Lester sighed as he reread the report in front of him.
Teeth-marks on victim's torso are inconsistent with suggested suspect, additional analysis and outside expert verification required. Furthermore, there was an anomaly flagged up with the DNA samples taken for analysis to aid in identifying the victim – cells showed damage consistent with an above average level of gamma radiation exposure. The victim has since been identified and follow-up investigations found no known interactions in the week before death, nor in their professional life, that would explain why...
His heart rate had spiked the first time he'd seen that word unexpectedly appear, sudden fear flushing through him. But it was of no real consequence. No one was going to stumble across the reason why, not when the anomaly was contained. Although he hadn't foreseen the tenacity of this forensics twerp who didn't seem any more inclined to give up now.
Moira had been dispatched to clear up the 'misunderstanding,' with a bribed expert in tow. Julian Albert hadn't taken the bait. In fact, he seemed more determined than ever to root out the true cause of death. That's when Lester called in a favour from the retired Jenny, but by then the damage must've already been done, and Jenny had seen fit to deposit him on Lester's doorstep with a suggestion of government intimidation to do the job. And here he'd been hoping to get home on time today.
Lester closed the report and stalked down the corridors to the sparse holding cell that often doubled as a place for 'friendly chats' with troublesome citizens. He took a moment to spy on Mr Albert from the adjoining viewing room, watching him sit calmly in the uncomfortable chair, minor annoyance showing on his otherwise undisturbed face. Lester had a bad feeling about this. A feeling that suggested more paperwork was due.
“What exactly do you expect to achieve with your continued 'investigation,' Mr Albert?” Lester piled on as much scorn and derision as he could, despite knowing full well the man was on the right track. That's exactly why he needed throwing off the scent, whether it be by bluff or intimidation. Lester crossed his arms in front of him and leaned back in his more comfortable chair, aiming for smugness to back up his play.
Albert didn't flinch though, fielding the accusation as if it was a straight-forward request. “To get to the bottom of a mystery, to explain a woman's death.”
Lester inwardly grimaced but kept his cool as usual. It appeared the truth mattered more to Julian Albert than duty to his country, despite his past service as a medic in the army. This was the worst type of meddling as far as Lester was concerned; usually it was journalists, not scientists. Then he thought back to Cutter, and by extension Connor, and of course the other Cutter - he comes to the conclusion it's so much worse when it's scientists.
“Several experts have verified the conclusions drawn by the official report, signed off on by the coroner no less. You'd do more good clearing up other, actually dubious, deaths that are currently unsolved, but instead I'm told you're spending your time indulging in crack-pot theories, turning this case into a playing field for some...weird fantasy of yours. We can't afford to have you make a laughing stock of this incident.”
There was a twitch, and a hint of anguish briefly evident, he witnessed when accusing Albert of being crazy and if he felt heartless enough he's sure that is where he ought to apply more pressure. Albert didn't give him the chance to though, all but demanding more answers of his own.
“On whose authority do you have leave to interfere with my investigation?” he countered, and leaning forward, eyes narrowed, he then asked “What department did you say you were from?”
Lester gave a flat reply of “I didn't.” and found he needed to reconsider where this interview was going. Albert shifted to lean back himself and continued, undeterred.
“I wouldn't be here if something wasn't up. You seem like a smart man, you must know I'm not wrong. I know I'm not wrong. Why don't we cut the crap?”
Lester had to try very hard not to sigh.
“There's a very good reason why the facts don't match the official story.”
He paused. Albert didn't react in any way, still eyeing him with suspicion, acting every bit as if he was in control of the situation, sitting there neatly in his three-piece suit. He had some taste at least, Lester would give him that. He displayed an arrogance Lester was all too familiar with, a combination of the confidence of old money and the attitude of a righteous man.
“Is this where you tell me to trust you? Or perhaps, 'you don't want to know' spoken in ominous tones? Well, I want to know, I wouldn't be here if I didn't.”
Do you really? Lester thought, but all he said was an exasperated “Fine.”
When he walked back in half an hour later he had a sheath of papers and a pen. Of course, it had only taken Lorraine five minutes to whip up a customised copy of the OSA – they had the template down pat by now and the fastest printer money could buy – but it wouldn't do any good to be too accommodating when Albert had caused such a headache so far.
Albert signed without so much as a read-through, simply a glance at the title and he scrawled his name across each page the markers indicated necessary. After he was done he sat back, waiting for the grand reveal. Lester found words never did it justice, and besides that he looked forward to seeing this cocky so-and-so in a proper state of shock upon being faced with the truth.
Albert trailed behind, managing to keep up with his swift pace as he made his way towards the largest pen in the menagerie. He opened the observation deck and ushered the man through with a snide smile and a not at all gracious “After you.”
“Is that a dinosaur?” Albert queried, not looking anywhere near as surprised as Lester had hoped he'd be, as people usually were. He often got people gaping like a guppy, dumbfounded ogling in silence or the occasional person thinking they were on a reality TV show having their leg pulled. Memorably one time someone threw up into the pen which had necessitated calling back the cleaning crew at 8pm who weren't happy campers and had tediously demanded raises. From Julian Albert this was asked with a vague curiosity instead of the usual disbelief and that most certainly grated on Lester. The one joy at the end of the day taken away from.
“What else do you think it's going to be?” he said, for once not bothering to hide his irritation.
Albert shrugged a little, before leaning against the rails, casually rattling off answers to what Lester had meant to be a rhetorical question. “A hologram, a robot, a mental projection, animated object, shape shifter. You tell me.”
Lester could only stare at him. He sounded deadly serious despite the ridiculousness of most of what he'd said. He thought, have you completely lost your marbles? But of course he didn't say that. Still, something about it all made him lose a little of his composure.
“Is this an attribute all insufferable scientists share – next to nothing in the way of reluctance to buying into every conspiracy theory thrown your way. Considering Temple I should have seen this coming. Well, what do you have to say for yourself? ”
Albert had the audacity to crack a wry smile at that. Lester hated him even more for it.
“I thought you'd have read my file. I was a metahuman specialist,” he said it as if it explained anything.
Lester had skimmed the report compiled on Julian Albert, assuming Moira would tell him anything especially relevant to the situation. He thought she had told him everything relevant, there would be words later. That was the point at which Lester realised where he had recognised the city named in Albert's employment history. Central City, home of some superhero, and a plethora of outlandish occurrences that could only be explained by villains with equal amounts of power and absurd abilities.
“Yes, well, this isn't America-“ It sounded pithy even to him but for once he found himself at a loss with how to reply.
When he'd heard about metahumans originally, his first thought had been Thank God it hasn't reached the UK yet. His second had been, If it ever does, I'm not overseeing that task force for love nor money. He'd still been on edge for a while, worried about a change in the status quo. It was difficult enough herding the bunch of mad scientists he'd gotten, and the knowledge of the anomalies was hard-earned. He really couldn't abide the thought of having to do that all over again with new personnel and a different, undocumented, threat every week. The idea of metahumans really had made the, mostly prehistoric, creatures that much more appealing.
“Your American friends might go for such exaggerated 'science.' You'll find here in the UK we can cope perfectly fine without some obscure variety of human.” Lester cleared his throat and tried to take back the control of the situation. “So, this is just old hat to you, is it?” he prompted with a dismissive hand wave.
“Quite the contrary,” Albert replied, with a look in his eye as he turned back to Lester. “My life has been a little too predictable since I returned to London.”
Lester knew what was coming next, he'd seen that look before.
He ought to say no. He ought to drop this bombshell and then let Albert stew on it, unable to do anything except mind his own business secret-keeping. The thing about that look was, it was something you couldn't reliably scout for. The number of recruits who'd baulked at this stage was far too high for his liking, the wasted time irked him no end. Some days he had serious doubts about the competency of their HR department, but he was hardly keen to spend time breaking in new HR staff either.
Julian Albert wasn't meant to be a recruit but he had all the makings of one – ex-military, scientific background. He was clearly someone invested in discovery, and Lester would much rather have that on his side than used in a crusade against him; turn the trait to his advantage. Besides, it wasn't easy to find people who got that gleeful glint at the idea of running into danger and who had a strange adherence to following rules. Lester wasn't going to like agreeing, but it made sense.
Mind you, he wouldn't let Albert forgo the hard-sell if he was that interested. Some begging to be let in on the greatest scientific endeavour this side of the Atlantic wouldn't go amiss to make up for throwing him off his game. And that didn't mean he wouldn't leave Albert hanging for a few days before capitulating.
“Really? How unfortunate for you,” Lester said, feigning ignorance.
“I have a proposition for you,” Albert stated, amusing Lester in how he was restraining his eagerness, gripping tightly on the metal his hands rested on, as if to brace himself.
“Do go on.”