Driving out of Garland Grove and into the fringes of Corver City was like traveling backwards in time. Garland Grove glittered with wealth and technological progress, while the rest of the city had only become more depressed and poverty stricken as the years passed. It almost seemed as if Garland Grove was some sort of gilded parasite, sucking the color and life out of the host it had occupied. But the Corver City that Chase was headed to now was the one he knew like the back of his hand.
Chase had been letting his mind wander as he drove, only half listening to the talk radio program on his car stereo, but he was abruptly pulled back into the present moment when he heard the name Sebastian float into his ears from the speakers. There may have been a lot of people in the world named Sebastian, but if you were in Corver City and you heard that name, it could only be in reference to one person. The host of the radio program was interviewing an up and coming recording artist who went by the name Beale, they were talking about her latest album, and somehow the topic had transitioned from her music to Bash Industries.
“I am just so inspired by Sebastian and what he’s achieved” Beale gushed in a low, breathy, almost creaky voice.. “He like, made something from nothing and now he’s like, the coolest person in Corver City, if not like, the world”
Chase rolled his eyes and aggressively finger punched the power button on the radio, sighing with relief as he was enveloped by a welcome silence. Ever since this Sebastian guy had come on the scene everyone was talking about him, and yet no one really knew anything about him. It was so bizarre, and something about it just didn’t feel right to Chase. He knew that Sebastian was up to something nefarious, and he knew that if he had the time and resources, he could figure it out, but that was never going to happen. Chase was still fuming about the whole situation when he turned right and found himself on a treeless, narrow gravel street lined with houses that were either abandoned, condemned, or on their way there. Mary Jane Landon and her 17 year old son Liam lived at the end of Brandis Lane, and in order to get there, Chase had to drive by a nondescript tan and brown house with boards over the windows and a caved in roof. As he drove by the house he tried to avert his eyes, but at the last minute he had to glance over, and the memories came rushing back. The feeling of chaos, the sounds of people pounding on the front door and shouting, the crypt like silence that descended on his home after his father had been taken away, and the smell of booze on his mothers breath as a young Chase got close enough to determine if she was just passed out again, or if she was dead this time. Chase gave his head one firm, decisive shake, pushing all the memories back into the box he usually kept them shoved in, and he pulled into the Landon’s dirt driveway.
Mary Jane was already standing at the open front door, wearing a long black tee shirt that hung to her knees, leaning against the door jamb and smoking a cigarette. Mary Jane had been the prettiest girl at Corver High, and Chase had had a huge crush on her that he never told her about, because she was two years older than him and a cheerleader. Now she had dark circles around her eyes as if she hadn’t slept in days, and her hair was tangled and graying prematurely.
“Were you expecting me?” Chase asked loudly, as he walked towards the front door.
Mary Jane shrugged, and took a long drag off her cigarette, not taking her bloodshot eyes off of him. “Heard you driving up. Most people don’t have a reason to be on Brandis these days”
“How are you doing MJ?” By this time Chase was standing on the tiny wooden front porch.
“Is that a serious question?” She snorted and flicked her cigarette into the dirt yard.
Chase understood her reaction. How was anyone in Corver City doing these days? The technology companies had come in and automated everything, taking away thousands of jobs. The jobs that were available came along with low pay and long, grueling hours. Life was hard, and it showed on Mary Jane’s face and in her calloused hands.
“Is Liam home? Can I talk to him?” Chase decided to get down to business. He wanted his time on Brandis Lane to be as brief as possible.
Mary Jane looked at him suspiciously, her brow knitted. “Why? He’s been staying out of trouble, he’s been keeping his nose clean”
“I’ve got a report that he was at Charlie’s Market a few days ago, and he left with some things he forgot to pay for” Chase ran a hand through his hair, giving away his discomfort. This wasn’t what he wanted to be doing, hassling a kid and his mother about some milk stolen from a grocery store.
“Which day?” Mary Jane asked. Her voice had gone from tired and lifeless to hard and sharp, and Chase didn’t know if she was mad at her son, or at him.
“Thursday, around 7PM”
Her face relaxed and she lit another cigarette. “Couldn’t have been my Liam, he was at his new job”
“I thought Liam was working down at the docks?” Chase pulled out his notebook and pen, interested in this new development. If Liam had an alibi and it was just a case of mistaken identity, this could be cleared up pretty easily.
“He does, but he took a part time gig at some place in Garland Grove for extra money. Pays pretty good, too” Mary Jane exhaled a cloud of gray smoke into the air and it was swept away into the breeze. She added proudly, “He paid the electric bill this month”
Chase paused, pen poised over paper and looked up. “Sounds like a pretty good job. Did he say where he works?”
“Stay here, I’ll go get him” Mary Jane walked into the house, a lit cigarette still dangling from her fingers, and returned less than a minute later with a disheveled looking Liam, who she had clearly just pulled out of bed. He was rubbing his eyes and wearing pajama pants made from fabric so thin and worn with age that there were holes in the knees.
“What’s going on?” Liam yawned widely and rubbed his eyes, but when he saw Chase his ruddy face broke into a huge grin. “Chase! What’s up man, it’s been a while since we’ve seen you around these parts!”
Chase couldn’t help but smile back. Liam was a troublemaker, but he was a good kid with a big heart. Corver City was full of kids like Liam, good kids with big hearts who didn’t have a chance.
“Your mom told me you got a new job, and that you were at this job Thursday night?” Chase asked Liam, once they had shaken hands.
Liam nodded earnestly. “Yeah, I’ve been working at Bash Industries a few times a week for the past month or so”
Chase felt his eyebrows arch in surprise and he forced his face back into a more casual expression. “Bash Industries, huh? Wow, big time!”
Liam shrugged and ran a hand through his bed head curls. “Yeah, it’s just me and a couple other neighborhood kids, it’s no big deal. We go in and sit in that machine of his, the memory one? We get hooked up to it for like five, ten minutes, then we get paid and we get to leave. It’s so easy it doesn’t feel right”
Chase agreed, it certainly did not feel right. “What are you doing in the machine? Is it on? Are you having a memory implanted? I thought that cost a lot of money?”
Liam shrugged again, the typical teenage boy response to everything. “Nah, we don’t get the memories. We calibrate the machine for the paying customers, but still, it’s quick and easy, and the money is pretty good”
“He’s been having headaches, though, and nightmares.” Mary Jane piped up from behind her son, who was at least a foot taller than she was.
“Headaches and nightmares?” Chase repeated, turning to Liam.
Another shrug. “Yeah, it’s no biggie. The big wigs over there say those are the normal side effects, and they’ll go away as soon as our brains get used to it”
Chase snapped his notebook shut and slipped it back into his pocket.
“Okay then. Well, I’m just going to verify your alibi for Thursday night and then we can all move on with our lives”
Mary Jane snorted again. “Can’t wait to get on with my life”
But Chase didn’t have time to stand around and commiserate. He had been waiting for his chance to sit down face to face with the elusive Sebastian for over a year. He had known that his boss would never approve it. But now, talking to Sebastian was just a step in an investigation of a case, a case that he had been assigned. He needed to make sure that Liam was actually at Bash Industries on Thursday night when the shoplifting incident at Charlie’s Market happened. It was the perfect excuse to get into that building, and in front of a man that Chase desperately wanted to figure out. He jumped into his car and sped away from Brandis Lane, his mood much improved from when he had arrived.