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.”

Challenges in writing, or, don’t dream yourself into immobility

As you can see from the title this is about some challenges you may face in writing, and since I’m writing about them, you are correct that I’ve fallen afoul of them and continue to an extent to be influenced by them.  The first and biggest challenge is my own imagination.

What I mean by my imagination being a problem is, well, too much of it projecting all sorts of great things happening, and all sorts of bad things happening to me.  Good things like recognition, respect, maybe even a best-seller list are things that would be wonderful to have happen.  Similarly bad things like total rejection, ridicule, and humiliation because of doing a bad job on a story.  These tend to spiral out of control for me, taking up lots of time daydreaming about, or dreading, the finished product.  As a result I’m not working on the story.

Which is in line with something I read a long time ago.  An author was asked if she thought about the fame she had received from a book she’d authored.  Her response was :        ‘I never thought about it.  I wanted to write the story and didn’t pay attention to anything else.

Similarly, another problem is the beginning, which is my hardest section to write.  As I’ve said in other discussions, I have a very hard time letting go of potential.  A story is ALL potential until the first word is written.  The first word leads into the first sentence, then the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter, and so on through the book.  But everything starts with that first word.  I have trouble as I am enamored of the potential.  The possibilities are numberless until the first word.  Then like a sand in an hourglass, the idea is restricted to the words that build the story.  It’s really not a restriction so much as the story telling itself, but to me I see it as lost potential.

The whole point of this discussion is very simple:  Write your story and don’t worry about any ‘what if’ outside of the story.  Write and don’t get distracted by the potential, focus on what you have control of, which is writing your story.

The Deep End – Part 9

Dean stood up and made sure he could see Vlad as he trotted home. He dropped back to avoid looking like he was following as the young man strode down the side of the road. When Vlad slowed to cross Tilton Street at the light, Dean dropped in a crouch and pulled the lid off of a small trash can luckily near him. Vlad waited until the north-south light changed and crossed, moving south. Dean ran across through traffic that was sitting at the light.

The horns beeped angrily at him but he paid them no mind since Vlad had disappeared around the corner. He ducked between two shops, taking the alley out to Grover, where Vlad had crossed onto. He came out of the alley just meters behind his suspect. He followed slowly as before, not worrying about Vlad running. The young man trotted to a three-story brick building on the southwest corner of Grover and Tilton that said ‘Peak Arms’.

Most likely his apartment. Dean walked up the steps, noting that another homeless person was leaning on a cart taking shelter on the windward side of the building. As Dean passed the man, the homeless fellow grunted at him, so Dean upnodded absentmindedly, and continued walking past. He turned up the steps and pulled the door open, stepping inside.

The lobby was a small square that might have allowed five or six people to share the space. And the opposite end of the floor was a set of stairs going up. To his right, there was twelve mail boxes inset into the wall. Only three actually had names on them, the others were identified by numbers. To the left was a door that said ‘Staff Only’ that had two dead bolts on either side of the doorknob.

He took the stairs as quietly as he could, going up to the landing. The small landing was a square like the main lobby, with an archway that took up the far left third of the wall. Dean walked to the corner and listened once more. He heard some muffled voices and a child crying. Nothing sounded like it was in the hallway, so Dean turned the corner, and started down the hall. The hall was a person-and-a-half wide, with a warped linoleum floor that had a faded center where feet had worn it down. Three doors adorned each wall of the hall, the right hand ones were offset towards the landing a meter or so.

Two LED overhead lamps cast a weak illumination that made the air seem like a faint fog that blurred both color and sharpness. He crept past the closed doors, listening intently for a familiar voice. Hearing nothing but the fussing child, he continued down the hall to the next landing, this was a mirror of the first with the stairs at the far third of the right wall. As he moved silently upstairs, he heard muffled voices. There was an urgency to them that caught his attention.

He moved to the first door on the right, and heard Vlad’s voice muffled heavily by the door. Two other voices were in with him, one castigating him on showing up here. The second voice continued that he still owed them money and he wasn’t done yet. He had that girl looking for him and he’d better damn well reel her in. They had a quota to meet.

Dean clenched his hands, noted the number of the room, 3A, then slowly backed down the stairs. He knew he was onto something that needed to go to the police. The question became, what would happen if he did so? Would the two give up the girls? Where were they being held? If no one could find them, how could they be implicated as kidnappers? Would Vlad turn on them if he got caught? What would happen if he didn’t? The questions came hard and fast, and left him reeling for answers.

He went against his knee-jerk judgment of calling the police, and decided to find the girls before he called them. If I find them first, I can call from there with my cell and the cops can catch them with the girls. As he made the decision, he hear steps below him. Someone was coming this way in the hall. Prudence being the better part of valor, Dean retreated to the far end of the hall. The dim lighting left him hunting a dark spot like a cockroach who’d been startled by the kitchen lights coming on.

At the far end of the upper floor was a small landing. The opening upward hand been cover over and painted. Dean backed into the corner and lay on the floor, then peeked his head around the corner from ground level. He saw a police officer go to the door where he’d listened to Vlad talk to his unseen associates. He knocked sharply twice, pausing for a count of three, then knocking twice more.

The door opened as a woman carrying a baby stepped out, and he grabbed the door before it closed, and went inside. Dean wanted to go to the door to hear what was going on, but the door opened again moments later. The police officer stepped back out. He slipped what looked like an envelope into his back pocket, then draped his blue winter coat over it, hiding it from sight. He turned to the stairs, and walked back down out of sight.

He waited a minute, and, when nothing else stirred, he crept back to the first doorway, and listened. He closed his eyes to better focus on his hearing.

“So, who is Dean Youngblood?” said one of the speakers.

“That’s Youngwood, not blood. Merde! Do you even pay attention?” growled the second voice.

“Did the cop get us a picture?”

“No, just the name, he couldn’t get one snapped, apparently. We have his address. We could go pay him a visit.”

“Hey, can I leave? You talked to me, I’d rather not be around here” Vlad suddenly spoke up. There was silence for about five seconds.

“Sure kid, you can go. You still got a ways to go to clear your debt. Just keep up what you’re doing and you’ll clear it up in no time.”

“You said that before.”

“And you better listen, rather than running your mouth, bebe’. You might not like it if we call the debt in today, and you can’t pay.”

Dean heard Vlad stomp towards the door. He retreated back towards the alcove, getting four meters down the hall when Vlad yanked the door open, then slammed it shut. Dean looked back, certain he’d been seen, but Vlad was looking at his feet. His hands were clenched, then he rubbed his sleeve across his eyes before turning to the stairs and heading down.

There were a few other angry voices coming from the rooms near the two men, but they faded back into a sullen silence after a few moments. Dean crept back to the door, intent on hearing more. Halfway back he stopped and retreated to the alcove again.

If I stake these guys out instead of Vlad, I’m pretty sure I’ll find out what’s going on and where the girls are, if they’re still alive that is.

He waited for a few hours, and would have stayed longer, but one of the tenants spotted him. He assumed that Dean had snuck in, and raised a ruckus that had the residents chasing him out of the apartment. He went back to the office, then gathered up all his files and his shotgun, moving everything into his Jeep, and drove over to his parents’ house. He left the files and information with them, then drove back to his office to wait. Dean stopped on the way to buy a large coffee to help him stay awake that evening. Once there, he retreated to his office, and double checked that the shotgun was loaded.

It had a full magazine and one in the chamber. All the shells were number eight shot, which was guaranteed to turn a man into hamburger but not go through thin sheet rock. He sat up all night, waiting for trouble to show itself. When the sun came up and nothing happened, he picked up his files from his parents, and returned to the office.

I should find out who the cop was. They got my name from him, I’m sure of that. Are they going to set me up? Paranoia says yes, but how bad would it be? No use worrying about it now. I’ll just be way to wound up to do my job right. Gotta take it easy.

The Deep End – part 8

“Can I take a picture of those pages? I won’t show them to anyone, not without your permission.”

Jeff didn’t say a word. he reached down and spun the book around. Dean snapped the open page showing Vlad’s missed work and the reason, then took a picture of the May date, and for good measure, turned to the time four days ago, and snapped a picture of it.

He turned the book back around. Jeff grabbed the book and slapped it shut. He had a stricken look as the possibility that Vlad was the kidnapper sunk in.

His eyes rose to meet Dean’s. “How do you know if he is the guy?”

“I don’t. I’m following what I can find. So far, this makes Vlad someone I really want to talk to before I do anything. Can you keep everything quiet until I get to talk to him?”

“Yeah, I can keep my mouth shut. Just do it soon, eh?”

Dean nodded. “Thanks for all the courtesy, friend.”

“I ain’t your friend,” Jeff answer with a churlish snarl.

Dean nodded as he stepped away from the counter.

“I guess I’m not. See you around.”

“Fuck off.”

Dean walked back to his car, and drove back to the office. He grabbed the blankets on the cot and shook them open. He crawled onto the cot, curled up under the covers, and was asleep in seconds.

Dean awoke the next morning at four-thirty. he used the small bathroom to shave and brush his teeth, then drove out to the Kwik-Way. There was a gas truck out front, with the driver hooking up to one of the underground gas tanks. Off on the left of the lot were three charging stations for the electric cars. There were really no electrics still operating excepting a few that enthusiasts kept running.

Gas was now much cheaper as Canada produced far more than it could sell. Labled as a national resource, all oil and oil fracturing plants were still private, but when the government so desired, it could shut down civilian distribution and prioritize it for national defense, or any emergency service.

Dean parked a half block away, and walked to the Kwik-Way. He had dressed up this time in his ‘indigent homeless’ costume of red thermal with a sleeveless sweat shirt over the thermal and a thick old air force jacket over all of it. A ratty looking black wool cap covered his head. His pants were a faded, green fleece-lined work pair that had seen much better days. To finish off the look, he wore badly scuffed up black steel-toed work boots.

Dean shuffled into the Kwik-Way, only to find a tough-looking young man behind the counter. His nametag stated his name was Ahmad. His skin was a swarthy brown with curly black hair and dark brown eyes. He was about ten centimeters taller than Dean, but much stockier. His cheek bore a long thick scar. The kind you get from a knife fight that doesn’t heal well. A few tattoos were on his neck. the first thing that came to mind was that he had served time in prison. The second was a gang member.

Dean walked to the counter and laboriously pulled out change to get a hot dog. The attendant looked Dean over and waved him towards the microwave. He heated up the hot dog, then ate it in three large bites, then shuffled back outside. The man watched him go, and went back to leaning on the counter, reading something on an electronic book.

Dean walked back to his car and quickly dumped the coat, hat, and shirt. He threw a clean blue and black checked shirt on, got a ball cap, and a pair of gloves. He walked to Madge’s stoop and stood out of the wind as he watched the Kwik-Way, waiting for Vlad to show.

Vlad showed up ten minutes later. He walked past Dean without seeming to notice him, and trudged past the gas pumps and into the Kwik-Way. Five minutes later, the swarthy attendant stepped out of the store, turned his collar up against the cold, and walked to a beat up gold-colored car, and drove off, away from Dean’s spot.

Dean walked to the store again, pulled off his cap, then walked up to the counter. Vlad saw him coming and gave a nod. Vlad looked hollow-eyed, and his cheek sported a dark bruise that was the size of a huge fist or something like a baseball bat. He didn’t see any torn skin, but he’d get a better look when he went to the counter to pay for the coffee.

“Morning, come by to get your vanilla latte’ fix?” Vlad said with a tired smile.

“That I did, that I did. How’s your morning? You look like it was a little eventful, with that bruise of yours.”

Vlad startled a little then gave another tired smile. He winced as he said, “Nah, I slipped in my bathroom and my cheek came down on the edge of the sink. No big deal, just a little embarrassing is all.”

“That does sound unfortunate, for certain. I hope you heal up fast. Oh A couple girls came by last night when I got a coffee sure wanted to see you. She came with her friend, and both of them looked disappointed when they saw Jeff instead of you.”

Vlad’s smile winced and shrunk a little. He looked down at the counter, his cheek muscles twitching. He said in a brittle voice, “Huh? What girl? Oh Lara. Did she have black hair and blue eyes?”

When Dean nodded, Vlad said with a weak chuckle. “I know her, she’s been hanging out here in the evenings. So, what about it?”

“I was just commenting that it was something fun to see. Two cute girls looking to talk to someone.”

Vlad looked like he just bit into something bitter. His answer was slow, and tentative. “Yeah.”

If he isn’t the kidnapper, he knows something important. Any more pushing and he’ll run. I’ll follow him back to his place when he gets off work.

Dean smiled warmly, then got himself a vanilla latte’ from the coffee machine at the back corner of the store. He brought the cup to the counter. “Thanks for the coffee. This will give me a good kick in the pants.”

Vlad nodded silently, and rang up the purchase. He fitted a travel cap onto the cup, and slid it back to Dean, his eyes seeming to have a vague resentment in them as he plastered a patently fake smile on. “You’re welcome. Come back again.”

Dean smiled quietly. “I will, friend. Thank you.” He walked out the door, checking behind him once to see what Vlad was doing. The young man had come to the door, and was watching him walk away. As Dean turned on the street towards his car, Vlad turned away abruptly and went disappeared from his view.

Is he getting ready to run?! Dean ran back to his car, and hurriedly switch clothes again, getting back into the homeless poor set. He locked his car, then ran between the small shops to Harmon street which ran behind the Kwik-Way. One thing Dean had cultivated during his time as a skip-tracer, was the ability to read people.

He wasn’t perfect, but he paid attention to his own reactions and how a person answered questions and their mannerisms. He became good at spotting the little ‘tells’ as they’re called, that a person unconsciously uses when they’re uncomfortable about a question, or outright lying. He knew he had pressed one of Vlad’s buttons, and the young man might decide to run. He wanted to be in place behind the store in case Vlad did take off.

When he got far enough back towards the Kwik-Way, he saw Vlad in the back. The young man was throwing bags of trash in the dumpster, and the recycle bin. Dean slowed down and walked along the street, bending over and shuffling his feet, doing his best to look like a broken homeless person. Vlad spotted dean, but didn’t give him a second glance. He was just one of the local poor who’d be in the trash dumpster the moment he went back inside.

Dean walked slowly to the trash bin, and crawled inside. He wanted to make certain that Vlad saw what he expected to; a hungry homeless diving for food. The stink of rotted food and spoiled milk assaulted him with a cornucopia of smells creating a miasma of misery. He poked his head up to check on the area, then climbed out of the trash, and went to the side of The Yarn Store, and sat facing the convenience store, watching as Vlad cleaned, did restocking, and ran the register for patrons when rush hour started just after six.

Vlad was joined at eleven by Jeff, and the two worked throughout the very busy lunch hour until it one p.m., when Vlad clocked out, leaving Jeff as the sole operator of the store. Vlad put on a jacket over his work shirt, and walked out across the lot, and turned left. Dean was huddled on the side of Madge’s store, and watched the young man trot on past, hurrying to get home and out of the cold.

The Deep End – part 7

He pulled up in front of his office. A yellow furniture van sat in front of his office. The back end was open, with boxes and a few large crates waiting on the ramp to be rolled into his office. Dean unlocked the door and pushed both glass doors wide. A couple rocks held the doors for the movers to bring the new furniture in.

As the movers shifted items into the proper rooms, Dean looked over the paper sheets he’d gotten. The two girls were close to the same age, and only a grade apart from Maren. Both were last seen by friends talking on a cellphone to someone, supposedly their new boyfriend.

That information fits with my case. It’s unusually close to what I’ve got as information. He read further through the first report. The girl’s car had been recovered, wiped down with bleach.

Why not just chop it and have it disappear? that’s what I’d have done. Maybe they can’t? What would stop them from just taking the car to a chop shop? Oh! If they didn’t have a contact. So this is a different group from established ones maybe? Or maybe just a single person is doing the work? That’d explain the car being abandoned. Maybe he parks another car out there to transfer to?

He placed the papers on the receptionists desk, then went to the first crate, and started pulling it open. He wanted to get everything set up and then move a cot into his office so he could sleep in it when he stayed too late.

The receptionist’s office now had it’s own set of upright 4-drawer files, a laptop and printer, an in-house hot spot, and a paid link into police open case files that were allowed to be perused. He sat down in the new swivel chair and powered up the all-in-one screen with a quick triple tap on the face. The machine lit up, with a welcoming display of it’s operating system. A few more taps set up the automatic link to the database, and a few more got links to public information such as wanted posters, lost and found, and missing pets, and missing persons.

All this still works. It’s amazing how much survived all that chaos years ago. We lost half our population in The Change, and yet stuff like the internet keeps on humming. We still have trade across the ocean, though the west is locked up until the government can figure out how to get a safe passage there and back.

He looked up the missing persons, to make certain Maren was on the list (she was) and checked on the car the officer said that had been found (it was there, with detailed information about the condition). he checked it once more against the other two vehicles, and found it similar enough to warrant him putting in a comment showing his belief of a link between the three.

He wrote up notes, then copied them off to the printer, and stuck them in a folder. Electronic records are great, but nothing in his mind makes up for something solid, like a paper copy. It was easier to carry and reference. While they were vulnerable, no one could hack paper for it’s information, like a person could hack a cellphone, or an internet-linked computer. Dean hummed to himself as he finished up, and put the first folder in the new file cabinet.

This sure beats working out of my car, or my house.

Dean went back to his house, retrieving his hunting cot, a pair of blankets, and his pump shotgun. He didn’t own a pistol, and the cost and time to get a license was not something he wanted. Shotguns were legal to own, and could be used on a person’s place of business, or their home, as defense. The Change had changed laws too. With so many dangerous things around, people often went armed. After getting the cot set up, Dean pulled the file again from the cabinet, and sat down at the receptionist desk to look through it once more.

He read through the girls information twice, doing his best to commit it to memory. He dozed off in the middle of reading. The next morning, Dean went back out to the Kwik-Way, hoping to catch Jeff in. Who he found was someone else at the counter, Vlad. The big man straightened up as he spotted Dean. “Hey, anything I can getcha?”

Dean nodded, and said pleasantly, “Good Morning, and yeah, got any vanilla flavored coffee for sale? I’d like a half-pound if you’ve got any.”

Vlad nodded, saying, “Last rack back there. Coffee’s on the bottom. If there’s any, that’s where it’ll be.” Vlad watched Dean until he disappeared behind the row, then put his ear plugs in, and began cleaning behind the counter. Dean stood up, and saw Vlad busying himself with a mop bobbing his head to whatever he was listening to.

I wonder if he’s really involved. He doesn’t seem like a kidnapper. Luka Magnotta didn’t look like a cannibal, but there you are. He strode to the counter, then rapped on the surface to get Vlad’s attention.

The young man pulled his ear buds out and glanced at Dean’s hands. “No luck, eh? Sorry, I don’t know if we’ll be getting any in. Our next delivery’s in two days. Come back then and check it out. The guy usually drops by just before seven in the a.m.”

“So, two days from now? How does that help me now?” Dean countered.

“Uh, well, we have vanilla latte available at the coffee station. You can come by here for a caffeine fix if you need one.” Vlad seemed flustered, but he did try to find an answer, which surprised Dean. Most people don’t think of answers that way, and just tell folks to wait. He’s a quick thinker. I think I’ll leave it alone and come back this evening to talk to Jeff.

Dean thanked him for the suggestion, and got himself a large coffee. Once he was back to the office, he dumped the coffee on the grass, and took the empty cup into his office to toss in the recycle can in the office. He puttered around, re-reading the file again, and when six p.m. finally rolled around, he drove back to the Kwik-Way.

He parked behind Madge’s Yarn Store, and walked to the edge of the large window. Jeff was behind the counter. Here’s hoping I can find something.

Jeff’s face soured when he saw Dean. He said gruffly, “You talked to Vlad?”

Dean shook his head. “No, I wanted to talk to you. About Vlad actually. You said he is a pretty conscientious worker. Were there any times he called in sick suddenly or didn’t show up for any reason?”

Jeff glowered at Dean. “I don’t have to answer nothing. You want to talk to Vlad.”

“I want to talk to you. Vlad may be involved. If he is, talking to him would just let him know I’m looking into things. If he puts that together, he’s gone, and so is my chance at finding the girl.” Dean took a step towards the counter. “You remember why I came here the first time? I’m looking for a girl. She’s an official missing person now. The most likely person to see her last was Vlad. Plus, two other girls in the area are missing. All the…,” Dean shut his mouth as two women entered the store.

Jeff went from irritated to friendly in the blink of an eye. “Welcome ladies, Is there anything I can help you find in your local Kwik-Way?”

The two girls whispered quickly, and one smiled shyly at Jeff. “Umm, is Vlad on later tonight? I was wondering if I could talk to him.”

“Well now. He’s not on tonight, but he’ll be in here every morning at five a.m. to work. If you’re up that early, there’s hardly a crowd until seven. You could catch him then, eh?”

The young woman nodded then walked back out of the store whispering and giggling with her friend as they walked off. Dean waited for them to walk out of the lot before turning on Jeff, who was clearly upset with Dean’s questioning. He also acted uncertain, as though that last talk with the girls had reminded him of something.

“Hey, Jeff. Earth to Jeff. I have three missing girls. Each one has nearly the same M.O. to their disappearance. Now, can you answer my question. It’ll be the last one I ask you.”

Jeff grunted, then palmed a hand down his face. “Fine. I’ll tell you just to get you out of here. He called in twice, once because he got a bug, the other because his car broke down.”

“Do you remember when those times were, off the top of your head?”

“I can do you one better, just to get you out of here.” He pulled up an archaic loose leaf notebook and dropped it on the counter. He opened to the beginning, moved to a tab labled ‘May’, and opened the book. A few pages later he said, “Here, May fourteenth. I covered for him.” It took a minute more to find the second time, which was in September, on the twenty-second.”

“Once moment.” Dean pulled out his cellphone, then linked to the missing persons site, and pulled up the first girl. Her missing date was May sixteenth. The second girl was listed as missing on the twenty-fifth.

“The girls are right in that time window. Take a look.” He handed his cell to Jeff, who took it, and as he looked at the two files, a haunted look came to his eyes. He grumbled and handed the ‘phone back to Dean.

“Doesn’t mean nothing. It could be coincidence.”

“What about four days ago? He call in not able to show for work?”

Jeff’s eyes grew more haunted, and a little fearful. He took a breath and exhaled it slowly. “Yeah, he called in saying he’d be late that day. Something important came up and he’d be in around eleven that night.”

Dean nodded. This kid seems to be an amateur. You’d think he’d use a day off to pull the kidnappings. It all fits together too cleanly. It IS the simplest answer. I’ll get copies of the log, if he’ll let me, and send everything to the police after I follow this up. No use in telling them something until I’ve something more than just circumstance, because Jeff is right, it could be just a weird coincidence.