What is COTTON FBI?
Your name is Jeremiah Cotton. You are a small-time cop in the NYPD, a rookie that no one takes seriously. But you want more. You have a score to settle with the world. And anyone who calls you “Jerry” will be sorry.
A new time. A new hero. A new mission. Experience the birth of a digital cult-series: Cotton FBI is the remake of JERRY COTTON, the most successful series of German novels with more than one billion copies sold, and it tells an entirely new story in e-book form.
Cotton FBI is published twice a month, with each episode a self-contained story.
Linda Budinger is a freelance author and translator. She has been writing novels and short stories for over 20 years, which are mainly fantasy and speculative fiction. Her stories have been nominated several times for the Deutschen Phantastik Preis (German fantasy award). She became known through publications for the role-playing game “The Dark Eye” and as a co-author of the series of novels “Shadow Realm” (Schattenreich) published by Bastei Lübbe. The author lives in Leichlingen, Germany.
Louisville, Kentucky, the Ames Family estate, five years earlier.
Gupta hesitated a moment before carefully opening the screen door at the side entrance and inserting the key into the lock. He waited three seconds until the LED on the alarm system showed him that the key code had been accepted.
The lights in the building had been off for two hours, and he could safely assume that the woman was home alone. Presumably, she would already be in bed. The maid was on her day off, and Gordon, the woman’s son, was spending the night at a friend’s place. Maybe the two were more than friends. There was all lot of talk going around about the Ames boy. “Philanderer” was the kindest word the workers at the company had for Gordon. If Carl ever got his hands on the boy in a dark alley…
Gupta nervously rubbed his hands together and then put on his gloves. It wasn’t the sultry night air that was making him sweat. He pulled the ski mask over his head, leaving only his eyes visible. Then he turned the key, opened the door, and slipped inside. Now he had literally crossed the threshold.
Jacking cars and taking them out for a spin, shooting at road signs, one or two fights--what twenty-year-old in the suburbs of Louisville didn’t do those things? But burglary? He needed the money. Besides…
His employer had promised it would all be over quickly. Just play the bogeyman a bit, and his future would be secured.
It was too late to back out now, anyway. Gupta turned on his flashlight and stalked through the kitchen into the main hall, where aristocrats used to dance a hundred and fifty years ago.
Someone was there. The beam of light revealed a figure on the stairs, facing him. Gupta jumped back. “Shit!” he whispered, backing away. And then he had to suppress a hysterical giggle. He had been frightened by an oil painting.
The Ames family portrait gallery flanked the stairs. At the bottom, the portrait of the late lord of the estate was on display. He stared down at the intruder with a stern expression.
Gupta fought the urge to turn back. He was breathing loudly through his mouth. His heart raced like his mother’s decrepit sewing machine, but he had to keep going. Up the stairs, and then the second door on the left. His black sneakers barely made a sound on the carpeted steps. Maybe it was pure adrenaline that kept Gupta moving forward.
He flinched as a door creaked somewhere above him. He could hear bare feet gently padding across the floor.
He was probably not being as quiet as he thought.
“Rita? Are you back already?” a drowsy female voice asked. The woman’s words were weary and heavy with grief, like she had taken a hundred Valium all at once.
Gupta clenched his fists. The flashlight flickered and then went out. Stupid piece of crap! Gupta had tested the thing out a dozen times and had even put in new batteries.
He hurried up to the first landing so that he wouldn’t be stuck in the middle of the stairs in the dark.
The steps above him stopped. “Riiiitaaa?”
Was the old lady drugged up or just completely out of it?
Gupta’s palms tingled. His sweaty palms stuck to the latex gloves. He started to push the small black flashlight into his jeans pocket, but suddenly realized that he still had the key in his hand. A second too late. The key fell with a muffled plunk onto the landing. The sound echoed in his ears like a gunshot.
He quickly shoved the flashlight into his pocket, bent over, and groped around for the key.
The door upstairs creaked again. This time, the steps were firmer, more determined. Excellent. The sooner the old woman found him, the faster he’d be out of there. When he was done with her, it would all be over.
But the damn key! He had to return it.
Gupta swallowed. His mouth was dry. His groping hands finally found the key on the edge of the landing. He reflexively rubbed his eyebrows with his thumb and index finger in relief.
A light came on in the hallway above him.
Half blinded, Gupta blinked and looked up.
A woman in a nightgown appeared on the landing.
“Give me your jewelry!” Gupta said gruffly to scare her. “Or you’re asking for trouble.” He tried to make his voice sound frightening, like Batman.
The woman froze, half hidden by the door.
That was easier than he had expected.
Gupta took a step toward her, one hand on the flashlight that was slipping out of his pocket.
He reached out towards the woman.
As he did so, the woman raised her arm, and two shots rang out. A fireball hit Gupta in the chest, nearly tearing him apart. Thrown backward by the blow, he crashed into the wall and tumbled down the stairs.
I can fly, was his last thought. Like Batman.
Perryville, Kentucky, October 8.
It was a brutal massacre. Clouds of gun smoke engulfed the hill outside of Perryville. The grass was a trampled, wet carpet. The rich Kentucky soil had been plowed up by thousands of feet and was riddled with rabbit holes and other tripping hazards. It seemed to reach out to grab the legs of the soldiers seeking to seize control of the state.
The Union brigade had fought their way up the hill, pushing the enemy lines back. They had previously secured much-needed water rations at Chaplin River. But at what price! Hundreds had died in the process. Now the survivors were marching deeper into the hill country. Marching towards the enemy, blind but utterly fearless.
The Confederates were hiding like an army of gray ghosts in the haze of gunpowder.
Everywhere you looked, fallen men. Even the standard-bearers had been shot down. But before the Stars and Stripes could touch the ground, it was seized up and carried on by the nearest man. From its fixed position, the artillery thundered on, Union cannons clearing the way for the infantry. Their roar became a more reliable guide than the company’s drums or the officers’ bellowed commands, which were largely drowned out by the continuous musket fire. Captains moved their lips, but their commands were inaudible to the soldiers. The commander’s saber held aloft was the only sign they could comprehend, other than the howls and war cries of the rebels at every cannon ceasefire. The Confederates had ducked behind a wooden structure, some sort of fence, which offered them a semblance of cover.
Smoke enveloped the battlefield like a blanket, the smell of gunpowder and hot metal settling over the men. The ground was littered with injured and dying men.
The soldiers stumbled over arms, legs, sprawled-out bodies, and spent muskets. The faces of the fallen were contorted with pain. Many stared blankly at the sky, photographs of their beloved wives clutched in their cold hands.
In terms of manpower, the Confederates behind the fence were vastly outnumbered. Nevertheless, they picked off the Yanks like rabbits.
The artillery cut the captain off in mid-command.
The men knew what was expected of them. They fixed bayonets onto their rifles. Everything inside of them urged them to rip the enemy to pieces. The time for parades was long past. Now it seemed like the war would never end.
The thinned-out ranks pulled together before the attack. An officer on horseback galloped ahead of the infantry, the flock following behind. For Abe Lincoln. For the unity of the United States of America. And for their eagerly awaited homecoming.
A gust of wind blew the clouds of gunpowder from the field, allowing the Union troops a breath of fresh air and a clearer view of the enemy. Gray faces over similarly gray uniforms. Worn-down men with wild eyes full of hatred. It was as if the soldiers were looking in a dusty mirror.
“Great! Simply amazing!” Gordon Ames handed his uncle the binoculars. The spectacle had actually given him goose bumps.
The grandstands provided an excellent view of the battlefield on that warm October day. A fence ran across the uneven grass like a jagged scar, and the rival troops had positioned themselves on either side. The spectators could enjoy the scene from the perspective of the general’s hill. The troops were spread about 200 yards across the field below them. Officers on horseback and bellowing sergeants led their troops in a deadly choreography. Although the view from the hill was unobstructed, it was still sometimes hard to see the reenactment through the haze of gunpowder. The sharp cracks of front-loading rifles and muskets filled the air, and the cannons spit out bright flames. The shots thundered through Perryville Battlefield State Park as though a storm were raging.
“Sounds like a heap of firecrackers. Very, very large firecrackers.” Kendall Whatley, the junior senator from Kentucky, handed the binoculars back and smiled at his nephew.
Gordon grinned back. “It’s great that you could organize this, Uncle Ken. And thank you for the invitation.” He peered into the crowd, twisting the button pinned to his denim shirt that proclaimed Old Louisville — Young Spirit in a bold Western typeface. “Can you spot our guys anywhere?”
“They aren’t gone already, are they?” Whatley asked. “This is really your area of expertise. I haven’t really been involved much in recent years.”
The senator’s bodyguards, Perez and Simon, were stationed a row above and below him to allow the uncle and nephew a bit of privacy. Perez was checking something on his cell phone. Simon routinely scanned the grandstand for potential danger. Neither man seemed to have any interest in historical reenactments. They could muster little more than a sympathetic smile for the men who were screaming for their lives and running recklessly across the field below. Why would anyone be afraid of blanks and front-loading muskets?
“So…” Whatley turned back to Gordon, but his next sentence was drowned out by the rumble of a mortar battery. Down below, four mules pulled the mortar right past the grandstands. The driver, clad in a blue uniform, ran alongside the animals and encouraged them onward. “McPearson, run! Come on, Beauregard! Lee and Stuart, let’s go. Otherwise, you’ll all end up as salami!”
Whatley stifled a grin. The Yankees had named their mules after famous Southern generals. You could call that psychological warfare.
“At this rate, you’d be better off calling that old beast Don Carlos Buell,” a spectator cried. He was wearing a red shirt and a wide-brimmed, gray hat with a flashy ostrich feather. The blue suspenders crossed over his back were peppered with white stars, like the St. Andrew’s cross of the Confederate flag. Buell, a Northern general, was not exactly a model of speed and determination. In fact, it was in this exact location 150 years ago that he had failed to get the upper hand in battle with the Confederates.
Laughter came from all sides.
A gust of wind cleared a view of a group of Northern troops. For a brief moment, the Yankees and the fast-approaching rebels were completely visible. After the first volley, it was all over. Shots rang out. Muskets spat fire and smoke.
A bullet hit the grandstands with a bang.
The bodyguards were suddenly wide awake.
“Get down!” Simon shouted. Perez was already shoving the senator behind the row of seats for cover.
Gordon looked around, confused. In the wood panel of the grandstand, right where his uncle had been standing, there was a hole. A bullet was stuck fast in the smoldering wood.
New York, Cyberedge Building, John D. High’s office, 10:30 a.m.
The head of the G-Team had called Special Agents Cotton and Decker, as well as Zeerookah, the team’s computer expert, into his office. Decker sat motionless and bolt upright, her back not even touching the back of the chair. Zeerookah, in contrast, was fidgeting, unable to find a comfortable position that approximated his usual tilted slump. His fingers wandered across the surface of the table as though in search of a keyboard.
Cotton rushed through the door and took a seat between Decker and Zeerookah. He tried to look as if he had already been waiting there for ten minutes. His leather jacket creaked. “Morning,” he ventured into the silence.
“So nice of you to show up, Agent Cotton,” John D. High said. Although his voice was flat, the sarcasm was hard to miss. Without any segue, the tall, dark-skinned man turned to the subject of the meeting.
“This morning, live ammo was fired at a reenactment in Perryville.”
“Did someone have the wrong buttons on his uniform?” Zeerookah asked.
“Were there any fatalities?” Decker asked.
“Re-what?” Cotton took off his jacket.
“Reenactment,” Zeerookah said. “Hobby soldiers reenacting historical battles at the original locations.”
“And what does that have to do with the G-Team?” Cotton asked.
“The bullet just missed Senator Whatley, who was attending the event with his nephew. That, in and of itself, is already a serious matter. But there was also a previous incident with live ammo last week in Louisville. The senator was present on that occasion as well.”
Decker leaned forward. “Why weren’t any security measures implemented after the first incident? Isn’t Whatley an advocate for stricter gun laws? That should’ve set alarm bells ringing.”
“The matter wasn’t taken seriously,” Mr. High said. “The officer on the scene said that it was just children playing.”
“But the second incident sheds a different light on it now,” Cotton said, deep in thought. “Either way, is this really a case for the G-Team?”
“It’s a case for us when I say it is. I would like you three to fly to Kentucky, investigate the matter, and assess the potential danger for the senator.”
“Me, too?” Zeerookah asked, horrified.
“I’ll make sure that none of the soldiers do anything to you,” Cotton said generously.
“Do I really have to go along? All my equipment is here.”
Mr. High nodded, refusing to give in. “There are large amounts of data to deal with on-site, and we need a specialist. The police were able to seize videos and cell phones that you’ll need to analyze. We have to narrow down the list of suspects and catch the attacker before he strikes again. Your flight to Louisville leaves in two hours, so you’d do well to pack in a timely fashion.”
“That’ll never be enough time to get all of my equipment packed. And what about my own stuff?” Zeerookah looked even more horrified, if that was even possible. “I could set up a few quick data links from here…”
“Come on,” Cotton tried to cheer him up. “Kentucky. Fresh air. Grass. Horses.”
Decker laughed. “Just like back home in Iowa, eh, Cotton?”