Dark Renaissance – Chapter 2

Both Sapphire and Selene bought in immediately, and Yellowjakket suddenly became enemy number one to the new government. The recorded power effects and her own movements convinced Control that one person was responsible. Her powers became the enigma, as any locator spell never worked properly, frustrating the casters to no end. That was the true power of triplets. Three different signals confusing the search. Each identical to the others, creating a feedback that destroyed the intent of the spell. The last trick was the most morbid. A small bomb, designed to hide any trace of their identity from discovery. It was something they all understood. If one of them was captured, the others were as good as caught was well.

Serinda was the first to die. She stepped into direct fire to help protect citizens from Control’s press-gangs. Her actions saved fourteen children from Zahrenholt, and cost hers. The detonation had an unexpected secondary effect, the first convincing those in Control that this was a new power. It made them more cautious in their efforts to capture Yellowjakket. The second was to further destroy the ability to track the surviving girls, as the ‘essence’ of Serinda had been thoroughly scattered within the town by the blast, that tracking spells were useless.

The two sisters stopped operating for weeks, then returned with a vengeance. Selene was driven to make her sister’s death mean something, and she threw herself into disrupting press-gangs at every opportunity. The effect was to bring the whole of the Magocracy after Yellowjakket, and propel her into the papers. Other heroes emerged, and for some months, the Magocracy started to lose control in Londinium. Riots followed the press-gangs, as did combat with the newly emerged meta-humans. The newer metas engaged the mages in open combat in the streets. Both sides used power and technology. In this the mages had superiority. Their power, being external, was slower to build, but stronger, and more encompassing in effect. Meta-humans, their power coming from within, were able to fire quickly, but in limited manner. They too could create large changes, but the effort to do so cost them personal energy, so it was seldom done.

The mages, could more freely do so, and did. Creating snowstorms, fire, ice, whipping winds, that affected the metas not in close combat. Sheer numbers overpowered individuals. The press-gangs returned, only now to find any children with the affinity to power, not just potential mages. These were turned into the next batch of loyalists to the Magocracy. Tools to fill the depleted ranks of the press-gangs and other arms of the government.

Not that it was easy. People remembered the old, true past, and fought the new history. They fought with words, memories, guns, and their own abilities, when they had them. But for all the resistance, the Magocracy had taken the first step by organizing. The organization allowed them to defend themselves, and repel individual attacks. That was still the way things were. The mages united to hold onto the reins of power. Until a second power could organize, the mages would remain atop the political food chain.

Yellowjakket had threatened to build that organization. When a villain gets into the papers, and then the local papers start showing what the state-controlled papers won’t, people begin to notice, and question. That’s what happened. Questions became rallies, rallies became demonstrations, Demonstrations became riots. The riots started eating at the base of the Magocracy’s power. It had reached a head last night when Yellowjakket had detonated the south wall of Zahrenholt prison, releasing over one hundred children from the re-education wing. Half had been recaptured in the ensuing hours, but over half got away, disappearing into the alleys and sewers under Londinium, and Brianburgh to the north.

Selene had paid for that audacity with her life, and now Sapphire was the last to hold the mantle of Yellowjakket. She huddled in the wet muck, remembering, holding onto every memory she could recall. Replaying them again and again, trying to shut out the truth that they were gone. Holding onto every thought so that she’d never forget them. Hours passed until her feet and bum went numb from the cold water, and her legs ached as the cold crept into them. She stood slowly, her internal clock telling her it was early evening. She shook out her hair, dragging fingers through the tangled wet mess, then jogged slowly back to the west checkpoint. She had to go find a new place. First though she had to cover for her sister, and herself.

The jog back took another half hour. When she was challenged, she swallowed her despair and told the two on duty in a pompous voice, “Ask the password, wizard, I’m not afraid.” The two smirked and waved her through. That was the secret. There was no password. Odd numbered days you challenged the guards, even numbered days you teased them. Anyone who tried to answer the challenge with a password, those were the spies. That little shift in style had kept the small community safe from infiltrators.

She walked back to the small home in ‘Diagon-tubely’, and changed her hair, and borrowed some of her sister’s clothes. She packed a change of her own clothes in her backpack. She got a couple slices of bread from the oven-pantry, and spread some butter and apple slices on it, Slapping the other bread on top, she bit into it and sauntered out the front door. The first person she spotted was Simon, with his distinct limp. She gave him a wave and continued out towards the checkpoint. Once she reached it, just made another jaunty wave to the guards and jogged off, turning down the tunnel heading north up to Brianburgh.

When she was out of sight, she kicked in her power and sped to the next intersection. She found the small emergency tunnel she and Selene had found on their early forays. She moved past the rubble-camouflaged entrance, and put down the backpack, emptying it. She changed clothes, cached the food and Selene’s clothing, then sped down the tunnel to the other camouflaged end that linked with a side tunnel. The side tunnel linked back to the unblocked Brianburgh storm sewers, which she followed back to the main tunnel. She hopped over the three foot retaining wall, jogged back to the checkpoint, and back to her home.

Once home she flung herself on the mattress, and cried silently for a long time. Later, she made two more trips to her hideout. Laying in more canned food and items for an extended stay. She was going to need locations like these if Control got aggressive in coming after the escapees. She needed to find where the others at the ZaP had directed the children. They had to be moved away from Londinium for their safety.

Dark Renaissance – Chapter 1

The black-clad girl slid under the legs of the first trooper as he tried to shoot. A flick of the hand smacked him hard between the legs. She heard the strangled squall of pain, and the heavy thud of the man falling to the ground. She popped back to her feet and accelerated as bullets pockmarked the ground just behind her.

A quick turn, and a leap caught the bottom rung of a fire ladder. She pulled herself up to the first landing, then moved to the outside of the rail and jumped up, pulling herself to the next. By the time the pursuers had turned the corner, she was halfway up the twelve-story building, well out of reach of accurate fire. “Damn git. You two! Work north and call for backup, block the roads out of the district. You two, the same to the south. The rest with me, we’ll push her east. Start on the first floor. Carror\t and stick. Shoot one, offer a bribe to the others. Someone will crack. She’s a s good as ours.”

The grey armored men followed the golden armored leader to the base of the maze of towers that was called “The Rookeries”, due to most of those that lived here were desperately poor. The buildings stood up like rotted teeth. The brick facade curmbling and fallen from the concrete understructure. Ragged curtains fluttering from broken windows. Some boarded up with plywood to keep out the humid cold. The search went for hours, but the woman had disappeared like smoke. It was an angry group of officers that reported empty-handed to their equally angry captain.

Yellowjakket had pulled a set of jeans and a shirt over her costume, then joined the ranks in the halls as she worked down from the roof. She scooped some grit from the ground, and rubbed it in her hair and on her face and hands. Now properly grubby, she descended the stairs rapidly then moved onto the eighth floor, joining the throng in the market. The number of people made it impossible for the police to search every person as nine out of ten had no radio tag to identify them. Once out in the street again, she ducked back to the crumbling remains of a glassblower’s shop. Down in the basement was an entry into the sewers, and she sped through them back south into the maze of tunnels.

Yellowjakket slowed to a stop when two voices challenged her at a T-intersection of the sewers. “Holdit! Give us the word, mate”, laughed the young man in front of her. He had a pair of old green pants held up by a piece of rope around his waist, and a worn-faded green T-shirt that Proclaimed ‘Sex Pistols – London Calling’ on the front. His thumb on the trigger of a deadman switch was openly shown, as was the girl behind him with an AK-74. She held it loosely aimed at Yellowjakket. Her maroon goose down jacket a contrast to the silver-and-black of the assault rifle. Her Black capris pants covered her legs halfway down her calves, with long mismatched athletic socks peeking out of unlaced hiking boots.

“What’s the word you want?”, she asked the two with a smile. “Oho! She’s a right tricksy one”, the man said. “G’wan, yer good.” The two raised their weapons, the girl giving Yellowjakket a qucik wave and smile, then went to their posts once more. Yellowjakket sped through the maze of tunnels that were home to her and others who defied the authority. At a corner in the sewers whimsically called ‘diagon-tubely’, she angled left and slowed to a walk. Here the press of people was gone, only curtains along the sewer walls, showing where small caves called ‘homes’ had been dug out. She walked down four, and pushed the curtain open to reveal a small three room cave.

Stepping into the cramped first room/kitchen/den, She pulled the curtain shut behind her. Tapping a small light on the stove on, she dropped her backpack and continued to the left, into a small bedroom. The room had been hewed out of the loose earth, having pilings and a thick wood roof to keep the earth from sprinkling down. The bed was a mattress set on crates. The crates were open facing into the room, with each holding some clothing. The mattress, worn and collapsed, had a thick green-striped comforter for warmth.

Yellowjakket stripped out of her costume, and went back into the main room, and poured a pan of water. She grabbed a cloth and did her best to wash the sweat and smell off her body, before dressing in worn jeans and a baggy brown sweatshirt. She crawled onto the bed, and pulled the comforter over her head, losing herself to sleep.

* *************

Morning brought her awake with an uneasy start. She heard vague noises of people wandering around out in the sewer tunnel, but none inside the room. She uncovered, pulled on some work boots, then stepped out into the tunnel. The bright lights made her squint a moment, then she started back towards the entrance. The bustle of people moving to a new day filled the tunnel with sounds and smells. The scent of fried eggs had her mouth watering as she passed an open doorway. She just turned off of Diagon-tubely to the main tunnel when a voice called out, “G’day Sapphy, how have you been?” She slowed, and turned to the young man. “Hey Simon.”

Simon was older than her by a few years, with brown hair and eyes. He limped slowly to Sapphire, his left knee fused and half his foot having been blown off by the invaders four long years ago. His eyes lit up with mischief as he approached and gave her a warm hug. She returned it then stepped back. “I’m going to the front gate, my sister must have gotten up early for her shift today. She forgot to leave me breakfast.” “Musta been early, I din’t see her go by me place.” Sapphire smiled at Simon, then hugged him again. “She probably did. I’ll see you later, Simon.” He smiled and gave a wave, then turned to slowly limp back to the small grill he had set up.

She walked past other small homes with people cleaning their steps or readying for the day. Here in the tunnels, keeping things clean was a constant battle against the environment. Many of the sewers had been diverted so the rain water wouldn’t flood the living areas, but even the best walls leaked. So there was always a humid, faintly moldy smell in the air. Sapphire reached the T intersection and waved to the two girls on duty. “Binny, Susan, Have you seen Selene? I thought she’d come here early for shift.”

The smaller girl, Susan, shook her pale blonde hair. She looked up at Sapphire with one green eye and one blue. “Sorry Saph, not seen ‘er today. She’s prolly out with the others trying to nick a few things.” The other girl, Binny, shook her dreadlocks and stretched a coffee-colored arms our front palms out, fingers interlocked. “I’ve not seen her either, Sapphire. I’m about to end shift and didn’t see her go out with the …”, she stopped as a small child scrambled past screaming as a girl near the same age chased after him, a doll clutched in her arms. The two laughing children disappeared into the crowd.

“Hey, girls! You hear the latest? Control’s saying they nicked Yellowjakket last night!” Rodney Greyson came trotting towards the three girls. He stopped, placing his hands on his knees, out of breath. He looked up at Sapphire, and his face flushed a deeper red. “Oh bollocks. Saph, I’m sorry, I wanted…bloody hell I wanted to tell the girls…”, he just stopped, and watched the three. Susan and Binny looked at Sapphire, who had gone pale. “You’re sure? Control said that? You’re sure?”, Sapphire said, her hands clutching together at her waist. She twisted her hands, trying to deny his words. “You know Control. They announce all sorts of lies to keep folks under their thumb”, Rodney said. He looked away as he did, the transparent lie floating away like the fog of his breath in the tunnels.

“Saph, come her girl”, Binny said, and hugged her. Sapphire wailed, and broke away, running away from the group down the tunels and towards the surface. “Rodney, you git. You should have waited.” Rodney looked down the tunnel as Susan slapped him on the shoulder. “I know, I know. Lost her twin she has.” “Triplet you git. She’s a triplet. An’ she’s now a only”, Binny told Rodney. She looked down the tunnel where Sapphire had disappeared. “Damn girl, don’t go up today. Stay down”, she said to the echoing footsteps.

Sapphire ran until her lungs burned. She turned and ran, turned and ran, following the tunnels deeper southward, towards Londinium, or London, to those that remembered the changes. London had been part of a bustling Great Britain, when the changes knocked things askew. The government morphed from Parliment, to one controlled by monsters in human form. Control, the not so ‘secret’ arm of the Government, was tasked with capturing political dissidents. The ‘other’ part of their mandate, was to locate children with an affinity for magic, that ability to influence the world via means external to a person.

Those children were taken to Zaherenholt, where they were tested. Children who passed, were then broken via brainwashing techniques, and turned into dedicated students of the ‘Arts’. The others. The ‘lost’, who were too strong-willed, or too impotent to be full mages, were drained of their abilities, and used as fodder for experiments in necromancy and physiomancy, the molding of flesh and bone. Other ‘powered’ children, called ‘metas’ because their abilities were internal to themselves, were culled from the populace, and used as the ‘lost’ were.

These young children were initiated into the ranks of Control when they passed their final tests. As each person reached this point according to their personal ability, the ages in the ranks varied widely from around fourteen to twenty. In every case, they were cold, dedicated, and convinced of their own superiority over the masses. A true, yet twisted meritocracy.

She collapsed against the tunnel wall, sliding to a sitting position with a wet splash. Sapphire curled her legs up, wrapping her arms around them and buried her cries of pain on her knees. She sat and wept for what seemed hours. It had all been so simple growing up. Her mom, Saffron Christian, had been the first Yellowjakket.

Safron/Yellowjakket had been one of the first to take up the fight against the magocracy that grew up in London. She was an American who’d married an Englishman, and emigrated with her husband. Yellowjakket had been in the London papers for years after that. Fighting crime, uncovering conspiracies. It had read like a comic book. Then she became pregnant, and retired. She had triplets, Selene, Serinda, and Sapphire. Saffron, seeing the potential they had, started training them as soon as they could stand, to become heroes. Their father objected, and a nasty, prolonged divorce happened. Their father died two years afterwards, having drank himself to death after losing his children.

Control appeared for the first time the year they were born. It started as the magocracy worked to solidify its hold on the United Kingdom. Control was tasked to hunt down political dissidents, and ‘educate’ them to the new system. Eventually Control’s power spread to finding children to add to the mages as apprentices. The mages were still trying to solidify their hold on Great Britain, as the people, and the meta-humans, fought the system.

Metahumans, or metas, operated internally, rather than influencing the environment like mages. Their abilities came from themselves, rather from their ability to influence the environment around them. This made their powers faster to trigger, while mages took time. The problem mages had was the source of the power is the same for each. Quantum physics. If the mages cut the meta ability to reach to the quantum level, they were effectively cutting off their own link as well. So each meta had to be handled individually rather than all collectively.

Sapphire slowly pulled herself back together, but the empty ache remained. She was alone now. In the most literal sense of the word. He mom had died stopping a bombing attempt by Jihadists in downtown Londinium four years after her husband died. Selene, being the oldest triplet by a few minutes, took over as Yellowjakket. Sisters being sisters, they decided to ‘suit up’ with her and for a short while the fought side-by-side as Yellowjakket, Dove, and Shock.

Their first forays as meta heroes made them realize that all the training in the world doesn’t mean a thing in real combat. You have to get into it, and survive it. Then the training makes sense. As their efforts began to actually make a difference, the found the news reports online and in paper slowly slanting their stories against the metas. Instead of allies against corruption and crime, they became the sinister force behind it. Control began a systematic campaign to kill costumed heroes. Serinda was the one to come up with the idea of all three of them becoming Yellowjakket.

“It’s perfect! We split up, stop trouble, and confuse the hell out of Control. So long as we’re not caught on camera at the same time, we can make it look like one person. It’ll drive them barmy.”

Dark Renaissance – Introduction

She sped through the dank alleyways towards her destination. Her body flickering like a neon light going bad as it constantly shifted location along her route. The clear skies showed her the single moon in it’s waning crescent. That silent sentinel seem to frown down on the city, giving each shadow an ominous sense of waiting. She sped towards Zaherenholt Prison. The massive ziggurat was built on a square mile of land on the edge of Brianburgh’s Industrial district. The soot from the coal-fired furnaces and electric plants showered the downwind area with black, destroying color and rendering everything a shadowy dark.

The slim woman blinked from the corner of the abandoned textile mill, across the half mile of open ground around the ‘ZP’ as it was called. The multiple fences that were intended to impede escapes didn’t stop her in the slightest. A slight popping sound and she would disappear, and reappear beyond the chain-link barrier. She accomplished this four times, then scrambled the last forty feet, snugging tight against the concrete base. Speed was of the essence. Each teleportation had tripped alarms from the seismic sensors in the ground between fences. She pulled the backpack off, and dumped the contents on the ground. She picked up six devices, and teleported again, praying that the map she’d studied was accurate.

The black-clad woman appeared inside the ‘ZP’ with a faint pop. The guards at this base level were robotic, and fell easily to her electric blasts. She placed a charge, then teleported in and up, more confident now of the map’s accuracy. She reappeared a floor up and in. Placing a charge then te;eporting up and in once more, to place the last of the first string. Horns and sirens blared. Safety walls dropped sealing each corridor to itself, containing any potential riot. She ignored them, placing another charge at the opposite end of the corridor. Teleporting down and out, placing a charge each time, she stayed just ahead of the guards until she appeared outside the ‘ZP’ once more.

Here, there was no place to avoid being seen. The guards spotted her, and charged, intending on overpowering her before she could teleport away. Yellowjakket triggered the charges. The bottom ones blew first, followed upwards by the interior charges, setting a resonance in the structure. The rumbling increased as each charge detonated, setting the walls to shaking. The guards slowed the advance, staring at the rumbling building behind the girl. The young woman smiled, then teleported as the walls cracked, then slid down with a roar of shattering stone and steel. Screams issued from inside the building as children from eight to eighteen scrambled for freedom through the breach.

The girl reappeared back at her original spot, taking a moment to watch the prisoners scramble free. There was a faint crunch behind her. She spun, ready for an attack. “You are always where you’re not wanted, girl. Time for you to die.” She tried to teleport, and failed. The man chuckled at her surprise. “Please, I’ve seen that trick before. I came prepared.” He stepped forward, his hand like a striking snake. She tried to dodge, stepping aside and closing, Her hand crackling with power. The man smirked as he mouthed a quick spell, snuffing the building power. His huge paw of a hand engulfed her arm.

She screamed as a hard yank popped the shoulder out of joint. The man smiled, twisting the arm, and tearing another scream from her throat. “You should have never come, Yellowjakket”, he growled over the blaring sirens. He looked up from the struggling woman to the flood of prisoners escaping. “Looks like I’ll be getting a bonus for recapturing this lot, don’t you think?” He jerked on her arm once more, then grabbed her throat, lifting her off the ground. The muscles on his arm bulged as he squeezed. The girl beat at his arm for a moment, then a wet snap caused her to jerk, and hang limp. The man threw the corpse to the side, and started after the escaped prisoners. He plucked at small device off his belt, and held it up.

“This is Montrose, She’s take-”, he started to speak, then a detonation blew him face down as shards of bone pierced his back, and gobs of flesh and blood rained down. He awoke moments later, confused by the blast. It too a moment to orient himself. A squawking noise resolved itself to a voice emanating from the mic on the ground near him. “Montrose! Montrose! Dammit you git, Report! Montrose!” Hamish Montrose pushed his bulk slowly off the ground. A mumbled spell thrust the chips of bone from his body, allowing healing to begin. He looked down at the blood-spattered mic, then bent to pick it up. He shook the blood off, then clicked it.

“Shut it, this is Montrose. Someone dropped a bomb here. Girl’s gone.” “Bloody hell! How she get away? Your incompetence has caused this debacle! When Control hears of this..” “They’ll what!”, he snarled at the mic. “Save your bum from the Processors? Don’t make me laugh.” She didn’t get away. She’s dead. As for the prisoners, we can catch them. They’re all chipped. Get the list and set the Finders loose. The game’s just starting.” He clicked the mic off, then shook himself, and strode towards the blasted wall to cut off any more escaping children.

Dark Renaissance – Prolog

Here it is.  The prolog for the story.  It’s short and I hope you enjoy the buildup .  Please comment and critique to your heart’s content.  I only get better when I learn where my weaknesses and strengths are.

 

Thirty years ago, humanity opened its full potential. Quantum physics had delved deep into the why and where of things, finding in truth that all things are connected in one way or another at the sub-atomic level. Spooky action at a distance indeed, as man found that fiction and science, myth and magic, all had a similar origin in the lowest levels of creation. When it was discovered that with practice, or proper manipulation of genetics, abilities and powers stepped from fantasy to reality. Future, past, all of time, became another tool to manipulate. This kind of ability and power was first jealously guarded by those in power, hoping to hoard it for themselves.

For the first years of advancement, this was true, and a shadow war of sorts developed between those who had the power, and those who discovered that power, and wanted it for themselves. This war created a new world by destroying the base of the old. History looped and twisted, changing with every experiment in time, until all realized that the loops simply fed into one another and created the amalgam that had loosed the power on the world entire. What no one had thought to realize was, that each time someone with power shifted time, they also shifted potential by exposing others in the past to the theories and abilities of the future. This exposure created that opportunity for the power, and abilities to grow outside the controls those in power had hoped to strengthen. In essence, they chased the horse out of the barn before they closed it.

This created the new world. One that constantly shifted with each trip back in time, until time itself provided the final answer by a feedback loop that stopped any rearward development. The world shifted back beyond humanity to find it’s balance, only to find man had been there already. The genie was truly out of the bottle, and what had been a world of man, became a world of powers, aspects, and man.

The heroic age had been born anew. Heroes in capes wielding mysterious and terrible powers. Puissant mages, vile demons, gods, aliens, and men who stepped beyond humanity. In this new world, evil still resided, in more grandiose, and more subtle forms. Tyrannies grew from the ashes. The world had been changed, continents shifted, countries destroyed and rebuilt anew.

North America was split by a body of water where the Great Plains previously existed. The south was drowned. Central America ceased to exist excepting numerous small islands dotting the space between North and South America. The United States was reduced to a shadow of itself. What remained of it was situated east of the Ohio-Mississippi river basin. Canada was split in thrice. The West the South, and the Northeast. Europe was split by the growth of the Mediterranean Sea, cutting Africa by drowning the Arabian peninsula. Despite every change, man still remembered what had been, and wanted to return.

The Deep End – Part 12

Carny, what the heck is that thing?”

Carny looked down at the small rectangles, then back at dean with a guiless, innocent look that Dean knew well.

He threw up his hands. “Sorry Carny, no. No speakers in here, what do you want to do, tell someone they’re being watched?”

Carny grinned, and Dean smiled to himself. Give Carny attention, fall for his lead, and he’ll tell you anything and everything.

More than that, brother. These are microwave emitters. The kind the military uses to safeguard sensitive places like, oh say, an armory.”

Dean straightened in surprise. “Microwave emitters?”

Carny nodded. “That’s right. These little beauts emit microwaves that make the skin feel like it’s burning. Works on magickal critters too. A quick zap and they’re beelining for the hills, eh.” Carny gave an evil-sounding chuckle. “Nothin’s sticking around in here when you trigger ‘em.” Carny frowned. “Well, not unless they got a reflective suit. Special ceramic fiber stuff. Hard to get.”

Please tell me these things aren’t illegal, Adair.”

Dean gazed pleadingly at Adair, who’d been listening to Carny and Dean’s talk.

I don’t know that they’re illegal, and I don’t know they’re not,” Adair replied with a vague shrug.

You’re not filling me with the warm fuzzies, Adair. If those things are illegal, I can lose my license” Dean announced worriedly.

Brother, you’re telling me you forgot how we operated? We weren’t illegal, just para-legal.”

Dean nodded reluctantly. He remembered that sometimes to catch the bail jumper, they had to resort to a few ‘gray area’ dodges, and that had left him feeling uncomfortable. It got the job done, and he could rationalize it with the guy being in jail rather than out on the streets, but some of the ‘bad guys’ weren’t bad. They’d been desperate, but not bad.

Dean looked at the cousins. “How about instead of here, we use this on their place. If we can, we do their car too.”

The cousins turned to stare at each other, and identical wolfish grins spread across their faces.

I like that idea, we should have thought of that first.”

Comes from thinking too much about defense rather than offense, Carny.”

Damn straight.”

Adair turned to Dean. “Know where these hosers live?”

Dean smiled. “I certainly do.”

* * *

The beat-up looking ivory and red pickup truck pulled into the ‘Peak Arms’ parking lot, then rolled to a stop next to an old, red Ford Marten. Three men dressed in identical work clothes exited the truck, and moved to the bed, where they gathered up a large case, a ladder, and some electrical tools.

This looks like a real rat hole, bro. These guys don’t believe in living the high life do they?”

Staying under the radar is better for them. Having it known you’re an active criminal makes things dangerous. After all, we’re here because we’re just thinking they’re involved. Just think of the crowd if they were public.”

True that.” Carny lifted out a tool belt, and settled it around his waist while Adair hauled out a large toolbox that contained the gear they expected to use in setting the bugs. The three men then walked through to the front door.

Adair sat down on the backless bench on the main floor while Dean and Carny went up the stairs to room 3A. Carny pulled out a leather case from his pocket and kneeled in front of the door. Ten seconds later the lock clicked open. Carny held his hand out in front of Dean.

Magick, bro. We gotta check for Magick alarms.”

How are you going to do that, Carney? I’m not a user, and I don’t know anyone who is available on short notice like this.”

No problem bro, Adair’ll be up in a hot minute with a cure-all for what’s holdin’ us up.”

Carney had just finished speaking when his cellphone beeped at him, if the opening chords of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s old song ‘Takin’ care of business’ could be called a beep. Carney grabbed the phone and muted it before flipping it open.

Yeah bro, what up? Unlocked and ready for a cursory sweep, soon as we get the door tested for spells or curses.” He listened intently, a frown forming on his lips and brow furrowing.

You do it! Last time I did a casting like that I had a migraine for three days.” Dean listened and remained quiet. Carney had some small Magick he could do, but it always cost him, and that was the reason he went aircraft maintenance rather than casting corps. He sighed quietly then set about making a quick circle in chalk from the small kit he carried. A quick lopsided circle with four ordinal sigils for eyes, ears, the mind, and the spirit.

The chanting he did very quietly, no telling who might poke their head out if he did it too loudly. Ten seconds after starting a pair of shimmering walls faded into visibility. The outside of the pair had a streaked rigidity to it. The near audible ‘hum’ from it which raised goosebumps on the backs of his hands made it clear to Dean this was the alarm. The hum meant power was being fed into the wall, which meant the caster was plugged in and would feel the spell come down if it was triggered.

The inner wall was even more direct. Fire. Enough fire to likely incinerate the contents of the room and the intruder that tripped the trap. Dean looked over his shoulder at Carny, who was staring at the two walls.

Why does everything with you always find a way to be ‘worst case’, bro?” He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it abruptly. “This has to be anchored to the door, right? Someone like the super comes up and knocks, she has to avoid tripping it somehow, otherwise it’d have been set off first day in place.”

Dean nodded. “I think you’re right, Carny. Something has to allow for the spell to avoid being set off by accident. Otherwise the dead bodies would bring all sorts of unhappy mounties down on their heads.”

So what is it, bro? What safety you think it is?” The burly man continued to stare at the door. “I’m guessing hinges.”

You got a reason for hinges, Carny?”

Bro! It’s obvious!” Carny started winding up his enthusiasm and his voice.

Dean hurriedly made shushing motions as Carny’s voice started to rise. Both men looked around quickly to see if they’d drawn any attention. When neither man saw any movement in the doorways, they turned back to the warded door.

It could be the lock, Carny. You have to unlock the door to get in. A spell on the key would be just as good as sounding out a dispell, better even because no one would hear it.”

Carny’s face fell in disappointment as Dean explained. “Dammit, I was sure it’d be the hinges.”

It still could be. The hinges could be the trigger if the lock is opened without the key.”

Carny nodded curtly and pulled a coil of silver wire from a pouch on his toolbelt. Dean turned his attention back to the door and returned to chanting quietly. The door faded to a semi-transparency that allowed both Dean and Carny to observe where the two spells were anchored. Both went to the lock and the alarm went to both lock and hinges. Carny’s smile grew back when he saw the second anchor.

Knew it’d be the hinges.”

Dean shook his head slowly as he kept up the whispered chant. Carny measured by eye the distance from the middle hinge to the lock, then cut a length of wire. The two ends had each a six centimeter section bent ninety degrees, with Carny carefully peeling two thin pieces of duct tape and sticking them on the back of his hand.

He pushed the left prong slowly and carefully into the lock then taped it in place making certain not to cover the cylinder of the lock. He glanced over at Dean, then nodded.

Okay, ready for the tricky part?”lol

Dean took a few deep breaths and let the transparency spell drop. He started doing a yoga exercise to focus his concentration and got a slap from Carny.

Get yore ass in gear, bro. We don’t have time to wait for you to be centered up. We got to be in, now like.”

Dean got out his pick kit and went to work on the lock. Five seconds later he was rewarded with a soft ‘clunk’ as the cylinder rotated open. The hum from the door escalated as Dean turned the knob. Carny turned the wire so the extension pointed up and slid it in the crack along the jamb as Dean opened the door a centimeter. He let the wire rotate back to horizontal and the hum dropped away to almost quiet.

I hate that part.”

You and me both, bro. Let’s get in now like.”

The two men picked up their duffles and toolkit, then enter and closed the door behind them quietly. In the next few moments Dean quickly scanned the room, and found no wards in the room and no alarms. A quick nod to Carny and the big man opened his kit and began setting up the bugs. One micro-cam up in the corner of the room closest to the door with a microphone, another microphone under the table near the small, dingy-yellow kitchen, and a third on the ceiling above the old hanging light in the small hall that held a bathroom between the two bedrooms.

It took Carny all of five minutes to finish the setup. He looked around the small living room. The main door opened into it from the middle of the north wall, and west was the bathroom through the square archway where the light hung. The kitchen archway was just north of the bedroom and was barely wide enough for one person to enter and cook.

How long we been here?”

Four minutes. Get a move on, bro.” Adair’s whisper crackled sharply in the quiet. Carny cursed and hurriedly lowered the volume.

Give us a heads up, bro, not a heart attack” Carny mumbled as he finished packing, then he and Dean exited through the door. Dean pulled it shut and then pulled Carney’s bypass. The ward shivered, then settled back to quiescence. As the two men got to the front door, a beat up looking old utility vehicle painted with grey primer pulled into the small parking lot, and settled in the empty spot next to Adair’s pickup.

The Carre brothers stepped out of the SUV then spoke quietly in French as they walked together towards Dean and Carny. Dean ducked his head and hefted the bag he was carrying. Carny just shrugged and turned his head towards Dean.

Hey Joe, how about we got get a burger? I’m hungry.”

Dean stumbled mentally, then caught on. “Sounds good to me, but after the next job, we’re running late already.”

Hurry it up, bro.”

Yeah, I’m on it.”

The Carres walked by them, still muttering quietly in French. Dean caught a few swear words that he’d heard in the RCAF. Something’s got them a little riled up. Maybe we can find out. He walked with Carny over to Adair.

Adair, can you turn on the bugs? They’re upset about something, and maybe we can get useful information if they’re talking about it.”

Adair gave Dean a wolfish smile.

You got it my man. One fly on the wall coming right up.”

Adair opened his kit and drew out a box with dials and switches. He tapped ‘A’ then ran the dial back and forth until a voice crackled over the speaker.

It’s funking Quebecois, not even real French” Adair grumbled. “I might be able to figure out what they’re saying if they didn’t speak so funking fast.”

He focused on the conversation, which was angry and rapid fire. No way I can follow it, I hope Adair can get something. The brothers argued vehemently for another few minutes, then a loud bang echoed over the comm and the brothers went silent.

Door. They’re coming out. Get in now! We gotta be gone or they’ll know we’re after them.”

Dean jumped in the pickup bed and lay flat while Carny hurriedly entered the cab. Adair backed the truck up out of the lot onto Tilton Street, then backed up behind a fence that bordered the edge of the lot. He killed the engine as Carny hopped back out of the pickup and went to the corner and took a quick peek back towards the apartments. Adair opened the small rear window, then turned to watch Carney.

I got a name, Dandelion. Sounds like a restaurant to me. Probably downtown.”

Could be a building, Adair. We got a few with named ones around. Up in Dayning especially.”

Carny interrupted them as he put a meaty hand on the door, and yanked it open.

Let’s follow them. Upset as they sounded, what you want to bet it’s about the missing girls?”

Adair didn’t hesitate. He shifted the transmission to ‘Drive’ and rolled recklessly around the corner back into the parking lot just as the brothers vehicle exited onto Grover.

Adair paused a moment to let a few vehicles past, then pulled in to traffic, three cars back of the Carre brothers.

See ‘em up there, Carny? I’m gonna watch us and you watch them.”

I got ‘em, piece o’ crap flat black junker, right?”

That’s the one, bro.”

Good, junker sticks out like a cat in a dog pound. Gonna be easy.”

Dean lay in the back and listened to the brothers. Both of them, but Adair especially, were long-time pros at this kind of surveillance. Here’s hoping they’re stupid and lead us to the girls.

* * * * * * *

Dean lay back and closed his eyes. I can sleep now, I know I’ll feel the truck slow down when we get to wherever we’re going. It seemed like mere moments that he shut his eyes, and the truck started slowing down. He didn’t sit up right, that might draw attention. He angled his head back to look up at the open window on the back of the cab. He smelled salt and dead fish. Horns and seagulls mixed together as the truck slowed further.

Halifax dock, whatta ya bet ‘Dandelion’ is a ship name, bro?”

No bet since we’re at the West Dock, bro. That’s cheatin’.”

They spot us, Adair?”

There was a soft crash of metal, then a rattling sound of chain. Motors provided a pulsing background to the sounds of the docks.

No, but this ain’t over yet. Traffic’s thinner here and if they pull off, we’ll have to follow them, there’s not another turn for about three klicks…ah hell, there they go…wanna hope they’re real stupid Carny, otherwise this gets confrontational and none of us is a combat caster.”

Bullets do for them just as well.”

I sure as hell don’t want to find out that you’re wrong, Carny” Dean added.

What bro said” Adair replied. “He could step out of that car fully juiced and then what do we do?”

Carny mumbled something under his breath, then leaned back, bumping the glass with his head.

Get ready bro. This surveil’s hosed.”

Dean’s stomach clenched in a knot. He recognized the change in Carny’s voice. Instead of a hint of amusement, he’d gone flat. A sure sign that he was ready to go. He’d seen Carny get flat a few times in the RCAF, and once when he’d worked with Adair. Both times were when their plans got hosed and it became a potential firefight.

Carny…” Dean didn’t finish what he was going to say as the pickup suddenly accelerated and lurched hard left. The tires broke free of the crumbly asphalt and squealed as they left patches on hard surface. Adair was swearing loudly as Carny cut loose with an angry roar and popped the passenger door open.

He’s juiced! Keep the truck going! I’m getting out here!”

Carny pushed out of the cab and didn’t try to land on his feet. He hit feet first, and dropped like a paratrooper, tucking arms and legs in and rolled with the impact. He did two hard flips and landed in some soft sand. Dean lost track of him as his attention was grabbed by a blast of heat that singed his hair. He yelled in surprise and pain, dropping flat in the truck bed as Adair reversed the skid and dodged another blast of heat.

Throwing fire. Combat basic. Everyone’s scared of being burned alive.

This be your stop, Dean-o! Last shot got the radiator! I’m gonna feed him the grill! Jump for it!”

Adair screamed and straightened the truck out. Dean leapt right, and tried to imitate Carny, landing feet down then letting momentum carry him onto his hip, arms against his body and roll. Fighting the momentum is how to break bones during a drop. He hit a loose patch and fell backwards as he overcompensated.

The pavement tore his clothes and gouged his skin as he tumbled. After a few seconds he rolled off the pavement onto soft sand. That was awful. Hunh, nothing broken. I got off lucky. Back sure hurts, probably road rash.

Dean glanced up just in time to see the pickup take a fire burst in front of the passenger side door, which burst and melted the front tire. The pickup slewed then rolled once, twice, thrice before coming to a twisted metal heap just off the road. It smoked momentarily then the vaporized gasoline exploded.

Oh gods, Adair!

The Deep End – Part 11

This is an extra long post of The Deep End.  This and the next one will be the last two as I finish this up and ready it for submission.  Thank you all who have read this story and gone along for the ride.

Dean nodded his head, because when Adair said it was gonna happen, brother forget arguing, it was GOING to happen. Instead of protesting, Dean just smiled.

“I got you Adair, a split. When do you think you’ll get a chance to look at them?”

Adair twirled the flash drive in his fingers. “Umm, give me until tomorrow. I’ll do some tonight and hopefully we’ll have the straight dope on these guys sometime tomorrow before noon, internet gods willing.

Dean nodded again. “Thanks Adair. Anything you find will go a long way in deciding how to handle this situation.”

“Me? I’d just grab ’em and ask them pretty please where the girl is.”

Dean snorted. “I can’t imagine you saying pretty please, unless it was Barbie doing the asking.”

Adair smiled mirthlessly. “Didn’t say I’d be pleasant. If they grabbed the girl, I don’t care what the law says. I’d just think what it would be like not to find Carny’s girls, my nieces at home, and know some assholes like these two took them. Being an uncle gets me protective.”

“Bloodthirsty is more accurate I think.”

“Maybe just a little. Barbie’s persuasive.”

“I’m not arguing that. I’d tell you anything you’d want to know with those teeth snapping in my face.”

Adair chuckled. “Yeah, so would most sane bad guys.” His smile sank to a sad frown. “There’s just not that many bad guys you’d call sane any more.” Adair gave Dean a faint smile then asked, “Any chance these two are magick oriented?”

Dean shrugged. “I think if they do know some, it’s been kept pretty close to the vest. Everything they’ve done so far is easy to do without magick.”

“Hmm, okay.” Adair shifted in the chair. “I think I’ll settle for some extra caution with them. Magick casters make things an order of magnitude trickier.”

Dean agreed with that. One of the few felons Adair and he couldn’t bring back was a magick caster that knew summoning. He’d called up wurmlings and he had an Imrit for ‘early warning’. He’d killed two of Adair’s men when they, along with Adair and Dean, had tracked him to a fancy hotel in downtown St. John.

Wurmlings caught the two men by surprise and nearly got Adair, who managed to stick his pistol in the way and somehow the Wurmling had hit the barrel dead center in it’s mouth, and swallowed it up to the cylinder. Adair didn’t waste any time at gaping in surprise at the miracle, but pulled the trigger and blasted the Wurmling into tiny bits.

He and Dean eventually killed the other five Wurmlings that had jumped his team, not in time to save them however. They’d been holed by the vicious little predators, and had bled out from the massive wounds. Dean still had the occasional bad dream about it.

Dean got up, gave Adair a smile and a two finger salute, then walked back out of the office and out to the parking lot. he got back in his pickup, and drove back to his office to ready himself for another night of light sleeping. The parking lot was empty when he pulled into his spot and turned the vehicle off.

He opened the door, got out and locked up the truck. He walked to the front door and had unlocked it when he heard a rustling nearby, then a scream that sounded like a young girl. Dean’s senses kicked into high gear as adrenaline dumped into his blood. Light became bright, his heart raced and he charged towards the sound, ready to fight…the cat that had caught a rabbit.

He stared at the ginger feline, who obligingly stopped to stare back at the tall human. As the rabbit twitched feebly in the cat’s jaws, the cat growled and bit down harder. A faint, gasping cry came from the rabbit. The agony and terror of the sound was almost exactly like the scream that startled him so badly. The cat darted away, the dead rabbit in its jaws, and disappeared around the corner of the office.

Dean took a second look around, then went inside to spend the night, hoping that the scene he had observed was not some kind of omen.

* * *

The next morning was a soggy mess as rain pelted the windows and the glass front door, making a droning thrum that made him want to stay in bed. Instead he rolled over and forced himself to get up.

As he stretched before getting dressed, his cellphone buzzed. He tapped the face to answer, and Adair’s voice boomed from the speaker. “Hey, bro! I got some news for you, all bad unfortunately.”

Dean rubbed his cheek as a stab of disappointment went through him. “Well, thanks for giving it a shot. I’m sure I’ll…”

No no no no! Dean, lemme finish. I ran the names a few times, looking for perps with the name. No luck. When I punched for aliases, I got a hit. Those names you gave me are for the Carre brothers. They’ve done time for illegal Magick, drug trafficking, extortion, armed robbery, and assault. They’re not currently wanted, but they’re people that both Toronto and Montreal want to talk to about a series of smash and grabs at convenience stores. Two clerks were shot during the robberies, one died.”

So, why is that bad…oh, yeah, illegal Magick. They’re casters.” Dean thought for a moment. “Are they combat trained?”

I don’t know for sure, bro, but assume the worst case. I know some of the incidents sound like Magick could have been involved.” Adair went silent for a moment, and Dean fancied that he could almost hear his friend clicking away on a keyboard. Adair’s voice boomed from the receiver, startling him out of his musing.

Got it! Now Charles, the older one, no. He’s no caster, but Jean served a tour in the Canadian Army, and he was going through training as a combat caster until he got thrown out after an instructor died. It couldn’t be proven he was at fault, but there’d been friction with him arguing with the man over the training.

He was given three months in jail for his shoving the instructor, then another incident for firing a weapon on base, then a Dishonorable Discharge.”

So… he’s got some training. Yeesh, I can think of other things I’d like to be doing than chasing down a combat trained Magick caster.”

Me too. If you want an extra pair of eyes, we can supply ‘em.” Dean nodded at the phone.

I hear you, Adair. Believe me, if I think it’s going to get dicey, you’ll get a call right after the police.”

I hear you, but just the same. You’re doing all this due diligence to make sure you have a case TO call the police. I know you, bro, you’re either worried you don’t have enough, or that these guys are already twitchy.”

Dean sighed. “No. I think they have a cop on their payroll.”

Adair’s silence was a big hint that the news had blindsided him. After a long silence, he said, “You have proof of that?”

I have a strong eyewitness who saw the man hand a police officer a thick manila envelope.”

Not enough, bro. Who’s the witness?”

I am. The folded envelope was three centimeters thick at a guess. I’d be willing to be my license it was cash.”

That’s still too thin, an’ you know it, Dean.”

I know, Adair, but it’s what I have. More, there’s a girl missing. What I’ve got links these two up with her going missing. I think they’re using a kid to find the girls. And yes, that means I think there’s more than one gone missing.”

Dean, dammit! Have you got real proof or just speculation? None of this will hold water unless you got definite proof! You gotta have the proof!” Adair was not quite screaming, but Dean still had to hold the cellphone away from his head. When he didn’t hear any noise for a few seconds he moved the phone back to his ear.

I know that. I like it less than you do, Adair. This is my due diligence. I want to know what kind of trap I’m getting ready to put my foot down on. You and Carny are the two I trust to know what’s going on. I don’t trust the police. I don’t know if the cop is the only one, or if he has friends on the force he’s sharing the money with.”

Adair was quiet for a long ten seconds. Dean could imagine him tugging on his beard as he thought through all the information. That was one quirk about Adair he picked up on early. His hands were never still. He had to be doing something with them, whether it was tugging at his thick black beard, or an ear, or the neck of his shirt, his hands HAD to have something to do.

Lissen bro, you are in very deep water here. If these two are into something like kidnapping and possible murder, they won’t think twice about adding you to the body count. If they do have that cop on the take, then it just got a lot worse. You cannot go this one alone. Let me an’ Carny come over to help out. All that you’ve found out says you need BODIES, not just your body. Carny’d be chomping the phone he’d be so mad right now. Me, I’m the soul of temperence…by comparison.”

Dean chuckled at that. Both Adair and Carny were known to be very volatile, both in good ways and bad. Carny was the one most often getting worked up. Adair was a very close second though. Dean, as much as he wanted the help, didn’t feel like it was time for it, yet.

Hell yes I’ll call, when I have the proof. Right now, Adair, they…” Dean stopped. Yes they do know, the cop told them, I heard my name when I was at the door. Maybe it is time.

Screw it. I know they know about me. I heard the cop mention my name when I listened at their door. The cop I saw with them was the desk officer when I went over to the precinct and got information on my client’s daughter, and two other girls that had gone missing before her.”

Adair cursed, then spoke urgently to Dean.

Lissen bro, you NEED us there yesterday. We’re comin’ over tonight and we’re going to rig your place, and your office. Then we are going to get you something that will make a big ka-effing boom when you pull the trigger. This is way too real to play around with anymore.”

Dean listened quietly. Adair was right and Dean knew it. Though he didn’t think that the brothers Carre were going to try anything yet. He’d not been all that visible snooping around. But, if they got suspicious, then that was when it could go pear-shaped in an eyeblink. He didn’t want to think that they’d be crazy enough to try and kill him so cavalierly, but the way Adair described them, they didn’t sound very stable.

How about this? You come tomorrow morning and rig up my house and office.”

Adair was silent for a long moment. Then he sighed. “Yeah, bro, you’re right. Coming over after hours would look way too suspicious. Jeez where’s my head? I shoulda thought of that.”

“Right between your shoulders, where it belongs, Adair. Just come on over tomorrow morning. I don’t think anyone will care what you look like then.”

Adair chuckled on the other end of the connection. “True that, bro. We’ll be by tomorrow to set you up.” He didn’t say goodbye, but simply cut the connection. Dean looked at the phone with a smile. Somethings never change. Adair hated saying goodbye.

Dean looked out his window and watched the rain come down. the wind blew the rain in loose swirls across the parking lot. He smiled, then stopped. He moved his head to the lower corner of the window and watched the Sabawaelnu dance in the falling raindrops. The creature looked like the outline of a young woman as the rain splashed against it’s outline. Normally, a water spirit like this would not be so far from a body of water, but the rain allowed it to move about on land for a short time.

The spirit continued to dance in the parking lot as Dean crouched at the corner of the window, following its every move. The Sabawaelnu spun, then dipped, moving to the far corner of the lot. Then its hands waved as ring poured down harder near it. Dean thought he could see a vague outline. The shape resembled a car, he thought his imagination might be reading too much into the shape, but to him it resembled the Carre brothers car.

The shape darkened, like wood rotting. Icy fingers seemed to run up his spine as the shape solidified for a moment, then melted away to pool on the asphalt. For an instant, Dean saw a single footstep, and a dark shape resembling a prone body. The cold dug into his spine this time, raising the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck. The sense of finality, of death, was literally emanating from the shape, and then it all faded as the Sabawaelnu danced out of the lot, back towards its home water.

Well, that was something,” Dean said to himself. As he thought about what he’d seen, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the whole performance was some kind of warning.

He walked back to the sparse receptionist desk, and leaned against the curved top, running the whole sequence through his mind. He had just started when movement caught his eye. He looked towards the glass door, and saw an old pickup turn a half circle in front, and back into the parking spot directly in front of the entrance.

It was a battered pickup that was ivory colored with red highlights. A tubular steel frame sat in the pickup bed. Two ladders were lashed to the top and a large rolling tool holder was tied down inside the bed.

Adair was out of the truck almost before it stopped moving, with Carny just a heartbeat behind as he had to throw the truck in park and turn it off. The two men were near identical, with Carny being shorter and wider. Both had the black hair and beard, and both were so focused Dean could feel their intensity at his vantage point in the office a good eight meters from them.

He hurriedly strode to the door before Adair could pound on the glass. Adair grabbed Dean in a bear hug greeting.

Dean! Good to see you up so early! We’re here to trick your place out and get it ready for self-protection.”

Self, protection?” Dean chuckled, then seeing the glint in Adair’s eye, his smile faded. “You can’t be serious.”

As a heart-attack my friend. You bet I’m serious. No one messes with my friends and nobody touches family, so you count double.” Adair grinned and Dean heard Carny growl an agreement as he got the bundle of equipment out of the pickup bed. The trunk landed with a loud thump and jingle of metal on metal, causing Adair to scowl at Carny.

Careful! That stuff’s delicate and a pain to replace.”

I know that! It just slipped, man. Quit talking and start walking. This needs to be done fast.”

The two men jumped to their job and cameras were laid out on the floor, with caulking, wiring, each ready to record any conversation or image in Dean’s office.

Way too much recorded. They’re going overboard.

Hey, Adair? Is all this, umm, really, y’know, necessary?”

Adair stopped, laying out on the floor what Dean saw was the fifteenth camera. Adair looked around for about eight seconds, then back to Dean.

No,” he said matter of factly, and went back to setting the camera up in the overhead bank of LED lights.

Dammit Adair, I’m not an internet celeb. This is my place. I agree cameras area good idea, but this,” he gestured at all the equipment, “is beyond overkill. Put one covering the doorway and outer office. That corner camera’s fine for that. Then one in the inner office catty corner to the desk. That way it covers the door, the desk, and the window. Fewer cameras means greater security. You told me that.”

Adair stopped once again, and scanned the room. Carny was meticulously cleaning up a hole where a camera was concealed within the back wall. He halted his work as Adair gazed around the room. A frown formed on his face as he thought about what they were doing, and trying to do. His face showed every concern and frustration with the situation. He finally stopped his preparations. He swept all the cameras up, excepting four, with a huge, meaty paw, and dropped them back in the tackle box that he used to hold the cameras and other small items. Adair glared at Dean.

I hate you sometimes.”

Dean smiled. “I’m just telling you what you told me.”

I know, and that’s why I hate it.”

Dean chuckled. “Okay brother, just use one in the corner, one in the office…” He peered at the four remaining miniature cameras.

What are the extra two for?”

One goes on a lamp at the east side parking lot, to get license plates and people, and one goes on the west side, so it captures plates on cars that park ass end west instead of east.”

Carny snorted, holding in a laugh, then returned to rigging up a thing that looked suspiciously like a speaker.

The Deep End – Part 10

Paranoia got the best of him, but in a good way. He’d seen shows where bad cops snuck into a person’s home to plant false evidence. That was something he wanted to avoid. The owner of the office building had it set up with four cameras on the corners sweeping in an arc, and one closeup lens over the door.

Dean felt the need for one in his office, so he got a small camera that he set in the southeast corner of the room. It was behind and to the right of the desk, and its fisheye lens had a large field of view from the corner. If someone tried to plant evidence, the camera would record it and the time stamp on the recording would say when anything happened.

He painted the red active light black to hide it better, then hid the recorder in drop ceiling. Cabled like that, there would be no wireless transmission that could be detected, or so he hoped. He bought a battery pack to keep the recorder going at night. It could be pulled and recharged during the day and gave forty hours of service before running out of power. Thus armed for what trouble his paranoia demanded, he felt ready to go back out again.

He got his homeless clothes, some sweats to help change looks, and a reversible jacket. These went into the Jeep. He did a search on the Peak Arms, and got the number of the landlord of the building.

He then went online to get the names of the men in the 3A apartment. Local addresses came up blank, so he tried the city register. Likewise, it had no listing of tenants.

He pulled up the number of the Peak Arms again, and dialed it on his phone. It picked up with the second ring.

“Peak Arms. Who is this?”

“Hello, my name’s David. I’m trying to get information on a tenant of yours. I can’t read their names on the application, but the apartment is 3A. I was hoping to talk to them and clear up the name problem.”

“Huh,” came the answer after a long, pregnant pause. “Why’re you askin’?”

“I’ve been asked to do a background check. The paper I’ve got is filled out, but the names are illegible. I could barely make out your apartment name and number.”

“Hrrm…” Dean heard the man clear his throat and spit. God I hope this works. If he’s suspicious, he may well tell those two that someone’s wanting to look into their renting history. Or maybe he’s pissed at them possibly moving?

“What’s the apartment number?”

Relief flooded through Dean. “3A.”

There was a minute of silence as the man tapped on a keyboard. Dean gritted his teeth as he waited, willing himself not to urge the man to hurry up.

The man harrumphed into the phone and replied after what seemed an hour, “Ayuh, them’s the Villieux brothers, Baptiste and Gilles.”

Thank you sir, I appreciate all the help,” Dean said gratefully. “I couldn’t have gotten this cleaned up without you.”

The man grunted a ‘you’re welcome,’ and cut the connection.

Dean had names. It was time to go visit Adair and see if he could scare up something on them. If anyone could find out what the brothers were about, it was Adair.

Adair Weston was one of those rare people who enjoyed what he did. As he’d told Dean when he’d started, “I do this for the high from the chase. There’s no bigger rush than finding a bail jumper and hauling him in. I love the chase, man, and I live for getting up in the morning and finding the bad guy.”

Dean drove over to Adair’s office, and was greeted by the official mascot of the firm, Barbie, Adair’s Malamute. The monstrous shaggy wolf-like dog was a big softie, preferring to chase a toy than a person. That didn’t stop the ninety kilograms of dog being totally intimidating simply due to size.

Barbie gave a happy whuff and promptly tried to pounce Dean, who, after having such things happened before, wisely sat on the battered ivory couch before Barbie could knock him onto it. She spent the next minute sniffing Dean to make sure he was who she thought. Once the greeting was done, she moved to the opposite part of the couch and lay down, covering that half of the couch, with her tail happily thumping the cushion into dust-raising submission.

Dean chuckled and leaned back enjoying the familiar feel of the office where he’d work not that long ago. It seemed like he had time to take one deep breath when Adair came out of his office behind the service desk, and strode rapidly up to Dean. As Dean stood up, He enveloped in a bear hug from the huge man.

“Deano! Man it is good to see you! Carny just left to go home! Man he’s gonna be pissed to miss his best bro!”

Adair Weston put Dean down and turned right around. Striding behind the service desk, he bent over and pulled open a low drawer, then straightened with a bottle of Yukon Jack in hand. Dean grimaced.

“You still drink that swill? When are you going to get civilized and get a beer?”

“Beer? BEER!? No just a second, you jump on me for drinking a nice flavorful drink, and you say beer and civilized in the same breath? Give me a fucking break, eh? Beer is for those without refined palates!” The two men were grinning throughout the exchange. To Dean, both Carny and Adair were family. Carny’d pushed Dean to study after they got out of the Air Force, and Adair taught him everything about computers and skip tracing that he’d learned firsthand by doing the business for six years. He didn’t wonder about why they were so generous, he just rolled with it, happy to have such good people around him. Dad was right. You be a decent person, and you attract decent people around you. Your friends are what others judge you by. Dad, I’ve got some good friends.

The two argued for a few minutes more, then Adair made another quick turn and walked back through his office door. “Get in here, this isn’t a social call, even though it is. You got something bugging you about the business.”

Dean walked in after being invited, and took the first guest chair next to the desk. He handed Adair a piece of paper with the names of the brothers, and a flash drive of pictures he’d taken.

“These are the guys I think are behind some kidnapping of the girl I’ve been hired to find. They switched plates on their car with another. I informed the police, but I want to see if there’s more to them.”

Adair nodded his shaggy head. The piercing blue eyes, scar on his lip, and blonde beard gave him the look of a piratical Santa Claus as he gazed at the flash drive for a moment.

“This is going to be pro bono, Adair. The family doesn’t have much, so if they’re dirty, you get to turn it in, and get the reward.”

Adair stopped nodding. His eyes locked on Dean like a pair of glittering crystals. “Fair enough, I’ll be glad to see what these bad boys have on the internet. But we split this like always. You’re my brother’s best friend, Dean. He’d be mighty pissed with me if I didn’t split any reward since you brought it to us.”

The Deep End – part 6

Dean sighed. It was a lot more information than he’d had before coming here. Now if he could find a way to get Vlad to talk to him, he might come out with a solid lead where Maren was. It’s sure a hella lot more than I started with.

“Thank you. That helps me more than you can know.”

“I’m glad that I could help you, young man. It makes up for some of the…difficulties…we’ve had today.” Madge smiled.

“I’ll be going now, ma’am. I have a convenience store clerk to talk to.”

Madge nodded. “Take care, young man. Best of luck on your hunt.”

Dean gave Madge a polite bow, then walked out of the store, and into the parking lot of the Kwik-Way.

How can I use this information to the best effect? If I confront Vlad with it, will he break, run, or fight? Based on his ‘friends’ that want their money, running is most likely. So that screws the confrontation idea. Maybe following him home? No, That wouldn’t get anything. What I need is to see the cameras here. That may get me more information before I attempt to link Vlad to anything to do with her disappearance.

Dean shot a bit more about his options and what might be going on. One thought was a kidnapping for ransom, but to his knowledge, there were no ransom demands, or contact for that matter. A second thought occurred. What if there were more than one in the area? If so, then there would be other missing persons reports. That wouldn’t find Maren, but it would set a pattern, and maybe he could break the pattern and find the people.

His rational shoulder-self said he was wasting time he could be using to find Maren, and the intuitve shoulder-self was saying that if there were more than just Maren, there could be more evidence to back up his idea. I really hope that I’m reading this right.

Dean decided to go to the precinct and see if there were other disappearances that might help with this case. I can miss Vlad this time. The guy to talk to is Jeff.

The precinct was just getting ready for shift change when Dean entered. The desk officer saw Dean, and waved him over.

Who are you here for, sir?” The officer gave him a level stare that, to Dean, was trying to get him to confess to something.

Good afternoon to you, officer, I was wondering if I could get a look at the public records for disappearances over the last six months?”

The officer rolled his eyes, then glared at Dean. “Oh god, another private in-ves-ti-ga-tor.” He straightened up, then leaned forward, resting his forearms on the top of the watch desk as he leaned towards Dean. “So what is it you’re looking for? Cat up a tree? Someone’s missing pooch? Or maybe looking for some poor slob who’s wife wants to screw him over inna divorce? Would that be right, Mr. Dick?”

Dean held up his hands. “Whoa, friend, I am not here to be the start of anything. What’s this all about?”

The desk officer snarled, then shoved an open book at Dean. “Sign in, and state your purpose.”

Dean signed the book, which recorded his handwriting, then annotated his written purpose to the Desk officer’s computer. the officer read the entry, and his eyebrows rose slightly.

“Hmm, you’ve been hired to find this girl? Not a divorce case?”

“Yes, officer. Maren Payamy. She disappeared and her mother turned in a missing person’s report a day ago.”

The officer tapped on his screen, then looked up as a slurred bellow caught everyone’s attention. “Excuse me a second. Looks like there’s something to take care of.”

Dean nodded, then stepped aside as two officers brought in a loudly screaming drunk. The Troykin’s clothes were in tatters as officers kept trying to hold him in front of the desk to check him in. The Troykin would lunge away, wanting to sit down, and the officers would struggle to hold him long enough to record finger and ocular prints. The screams were something Dean couldn’t make out. The Troykin was slurring his own language, which sounded like cats screaming at each other in baritone. The desk officer grabbed a flailing hand and pushed it down on the desk, into a mounted restraint. He pulled up a smartphone and placed each finger on the face for a second, and moved to the next one.

he finished the thumb when the Troykin finally finished flailing, realizing his arm was well and truly held. In all this he’d never lashed out once at the officers, controlling himself carefully despite his apparent drunkeness. He stood quietly as his left eye was copied, then meekly allowed the officers to remove the restraint, and set him down on a metal chair. the officers cuffed him to the chair, and Dean moved back to the desk.

He observed the Troykin for a moment, then turned back to the officer. “What was that about?”

The officer shrugged, then tapped on his screen. “I hope you find her. She’s the third one missing in that area over the last five months.”

“Whaaat? There’s more than one?”

The officer nodded. Two more. I can’t give you the details until you ask for ’em, but I can tell you they’re still missing.”

Dean quickly pounced on the officer’s words. “I formally request information on any other missing persons in the last six months in and around a kilometer from where my person of interest disappeared from.”

He pulled out his own pad and pencil from his back pocket. “The last place I have her seen was DelHomme and Warren.”

“Really? Ah, okay. I just got a report of a found vehicle registered to your Maren Payamy this morning. I’ll print out the location along with the other missing person information you’ve asked for.”

Dean waited as the officer sent the information to a paper printer. He plucked the sheets from under the desk and held them up. “Finished that formal request in writing yet?”

Dean grabbed a sheet of paper, and wrote out in a hurried scribble his request, then signed the bottom and dated it. The officer glanced it over then handed Dean the sheets.

“Good luck.”

“Thank you officer. Good luck with the rest of your day too.”

Dean walked back out to his Jeep, and got in. His cellphone beeped at him as he sat down. The furniture company was waiting to unload the furniture for the receptionist’s desk. He returned the text, saying he was on his way back, and tossed the cellphone in the passenger seat.

The Deep End – Chapter 4

The man, Jeff, as his name tag indicated, looked at Dean like he knew it was a dodge. “Listen, you looking for him because he stiffed you or something? I know him and he wouldn’t do stuff like that. He’s a good worker. Polite and conscientious. He’s never caused any trouble.”

Dean nodded then pulled out his investigator’s license, and showed it to the man. “I’m looking for a missing girl. This guy is described as the last one who might have seen her. Is there a name and address I can get from you so I can talk to him?”

Jeff’s attitude shifted. “A missing kid? How do I know this isn’t come kind of scam?”

Dean stared at the man. He understood that Jeff set a good deal of trust in this other young man, that he liked him, which made him wary of doing anything to cause his associate trouble. In books, it’s always easy for the hero to stumble across things that pushes them towards the climax. In the real world, that line is a lot wider grayer, and much more intensely personal. A person tends to see it as a personal situation rather than as a plot in a story. So you have to address those fears and anxieties, or all that happens is the person shuts up, unwilling to put themself, or others at risk.

“I know this sounds bad, and you’re right, it is. There’s a girl missing, and from her friends. He, whatever his name is, was the last one likely to see her. All I want to do is talk to him about when he saw her last, and if he saw anything that might help in finding her.”

“Vlad. His names, Vladimir, but he tells everyone to call him Vlad.”

Jeff leaned towards Dean, his features tightening.

“You swear to me all you’re going to do is talk to him?”

Dean nodded. “All I want is to find the girl. But, I can’t swear to you that’s all I’ll do. I wont lie about something like that. You like him, that’s obvious. you don’t want to see him in trouble. I get that. I don’t want to cause trouble. I just want to find who I’ve been asked to find.”

Dean’s statement seemed to have the man vacillating back and forth between a desire to help and fear of getting Vlad in trouble that he might not be part of.

“He works from six until close tonight. Come talk to him then.”

Dean nodded. “I appreciate that. Thank you.”

He left the store, and wandered across the street to window shop while he considered if he should stay or just return to the shop in five hours when Vlad was supposed to report in.

The building had a sign, “Coster’s Outdoor Supply” over the glass double doors. The silver of the brushed metal didn’t quite blend with the red brick of the storefront. The main window was a three meter wide by two meter tall pane of glass, that had a small stage set at its base, which showed off clothing, fishing, and hunting supplies.

I could use a few things for this winter. A couple trap lines would be a bit of extra cash for emergencies.

Dean glanced further in and spotted in the back corner, a security camera pointing back towards him.

If that was active the other night, it might have caught a picture of Maren. Thin chance, but better than no chance.

He walked through the door, the small bell anchored at the top of the doorway tinkling as the door bumped it into motion. A heavyset gentleman in brown pants, white shirt, and a bright neon orange vest came out of a doorway underneath the camera. He waddled gracefully past the tight rows of fishing rods and camping gear, ambling to Dean. He proffered his hand.

“Hello, I’m David, and welcome to Coster’s. Is there anything I can help you find today?”

Dean smiled and nodded. “As a matter of fact, there is. I’d be wondering if I could talk to you and your manager about looking at some security footage from the other night?”

“Ah, what? Security? Why?” His smile had faded to a tenuous twitch of the corners of his lips.

“Take me to your manager and I’ll explain why. Oh, wait a minute.” Dean pulled his wallet out, then opened it. He grabbed the gold colored investigator’s license out and handed it to David.

“I’m working a job I was hired to do. Who I’m trying to find is a regular over at the Kwik-Way. The camera behind you points out that way. It might have recorded something that could help me find this person.”

David nodded, jowls jiggling as he did. He turned, and led Dean back to a small closet-sized office. The door slid into the wall, while the manager, who, if possible, was more rotund, than David, sat at a table that went wall to wall with an all-in-one computer screen on the desk. The manager was using an ancient keyboard and a wireless mouse to work on the computer. He looked over at David, then at Dean.

“Customer with a complaint, David?”

David shook his head no, and handed the investigator’s license to the Manager. He looked at the license, then handed it back to David, who in turn handed it back to Dean.

“So what are you here for, Mr Investigator?” His smile didn’t reach his grey-blue eyes.

“I’d like to look at your security footage on your cameras that cover the street, and the one in the back.” He pointed in the direction of the indoor camera. “They may have recorded something that could help me find someone.”

The manager had a sly smile form on his lips. “I’d be glad to help, but a request like that does tie us up, what with inventory and billing. It’s going to cost you for the inconvenience.”

Dean grimaced, and dug in his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out one hundred twelve dollars, as that was his entire wallet. The two men glanced at the money, then the manager stepped aside as he held out his hand.

“The PC’s all yours for the day. I hope you find something useful.” They wandered off into the store while Dean maneuvered into the broom-closet office and sat down at the makeshift desk. he pulled the door shut, then took a moment to look the computer over.

The manager had apparently pulled up the camera folder for him when he’d been conversing with Dean. the folder was on the computer screen and it was a simple double click to open it. he spent the next two hours going through the four cameras, and managing to find two intriguing pieces of recording.

The first showed Vlad, and someone that Dean guess could be Maren from the time stamp on the video They got out of a car that matched Maren’s missing Volkswagen, and walked into the Kwik-Way. The second was vaguely ominous, as it showed Maren walking back out, then getting in her car, and driving off.

As she left, a car that had been sitting at the curb near the driveway of the convenience store, flipped on its lights as the Volkswagen made a right and drove off screen to the left. As it turned, a dark colored car flipped it’s lights on and pulled away from the curb right behind Maren’s car.

Dean got an uneasy feeling at the coincidence of the action, and decided to check if there were any other cameras across the street that might have caught a better view of the car and it’s license plate, or if he was really lucky, maybe the interior showing faces clear enough to take to the police department and look at mug books online.

Amongst the discarded food wrappers and open notebooks, he uncovered a plugin drive. Dean fitted in the universal slot, hesitated. He opened the door, and started to walk around the counter as David approached him.

“All done?”

Dean nooded. “Can I borrow that mini-drive on the table? I found some pieces that could help me out. Is there anything on it that needs to be saved?”

David chuckled. “Not a thing. I feel kind of bad about Mark doing that, so, at least from my view, you paid for the drive too. I mean they’re only like a couple bucks.”

“Thanks, I’ll copy stuff over and be out of your hair.”

Dean went back to the computer, and plugged the mini-drive in, and soon had his own copies. He pocketed the drive, then walked outside and back across the street. The weather bit through his clothes as the wind picked up, coming from the Northeast. The promise of rain was suddenly a storm bearing down on Halifax.

This is the one time I’d rather not have to work in a blizzard. This job looks like it’s going to be a lot of footwork, and a storm is the last thing I want to contend with.

He turned his collar up and sidled over to the Yarn shop and went inside. A woman with a blue smock holding a pair of scissors was busy chatting with a younger woman, who was dressed in blue jeans, a green sweater, and wearing a front-mounted baby pack. The child, dressed in a pink jacket, was sleeping as the two women chatted.

Dean waited patiently at the front of the store until the two women finished their chat and began walking to the register, which Dean happened to be standing by. The woman in the smock was older than he first thought. Her hair had been colored brunette, but it was the heavy makeup hiding the wrinkles that told her age.

The young mother was chatting about making a comforter in some bright colors for her daughter. The proprietor, or so Dean guessed, smiled widely and looked at the mother and child as she held up the colors that the mother had chosen, proclaiming them to be ideal for the baby. She rang up the purchase, which the woman paid for by passing her wallet over a sensor, which recorded her information and debited her purchase.

The woman turned to face Dean, her smile pleasant as she said, “Welcome stranger. What can I help you find?”

The Deep End – Chapter 3

Dean tidied up the last bit of his writeup for the job he’d finished. The runaway was in the hands of social services, while her dad was in divorce proceedings with her mom. Neither parent seemed inclined to put her welfare above theirs. Both were in fact, so dysfunctional that Dean had actually contacted social services for the girl after meeting her parents.

I never thought helping would be something like that. What are those people thinking? Whatever it is, it sure doesn’t include their daughter.

He finished the writing, then transcribed it to an official report on the computer. He sent one to social services, and one to each parent. He knew he was going to get stiffed for his fee, but that the courts were for. Dean didn’t feel one twinge of remorse for piling another problem on the two.

I’m glad that one’s over. I can do with a nice, quiet break.

It’s said that the time you feel the most need for a break is the time when you get the most trouble. In this case, trouble found Dean right as he was closing up the office for the night. He’d just finished turning the key in the dead bolt when a woman came through the front door and walked nervously towards him.

“Mr. Youngwood?”

Dean turned to face her as she appraoched. She was his equal in height, with deep coppery skin, black hair and deep brown eyes set in a soft, round face. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans, a red thermal shirt under a black winter coat.

“I’m Dean Youngwood. What can I do for you, Ma’am?”

She stepped closer and Dean could see worry lines creasing her face as she opened her brown purse, and pulled out a folded picture. She handed it to Dean.

“That’s my daughter. She’s missing. Her friends went out clubbing last night, and she didn’t come home. When I found out she wasn’t sleeping over at any of her friends places, I came here. I think something’s happened to her. The knot in my stomach won’t go away.

Dean examined the picture for a moment, then unlocked his office door. “Come in Mrs…ahh…?”

“Payamy. Henra Payamy. My daughter’s name is Maren.”

Dean held the door open for Mrs Payamy, then closed it quietly once they were inside. His office was a spare place, containing a desk with a chair and two guest chairs. Two file cabinets adorned the wall to the right, and a small coffee pot set on the desktop. Dean indicated the coffee maker.

“Would you like a cup? I can start it up. I usually want one right in the morning.”

She shook her head no, and sat in the closest chair to her.

Dean sat down and focused his attention on the woman, who was visibly trying to avoid breaking down in front of him. He didn’t have any tissues, so he got up, rummaged under the small counter to the left. he returned to his desk, unwrapping paper cloths. She took on and held it, twisting it in her hands constantly as she waited for Dean to say something.

“Mrs Payamy. If you want me to look for your daughter, I will be happy to do so. What I will need is the names of her friends, and places where she likes to hang out when she’s not at home.” He looked at the desk, then back into her eyes. “If I can find out where she was, then I can start following upon where she went and find out what’s really going on.”

Dean made a conscious effort to harden his voice. He knew that sometimes young girls ran away because they had fallen in love, couldn’t stand the home life, or gotten pregnant by their boyfriend and couldn’t face the family.

“Understand please, that if you hire me, I’ll find the truth, regardless of what it is. I don’t push anything under the rug.”

Mrs Payamy nodded. “I don’t care about that. I just want my baby home again.”

Dean stood up and moved around the desk to pat her arm sympathetically.

“I understand, Mrs Payamy. I’ll do my best to get her home to you.”

She didn’t nod, but left an envelop on the desk, then walked back out of the office, head up, back straight, forcing herself to remain calm. Dean watched her go, then sat down at his desk. He stared at the envelope, then opened the middle drawer. He pulled out a letter opener and carefully slit the top. Out came a class ring, two pictures, and five hundred dollars various denominations. A second letter was inside.

‘Dear Mr Youngwood: Please accept this as your retainer. I know you can’t do this for free, so I hope what’s here is adequate.

Lorna Payamy’

He put the letter aside, along with the class ring. Why she had sent that along with the money bothered Dean. A ring is a memento. It’s something you don’t part with unless a dire situation comes up. It underscored the concern the woman had for her daughter, and made Dean more determined to find the truth of the matter.

He moved everything to the middle drawer then locked it closed, and went home to sleep and tackle the problem rested and refreshed. The next morning a letter was on the floor inside his office. Mrs Payamy had dropped by and left the list of six friends, like Dean had asked for. Three had asterisks next to them, and a note at the bottom saying these three were the ones that were with her daughter the night she disappeared. A second sheet of paper had a list of four locations that she thought her daughter liked to visit. Time to go to work.

Dean went to the girls with the asterisks first. The first girl was Alys Hardisty. She was the youngest, being fifteen. She had been the first that Maren Payamy had dropped off that evening.

Alys mentioned that they’d gone to an all night diner to talk about school.

“Maren was excited, I remember. She had met some new guy, and she was crushing in a major way. She even showed us a picture of him that she’d taken when he wasn’t looking.”

“Did you get a copy of the picture from her? That would help a lot with finding them.” Dean crossed his fingers.

“Sorry. She didn’t pass it out.”

“Well, damn.” Dean thought for a moment. “Was there anything in the picture that you remember?”

The girl shrugged. “Nah, it was just a picture.”

“Okay, thanks for your time.”

Alys nodded, then closed the door. Dean went to the next two on the list and got the same answer, She showed them a picture of a handsome looking guy, but didn’t share it. None of the three girls remembered anything about the picture other than the man, who had shaggy brown hair hauled back in a ponytail, square features, and looked like he worked out. He went to the last girl’s address, hoping that he might get lucky, and he did.

“The picture? Yeah, I recognize the place because it’s where we stopped a couple of times to get beer. The guy worked behind the counter at the Kwik-Way on Docket. It’s a couple blocks from the high school.”

It was a real break. He drove down to the store, then wandered inside. Behind the counter was a grey-haired man who looked in his fifties. Dean walked up to the counter. The man looked at him.

“What brand you want?”

“Brand? Oh, no. Sorry. I’m here asking about someone who works here. Tall guy, square features, ponytail. I was in here the other day and asked about,” Dean hesitated for a moment, scanning the store, “Moosehead? I wanted to know when you guys restocked it so I could get a case.”