved as a child. 

The ancient phones on the desk were silent today. They were rotary office phones, of all things, though the lines themselves came with voicemail. And the ability to put someone on hold, courtesy of the giant red "hold" button worked right into the plastic. Justine's team razzed her about replacing them constantly, but she loved them. She loved the solid weight of the receiver in her hand. She loved the click-click-click of the dialer. Most of all, she loved the connection: she solved cases with the same phone her father had used, and her grandfather before him. She loved those phones enough to have shelled out for an analog to digital converter for the office rather than shelling out for new phones, when AT&T had finally forced them to switch to Uverse. For all that, they were well-built and didn't deliver a single burst of static, unplagued by the planned obsolescence that stalked most electronics now. She'd invited the team to go buy their own desk phones if they wanted them, and offered to reimburse them, but...they kind of got it. And they had smart phones. Which they mostly used instead of their desk phones. She used her smart phone in the field like anyone, but here it was the rotary all the way.

The computers, now, those were top notch. She'd spared no expense on fast internet and good, sleek laptops with plenty of processing power. That had been one of the first things she'd done when she'd been given charge of this local office. The desktops they'd been working on had been so old that they could barely access the Internet. Some of the software they'd been on had still used that clunky green-on-black display, with blinking square-pixel cursors to mark one's place. Unsustainable, untenable, foolish, but her father had been set in his ways and had seen no reason to change.  She was careful to keep the crumbs out of her keyboard, too, but eating at her desk was a long, bad habit that she'd never quite been able to shake.

Today, she was the only one here-- not that unusual. The other two were out working a case.
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#2
She wasn't late, for once! Her iPod played Kurt Vile, Wakin' On a Pretty Day, loud into her ears. Good, but not enough. She fidgeted with the device, switching from track to track. Girl Called Alex, what about that?

It was a sunny, shiny afternoon. Were her clothes all right? Too warm, perhaps? What an idea! When meeting the Sheriff, don't dress like a total idiot - that wasn't a terrible motto to live by; so she'd ditched that morning's T-shirt - old style Aquaman: now, that was a tad too informal for any standard - and donned a white-and-brown striped shirt, high waisted pants, braces because why not; she looked like a journalist out of a retro noir movie, that is to say like just a partial idiot, which was not a bad thing, overall.

Aquaman, however, would've been more comfortable.

Her hand couldn't let the iPod alone. She wrapped it up, eventually; tucked it into a pocket. A shapeless ensemble of noises hit her: a car hissing by, and was that a siren from the harbor? Would it be audible from there? It was interesting enough such devices were named after mermaids - although in fact they were rather different beasts, sirens and mermaids - the way they'd been merged had its own page on Tv Tropes, or hadn't it? She quickly checked on her mobile, just to have it out of her head.

A shimmer. An insisting one. The sun reflecting on a parked car's mirror, and right into her eyes. On the other side of the street, two people having a row: too loud to be ignored, not enough to be heard distinctively. She almost crossed the road to hear them better. Almost being the key word, because such an idea was bad on a few different levels.

That day she had an appointment - and again, despite everything, she wasn't even late! Or was she? Another glance to her mobile turned into a visit to her Twitter account. She'd just put it back when she remembered her original intention. Okay, not late yet. She had an appointment, and for something that resembled to a real news. The kind of news people could actually read, not just a piece of filler so that you could say you had a local page. Because, really, who cared about the clam festival? With all that she's almost made up a rivalry with the one in Ipswich... There was some sort of actual rivalry, but turning that into something newsworthy took talent. Hey, maybe she had some, after all!

But, but, actual news! That was what you could expect from an interview with the Sheriff! And if her information were correct... She walked in, greeted whoever sitting at the entrance - she forgot to check their face! But, whatever. The lemony scent came with a wave of memories; her old school, a cinema's bathroom. Was that her madeleine? One of the many, most likely. The Shreiff's office, now she knew where that was... She almost walked past it, though, caught up as she was, thinking to madeleines and tea and the cigarette burns on those cinema's seats. Turning back just in time, she knocked at the door. "Good afternoon!". Now if she'd ended up in the wrong room, that'd have been hilarious, but not in a good way.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#3
The cheerful greeting caused Justine to look up over the rim of her glasses, then to wrap up the other half of the sandwich and put it aside. It also brought a hint of a smile to her lips. 

"Erika," she greeted, with her characteristic laid-back warmth. "Come on in, have a seat. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Water?"

As with SPD, Justine had taken pains to keep things as cordial as possible with the local paper as well. Good relations with the media could be a godsend, and they were all just trying to watch out for their community here. For all that Erika got exciting, juicy stories about as often as Justine got unusual cases, she was still a representative of the fourth branch, one of the legs that held their society upright, a watchdog for the town in her own way just as Justine was. And of course there was the fact that they could all run into one another at said clam festivals. Best to keep things friendly.

Besides, when it came to shubnam, Justine rather thought the shadows and rumors were helping the dealers, not the good people of Sandsbridge. She didn't know much, but what she knew could warn a parent, or even a party-goer. What she knew might entice others to come forward. This was not the kind of detail that could blow a case or send the dealers underground, not the kind of thing the mayor would hit the roof because she dared to talk about it. After all her years on the job, she had a sense of such things.

She politely closed the lid of the laptop, giving the young reporter the courtesy of her full, complete attention.
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#4
Yay, she was in the right room! And the Sheriff - well, she wasn't already annoyed with her, which was always a pleasant surprise.

"Oh, thanks! I never say no to coffee!" She looked around, instantly locating the coffee pot and all the necessary. Coffee, the foundation of Western society! Or at least, the foundation of office life. How could people manage to stay sat at all, before its discovery? That would have shed an unusual light on the very concept of peripatetic teaching, although honestly that was quite a stretch. Meanwhile, reaching for a cup of coffee allowed a few more steps, a small detour before walking to the Sheriff's desk. "Thanks again!" Or wasn't she supposed to get her own cup straight away? Well, too late. Peripatetic teaching - that would have made her school life much easier, that for sure.

"So, here we are! I'm glad I can have some time with you; I know about your latest achievement: that's something worth talking about" - for Sandsbridge's standards, at least. The arrest of a few drug dealers wouldn't have been newsworthy in any more serious place. However. Shubnam. That was a remarkable subject, for pretty much any standard. "You don't mind if I record, do you?" Last time she hand't minded, but asking was always nice.

She fumbled with her phone, making it ready to serve as a recorder. Does it make coffee, too?, they used to say, but now it was quite the norm. She had an app of coffee trivia, by the way. Now put down your coffee before you grab anything else - she had just two hands, so that keeping in mind which of them was busy was a way to avoid unpleasant accidents. The cup was put on the desk: everything as planned! A notepad followed, emerging from her purse; an old-fashioned, paper one - physical contact helping her keep her mind on track, although not enough to make the recorder superfluous. Some real, actual news, however: chances where that could do the job.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#5
"I don't mind," Justine replied, patiently waiting while the young lady got herself situated. She smiled briefly about her latest achievement, but one thing Erika had probably learned from past interviews was that Justine rarely volunteered more information than she had to as a matter of course. She'd answer direct questions, but unlike many interview subjects she wouldn't jump right in and start talking in response to a statement. Whether this was a result of her personality or just the result of seeing people dig themselves verbal holes might be anyone's guess.

Just as well, of course, as Erika wouldn't have been recording yet! 

She stood up to top off her own cup of coffee, then came back to sit down.
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#6
Fine. She waited for the Sheriff to come back, then she tapped on the phone's screen. Ready to go.

"So - it is a known fact that three people have recently been charged with drug possession". That, and similarly basic details, came from your run-of-the-mill press release -  'run-of-the-mill' being an oddly appropriate expression, since the pushers had been snatched near the Old Mill. "What suspicions led the their arrest? Any indication that a larger network may be involved?"

Sure, an officer could not disclose anything too relevant - informers, ongoing plans, tactics that relied on secrecy. The Sheriff knew that she knew it, too. However, there were often details that were rather trivial strategically speaking, but that however made an article much more colorful: dealers caught red-handed in more or less unusual circumstance; shady traffic of shady people in a shady area; suspects acting so stupidly that they cause their own demise. Such things had little consequence, but they helped turn dry data into a vivid picture.

And then, it was up to the Sheriff: she could spread or hide information, whatever helped her work. That was a part of the game. Erika, and the Media of which she was a humble incarnation, were a part of that game. 

And for what she was concerned? Fine! Whatever! Just give me a good story to tell! 

Then, there was that other topic. The precious bit of information she had by much less official sources. The one that actually kept her alert. But let's keep it for later.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#7
"One of the individuals we have charged, Marcus Riddik, had a prior history with possession and distribution, but was out on parole." Justine wouldn't name the other two as their day in court had not yet arrived, but the guy with the existing rap sheet was fair game. "His parole officer suspected he was dealing again, but had no proof other than catching him spending time with the host of a party where the substance in question had passed, so we launched a surveillance operation. It took about a week to shake anything out, but it bore fruit."

Few people knew just how many investigations boiled down to sitting in a car and watching someone wait to get comfortable, wait to slip up. It probably wasn't the most exciting piece of information she could have dropped ever, but it was the truth. When the probable cause hung by the thinnest of threads, when no judge was going to issue a warrant and nobody was going to do much talking, watching and waiting was what was left.

It was always a hard call with limited resources, too, but the link to shubnam, however tenuous, had been more than enough to make Justine make the call. No telling how dangerous the stuff really was until they were able to get their hands on some. And nothing Justine had seen about the stuff so far had brought her much comfort. Usually new meant "more dangerous and freaky than the last thing," and so far all signs pointed to shubnam as being: "very dangerous" and "very freaky."
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#8
Perfect! Hm, not really perfect, but good enough. Unrepentant criminals indulging in their lifestyle, investigators following their trail relentlessly. No matter how dull surveillance could be in its reality: everything seemed exciting, if recounted the right way. Good novel material? Nah - for that, she'd chose a less law-abiding perspective. TrueArt was edgy, after all.

But, back on the current task!

"Talking about substances, now: there are rumors that Riddik played a role in the distribution of the notorious new drug, the so-called Shubnam. Have the results of your operation confirmed this suspicion?"

For all she knew, Riddik had been a small-scale dealer, who recently had started bragging he had a huge stash of Shubnam to sell. At least, that was what her less glamorous friends had heard from who-knows-whom. Such rumors, however, were just as reliable as they authors. Anyone selling as much as a hand-rolled cigarette at some point had bragged they had Shubnam. If you did not claim that, you were nobody. The drug, however, was strangely elusive - a market strategy? Actually rare ingredients? The result of criminal in-fights? Nobody knew. What was known was just that Shubnam was almost more a legend than a real drug; someone claiming it wasn't even a drug at all. Now, if that was an advertising stunt, it was not a bad one at all.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#9
"We do have reason to believe we have obtained an actual Shubnam sample," Justine replied. Because they wrote Shubnam. On the box. Which had been either laughable or suspicious, but there it was. "It's hard to tell given all the mystery surrounding the stuff, but as best we can tell? It's an LSD variant, with all the dangers attendant to dropping acid." 

Could the whole thing be some sort of marketing ploy? The slow distribution, the funny name, packaging it up with nutmeg of all things, and that rapid-disintegration stuff? Surround it in rumors, make everyone want some?

The rapid-deterioration stuff had bothered her the most, but the lab hadn't told her anything more than that. It would take another sample, maybe, this one more carefully handled. But for the papers, "it's an LSD variant" would do. Making it look as boring and as lame as possible might save some lives. Then again if the street value stayed lower than LSD there were plenty of idiots who would race to put it in their mouths regardless.

It's a marathon, not a sprint, she reminded herself, and for all that the thought was cliched it was nevertheless true. There was no such thing as the one big arrest that would get a new street drug off the street, though she might luck out and get one big bust that would severely limit the stuff until it virtually disappeared, maybe even before it spread out to the state at large. 

I should touch base with Mass PD and see if it has. That might help. 
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#10
LSD variant? That was kind of lame! Except, it suddenly became much more interesting when compared to the other hypotheses surrounding the drug. LSD variants and mutant peyotes were just a part of the story: she'd heard of Shubnam being a song, a numeric pattern, one had even suggested that Shubnam was one of the names of God. But then, that one wasn't one you could trust, for anything; a guy in high school also believed LSD was the language of God, for what mattered.

"Any information on the provenience of Shubnam - whatever they called with this name?" - if it's something you can tell the public, of course.

Anyway, that was another facet of the whole Shubnam mythology - it always came from somewhere else. People grew weed in their basement - her roommate did that in college! Not that she complained - and magic shrooms under their bed; and you could not study Chemistry or have a middle life crisis without coocking meth big style, apparently. Shubnam, however? It was someone you had from someone, who had it from someone who couldn't be found anywhere. Sure, pushers and junkies, and of course drug-addicted pushers, mayyyybe hadn't got the sharpest memories and the cleanest synapses in the world. Still an odd coincidence - or another maybe-ingenious market move. Hm, maybe their synapses weren't all that fried, after all.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#11
"Not yet," Justine admitted. "That is very much one of the objectives of our ongoing investigation, however." 

She hesitated, then said, "Off the record, Erika...it's all rumors and bullshit. It's always someone higher up the chain, always a friend of a friend. They are selling it to dealers for rock-bottom prices, which isn't entirely a big mystery as we found packages of nutmeg being sold as Shubnam. Arresting these dealers is just one step on a long road."

Juicy tidbits off the record, she knew, were not as exciting as the ones she could drop on the record. But she also knew good reporters could go mine that stuff for other sources, other leads, other angles on the story. And...

"You're out there talking to people about this stuff. Any chance you've heard any rumors I can use?"

The symbiotic relationship between law enforcement and the media, when cultivated correctly, could also yield new leads for the Sheriff's office. And Justine certainly wasn't afraid to take this, to turn it around and to see if she couldn't get some information out of Erika in turn. Young, working a story and not a case, she might well have heard a thing or two that Justine simply couldn't get near.
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#12
Nutmeg? Ew? Of all the possible drugs one could go around dealing, they chose the only one that was both sold at the convenience store, and too nauseating to be worth the effort of swallowing it. She'd tried it once - she was in high school, she was still dating Andy, and it'd been awful enough to swear off nutmeg forever. She couldn't even bear it in regular food, now.

So, nutmeg as Shubnam? Someone had been trolling Riddik, or Riddik himself was a troll. Although, Shubnam being involved, you could never be sure.

"Well, there's no lack of rumors, although I can't tell if they're something you or anyone could use". She planned to use them, but how exactly? It wasn't something that fit well in a crime news article - a larger, brilliant reportage would have worked amazingly, but it required more substance anyway. Not the literal substance. Although, that one would've helped too.

"On Shubnam, you hear all sorts of stories - so many and so different you can't tell which are entirely made up. It's been identified to all types of drugs - except nutmeg, I must admit: that one caught me by surprise! However, it's not only that - that wouldn't be too impressive, I mean, Shubnam is both rare and high in demand, so if one could try and sell caffeine pills under its name, they'd do. However... some people argue it's not even a drug. They say it's a music, or a string of words, or a pattern - something that affects the brain without being an actual substance". As for the 'Name of God' thingy, that could be left out; the point was exchanging some useful courtesy here, not being mistaken for bat shit insane. "But then, you also have people who've smoked Shubnam, snorted Shubnam, popped Shubnam pills, and they'd swear it was, indeed, a physical thing".

Okay, technically music was 'physical' too, but - you get it.

"As for the sources, they aren't hard to track just for the authorities. Users, dealers... even those who are normally very apt at finding their favorite products, from what I've heard they never know where to find a new dose. When they do, it's always thanks to some lucky encounter, and such encounters then tend to disappear, with no apparent interest for more deals. Then, of course we're talking about people who wasn't precisely sober during all such experiences".
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#13
"I gotta admit I fully chalk up any rumors of music to being someone's goofy idea after a bad trip rather than anything I'd want to hang my hat on."

Justine smiled apologetically. "I know there wasn't a lot here. I hope you can do something with what I was able to tell you. I will keep you in the loop if we get anything more substantive."

Marketing ploy was looking far more likely. Justine was right on the verge of treating this as a basic LSD ring, but some of what Erika said, about the chance encounters, bothered her. Were the dealers employing some sort of wide range illegal surveillance net to connect with their users at just the right time, seemingly by chance in a way that made it even harder for law enforcement to track? 

That was a disturbing thought. 

She would have to lean on Riddick just a little harder, she decided. Somewhere in all of this was the thread she could tug on. She'd pull it. And all of this nonsense would fall apart, becoming a consistent narrative that made some sort of sense to her. Order would be restored, and most of this crap would be off the streets.
Shiny!

Player: Featherstone
Date of Birth: 11th June 1989
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'5
Plotter: LINK
Characters:

64 Posts
4 Threads

#14
"That will do, thanks!" She'd done something with much less, indeed.

She got up to leave - but, no, there was one more thing to say. "As for the music bit, I'm not saying it makes sense - odds are it was indeed a bad or good trip of sorts. However... some years ago people actually talked quite a lot about digital drugs. Nothing really verified, nothing serious at least, but the idea of music affecting your brain in such a way - is probably unsound, but not entirely delirious, that's what I mean".

Then technically everything 'affected your brain'. A landscape, a poem, a call to action. And what about the way music was used to induce trance in some ritual? Not that it was the place and time to discuss anthropology. Especially since she had no idea where she'd learnt all that stuff.

"Anyway! Not stealing any more of your time!". And no incredibly lame pun on stealing whatever to a Sheriff.
Member

Image Credits: Aidan Meyer

Player: RaneyDay
Date of Birth: September 1, 1977
Pronouns: She/Her
Height: 5'7"
Characters:

54 Posts
3 Threads

#15
Digital drugs?

The Sheriff was not given to large, expressive displays of emotion. But this time the surprise was plain as day. She had obviously never heard of such a thing. She'd have to research it.

But digital drugs were also not illegal. She couldn't bust digital drugs. Could digital drugs kill someone? Destroy a life with addiction? Or was it just some harmless bullshit that people might get into to make a party better? Maybe digital drugs would in fact be somewhat preferable.

"Thanks for the tip," she said, and meant it. "Sounds like I've got some reading to do." 

And it looked like she was going to do it right then and there. The Sheriff was already flipping open her laptop, running the Google searches, absently pulling her BLT half back over to unwrap it and get to work on it again even as she started opening up articles that might prove enlightening. She'd agreed to the interview as a favor to Erika...

But it seemed, in the end, that Erika was going to do far more for her than she'd done for the bubbly reporter, simply by dropping that little bug in her ear. 

And it probably seemed like the poor reporter could let herself out and, at this point, Justine Carter wouldn't notice in the slightest.


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