"Do we even have a plan?"
Gregory winced once again, for God only knew how many times in the last eight hours, as his brother continued to repeat his same concern over and over again. Trevor was a real professional, a trouper at his finest, when it came to worrying and whining, and he was seemingly eager to demonstrate his talents today.
Of course, what was really concerning Gregory most of all wasn't Trevor's annoying habits, but rather the truth to the question being asked over and over again.
Do we even have a plan?
Gregory Leary did not in fact have anything remotely close to a plan, nor did he have any idea where he might conjure one. He simply told his brother to trust him, which was, in fact, just another lie.
The Leary brothers arrived in New Orleans ahead of Clair Nobles. This was largely due to the Leary's financial resources. Whereas Clair had to fly the old-fashioned way, Gregory simply placed a few calls, and those on the other end did whatever it was that those with connections did, and before Clair was even through baggage check, Gregory and Trevor were in the sky, flying towards New Orleans.
Gregory checked his phone over and over again, using an app to track the arrival time of Clair's flight. This information had also been achieved through those same Leary connections, and thus far, she was still behind them by a few hours. They landed in New Orleans just in time to catch the sun rise, and from there hailed a cab to take them downtown. Gregory took care of lodging arrangements. The Leary brothers were to check into the Windsor Court Hotel, located in the heart of the city.
"Gregory, I hate to continue to press you so, but I do believe we need to articulate some sort of plan here. I mean, what are your current thoughts, that we simply walk up to Clair Nobles and tell her that we're a cursed family and that she is walking into damnation by toying with the forces of Tobit?"
Gregory took a moment to let that one settle. Similar ideas had crossed his mind. After all, Clair was an educated and refined woman, not likely to leap to hysterics. Perhaps they could simply sit down and discuss this matter. As it seemed, she already knew plenty about Hyraaq Tobit, so it wasn't like this information was going to exactly blow her mind.
Gregory pondered further. If he were alone, that could almost work. Trevor, though, with his over-active sense of morals, would quite likely confess that it was he and Gregory who first harassed her over the telephone, and then proceeded to vandalize her office and then accost her in her own home. Even if he could get Trevor to swear to keep quiet, he knew his brother too well. Trevor would gaze into the lovely, sharp face of Clair, beaming with intelligence, and more than likely become overcome with a desire to come clean, just so he could sleep better at night. Times like this made Gregory almost regret bringing Trevor into the loop at all with this.
The eldest brother was able to vanquish those thoughts, though, when he reminded himself that this is most decidedly a two-man operation. He needed help, and Trevor, morals and all, was needed here. His brother's good nature and concern for others served to ground Gregory at times when this whole Tobit fiasco seemed as though it would consume him whole. Trevor reminded him that there was still good in this world. Plus, he reminded him of his mother, a trait that was well worth the headache.
Still, though, he was left with the unanswered question. What was their plan? They could try to scare Clair once again; that could potentially work, especially if Gregory took the lead. He would not have held back as his brother did the first time they attempted this. He had no desire to harm Clair, but he would not quit until the task was accomplished. Gregory had to turn up the intensity in London several times over the last decade or so, when it seemed as though the agents of Tobit were getting too close, too aggressive or just plain too irritating.
"Let's get to the hotel, take a shower, get something to eat, and then we'll develop a plan. Okay, Trevor?"
"I see this going poorly, Gregory, and I am not going to dress up in that mask again and try and scare her. I hate myself for even making that phone call, so don't try to imagine how the little episode in her apartment makes me feel."
Gregory sensed much spite in that comment, and it saddened him. His brother was all that he had left these days, his only real family, and in many ways, his only real friend. Should this little experiment with the dark forces of hell destroy his relationship with his brother, then it would be a clear victory for Tobit regardless of the end result.
GPS led the brothers onto Canal Street, and despite their grim intentions for their visit, both took in the sights around them as most tourists on their first trip to New Orleans tend to do, wide eyed and breathless.
On one side of Canal Street sat New Orleans' Central Business District. Modern, glass walled skyscrapers shot up into the blue sky and reflected the pleasant glow of the mid-morning sun. On the other side of Canal was the historic French Quarter, with buildings dating back hundreds of years. The contrast between the two sides of the street alone was worth the view. Morning traffic moved here and there. Gregory was shocked that almost every street was accompanied by a "NO LEFT TURN" sign. It made him wonder if the entire city turned right for all their destinations. He spotted two red streetcars traveling down the center of Canal, equipped to hanging electrical cables that powered them along their way.
Trevor spotted some of the bar flies who appeared to be stumbling out of some of the establishments on the famous Bourbon Street after what was clearly a long night, and partial morning, of drinking. He saw several homeless people, some holding up signs asking for spare change written on flaps of cardboard. Others were sleeping directly on the sidewalk. Trevor's posh background made this a strange sight to him, and he pondered why the police did nothing about it.
Both brothers took time to observe the many attractive female tourists who were already making their way out to shops, restaurants or bars. Many of them were already holding alcoholic beverages. Oddly, it appeared that public consumption of alcohol was permitted in this city. Trevor wondered how anyone could stand to live in a place where such low class behavior seemed to populate every corner. He supposed that this small section of the city couldn't account for the entire place, and gathered that, much like his own beloved London, there were tourist attractions and normal areas alike. Still, this city gave him a bad vibe. Perhaps it was the nature of their visit that was spoiling everything, or perhaps it was something deeper, like some secret place was hiding deep below the city, waiting to swallow up those foolish enough to seek it out.
"There, that's our hotel," Gregory announced.
They had neared the end of Canal Street, which ended its straight line and curved along the path of the river. They swung their rental car in front of the hotel, and were promptly greeted by a valet driver.
The driver opened Gregory's door, smiling brightly. "Welcome to the Windsor Court, sir. Are you checking in?"
Gregory nodded, digging out his wallet. He had heard that service in the United States was largely dependent on tipping.
"What is your name?" Gregory asked the young man.
"Darren, sir," the valet replied, still smiling.
"And you work this post all day, Darren?"
"Yes sir, until 8 PM tonight."
Gregory produced three $100.00 bills, held them up for the valet to see, but withheld handing it over. Instead, he stepped in close, locking eyes with Darren. The young valet was a bit intimidated, as this man, clearly English and perhaps attempting to mimic the likes of Gordon Ramsay, held his gaze with a sharp intensity.
"Darren, I want to make something very clear to you. If I call down for my car, I need it immediately and with haste. I do not care if you are with another customer; I do not care if you are taking a smoke, a piss or a shit. If you can do that for me, I have three more of these for you when I check out."
Darren, who was edging on nervousness before, quickly snapped a smile and nodded his head in what could almost have been a mock bow. This guy wasn't some psycho; he was just yet another stupid, rich, asshole that thinks he can buy and sell people. Darren dealt with these types almost daily, and certainly had no problem taking their money. However, none had ever whipped out this much cash right at check-in. If this asshole, with his snobby accent and Gordon Ramsay fetish, wanted his car brought down quickly, and was willing to produce that sort of a tip, well, Darren would be happy to make sure that the asshole was his top priority during his stay at the Windsor Court.
"Why, absolutely, sir, whatever you need, my pleasure," the young valet spewed, grinning even wider as he stuffed the $300.00 into his pocket. For all he knew, this was turning out to be a great day for Darren the valet driver.
The car was pulled off into an underground valet area, leaving Gregory and Trevor standing before the hotel entrance. Several bellmen appeared, no doubt eyeing the huge tip that was waved before their co-worker’s face. However, when they saw that the brothers were only carrying small duffel bags, they seemed to lose interest. Still, one remained and held the door open as Gregory and Trevor walked in. He smiled in a wide, hungry way, no doubt hoping that another large bill would appear. His eyes seemed to drop when they walked past him without as so much as a nod.
Check-in was a breeze, and within the next 10 minutes, the Learys were inside their well-appointed suite on the 9th floor of the hotel. It gave way to a brilliant view of the city, with a balcony to sit and enjoy. Trevor began to speak, wanting to once again plan and discuss their next move, but Gregory walked past him and out onto the balcony, where he lit a cigarette and began to stare out over the city. Trevor, flustered as always, followed him out in a huff.
“Okay, Gregory, we’re here, we’re in the hotel. Now please, tell me what you intend to do here. We’ve traveled across the ocean to confront this issue. I certainly hope this isn’t your idea of moving forward - to stand out on a balcony and look at buildings.”
Gregory took a drag of his cigarette and continued to gaze outward. Finally, when Trevor thought he would surely snap, his older brother spoke.
“Honestly, Trevor, I have no more of a working plan than you do at this point. I had no working plan when I decided to bring you in on all of this. In truth, dear brother, I just wanted some company on this ride through hell. I hate that I inflicted this on you. I will hate myself to the grave, but I simply couldn’t do it alone anymore.”
Trevor felt something that could almost be considered relief. He was a bit agitated that he had been dragged over the sea on what was becoming a wild goose chase, but, he was happy that his brother was being honest. For the first time in almost a week, he felt like it was actually his big brother speaking to him, and not this stranger that had been in his life lately.
“It’s okay, Gregory; it really is, if you don’t know what to do next. I mean, who would? We’re talking about a demonic city that somehow evades detection in Antarctica, being governed by some demon king that lives among the stars. Honestly, who could develop an earthly plan to deal with such a topic?”
Gregory took another drag and turned to face his brother.
“So true, Trevor, but when dad died, I took charge of your well-being. I dragged you into this, coerced you into doing awful things, and for what? I have begun to wonder if any of this will even work out.”
“What do you mean?” Trevor replied.
“I’ve been thinking lately what is our best case scenario. Let’s say that we do go and talk to Clair Nobles. We tell her all about Hyraaq Tobit, fill her in on the parts she doesn’t know. We tell her that her research study, her televised findings on her Triassic Journal, inadvertently powers Tobit by spreading his name throughout the planet. Let’s say then, that she agrees to back off, that she just goes home and abandons her life’s greatest work, then what?”
Trevor thought for a moment, and answered with a degree of caution, “Well, Gregory, isn’t that the goal? Didn’t we start all of this by trying to scare her away from her project? If she quits her research, that’s success… right?”
“Trevor, I am not sure it will end there for her. I mean, for years I tried to just ignore the goat fiends away. For years I thought that if I just went on living a normal life, that they’d lose interest in me. They haven’t, though. Since we were on the plane I’ve seen two fiends; one was sitting a row over from us on the plane. Not sure if you noticed him or not, but I did. Apparently no one else did either, because everyone else was just going on with business as usual. Then, when we landed, I saw another one in the airport, just sort of standing with the crowd, staring at me, as they always have.”
Trevor, who had also started seeing them, did not notice any on the flight or otherwise. Perhaps Gregory was just more in-tuned to them.
Gregory continued, “My point, brother, is this - what are the odds that the denizens of Tobit will just leave her alone if she agrees to just go home and quit the project? She will likely have to face these creatures for the rest of her days, even if she never speaks of them again, just as we will. I feel like… I feel like there is something more we could do, something to actually stop all of this, instead of just bandaging the problem. However, if there is such a method, a method to put them out of our lives, I am certainly at a loss to what it could be.”
Trevor softened towards his brother at this admission. It was rare to see Gregory in such a state, and Trevor simply could not help feeling a deep sorrow and empathy towards his older sibling. Gregory was almost never in a state of indecision, and he rarely reached out to Trevor for advice on matters. Trevor seized the moment to finally be heard.
“Gregory, perhaps our answer then lies through Clair. She has been doing her own research on Tobit now, and we honestly don’t know what she’s learned. She certainly had a dedicated team and a rich bank of resources to pull from. She will likely have solutions that we have never thought of. We already know that she’s been seeing the goat men; that much is certain from her reaction when I broke into her apartment in disguise. She also showed no fear during that encounter, even holding me at knife point. She has a strength to her, brother, and that strength might be the answer we need. All this time we’ve been thinking that she needs us to rescue her, but perhaps she is the key to our own freedom from this curse. So, I have my own proposal in this matter.”
Gregory looked at his brother and motioned him to go on.
“We go to her hotel room when she arrives today, and we just talk. We introduce ourselves, we come clean about our involvement, and we try and form some degree of partnership with her. Her brilliance combined with our family legacy, I think, I think we can actually do something here. She is a tenacious genius, and I have come to believe over these last few weeks that our own salvation may lie within her, not the other way around.”
Gregory chuckled slightly. He was quite adept at reading people, and he was a Rembrandt when it came to reading his brother. Clearly, Trevor Leary had developed some sort of… crush on Clair Nobles. That much was apparent to Gregory. The way Trevor described her, annunciating each of her qualities, pushing for a working partnership with her, it was written all over his face. Gregory decided not to tease Trevor about it, as this was a useful resource.
“Okay, Trevor, I think you’re onto something. Trying to scare her away clearly isn’t going to work, so that leaves us with only one other option - we go and meet her, speak with her, befriend her even. I will even let you take lead on the introductions and such. How does that sound for a plan?”
Trevor lit up in a manner that made him look 10 years younger. Gregory saw the little brother he remembered from the days that their father still lived. Young and full of hope, a face that had not been beaten down by years and years of Tobit’s influence.
“Tell you what, Trevor,” Gregory began, “Why don't you go inside, find some stationery and a pen, and start brainstorming on how we will introduce ourselves. After all, we will need to be shrewd about it, we can’t just walk up to her and tell her that we’re the ones that destroyed her office in New York and tried to scare her with a goat disguise in her home.”
Trevor nodded, still beaming with youthful energy. “Of course, brother, we will handle this as diplomats. I’ll start work on it straight away!”
Trevor turned to walk back into the hotel room, when he stopped and turned to Gregory. “And brother, thank you for opening up to me. You really do carry our father’s spirit. I promise not to let you down.”
Gregory gave his brother’s shoulder a soft squeeze and nodded. “Trev, I am going to stay out and have another smoke. I’ll be in shortly to see what you come up with, okay?”
Trevor nodded, still smiling, and turned and left the balcony. Gregory lit another cigarette and turned to face the city again.
“Sorry to lie to you, brother. I do hope you’ll forgive me one day when this is behind us,” Gregory mumbled softly to himself.
He felt terrible to manipulate Trevor in such a manner, as he did love his brother more than anything else. But he had to tell Trevor what he wanted to hear. Trevor was a man of peace and ideals, and if he thought simply sitting down and having tea and conversation with Clair was going to solve this issue, he was also a fool. The time for soft and sweet conversation was over. Gregory understood the Clair Nobles of the world far better than his brother ever would. The Clairs of the world were bred into tenacity; they were like little yippy dogs that would latch onto the pant leg and refuse to let go. Gregory saw that in her when he watched her television appearance. Clair was on a mission, at least in her own mind, and no degree of talk would solve that. She wouldn’t stop digging, wouldn’t stop learning, and if she did uncover yet another milestone, she would no doubt go public with that information as well.
Gregory understood that for all of Clair’s brilliance, for all of her Ivy League education, she still saw Hyraaq Tobit, Delphia and everything else surrounding the demon as something to be studied, something to catalog and publish in books. She would always be a scientist first, and because of that, everything she did, everything she learned, she would want the world to know about. If Clair was left unchecked, the name Hyraaq Tobit would become as publicly known as The Beatles or Elvis Presley. And Gregory understood that something like that, a blunder of that magnitude, simply could not be allowed to happen.
He still didn’t have anything even in the realm of a workable plan. However, his little feel good speech had gotten Trevor back on board. Gregory needed Trevor for many reasons, ranging from assistance to companionship, and he could tell, over the last few weeks, that his brother was becoming less and less on board with the whole matter. However, his little talk about bringing Clair into the loop, teaming up with her, well, that had put Trevor right back where his brother needed him, back on the team.
Trevor seemed to want to work with Clair to find a solution, but Gregory knew that was certainly almost impossible. No, the real plan here was simple, the same plan the Leary family had carried out for generations, since the great Inspector Brandon Leary first stumbled into all of this. The family mission was to subdue knowledge of Hyraaq Tobit, prevent the spread of his name and influence. No, Gregory wasn’t here to rescue Clair; he was here to shut her up. If she had to deal with goat-headed fiends, that would be her cross to carry, but he pledged to his father that he would spend his life keeping the name of Tobit out of the public, and that much he planned to do. He still didn’t want to have to hurt Clair, just as he didn’t want to have to manipulate Trevor, but Gregory knew that sometimes, the ends justify the means, and the greater good was far more important that the day-to-day interactions with others.
Gregory continued to smoke and gaze at New Orleans. Morning was giving way to afternoon, and there was so much still to do. Gregory only hoped that when this was done, his brother would still love him.
Gregory flicked his cigarette from the balcony and entered the hotel room. He half-expected Trevor to already have completed his assignment, and to run up to him like a child anxious to show a high grade from school to his parents. Instead, he glanced over and saw that Trevor was still seated at the room's writing desk, the pen in his hand. He supposed his brother must be deep in thought, wanting to prepare a proper list of ideas. That was one amazing quality of Trevor Leary - once he adopted a task and conquered his self-doubt, he was a diligent little worker, pecking away until whatever task at hand was complete.
"Hard at it, eh, little brother?" Gregory called from the across the room, where he was preparing to turn on the television and look for the BBC.
Gregory, not one to tolerate being ignored, even if Trevor was hard at work, spoke again.
"Trev, I asked you a question. How comes the planning?"
Still no response. Gregory felt his face flush with a momentary anger. If this was Trevor's way of showing that he was still displeased with the whole situation, he was going about it in the most childish of ways. Gregory was hoping that their heart-to-heart on the balcony had at least eased his brother slightly, even if just slightly enough to make him productive again, but this, this blatant act of sulking, would simply not do.
"Dammit, Trevor, I'm speaking to you!" Gregory snapped, perhaps harsher than he intended, yet his brother still sat there, his back turned, his shoulders hunched and his head turned down towards his work.
Gregory, now visibly flustered, approached his brother and touched his shoulder. He gasped for a moment, as he realized that his brother was as cold as a statue and as stiff as one too.
"Trevor, Trevor... are you alright?!" Gregory shouted, shaking his brother. It appeared that Trevor Leary's entire body was stiffened, turned into a monument of flesh, instead of stone. Gregory snapped his fingers in Trevor's face, shook him some more, and splashed cold water on him, and through it all, Trevor didn't budge.
His body was apparently frozen in mid movement, as the pen was still grasped firmly in his right hand, with half of a word written. His eyes were open, but unseeing. His tongue poked out of the side of his mouth, a habit Trevor could never escape from, no matter how many times his parents told him it was undignified.
"Trevor... what has happened to you?" Gregory sputtered as he backed up. For a moment, he seemed lost for actions. This was a rare condition for one such as he. Gregory was used to being in control, always knowing what to do next, and always having several contingency plans should the need to change on the fly occur. But this, seeing his baby brother frozen in such a way, well, for this he had no clue.
Finally common sense hit him and he bolted across the room to the telephone on the nightstand. He would call for an ambulance; surely someone would know what was wrong with him. As he reached for the phone though, a voice rang out from across the room.
"Don't waste your time calling for assistance. No one in this world of science and technology can help your brother."
Gregory spun on his heels, turning with great speed, so much he later wondered how he didn't give himself whiplash, and faced the source of the comment.
Sitting on the sofa in the hotel room, wearing a crimson robe, was a man of perhaps middle age. His hair was a mix of grey and brown, and his eyes were a piercing blue, the sort of blue Gregory would expect to see on an iceberg drifting near... Antarctica perhaps. A sinister grin rested on his lips, a grin that Gregory thought would sit on the face of some large cat, a puma perhaps, as it cornered a small animal.
"Who are you, how did you get in here, what did you do to my brother!" Gregory screamed, and began to advance towards the man on the sofa.
"We'll have none of that now," the man snapped, and waved his right hand once in the air. Gregory suddenly found that, try as his might, his legs simply wouldn't move. He struggled, sure that it was some condition of his own nerves causing his sudden paralysis, but somehow, from the start, suspecting that the cold, blue-eyed man was responsible.
"Now, do not scream, lest I still your tongue as well," the man mocked.
Gregory contained the scream that this intruder must have somehow sensed was coming, and simply stared, once again at a loss for thought.
"To answer your questions, my name is Lance Madison, I gained entry to your room by means of an enchanted portal, and I placed your younger brother into a... well, let's just call it a stasis, how's that work?"
"By God, if you hurt him," Gregory began, but was once again cut off by his uninvited guest.
"Your brother is quite unharmed, Gregory; that I assure you. I had to remove him from our business, though, as I believe, and you shall come to agree, that his mood, temperament and silly ideals or morality would only serve to cloud the proposal that I have traveled very far to bring to you. Your brother is no doubt a smart and dutiful man, but I need to speak with you and you alone, as I feel that you will likely appreciate what I have come to deliver."
"Wait, you - you are a follower of Tobit!" Gregory snapped.
"I suppose I am, in a sense, though I feel that my leanings towards the great goat-headed master may vary from what my compatriots have adopted as their life's pledge. But, for the sake of conversation and advancement, I guess that assessment is astute enough."
"Are you here to try and scare me away? Did you finally realize that sending your minions, in their cheap Halloween costumes, was not going to veer me away from my family's legacy?" Gregory demanded.
"Gregory, hear me out. We will get nowhere sitting here trying to one-up each other with semantics. What I am, and why I am here, has nothing to do with scaring you away. You can also erase harming you, or your brother for that matter, from your next line of questionings. Clearly, if I wished you harm, it would be done - would have, in fact, been done years ago. No, Gregory, I am not here to strike against you. In fact, I am here to offer you the deal of a lifetime, to grant your heart's long desire."
"What would you know of my heart's desire? You come here, you inflict some strange condition on my brother, you paralyze my legs, and then tell me you're here to grant me wishes? Do you take me for a fool? I am far more aware of your dark parlor tricks then you may believe!"
Madison chuckled. "Always with the battle of words, even though I, the one who can move about, freeze your steps, and your heart, should I desire, have already assured you that all is well. I have done no real harm to either you or your little brother, nor do I desire to. I only wish to talk, Gregory, that is all. Here, as a show of good will, allow me to give you back your legs."
Lance waved his hand again, and Gregory found that he could move below his waist once more.
"Now, do not take advantage of my kindness, Gregory. Use those legs to walk over here and sit down, for I believe we have much to discuss, and all of this back and forth isn't going to pass the hours any faster. Furthermore, the time to act is almost here, and we need to get you ready."
Gregory hesitated for a moment. He still had a strong impulse to try and rush this intruder, Madison, once again. The man appeared frail, and Gregory, an accomplished pugilist, felt that in a fair fight, he could box Madison from one end of New Orleans to the other. However, no amount of weight lifting or punching could unfreeze his brother, nor himself, should Madison decide to lock up his legs again. For the time being, Gregory would have no choice but to hear the man out. He walked over and sat across from Lance, folded his hands, and did his best to maintain eye contact.
"Okay, Lance, was it? What is it that you would tell me; how exactly do you believe you can make my dreams come true?"
"Excellent, Gregory. I am pleased that you are prepared to listen, and listen you must, as our time is short, and if decisive actions are to be taken, they must be taken today. As I said before, believe me fully when I tell you that I am here to help you and your brother, and help myself in the process. We have mutual stock, in a sense, invested in Hyraaq Tobit."
Gregory nodded, "Okay, I am listening."
Lance began, "You and I have much in common, whether you know it or not. We are both proud Englishmen, London born and raised, although I would imagine that the London I hail from, and the London you were born into, are very different places. You were correct before. I am very much affiliated with the Cult of Tobit; in fact, I am the leader of that very cult. Every one of the Faithful that you have encountered, the ones that you call goat fiends, were sent forth by me and my magic. We have been watching your family for a very long time, with great interest. You have an ancestor, Brandon Leary, a man I am sure you are very well studied on, who exposed your bloodline to the influence of Tobit."
"So you killed my father? Is that what you're saying, you bastard?" Gregory snapped. "Are you the one who has ruined my life, haunting my waking hours with your fanatics, sneaking around, trying to jump out and scare me?"
Madison smiled. "While I have sent many Faithful to visit you, Gregory, I am not the one that killed your father. Nor was it one of my agents at all. That is actually a keystone to my proposition, but we'll get to that. But do consider that as I continue, one of the gifts that I offer is a chance to avenge the very bad death of your dear old dad."
"So who killed my father?" Gregory asked.
"As I said, we will get to that. Now, let me speak before you miss your window of opportunity because you sat there asking me silly questions like a child trying to ingratiate himself to a new school teacher. As I was saying before, I did not kill your father, but I can offer you the chance to avenge him. For the very woman that killed your father is also my enemy, and as she destroyed your life, she is currently trying to do the same to me. That is why I came to you, as the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
"Who is this woman?" asked Gregory, now considerably calmer. Madison had a hypnotic quality when he spoke. He had a way of sounding like a friend and companion. Gregory knew he was not to be trusted, but as Lance continued to speak, he found it easier and easier to believe he could trust him.
"Her name is Tabitha Shaw, and she leads a group of assassins called the Sisters of Tobit. They are generally sent out to deal with the larger threats to Tobit's empire, like your father, who knew just a bit too much about Delphia and Hyraaq Tobit, or, in this case, Clair Nobles, another who knows far too much, and apparently lacks the gift to hold her tongue. It was she that dismembered your father in his own bed, and believe me, Gregory, she enjoyed it. I remember when she returned to Delphia, covered in his blood, smiling ear to ear like she was the fucking Queen of England going out to greet her subjects. Ghastly, truly a ghastly woman.
"But I digress. She has been assigned to terminate Clair Nobles and another young man by the name of Derrick Reynolds. Young Mr. Reynolds recently caused some problems in my beloved city of Delphia, and since then has become the very sort of loose string that Tabitha likes to snip. Two of her agents are in New Orleans as we speak, a young psychopath named Lacy Suzino and the far more level-headed Lena Vazquez. If my sources don't lie, they have already made contact with Derrick, but as both of us know, the lovely Clair Nobles has yet to even arrive, so there is still time to act."
Gregory spoke up. "Act how? You've given me a great speech about your fellow fanatics, but how does any of this connect to me?"
Lance replied, "Because, Gregory, I believe that you possess the right... mindset to be effective here, and what I offer to you and your brother, well, let's just say that the normal life you've thrived for all these years is very close to being yours."
"You said that this Tabitha Shaw is your enemy. I don't understand, you said that she works for Tobit, and that you are the leader of his bloody cult, so how are you enemies?" Gregory asked.
"Fair question, lad. Tabitha wants me gone, evicted from my post as Grand Magus, cast out. She has ulterior plans, you see. She wants me gone so that she can manipulate the chain of command, put her own people in my seat. She likely wishes to gain admission to the Council of Tobit, and feels that she can climb over me to do it. So far, the powers that be, those that are above even myself, are just thrilled to death with Tabitha and her Sisters. They seemingly always succeed. While I, as much as I hate to admit it, am being blamed for the young man Derrick's escape."
"What escape?" Gregory inquired.
"Well, from Delphia, of course. One of his friends performed the entrance ritual, came to Delphia and brought Derrick along. Derrick however, with the assistance of a few... let's just call them malcontents, was able to escape. He made it back here to this very city, and let us just say that my boss is not pleased.
Tabitha Shaw is seizing this opportunity to power play her way up the ladder. Should her agents succeed down here, as they most certainly will if left unhindered, then Derrick Reynolds dies, Clair Nobles dies, and Tabitha, the same woman that took such great pleasure in murdering your father, will return to be applauded as a heroine of Tobit's cause, and I will almost surely find myself removed as Grand Magus, and quite likely in some place far more terrifying... and hot."
Gregory was slowly rubbing his chin, carefully contemplating his words. He still was nowhere near convinced that Lance Madison was being truthful, but he had to go with what he knew in the moment. Clearly the man had some sort of esoteric powers, clearly the man knew of his family and their legacy, and if he was telling the truth about this Tabitha woman killing his father, than perhaps, just maybe, he really could offer Gregory a chance to settle the score.
"What I don't understand is this, Madison. You can teleport into my room, you can freeze my brother, and you can render me crippled, so why do you need my assistance at all? Why don't you simply do away with Clair and Derrick, if that will win your master's favor back?"
Madison replied, "There is much more to it than that, Gregory. If I were to engage Tabitha's targets personally, it would be viewed as an act of insolence. I would be further marked with negativity, and Tabitha would not fall even an inch from grace."
Slowly, the larger picture began to dawn on Gregory. Years of boardroom combat had honed Gregory Leary's skills in reading situations, people, and their intentions. Lance Madison's were quite clear. He didn't care about killing Clair of Derrick; he didn't even wish to go after Tabitha Shaw or her agents. No, Madison's plan was to cast doubt on Tabitha's abilities. Mark her the failure, so that the attention would shift from his own failure in allowing Derrick to escape. In a strange way, Gregory admired the shrewdness of the man, but he still struggled to understand how he could fit into this. However, if it were true that this woman, Tabitha, killed his father, then he certainly would like to assist in her downfall.
"Okay, Lance, so you wish to keep the blood off of your own hands, while still painting your enemy, this Tabitha, as a failure. I understand that, but what I don't understand is how I fit into all of this."
Lance Madison smiled, showing perfect teeth and a grin that would likely scare a woman into miscarriage.
"Well then, Gregory, it sounds as though you are finally prepared to get down to business. So, you hear me out. If you are interested in what I propose, then we make a deal. If not, then I will gladly unfreeze your brother and leave your life. Just know this - should I leave, there will be no second chance. I can also assure you that your brother's current plan, to go and speak with Clair, will surely fail. How do you think she'll respond when your brother inevitably tells her that it was the two of you that have been harassing her? She may even blame you for the death of her former friend Walter Hart. She could call the police, given that you have been stalking her from across the ocean, to New York and now to New Orleans. Oh yes, I could see the American authorities having a real field day on two rich boys from London who come to the United States to cause thousands of dollars of damage to a lab, break into a woman's house dressed in a goat mask, and then follow her here. And once the police begin to investigate your connections, your wealthy friends that have used illegal methods to track Clair's flights and movements, well, I guess you'll be quite the London socialite after that, won't you Gregory?"
Gregory suddenly felt as though he had been sucker-punched right in the stomach. Clearly Madison had been studying him well, and came prepared. What was worse was that Madison was making logical sense. Should Clair call the police, well, that could be disastrous, for both his personal life and his career, not to mention Trevor's. He was amazed at his own stupidity, how he had never considered those facts, and the possible ramifications for his actions. Gregory suddenly felt small and weak before Madison. He understood that he was dealing with a powerful force, and he didn't have the foggiest notion of how to stand against him, so that left only one feasible option: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
"Okay, Madison, you have my attention. Exactly what is this plan of yours, and how do I fit into it?"
"Ah, eager to learn. I can see why your brother looks up to you so. Very well. Listen closely, as we only have time to go through this once."
Gregory leaned in, giving all of his attention to Madison. Slowly, over the next hour, Gregory's mind was expanded in ways that he would never believe possible. By the time Madison departed from his room, Gregory, a man who had spent his entire life believing only in what he could see and touch, a man of logic, suddenly found that he believed in magic, and was even given the means to perform it.
He accepted Lance's offer, an offer that would set both he and his brother free from his family's curse. A chance to avenge his father and free himself from his demons, an offer far too valuable to pass on.
Lena was concerned, but of course, that was just Lena Vazquez’s way. Lacy teased her constantly, calling her “mom” or “mother,” because of her concern for the small details of each and every operation she was dispatched on. Perhaps it was her law enforcement background; perhaps it was the fact that she was already a grown woman with a full time career when she was brought into the world of Tobit, whereas Lacy was but a child. Maybe it was just the fact that Lena was a multitasker, and at very few points in her tenure with Tabitha Shaw had she ever been focusing on just one task at a time.
She was relieved that Lacy had returned with Derrick Reynolds alive and in one piece. She was initially terrified that Derrick would slip up and say something, anything, that would set Lacy off. Lacy wasn’t the kind of woman who would slap a man in the face; hell, she wasn’t even the kind that would kick a man in the balls. No, Lacy Suzino was the kind of girl that would gut a man like a fish and spit in his face as he bled to death. And Lena knew that it didn’t take much to set her in that mood.
She had seen it time and time again. A mission would be going just fine, and then the target might make some off-color joke, something as simple as a sarcastic wisecrack, and in the next second, Lacy would be on him, stabbing away. When this happened, she would always give Lena this innocent, child-like look, as if it say, "I didn’t mean to."
So when Lacy left out the day prior, Lena was already rehearsing her speech to Tabitha, when and if Lacy just happened to have one of her slips, but apparently that hadn’t happened. Either Derrick Reynolds was able to tip-toe around the million and one things that could throw Lacy into her kill zone, or Lacy had finally learned to put the mission first. Personally, Lena suspected that Derrick had just been lucky enough to say the right things. After all, the kid did manage to escape Delphia, so perhaps he was cagier than she had originally considered.
Either way, Lena had no time to overly concern herself with what may or may not have happened the night before. Right now, she had to assess the situation before her and decide her next move. The time for mistakes was well past, and results would be expected by tonight.
Lena surveyed the room. Derrick was passed out, tied to a chair. Lena knew that she didn’t need to check the knots; Lacy was a subject matter expert at tying people up, regardless if it was for business or pleasure. Clearly she had drugged Derrick at some point, more than likely while still at the bar. The drug that Lacy used wasn’t anything like a common date rape drug, but rather an extract from a root only grown in Delphia. Something that the Primes were cultivating eons ago. The proper name for the root was spoken in Dawning, and was called paridial, loosely translating to “puppet sleep.” It was called this because, unlike other sedatives, paridial did not wear off until the antidote was given. That way, once the victim was passed out, the kidnapper could rest and plan without fear of their target waking up and starting trouble, just one of the many wonders that could be found in the beautiful city of snow and death.
Lacy was plopped in front of the television, which was a common site when she wasn’t out and about on a job. She had her feet kicked up on the table, a habit that Lena nagged her about constantly, but never to any avail.
Lacy began to snicker, and called over to Lena. “Hey, Lena, listen to this shit on the news. It says that a local man killed himself because he believed that animals were talking to him, and that they were evil and wanted to take over the world, can you believe that crap? Apparently the idiot left it all in his suicide note. He thought some homeless guy granted him the ability. Fucking people, man. If they aren’t complete morons, they're either assholes or nuts. You just can’t win.”
“Lacy, you of all people know that such magic exists. Maybe he wasn’t so nuts at all,” Lena replied.
“Wish animals would talk to me; it would have made torturing them that much more fun back when I was a kid,” answered Lacy.
“Lacy, you’re a sick girl, you know that?” Lena called back to her.
“Aww, mom thinks I’m sick. You hear that Derrick?” Lacy joked, turning her attention to the unconscious Derrick. “Derrick here doesn’t think I’m sick,” she continued, as she began to tap his head with her foot. “No, Derrick likes me just fine. We had a nice date last night, real nice. I think he might just be falling for me. Hope you’ll be my Maid of Honor, Lena.”
Lena, who had decided to brush her teeth during Lacy’s antics, spat out her toothpaste and addressed Lacy from the bathroom. “Actually, I was going to ask you, did he say anything of interest last night at the bar?”
“Nothing we don’t already know,” she replied. “I mean, he told me about Delphia, but other than that, this guy is boring as hell. He went on about his job, about his promotion at work, about his future ambitions. Poor guy, he really wants to move up the corporate ladder. Too bad I’m going to disembowel him long before he ever gets that V.P. job he’s so excited about.”
“About that, Lacy. Promise me, I mean really promise me that you won’t do anything to him until I get back from the airport today. Remember, both Tabitha and Pinkerton want us to thoroughly interrogate both Derrick and Clair before we close out this mission, so, unless you want to explain yourself to one of them, please hold off on your…. disemboweling.”
“Yeah, mom, don’t sweat it; I’ll be good. Plus, I want to have a little fun with my friend Derrick here before I send him off to the great corporate office in the sky. I want to see how much fear and pain warps this handsome little face of his. I mean, he’s so fucking boring, it’s only fair, right? I’m the one that had to sit through a night of drinks with him. Believe me, when I go to work on him later; it’s going to be in self-defense. That much boring has got to be illegal.
"I mean, this is his idea of a good time, drinking cheap fucking beer and playing darts. Trust me, if I had actually been on a date with this loser, I would bet my last dollar that he would have taken me to his house, tried to impress me with whatever cheap bottle of wine he keeps in his apartment, put on some rom-com, or worse, fucking Bob’s Burgers, and then taken me into his bedroom to show me his…. prowess. I’m yawning just thinking about it, and it didn’t even happen.”
“Glad to know that women like you keep the romance game on its toes, Lacy,” Lena replied sarcastically.
“Hey, I’m sure I’ll meet the man of my dreams someday. If he’s lucky, plays nice and knows his place, I might even let him live through the honeymoon.”
Lena paused for a moment. This sort of conversation, although completely in jest from Lacy, always struck Lena a bit harder. Unlike Lacy, Lena had been a good person before Tabitha came into her life. She wanted the husband, the white picket fence, the normal life. She had no desire to be pulled into this. Despite the fact that she was probably the most skilled member of the Sisters across the board, it still didn’t change the fact that someone could be good at their job and still hate it. It wasn’t even as though Tabitha had ever given her a choice. She had rescued her from a rapist who intended to murder her, and then told her either come along for the ride or join him in the ground.
But that was a moot point. The past was the past, and now was now. Lena had a job to do, and she intended to complete her current mission successfully. Currently her job was to intercept Clair Nobles at the New Orleans International Airport. She already had the cover story lined up. She was to dress in her sharpest business suit and tell Clair that she was an associate of Derrick’s. Lena knew that Clair had already contacted him, so it would seem likely that he might send an associate to meet her. From there, Lena would contact Lacy and she would bring Derrick to their next meeting spot, an isolated area in Madisonville, LA. There was an old circus tent located off of a deserted dirt road that was often used by Pinkerton as a hub for Delphia. They would not be intruded upon out there, and Lena would have ample time to do what needed to be done. The plan was simple and easy to execute, so long as Lacy didn’t lose her temper and go on another killing spree. Lena still had plenty of time to get to the airport, but she wanted to be early, just in case any unplanned issues came up. This meant trusting Lacy to behave, which was always a roll of the dice. However she felt about it, though, Lacy was the lot she had been given. There were many other Sisters, and for whatever reason, Tabitha thought that she and Lacy would make a good team. Clearly Tabitha had a twisted sense of humor. Still, Lena cared about Lacy, and believed that somewhere buried beneath all the psychopathy was someone worth looking out for. For better or for worse, they were a team, and needed each other to succeed.
Lena applied a bit of makeup, finished dressing, and presented herself to her partner for critique.
“Well, do I look like a business executive?” she asked Lacy.
“Hmmm, yeah, I could see myself being fired by you. I just hope our little friend Clair buys your cover story. She’s already got a lot of reasons to not trust strangers, and baby, we’re as strange as they come.”
Lena had a plan in place for that. In her jacket pocket was a syringe containing a diluted paridial dose. It wouldn’t have the same effects as the real thing, but it would cause Clair to appear intoxicated almost right away. If she started to ask too many questions, Lena would just give her a quick dose, and then walk her out of the airport, laughing and joking that her “friend” had one too many airline vodkas on the flight-in. It might not be the best plan, but Lena was confident that it would work. In truth, she was confident that it wouldn’t even come to that. She was a professional at reading people, and from what she gathered about Clair the woman would be so anxious to meet up with Derrick and continue her research that she likely wouldn’t question a damned thing.
“Okay then, Lacy, I’m going to head out now. Remember, the plan. Once I make contact and have positive custody of Clair, I’ll message you. You get in your rental car and head to the rally point, okay?”
“Jesus, Lena. Positive custody, rally point… why do you insist on talking like a damned SWAT team? Just say once I have the smart bitch, drive out to the shitty old circus tent in the shitty old bumpkin town so I can go to work on Mr. Frat Bro over here. Sometimes Lena, I worry that you’re going to stress yourself into old age. Just relax, go get Bill Nye with tits, and I’ll see you out there.”
“Fine, just… just don’t kill him until we are finished with our interrogation, promise?”
“Relax, MOM. Look, me and Derrick are regular old besties now, see?” Lacy joked, as she planted a loud, smacking kiss on Derrick's closed lips. “See, if we were any closer we’d be fuck buddies, got it? So go on, I promise he’ll be in one piece until you personally give me the green light to show him what his insides look like on the outside.”
Lena nodded and left out. She knew that pushing it any further would do no good; it might even endanger Derrick further. Lacy’s fuse was so short that it was non-existent, and if Lena annoyed her further, she might just kill the guy to piss her off. So, she let it go and stepped out of the hotel room, checking to make sure the DO NOT DISTURB sign was securely hanging from the door knob. The last thing she needed was some poor housekeeper wandering in on Lacy. That would surely lead to more blood.
Lena walked down the hallway, boarded the elevator and rode down to the lobby. The afternoon hustle was clearly in full swing down there. Guests were checking in and out, hotel employees were hastily power-walking from one end of the lobby to the other. Some were carrying clipboards, others were escorting guests. No one paid much attention to Lena Vazquez, which was exactly what she wanted. She dressed to appear as just another business woman in a power suit, a real ballbuster. From the lack of attention she was receiving, she cautiously assumed she had succeeded there.
She was actually pleased that Lacy was a generally lazy girl and had volunteered to remain in the hotel room. Lena would not have let her go and pick up Clair regardless, but at least with Lacy wanting to remain back in the room, there was one less argument with the woman that Lena would have to win. Lacy would have stuck out like a sore thumb, with her giant clunky boots, short skirt and a t-shirt that read, of all things, “I FUCKED YOUR DAD.” Lena couldn’t count the times she had lectured Lacy about blending in and not attracting attention, but for whatever reason, that girl just couldn’t get it in her head. She was what she was, Lena accepted, and wasn’t going to change regardless of the amount of nagging from her compatriot.
Lena began to walk quickly through the lobby when the smell of coffee pulled her over. She hadn’t bothered to brew a pot in the room, and she really could use a pick-me-up. She walked over to the coffee stand, and was distracted once more by the USA Today newspaper, which, almost as an omen, was running a front page story on the Triassic Journal. The front cover of the paper featured a photograph of the journal itself, opened to a random page. The script, in Dawning, was telling of that classic story of The Primes, and their shift in behavior once the Idol of Tobit had fallen to earth. Crazy to think, all of this because some cavemen found a shiny statue. There was also a smaller picture of Clair Nobles in the corner of the page, smiling like she’d just won the lottery. Clearly the media had chosen the attractive little firecracker to be their cover girl, as the other members of her “think tank” weren’t pictured at all.
Lena decided that she’d purchase a paper, something to read while she waited at the airport. Plus, it would be fun to see what the media made of all of this. How their heads would explode if they ever knew the whole story. She grabbed a paper and began making her way to the register, when an old man, seated at a nearby table, beckoned over to her.
“Miss… oh Miss, save your money. I just finished reading the story on the journal thing; that’s all I was really interested in. You can have my copy.”
Lena glanced over and saw an elderly man, who was dressed as many elderly men tend to dress, white dress shirt tucked into a pair of brown slacks that were just about pulled up to his armpits. He had very thin white hair and glasses that sat about halfway on the bridge of his nose. He did have a pleasant smile though, so Lena engaged him. She figured he was probably just some lonely old guy who came down here to be around people, probably a part of his morning routine. She still had plenty of time to get to the airport, so why not make the old guy’s morning?
“Well, thank you… Mister…?”
“Kellerman, Paulie Kellerman,” he replied, and gestured to the empty seat across from him.
“Thank you, Mr. Kellerman, but I can get my own paper. I was just about to…”
He cut her off. “It’s Paulie. ‘Mister’ is a tile for old folks, not kids like us, and you’re…?”
“Lena Vazquez, but if I am going to call you Paulie, you’ve got to promise to call me Lena. Miss Vazquez is my mom,” she replied, smiling a bit. Something about Paulie Kellerman, he of the morning coffee and paper, appealed to her. Maybe he reminded her of her own grandfather, a sweet man who died so many years ago and was currently buried in Columbia.
“Buy your coffee, Lena, but the paper is free, so long as you promise to join me once your cup is full, and pass a few moments with a helpless oldster like myself.”
Lena agreed, finding that she might really enjoy having a grounded conversation with a normal old man. After spending so much time in Delphia, where eating people is as normal as stretching when you wake up in the morning, and after spending this entire trip with Lacy, a girl who could drive Mother Theresa to curse and take a shot of whiskey, this might be just the sort of thing to ease her mind before she went to engage Clair.
Lena purchased her coffee and sat down with Paulie Kellerman.
“So you’re interested in this journal story, eh, Lena? Can’t say I blame you. Crazy world we live in, and this right here is about as crazy as you want to get. They’re saying that this book is older than the dinosaurs. How do you like that, huh? Maybe The Flintstones was based on a true story, what ‘cha think about that?”
Lena couldn’t help but smile a bit. Paulie Kellerman was a real charmer, and she was quite sure he was a favorite of grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren alike. He seemed like the sort of old man that knew a few card tricks for the kids, and might just be able to clean out a poker table with card tricks for adults. He was aged and wrinkled, but his eyes were those of a man who still had quite a bit of life to live.
“Well, who knows, right?” Lena replied. “This group says it’s older than recorded history, and I have no reason to doubt a bunch of eggheads that have more diplomas on their walls than I do framed pictures.”
At the egghead comment, Paulie began to laugh in that half-grating, half-endearing way that old people tend to laugh. His face turned red and he slammed his hand down on the table. She could tell he was honestly entertained. She read his face, and came to the conclusion that Paulie Kellerman no doubt lived alone. He was simply too thrilled for company to be a man who has regular human contact. His wife was likely passed away, and his kids probably grown and moved. She felt a bit sad, but he appeared to be filled with a genuine joy, so who was she to judge?
“Lena, what brings you to New Orleans?” Paulie asked.
“Just meeting a friend at the airport today, picking her up to be exact. We… well, let’s just say we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Lena answered.
“Ah yes, meeting friends, hanging out - oh, to be young again. Why, Lena, if I were a couple centuries younger, I might try and tag along with you and your friend. I used to be world-renowned for my wit and charm. These days, I am more or less renowned only at the Country Kitchen Early Bird buffet. But they always give me double portions of mashed potatoes, so maybe my charms aren’t completely dried up.”
“Well, Paulie, if we’re playing tit-for-tat, what are you doing in New Orleans?” Lena asked.
“Oh, I’m down here to see my grandson, Blaine. He works at the casino down here, tells me that he practically runs that place. His wife, Christine, just recently woke up from a coma. Can you believe it? All those egghead doctors were saying that she would never wake up. Hell, the girl’s own damned family was trying to get the law involved to pull the plug.”
“Really?” Lena interjected. “Her own family wanted to take her off life support?”
Paulie continued, “Yep, craziest damned thing I ever heard, and they almost got away with it, but Blaine, thank God, hung in there and fought them every step of the way. He didn’t make it easy for them at all; they came at him with lawyers, so he did the same. Then one morning, she just…. woke up and started talking, like nothing ever happened. The doctors are still baffled. They told Blaine that they’ve never seen anything like it, that it was a miracle. And her family, well, they’ve eaten enough crow by now that they should all be fed for life. She recovered so damned fast that they let her out of the hospital early, said there is no reason to keep her there, that she’s fine. Of course, they still want to run tests on her, you know…. egghead stuff, but as far as they can tell, she made a full recovery. Blaine tells me that she’s even considering going back to work in a couple of weeks, how do you like that?”
“I say I like it very much,” Lena replied, and felt a warm, honest smile form on her lips. She was genuinely happy that she ran into Paulie Kellerman; he had certainly turned her mood for her.
“I came down to see Blaine and Christine of course, but also, well, to make amends. When he was going through it all, living alone down here while she was in the hospital, I never came down to see him. I had to bury my own wife about a decade ago, and I did it alone. So, I guess part of me felt like if I could do it alone, so could Blaine. But then I got to thinking, you know, maybe if I had come down and stayed with him, kept him company, maybe the whole ordeal would have been easier. In other words, Lena, I feel like a real rat, so, I’m going to head over to his job here in a bit and surprise him, and then tonight, I’m going to treat him and Christine to a nice meal on me. Maybe it doesn’t quite make up for me leaving him to on his own during his dark times, but it’s a start, you know, a start in a new direction. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll bless me with a great-grandchild before I go on up to that big Country Kitchen in the sky.”
Lena smiled and reached over and touched his hand. “I think you’re a wonderful grandfather, and they are lucky to have you. And I thank you for the amazing company; you have certainly helped me start my day off on a happy note.”
Lena stood to leave, when she suddenly felt the urge to ask Paulie Kellerman one more question.
“Paulie, do you believe that people that do bad things can ever change? Do you think it’s as easy as just changing clothes - you just go to bed one night bad and decide to wake up the next day good?”
Kellerman removed his glasses, a trait he had adopted whenever he was pondering a deep question. “Well, Lena, if you’re asking me if someone like Hitler or Manson could just wake up one day, get on their knees and tell God they're sorry, and it’s okay, then my answer is no. I am not a terribly religious man, but I will say that I believe hell is likely populated mostly by those that meant to say sorry on their deathbeds, and then found that particular little cop-out didn’t quite work.
“However, I do believe that no one is beyond redemption. When I was in the Korean War, I killed some people. At the time, I was a young man and thought very little of it. It was easy to blow a man’s head off when your back was up against the wall, and even easier when all of your best friends were lined up side by side next to you, doing the same thing. Hell, sometimes Sarge would come over and pat me on the back, tell me I was a regular hellraiser, a cheater and dealer of death. Being a young man, I lapped that praise up like a dog on a hot day. Of course, then I came home. Once I was discharged and tried to return to a normal life, well, the ghosts of those that I shot down started to visit me…. not really, not like in a movie, but you know, in my heart. Things became different when I didn’t have my war buddies for support, when I didn’t have Sarge coming over to pat me on the back. I sort of hated myself for a while, you know? I started thinking that those enemy soldiers all had families, just like me, and that their wives, mothers, children…. they might be crying themselves to sleep every night because of the bullet I loaded and shot. I really wanted to hate myself.
“But then I just kept on living. I knew that I couldn’t go back and un-shoot those men. I knew that I would likely never have a chance to sit down with their families and try to make sense of the war to them. So, I just kept going, but I tried my best to live happy, and to help anyone that I could. I loved my own wife and children, I worked hard, I always gave to the needy when I could. I never kicked a dog that wasn’t bigger than me, I drop a couple dollars in the bucket when Santa Clause is outside of Walgreens ringing his bell at around Christmas, and you know what, Lena, I always sleep well at night. I’m not perfect, just another old sinner in a sea of ‘em, but I figure when it comes my turn to stand before St. Peter, I’ll be able to plead a pretty good case for entry.”
Lena was amazed when she found her hand creeping up to her eyes to wipe away tears. She had not cried in a very long time, but Paulie Kellerman, with his elderly wisdom and his sagely advice, had struck a chord, one could say. Would she change her life today? No, not a chance; she still had a mission to complete. However, she liked the idea that there could very well exist an exit strategy, one that might let her keep her soul.
Lena picked up the paper, deciding that she would keep it always, as a keepsake to this sweet old man who took the time to invite her over for coffee and comfort.
“Well, Paulie, I have to go. My friend’s flight is landing soon. Do give your best to your grandson and his wife. With a grandfather like you in their corner, I know they will be just fine.”
Paulie gently shook Lena’s hand and wished her well. She left the hotel and had the valet bring her car around. There was still a lot to do today, and regardless of the good vibrations she felt from spending time with the adorable Paulie Kellerman, she had much less desirable work in front of her, and she decided it was best to get it done before she had too much time to think about it.
She drove to the airport in silent reflection. She knew that killing was very likely going to part of this mission, and she certainly hoped that when the time came to do it, she could turn off her human side once again, and carry out the act. She knew that her victim, a bright, lovely woman with an entire life before her, had foolish acts to put herself in that position. Still though, unlike Lacy, she never enjoyed cold-blooded murder. She doubted that if she ever found herself standing before St. Peter that she would be able to make a good case, as Paulie Kellerman believed he could do. She figured if there was any hope of making a case at all, it would be that she never asked for this life, and would hope that God and all his Heavenly Hosts were as forgiving as they were made out to be.
She kept going back to her fateful night, the night she was taken hostage, threatened with rape and beheading. Tabitha had come to her rescue, killed her attackers and brought forth a swift, bloody justice. But had Tabitha really rescued her, or had she just been exchanged from one kidnapper to another? Her mind turned this over and over until she found herself pulling into the short-term parking lot at the airport. She took her ticket and began to walk briskly towards the main terminal. She patted her pocket once more, ensuring that her syringe was still where it belonged. She still doubted she would need to use it, and was thankful enough for that. Her hunches were rarely, if ever, wrong on these sorts of things, and she was quite confident that Clair would follow her like a lost a child in a shopping mall follows a friendly-looking security guard. She rehearsed her lines a few more times in her mind, and then entered the terminal and found a seat near the escalators.
She posted in a position where she would see Clair right away. She didn’t want to risk going any further into the airport than this. She had that syringe after all, plus there were enough cameras in here, both hidden and obvious, to ensure that should there be any complications, every cop in the state would know who to look for. Instead, she sat and began to read the paper that Kellerman had given her. She read about the Triassic Journal, about Clair and her think tank, about how the whole scientific world was abuzz about this whole thing. According to the paper, the Journal itself was set to go on a world museum tour. Starting in Europe, then to Asia, then back to the United States, where it would likely be kept. She wondered what things would be different had the damned journal just stayed hidden. Would she be here in this city, contemplating the murder of a young woman? Or would she perhaps be off in some other part of the world, carrying out some equally gruesome task for Tabitha?
Time passed quickly, and Lena, a woman not known for making mistakes, became so wrapped up in her reading and personal insights that she failed to notice Clair Nobles making her way down the escalator. She failed to notice Clair when she walked within 20 feet of her on her way to baggage claim.
She could forgive herself for all of those things in time; after all, she knew that she wasn’t perfect. However, what she would later find much harder to forgive, was that in all the time she sat there, she didn’t realize that she wasn’t the only one intently watching the escalators. Normally she was on these things, but at the airport, almost everyone is waiting on someone, so when the young, handsome, well-dressed man sat only four seats down from her and stared intently towards the terminal, she took no notice at all.
Worse yet, she didn’t notice the handsome young man quickly stand up when a certain research scientist, also unnoticed, passed to go claim her bags. She didn’t even pick up on his hasty walk to meet her as she grabbed her small travel bag from the spinning luggage belt.
When she finally did glance away from the USA Today, it was to look at her watch. She saw the time and quickly felt a pit form in her stomach. She realized that Clair’s flight would likely have already unloaded. Lena quickly stood, and trotted over to the digital screen announcing arriving flights. Sure enough, Clair’s flight was here. She felt a flush rise in her face, seeing that the flight landed almost 15 minutes ago, and realized that the chances were probable that she may have missed her mark.
She quickly glanced around, not seeing anyone matching Clair’s description in the terminal. She turned and looked out the large glass windows, and felt a true horror rise in her. She saw Clair, outside of the airport, being escorted to a car parked in the pick-up lane. A young man, possibly in his mid-twenties, was assisting her into the passenger seat.
“Oh, fuck me…” Lena whispered, and darted towards the exit. As she finally made it outside, she arrived just in time to see the rental car driving away, Clair in the passenger seat.
“Who the hell just picked her up?” Lena mumbled again, but didn’t have any such time to ponder. Her car was all the way in the short term parking lot, and she knew that by the time she retrieved it and paid to get out of the lot, she’d have no chance of catching up to them.
“Okay, don’t panic, stay calm, we can fix this,” Lena spoke to herself. She pulled out her cell phone and called Lacy. The phone rang several times, and for a brief moment, Lena was terrified that Lacy wouldn’t pick up. After five rings, her partner finally answered.
“Lena, where are you?” Lacy asked, sounding slightly out of breath. Lena didn’t like the sound of her voice. It was a little stressed, not the usual calm and sarcastic tone she was used to in her fellow Sister.
“Lacy, we’ve got problems, big problems…” Lena began.
“Well, that makes two of us then…. shit…” Lacy answered.
Lena had no idea what was going wrong on Lacy’s end, and frankly, she was terrified to find out.
Shortly after Lena left the hotel room for the airport, Lacy had, like so many times in her life, found herself bored. Derrick was still slumbering as the young woman paced the room, changed the channels, stretched on the bed, and then repeated the process. Boredom had always been Lacy’s worst enemy, because it was boredom, not anger or intention, that always seemed to bring out the most evil in her. Perhaps it was her dull, rural upbringing in Nebraska that led her to start torturing frogs in the first place. That of course, had been the catalyst for all of this, a life of murder and subterfuge, a life that she loved. So perhaps she was fortunate to have been born into that dull, Nebraska life. Had she been raised somewhere like Chicago or Los Angeles, who knows where she might be right now. A model or an actress, perhaps, or maybe even something far worse. She could have wound up like so many other women, pregnant by some townie loser, sitting at home raising their little fuck trophy together. That thought alone made her shiver.
Nope, she loved her life, but as of this exact moment, she found that rancid, creeping boredom coming back. She knew that she needed to sit and wait for Lena to return; she knew that was the best move. However, once that itch began to form in her mind, she also knew that she had no chance to stand against it. It was a force more powerful than Tobit, Pinkerton or any other force of darkness. Lacy Suzino wanted entertainment.
She sauntered over to Derrick and removed the small packet from her pocket. In that packet was a ground-up root that would counteract the drug that kept him sleeping. He would awaken, feeling quite refreshed. She looked forward to watching the confusion dawn on his face, as he awoke to find himself tied down to a chair. She only hoped that he could remember how he got here, as she really wanted to see that look of recognition dawn on his stupid, yuppie face as he realized that the hot little redhead that he thought was going to be just another notch on his belt was in fact a predator that had snared him in a death trap.
Lacy held the antidote under his nose, and watched as his eyes began to flutter and his face began to twitch back to life.
“Wake up, sleepy head,” Lacy cooed.
Derrick, who had been having a strange dream that he couldn’t quite recall anymore, began to become aware. That dream, something about a golden statue buried under the snow… he was standing there and some voice kept telling him to just "pull it up." The voice was repeating that command over and over as the dream began to fade and Derrick reentered the world of the waking. Slowly, his vision began to sharpen, and slower still, his memory began to piece itself back together, like a puzzle.
He remembered going out with a girl that night before, having drinks with her. She had led him back to her hotel room, and that was where he’d passed out. At first, this didn’t overly concern him, as his playboy lifestyle had led him to awaken in strange bedrooms a few times, but when he woke this time around, he felt a sense of dread that was uncommon. He usually felt at least a little tinge of regret in these situations, usually thinking about how much money he may have spent, or having that quick moment of panic that he’d missed work. However, this time was a bit different. He felt a small, steadily building sense of concern, something raw and organic, something very human, sort of like how he felt as a child when he did something that he knew he’d be in trouble for, and there was no way to fix the mistake in time to hide it from his parents.
“I’m up…” he croaked, his vision still coming together.
“About time, lover. I thought you were going to sleep all day,” a female voice replied. He recognized it, the girl from the night before, Lacy. He felt a touch of relief; he was at least able to recall how he’d gotten here.
Derrick opened his eyes, realizing he was sitting in a chair. Had he fallen asleep sitting up? He guessed it was possible. He looked around just in time to see Lacy turning to walk into the bathroom. He went to rub his eyes, get some of the sleep out, when he realized that his arms were bound to the chair.
“What… what’s going on? Why am I tied up?” he called to her.
Lacy replied from the other room, “Baby, don’t you remember? You wanted me to show you my kinky side, so don’t worry, I had fun.”
“Okay, well, can you come and untie me, please?” he called back.
“What’s the safe word?” she giggled, still out of sight.
“I don’t… I don’t know. Can you please just come and untie me, I need to call my office and explain why I’m not in. It’s no big deal, I can make up the work, but, I at least need to let my receptionist know,” he answered. Derrick, who was trying to be as rational as possible, started to develop a concern that rational discourse wasn’t quite working in this situation. Lacy seemed to be toying with him, but that made no sense. Maybe they did get up to some strange loving last night, but Christ, it was over. Why wouldn’t she just come and untie him? Was this her idea of fun?
“Sorry, Derrick. No safe word, no release. You know the drill,” she replied, finally walking back into the room.
“Okay, Lacy, no more playing. I need to call into work. Untie me, now!” Derrick commanded, trying to sound firm yet still calm. He wasn’t quite afraid of this woman, but somewhere within him, that sense of dread continued to grow. He started to wonder if this situation was as normal as it at first appeared.
Lacy walked halfway across the room, and stopped in front of one of the large mirrors. She seemed to be admiring herself, and Derrick was losing his patience for her games.
“Fuck it,” he said, and began to tug at the binds. They were just cloth, white linen, nothing like rope. He began to jerk his wrists back and forth, but found, much to his surprise, that they held firm. He struggled on, still convinced that enough jostling would loosen the straps and he’d be able to free himself. However, for all of his efforts, he found that the knots didn’t loosen in the slightest, and he was still very much immobile.
“C’mon, Derrick, why would I go to the trouble to tie you up if you could struggle free? What do you think I am, some bored housewife trying to put some spice back in her marriage with a little kink? No sir, you aren’t going anywhere until I decide you do, easy as that. So, do us both a favor and just relax. We have a lot of work to do today, and trust me when I tell you you’re going to need your energy.”
Derrick felt his temper rise, and try as he might, the words flew from his mouth, “FUCK THIS! Let me go, you fucking BITCH!”
Lacy was upon him in less than a second, moving so quickly through the room that Derrick’s eyes couldn’t even trace her.
She buried her knee into his stomach, and brought her hand up to his throat. “Listen, asshole, I am not quite sure what you think is going on here, but allow me to fill you in a bit. You’re fucked, Derrick, you get that; you’re fucked three ways from Sunday. The only bitch in this room is you, because right now, you’re my bitch, and you’re going to stay that way until I am finished with you. So if you’d like a bit of friendly advice, watch your manners, because while I may have my orders, I also have no problem gutting you right here and just saying you tried to escape.”
Lacy smiled and kissed his cheek before standing back up, removing the point of her knee from his throbbing guts. She walked back over to the mirror and went back to admiring herself.
“Orders…. what, what is going on here?” Derrick gasped.
“I don’t know if I want to tell you, Derrick. You hurt my feelings and called me a mean name. You know, behind all the stabbing and corpse desecration, I am just a delicate little feminine flower,” Lacy replied sarcastically.
“Are you kidnapping me? Is this… some sort of ransom or something? I can get you money, if that’s what you want, lots of money. Just untie me, I can call my bank, we can…”
Lacy cut him off. “Derrick, you’re almost, just sort of a quarter right. This is a kidnapping, I am holding you against your will, and there is something that I want from you, but believe me, it has nothing to do with money. I couldn’t give a shit less about how much you’ve got in the bank, just like I don’t give a shit about your job, your promotion, or your new car. Christ, you are boring, dude! Of all the people that could have escaped Delphia, why you? Why couldn’t an exciting person have escaped? That way at least when we wound up here, this could have been interesting. No, instead it had to be you, an average guy, from an average upbringing, leading an average, BORING, fucking life. Hell, even torturing you is probably going to be boring, and I get off on that shit!” Lacy concluded her rant, and gave Derrick a look that said, "It’s your turn. Talk, entertain me."
“What, what would you know about that?” he replied.
“Oh, Derrick, you still don’t get it, do you?” Lacy answered, walking over and taking a seat on the bed across from Derrick. She raised her foot up and slid it into his crotch, and began to slowly slide it around, a perverse play on seduction. She continued, “I was going to wait and tell you all about it when we got out to Madisonville, but damn it all if you aren’t just so boring that I have to take lead even on the conversations. Well, so be it. See, you only thought that you escaped from Delphia, because you’re stupid and arrogant and simple, but lover boy, trust me when I tell you, we’ve always been watching you.”
Lacy slid her other foot slowly up Derrick’s chest, towards his face. “See, whether you know it or not, you sort of did us a big favor. When you made your little escape, you served two purposes, maybe even three. You exposed the traitor, Timothy VanBuren, and we thank you for that. Don’t worry, he’s still alive, although I am quite sure that he wishes he had died when he took his noble stand against Madison’s mob. We’ll get to him later, though; we want to know everything you remember about him.
The second favor was you helped demonstrate the flaws in our system. Why, before you and your yuppie pal decided to take a little world tour in your fancy boat, we were all pretty damned sure Delphia was inescapable. We certainly weren’t aware of Timothy and his friends, so, we owe you for that one too.”
As Lacy continued to talk, she began to toy with Derrick’s mouth with her toes. He jerked his head back and forth to avoid it, but when you’re tied to a chair, there isn’t much room to evade. She continued, “And of course, the biggest favor you did was put Captain Boring himself, old Lance Madison, on the shit list. The powers that be are none too thrilled at his failures, and thanks to you, my good friend and mentor Tabitha is in a fine position to move up in the ranks. So, in a few ways, we owe you one, or, I guess, three. I’ll remember that when I start torturing you tonight. I’ll be sure to apply those credits. Shit, you might even like it.”
Derrick turned his head again, trying to avoid Lacy’s foot as her big toe flicked his lips. “Well, Lacy, I think I’ll cash in those credits now, if you don’t mind, because you’re torturing me as we speak. How often do you wash your feet - is it a monthly event or bi-annual?”
Lacy began to laugh. Perhaps she did need a shower; it had been a hot couple of days, and she’d put in her fair share of walking.
“Derrick, you really know how to charm a girl. Fine, don’t like my feet, then you don’t get ‘em,” she replied, standing up. “I think I will go take a shower, and if you’re lucky, I might come towel off in front of you.”
She entered the bathroom and Derrick heard her turn on the water. He began to shoot his eyes across the room, looking for some sort of escape. Nothing caught his eye. He thought of just screaming, but he had an idea that this woman would slit his throat long before any help could arrive. Derrick wanted to believe that she was still messing with him, that all of this was some sort of sick joke. However, she knew too much. He tried to think back to the story he told her the night before at the bar, about his escape from Delphia. He tried to recall if he told her about Timothy or Madison, or if he just gave her the short version. He needed to figure out if she was just repeating his own story back to him to mess with his head, or if she did somehow have knowledge of Delphia because she in fact was an agent of the damned place. There was so much to consider. He almost regretted his little insult about her body odor; he almost wished he’d kept her talking, gotten some more information from her before she turned to leave.
That was when it hit home, though; this woman liked to talk, she liked to be the center of attention. Derrick had known a few women like that. They weren’t psychos like her, of course, but he knew the diva type when he saw it. She wanted him to ask her questions, she wanted him to be afraid of her. Perhaps, just maybe, if he played the game, he could get her right where he wanted her. She wanted her ego stroked, and Derrick figured that a lifetime of hitting on arrogant women in cheesy clubs should give him the skills to make her think she was the center of his world.
“Lacy, wait, come back please,” Derrick called out.
Lacy popped her head out of the bathroom. She was still dressed, so he figured she was waiting for the water temperature to adjust. She stepped back into the main room, closing the bathroom door behind her.
“Don’t want to steam up the place,” she said with a giggle, as she approached the large mirror and began to take inventory of herself for the third time since Derrick woke up.
Derrick, choosing his words carefully, began to speak, “So, you’re part of Delphia, like their special hit squad or something?”
Lacy, still looking in the mirror, began to smile, “Yeah, something like that. I’m special alright, Tabitha’s brightest. Shit, I’m so good at this, I might change my name, give myself some cool little nickname, like Lethal Lacy, or…. I know, what about, Lacy the Murderer? I could even have a cool catch phrase, like…. 'TAKE A NAP!' you know, because I drugged you?”
Derrick didn’t reply, only sat and stared, allowing her to talk. She looked back at him, then back to the mirror. “No, Derrick, 'Lacy the Murderer', that’s dumb as fuck! And a catchphrase - shit, with my luck, I’d become a meme on the internet with a bunch of pimply face kids writing shitty fan-fiction about me. Whew, glad we dodged that bullet, right, Derrick?”
“Well, how did you get into it, Lacy? I mean, when I went to Delphia, it was because of a yacht crash. Is that how you wound up there too?” Derrick asked.
“No, Derrick, nothing quite that lame. You see, I was just a small town girl, living in my lonely world, but instead of taking a midnight train to anywhere, I decided to murder a baby and paint my face with his blood. Then Tabitha showed up, and told me that when it came to killing, I was a fucking natural. She liked me so much, that she brought me back to Delphia and trained me in all sorts of crazy kung-fu shit. I’m like the girl from Kill Bill, only I would look a lot sexier in an all yellow jump suit, don’t you think?”
Lacy removed her shirt to reveal her impressive body, and despite the current situation, Derrick had to admit she was a knock out.
“You’re right, Lacy. If they’d cast you in that movie, I’m pretty sure they would have made more sequels,” Derrick replied cautiously. He wanted to flatter her, but didn’t want to come across as kissing up.
“See, Derrick, you are a charmer. Glad you like the goods,” she laughed, raising her arms above her head, seductively rocking her body back and forth. As her arms raised, she turned her head and sniffed her armpit. “Damn Derrick, you were right; I do need a fucking shower. I’m a little stinker. It’s crazy, huh? We can put a man on the fucking moon, but we can’t make a deodorant that lasts until lunch. Can’t win, can we?”
Lacy turned and walked towards the bathroom door, turning to give Derrick a little wink. As she opened it, she looked at him and giggled, “If you weren’t all tied up, I’d ask you come in and scrub my back, and maybe even my front.”
Derrick, sensing a chance to perhaps take advantage or her arrogance, replied, “Well, if I am a walking dead man, I suppose it would make sense for me to get a final request, wouldn’t it? C’mon, clearly I can’t get away from you if I tried. At least let me go out with a bang, right? I mean, how can you dangle a body like yours in front of me and then just walk away? How about it, Lacy, give a dying man a final wish?”
To his astonishment, this ploy actually appeared to have a shot. She turned her back to the door and began to approach Derrick. “Well, Derrick, you’re right that you can’t escape, and I suppose giving you a little final sendoff wouldn’t be too much to ask. Just remember, I get to be the big spoon after we…”
Her words were cut off instantly as a large man lunged from the bathroom door and tackled her to the ground. Lacy was so taken by surprise, that all of her training and reflexes failed her. The man, fetched her a powerful blow to her face, and Derrick, from his position, could see her eyes go momentarily blank. It was indeed a sucker punch that she never saw coming.
“HELP ME!” Derrick called to him in distress, “That bitch is crazy!”
The man, dressed in fine clothing, checked to ensure that she wasn’t getting back up, and ran over to Derrick.
“You must be Derrick Reynolds,” the man said, more a statement than a question.
“Yeah, who are you?” Derrick replied.
“A friend,” he answered, speaking in an accent that was either English or Scottish, and began to work on the knots.
He had managed to undo one knot, when suddenly Derrick’s eyes grew huge, and he shouted, “Look out behind you!”
Lacy was on her feet, holding a knife long enough to qualify as a short sword, and began to move towards the man with the accent.
She spoke as she advanced, “Mister, I don’t know who you are or how you got into my bathroom, but you just signed your death warrant.”
Derrick, using his free hand, quickly went to work on the other knot, as Lacy lunged towards the intruder with a speed so blindingly fast that one would be led to believe she was teleporting.
The man attempted to side step her, but never had a chance of getting his feet off the ground. Lacy dove into him, driving the knife into his side. The force of the impact caused the man to roll onto the bed, taking both he and Lacy over the mattress into the space between the bed and the wall.
Derrick was able to free his other arm, and twisted around to try and see what was happening. Lacy had him pinned to the floor, as she pulled the knife free and held it over the man.
“You know what we do with trespassers, right? We gut them and use their innards for sausage!” Lacy snarled, holding the knife above his chest. “Any last words?”
“Fuck you, you fucking twat!” the man was heard grunting. Derrick saw Lacy’s mouth curl into a smile. She raised the knife high, bringing it down.
Suddenly there was a sharp report, a loud bang, that outside may have sounded like a firecracker or a car backfire, but in here was enough to make Derrick’s ears ring. He saw Lacy’s body bounce slightly into the air, and then roll off to the side. For several moments there was no movement at all from the far side of the bed. Derrick was on the verge of going back to work on the knots that held his ankles when a bloody hand was seen raising from behind the bed, followed by the pained grunting of the man pushing himself to his feet. Clutched in the man’s right hand was a small pistol, a little semi-auto .22 from what Derrick could tell. Small enough to conceal in a sleeve or a pocket. Perhaps that was how Lacy didn’t notice it.
“Fucking bitch got me deep,” he gasped, but was able to find his feet after a moment. The stab wound looked bad, but clearly was not fatal. With pained steps, the man brought himself over and leaned against the dresser in the room.
“Finish untying yourself there, Derrick. I’m not quite sure I can bend down to do it,” the man ordered, and Derrick, who was unsure who was friend or foe, was convinced enough at this point to listen to instructions.
Derrick finished freeing himself and stood up. His joints were sore from spending the night in a sitting position, but it still felt amazing to be free from the straps. Derrick risked a quick glance over the side of the bed, and saw Lacy lying on the floor, bleeding from her stomach as well. Derrick wasn’t sure if she was alive or not, but she wasn’t moving, and that was enough for him.
“We have to get you to the hospital, come on!” Derrick said to the bleeding man.
“I’ll get myself there, Derrick. You, though, need to return to your apartment. Don’t bother going to the police. Believe me when I tell you that no one is going to believe what is really happening here anyway,” the man replied.
“Raise your shirt; let me see your wound,” Derrick said, and the man obliged. The wound was bleeding, but from what Derrick could tell, it appeared to have been inflicted more for pain than damage. It was long, stretching from his belly button and traveled upward around his back. It didn’t appear very deep though, and while Derrick was no doctor or nurse, he felt that his mystery savior could recover with some stitches and antibiotics.
“Okay, who are you, though?” Derrick asked.
“My name is Gregory Leary, from London. Let’s just say that you and I have quite a bit in common. Why, just today I had tea with the leader of Delphia himself. Quite a day it’s been,” Gregory gasped.
“You mean…. Madison? Are you working for them?” Derrick gasped, backing up quickly.
“Look, we don’t have time to discuss this. Return to your apartment. I am going to arrange to have my brother meet you there. If he went to do what I believe he did, then I believe he already has met up with the person we came down here to see. Hopefully we can all meet up there tonight and figure this out.”
“How do you know where I…?” Derrick attempted, but was interrupted.
“This is your wallet, right, Derrick?” Gregory asked, holding up a brown wallet that had been sitting on the dresser.
“Yes… hey, what are you…?
Gregory removed his phone from his pocket, flipped open Derrick’s wallet, and took a quick photograph of his driver’s license. A few more taps to the screen, and Gregory gave Derrick a tired smile.
“There, I just told Trevor where to go. Happy?”
“Wait, just wait, who did you just send my address to? Who’s coming to my house?”
“Look, mate, I just shot a gun off in a hotel room, okay. How long do you think it’s going to be before the bloody cops are here? Just go home and wait for us. Once I get checked out and stitched up, I’ll meet you there.”
“Fine, but at least let me help you out of here,” Derrick insisted.
“Okay, give me two seconds. I’m going into the bathroom to clean this wound a bit, maybe even wrap myself up in a hotel robe so I don’t walk out of here attracting all the world’s eye,” Gregory replied.
“Okay, just hurry, Gregory!”
Gregory walked into the bathroom, leaving Derrick alone in the room. Curiosity worked its magic, and Derrick slowly walked towards Lacy’s position. Peeking again over the bed, he saw that she hadn’t moved, and a small pool of blood was forming below her.
“Gregory, do you think we should call an ambulance for her, like, after we leave?” Derrick called to him.
“Gregory, are you alright in there?” Derrick called again, still receiving no reply.
Derrick, concerned Gregory may have passed out from pain, rushed to the bathroom to check on him, and, to his astonishment, found it empty. Derrick pulled open the shower curtain, and found the shower still running from when Lacy turned it on, but no sign of Gregory. There was nowhere else he could possibly be, as the small room had no linen closet or cabinets.
Then, something caught Derrick’s attention. The sink, it was filled with something, a substance that could only be…. snow?
“Where did he go?” Derrick thought.
Then realization hit home, and Derrick, not wanting to be found in a hotel room with a girl with a bullet hole in her stomach, quickly exited the room. He would do what Gregory told him, he would return to his apartment and wait. He had no real reason to trust the man, other than the fact that he had rescued him from Lacy. If there was some ulterior motive, Gregory certainly had every chance to do it while Derrick had still been tied up at the ankles. He was terrified, of course, and every impulse ordered him to go to the police, yet, somehow, if this was connected to Delphia, which at this point there could be no other explanation, then he knew that the police were likely to be as inept this time as they were when it came to investigating Sergio’s disappearance.
Derrick continued to mull through this as he walked quickly through the hotel lobby and out onto the street. In a state that one could call a walking trance he retrieved his car from his office parking garage and drove home. The entire ride back, he continued to glance into the rear view mirror, almost convinced that Lacy would rise from behind the seats and strangle him. He didn’t feel even slightly safe until he was in his own home with the doors locked.
Even then, he was still shaking.
Several minutes after Derrick left the room, Lacy slowly regained consciousness. She winced at the pain in her abdomen, and realized, with horror, that she had been shot. The horror did not stem from any fear of death, as the Sisters had brought a kit to heal such minor wounds with ease. No, as she slowly lurched over to the dresser to retrieve the special healing oils, the horror that overtook her was how easily she had been taken. Whoever the man was, he was clearly the luckiest gentleman walking the earth. The horror furthered as her mind computed the fact that Derrick was gone. She had lost her target, and from this, the true fear arose. Such mistakes were not forgiven in the court of Tabitha Shaw. Lacy knew this was well as anyone, and a strangely human fear began to build in her, something she had not felt since…. since the night with the dead baby, the night she thought she was going to rot in prison. Compared to what Tabitha or Pinkerton would do to her for such a failure, prison seemed like a blessing.
“No time to think about that now,” she said out loud, as she unwrapped a small bundle containing several oils and some long, tweezer like tongs.
“Okay, Lacy, big girl panties time,” she grunted, as she dug the tongs into her wound, fishing around a moment or two before she hit the jackpot. With a wince of agony, she pulled the bullet from her stomach. It was tiny, fired from a caliber of gun meant to scare someone, not kill them. She took a moment to thank God, or Tobit, or fucking Mr. Rogers, it didn’t matter, that the man hadn’t had something larger, like a .357 or a .45, as she likely would not be breathing right now had that been the case.
Next she applied the first of two oils, one to kill any germs, the other to seal the wound. She would still be sore for the rest of the week, but she wouldn’t have to worry about infection or bleeding to death.
She wrapped the items back up and began to dress quickly. As she was lacing up her boots, a knock came to the door.
“Fuck me sideways, are you serious?” she said, practically spitting the words. “Now what?”
Lacy pulled the shirt down, trying her best to cover the wound, quickly finished strapping on her boots, and went to the door.
She opened it only a crack to see a young man, maybe in his mid-twenties, wearing a suit with a yellow colored cloth badge sewn on the lapel.
“Hotel Security, Ma’am. We’ve received noise complaints from this room, someone said they heard what sounded like a gun shot,” the young man stated.
Lacy, putting on her cutest facial expression she could muster, gave a crooked smile and replied, “Oh no, see, that was me. I was in here watching some clown porn, and well, let’s just say that when it got to the good part, my damned vibrator exploded. Imagine that, I guess the money shot scene for “Cheezo Does Dallas” was just a bit too intense. But don’t you worry, I’m going to write a strongly worded letter to the good folks over at Acme Dildos. I mean, we can’t risk injury over something as silly as clown porn, now can we?”
The security officer did not appear amused by Lacy’s explanation and pushed the issue further, “Ma’am, your personal tastes in porn aside, I am going to need to come in and look around the room. Half the floor thinks a murder took place in here.”
Lacy, trying to find patience that she never knew existed, pointed at the DO NOT DISTURB sign. “See that? It says don’t disturb me, so go on back to rent-a-cop land and stop disturbing me.”
“Okay, Ma’am, if you don’t let me come in, I’m going to have to notify the front desk to call the police. Now, if you just let me come in and take a look, I’ll be out of your hair in no time, and you and… Cheezo, can get back to enjoying each other’s company.”
“Fine, come on in,” Lacy invited, and the officer, a man who had actually come in on his day off, a man who, by all the rules of logic should be at home, walked into what would turn out to be his own murder scene.
The officer saw the chair with its rope ties still hanging, he saw the splatter of blood on the wall, and had he had time to look further, may have been even further impressed to find snow in the sink. However, he had time to take in very little of the room, because as the door clicked closed, Lacy’s knife found his back.
The officer fell to his knees, eyes going wide, grasping at thin air, as if perhaps Jesus Christ himself might step forward and offer him a hand. Lacy leaned in and spoke soothingly, almost intimately, into his ear. “Sorry, man, I actually tried really hard to get rid of you without blood, but damn if you weren’t just too dedicated to the cause. Now, normally I would make this fun for both of us, let you die experiencing that very special brand of pain that only I can bring out in a man, but today I have a bit more to take care of, so sorry. I guess if this was some sort of story, you’d be that character that doesn’t even get a name.”
She removed the knife quickly from his back and brought it across his throat, opening it up wide, a crimson waterfall coming forth.
Lacy grabbed the remainder of her possessions, and quickly headed out of the door. She had to try and find Derrick before her superiors learned of this incident. She left, and the officer’s body became the room’s sole occupant.
As Lacy made her way out of the hotel lobby and into the street, her phone rang. She saw that it was Lena. Still catching her breath, Lacy answered, and the two Sisters of Tobit compared their equally bad news.
“Wait, wait, start over again,” Clair Nobles said to Trevor Leary as the two merged onto the interstate, driving back towards downtown New Orleans from the airport.
Trevor sighed. He was never good at explaining such complex matters, but, taking a deep breath, gave the longer version of the quick introduction he’d given Clair when he met her at the baggage claim.
“Okay, my name is Trevor Leary. My brother Gregory and I came over from London to speak to you concerning the Triassic Journal and all that you’ve learned from it.”
Clair chuckled a bit. “Well, I’m down here to meet someone concerning that too, so I guess we’ve got some degree of common ground here.”
“Yes, I would imagine we all have much to discuss. As I told you briefly back at the airport, my family has a long, rooted connection to Delphia and Hyraaq Tobit. The other documents that you found, the book that you called the Trisetta Stone, that was actually the journal of a Scotland Yard inspector, a man named….”
“Brandon Leary,” Clair finished for him.
“Yes,” Trevor continued, “that man is a distant relative of ours. He uncovered truths of Tobit’s cult dating all the way back to the early 1800s in England. He recorded his findings, including his deciphering of the Dawning language, in his notebook. When he disappeared from London, he left the notebook to be hidden away, in hopes that it would never be found. It was buried below the streets of Whitehall Place, and my family has been charged with protecting it ever since. When it was discovered, we knew we had to take action, but we were unable to keep it from being shipped to America - to you, essentially. Once you went on worldwide television and gave a detailed breakdown of the origins of Tobit and Delphia, my brother and I decided that we had to meet with you and explain to you the dangers of what you were exposing to the entire world.”
Clair considered this for a moment, and Trevor waited as her brilliant mind churned the information he’d given her into something useful. He was indeed slightly taken by her - she was lovely, delicate to the eyes - but he could sense such a powerful mind inside of her, like a nuclear reactor painted in flowers and blue skies.
“Okay, so, now that you’ve found me, what happens?” Clair asked.
“Well, that’s a bit foggy. I was hoping that you could fill in some of the blanks,” Trevor responded.
“And here I am hoping that Derrick Reynolds can fill in a few blanks for me. It seems like none of us exactly know what happens now, do we?” she asked.
Trevor sat in silence for a moment. The thrill of finding Clair had temporarily taken his mind off of the debacle with his brother earlier this day. Now he drove towards the city with no specific destination in mind.
“Okay, Clair, let me explain what happened before I left to come and pick you up, what happened between my brother and I. Perhaps it will help bring you up to speed on the total situation, and hopefully give us an idea of where to go next.”
Clair motioned for Trevor to begin the story.
He remembered that he’d been writing down some notes on how he and Gregory should go about talking to Clair, and the next thing he knew, the world seemed to go black. He felt as though he was passing out - not passed out, but in a constant state of going there. It was quite terrible, like being trapped in a state of dizziness after getting off a carnival ride. When he finally came out of it, he was shocked to see that almost two hours had passed. He remembered that Gregory was sitting on the couch across from him, holding a pair of archaic looking pendants, sort of spinning them about.
“Brother, what happened? Did I lose consciousness?” Trevor had asked.
“In a manner of speaking, dear Trevor, you did, but it can all be explained, I assure you,” Gregory replied. “We’ve had a visitor, not quite a friend, but let’s just say, a potential investor. He has given us the means to finally be free of Tobit’s curse.”
“Okay, Gregory, stop being cryptic and tell me how I just lost an hour of time?” Trevor demanded, and so his brother explained about Lance Madison’s visit. Trevor was willing to listen to it all, until his brother proposed Madison’s plan. From there, things had gone downhill, and quickly.
Gregory explained, “Okay, Trev, these necklaces, according to Madison, they are what has allowed the goat headed fiends - the Faithful as he calls them - to teleport about the world, scaring us, for example. He tells me that he made two of them, one for me, one for you.”
“Why would he make a set for us, Gregory? Does the bloody fiend intend to induct us?” Trevor asked, starting to feel the apprehension that would eventually boil over into something else entirely.
“No, brother, not at all. I made it quite clear to Lance how we felt about his cult. He knows that it will be a cold day in hell before either one of us ever joined them. However, he did extend the…. well, magic, for our use. He made me a deal, a deal that I believe may just be our salvation, an end to all of this.”
Trevor, choosing his words carefully, inquired further. “What sort of deal would that be, Gregory?”
“Okay, stay with me here, Trevor, because this part gets a bit… strange. There are two women in the city right now. Both, according to Lance Madison, are some sort of, assassins. They are here to kill Clair Nobles and Derrick Reynolds. Apparently the powers that be have decided those two pose too much of a threat to Delphia to be left to their own devices, so these two women, known as… get this, Sisters of Tobit, have been sent down to take care of it. Now, Madison is afraid that should they succeed, he will be terminated from his current position as the top man in Delphia, and likely killed. He does believe, however, that should these women fail their mission, that the blame will be shifted to them, specifically someone named Tabitha Shaw, and Madison will be free to continue on his current path.”
Trevor interrupted, “Okay then, Gregory, if he can do all this, make magical amulets and whatnot, why doesn’t he just stop them himself?”
“He explained that to me,” Gregory replied. “He told me that magic has a signature of sorts, and that if he should personally make a move against the Sisters, it will be viewed as a sort of… insubordinate action. He said that if someone else were to do the deed though, such as you and I, he could cover the tracks and make it appear as though this Shaw woman is simply incompetent.”
Trevor slowly replied, “And how exactly do we fit into this?”
Gregory, knowing his brother well, chose his own words with caution. “Okay, Trevor, this is what is expected of us. Apparently, these pendants will allow us to… manifest wherever we want. Such as the bathroom or the hotel room where the Sisters of Tobit are holding Derrick Reynolds. If we were to infiltrate their room and rescue him, the Sisters would appear as failures. It really is as simple as that.”
“Not quite, brother,” Trevor responded. “What of these Sisters themselves? If they truly are assassins working for Tobit, do you honestly believe they are just going to let us walk out of there with Derrick by our sides?”
Gregory had hoped Trevor wouldn’t ask that question; he had hoped they could simply do this and be done with it, letting whatever happened in the middle happen and cry over it later, but his brother was far too thorough to let such details fly under the radar.
“No, Trevor, should we encounter the Sisters, I am to use this,” Gregory stated, and placed the small handgun on the writing desk in front of Trevor.
“Gregory, this is bloody madness. You intend to commit murder? We came down here to talk to Clair, to try and stop her from bringing about exposure to Tobit, not to kill women.”
The older Leary brother could feel his temper rising. He had been very patient with Trevor, but now that they actually had a workable plan, he would not let his brother stand in the way.
“Trevor, listen. These women, their leader, Shaw, she is the one that killed father. Who knows how many other innocents have met their end at her hands, or the hands of her associates. Furthermore, Madison has promised that if we assist him, we get our lives back. No more visits from the goat heads, no more nightmares, no more guarding secrets from the world. We can go home, Trevor; we can live regular lives. We don’t have to live as father did, or his father before him, or our uncles, or anyone else that has lived and died by this blasted curse. Don’t you get it, Trevor? This is our chance; this is what we came down here to do.”
“No, Gregory,” Trevor replied, “this is not what I came down here to do. You told me, right out there on the balcony, that we were going to go and talk to Clair, work with her to try and solve this. Then I wake up and find out that you apparently had a meeting with the leader of the fucking cult that we have been fighting our entire lives, a meeting that apparently I, your own brother, wasn’t allowed to have a say in, since your new friend Lance decided that it was for your ears only. Then you tell me that he promised that if you go along with his plan, which involves, according to you, magical necklaces and teleportation, that he will just leave us alone for the rest of our lives, and all we have to do is murder a couple of women who may or may not even have a damned thing to do with this.”
“They do, Gregory. I believe Lance,” his brother replied, trying to hold back anger.
“And how the fuck would you exactly know that, huh, brother? How would you know that? This man shows up in our room, puts me to sleep, and makes a deal with you to kill two women that you’ve never seen before in your life. They could very well be innocent, victims of Tobit themselves. Hell brother, for all you know, half the goat heads that we’ve seen in our lives may have been others that your good friend Lance sent to mess with us in exchange for freedom. We could just be another cog in his damned machine. How can you be so damned blind?”
And that did it; that set Gregory Leary over the top. He had spent so much of his life being plagued by Tobit, having so many chances taken from him. And when a chance for freedom finally falls right in their laps, his own brother, who has only just recently learned of his family’s curse, decides to stand in the way.
“You dare to call me blind, you sniveling little weakling?” Gregory shouted. “I am the one that has been seeing these demons for over a decade! I am the one that has had jobs, relationships, any sense of normalcy robbed from me, and all to protect you, to carry on this fucking curse that our distant uncle decided to bestow on this family because he believed like you, that law and order and coloring between the lines could make everything okay! He was too stupid to know when to stop, and you’re too much of a coward to even start! Did you really think this trip was just going to be us sitting down with Clair? Is that what you thought? If that were the fucking case, you little twat, we could have fucking telephoned her. No, Trevor, we are here to take action! Only action, not waiting to see how things turn out! Now, I have no idea if Lance’s offer won’t have consequences, but it is, for the life of me, the best thing that has come along in years. And I will not have a little mama’s boy like you stand there and ruin this!”
“And what about Clair, huh, Gregory? Does she get freedom from Tobit?” Trevor screamed at his brother.
Gregory, whose patience for Trevor’s ways had since departed, replied with that brand of honesty that only complete rage can produce. “I don’t fucking care about Clair! I didn’t come here to rescue her, you fucking idiot; I came here to rescue us! Clair is not my problem; my problem is our fucking lives! Me and you, that’s it. Whatever happens to Clair Nobles is up to Clair Nobles to fix; it’s her fucking fault that she’s in this mess anyway. No one asked her to go on television and give the world a step by step lesson in Hyraaq Tobit. If she suffers for her stupidity, then that is her problem to solve! I am concerned with you and I, with any generations of Learys that come after us! If Madison is telling the truth, we could actually go home and try and find wives, have children, have lives. And unlike our father, neither of us would ever have to sit our kids down one night and tell them all about Brandon Leary and Hyraaq Tobit. We could just live, Trevor! Don’t you want that?”
“You know what, Gregory, do what you want. If you want to trust this man, trust him. If you really believe that putting on a fucking necklace will let you magically appear in another hotel room, then go for it. If you want to go and shoot some woman on sight because you think that is your path to salvation, then you do it. But count me out. From here on, consider our partnership in this dissolved.”
Gregory appeared stunned for a moment. “What are you saying, Trevor?”
“I am saying that I am going to go and meet with Clair at the airport. I am going to handle this my way, a way that doesn’t involve killing someone or trusting a man who has been likely the one tormenting us. If, when this is done, you find that you wish to reconcile, you know how to reach me. However, I will have nothing to do with you, if you are going to pursue this path.”
At that, Trevor left the hotel room, ignoring his brother’s rantings and insults as he left the building. He went down and retrieved their rental car. The young man, Darren, was as prompt as he had promised. If Gregory really had magical amulets that would allow him to appear anywhere he wanted, then he had no need for a car anyway. Trevor pulled out on Canal Street, pointed the rental in the direction of the Interstate, and made his way to the airport to meet Clair.
“Do you think he tried it, your brother? The pendants?” Clair asked when Trevor finished his story.
“I hope not, Clair,” Trevor replied.
“Those names, those people. Lance Madison, Tabitha Shaw. I’ve… seen them in my dreams,” Clair stated flatly.
“Really?” Trevor asked.
“Yeah, I had a dream. A little girl named Soka told me that she was in Delphia, trapped, but there were people working to rebel against Madison and Tobit. In my dream I met Madison, he was working at a social club of sorts, and then, I saw… her.”
“You mean Tabitha Shaw?” Trevor asked.
“Yes, and if she is real, she is terrifying. I’ve never felt a more evil presence in my life then I did when she appeared in my dream,” Clair replied.
“So, the real question is, what do we do now?” Trevor asked, and if by some form of fate and magic, his cell phone announced the text message tone.
Trevor looked at his phone. “Oh, it’s from Gregory, thank God. I guess he didn’t go through with it.”
“What’s it say?” Clair asked.
Trevor viewed the text, and Clair saw his face wrinkle with confusion. “It’s a photograph of Derrick Reynold’s driver’s license, with instructions to go to his address.”
Clair’s face lit up, and Trevor was stunned further at her sheer beauty. “Wonderful then. That just made my job a lot easier. Let’s go!”
In that moment, Trevor truly was taken by Clair, her sheer courage, her immediate reaction and readiness to go further. She did not hesitate, she did not question, she simply took the clue and moved on to the next logical step. Had Trevor been alone, he would have likely spent the next hour pondering the pros and cons of visiting the address. If anyone else had been in the car with him, he likely would have still argued, stating that they needed to think and plan and worry. But there was a comfort in Clair. She was young, of course, but her intelligence could not be denied, and Trevor was willing to trust her judgment without question.
He sent a quick reply to Gregory, telling him to call right away, and then plugged Derrick’s address into his GPS, and he and Clair followed the computer voice to Derrick’s address.
Derrick himself had returned to his address shortly before, still shaking and in a state of terror. His mind raced between options. Call the cops, don’t call the cops. Wait for this man, Gregory, to show up, or pack a bag and get the hell out of New Orleans. Run and hide or stand and fight. Even if Lacy was dead, he recalled there being another woman when he and Lacy returned to the hotel room the night before. He couldn’t recall her name, but remembered that Lacy called her "Mom". She was clearly too young to be her mother, so it was likely a nickname. Either way, Derrick didn’t want to be home if the other woman came looking. He had survived Lacy by a wing and a prayer, but wasn’t sure how many other second chances he’d get.
Derrick flipped on the television to try and calm his nerves. He turned on the news, but was taken into even further levels of shock at what was on television.
BREAKING NEWS, the screen announced. The anchors started telling their story.
A local man was found dead in a downtown hotel just moments ago, after he was sent up to the room to investigate a noise complaint that other hotel residents described as a possible gunshot. The man, who was working as a security officer, was with multiple stab wounds when his colleagues went to investigate why he wasn’t replying on his radio. At this time, police have no suspects, as it appears that the room was purchased in cash, with the name Jane Smith given on the hotel registry. No further information is available as to who Jane Smith may be, but police are questioning all hotel employees and guests who may have information on who was lodging in that room.
The identity of the security officer is being withheld at this time, until the investigation is complete.
Derrick saw all of this with only half his mind; the other half was being thrown into yet a further state of chaos. If Lacy wasn’t found in the room, that could only mean she survived the gunshot. Derrick ran to his home phone and prepared to call the police. Enough was enough; he had to do something. As he reached for the phone, he heard a knock at his door.
“Oh shit…” Derrick groaned. Could it be Lacy, or perhaps the police? Had they traced his identity from the hotel? He hesitated a moment, the phone still in his hand, when the knock came again.
From outside of the door, he heard a female voice calling his name. It didn’t sound like Lacy, but who knew? She was a girl of many talents; voice modification could easily be one of them.
Slowly, Derrick made his way to his door, trying to make as little noise as possible. He raised his eye to the peep-hole, and braced himself for who he might see on the outside. If it was Lacy, she might very well stab him through the hole with an icepick.
Not Lacy. He saw another woman, an attractive brunette that looked strangely familiar, like someone he’d seen on television or in the newspaper lately. Standing with her was a man who bore a slight resemblance to Gregory.
“Derrick, my name is Clair Nobles. I know you’re there, I can see you looking through the peep-hole. I know you’re probably wondering why I’m here. I was told to find you, and tell you that I knew of Timothy VanBuren, a friend of yours apparently.”
Derrick still hesitated, unsure of his next move. This could still be a trick, but Gregory did tell him that he’d have his brother come to his apartment. And the young man standing outside with the woman calling herself Clair certainly looked as though he could be his brother.
Derrick opened the door and quickly ushered the two in.
“Okay, you’re in, what the hell do you want?” Derrick inquired.
“Is my brother here? Is Gregory here?” Trevor replied.
“No, the last time I saw him was at the hotel. He somehow got into the bathroom there. Your brother fucking saved my life,” Derrick replied.
“My God, he went through with it, that idiot,” Trevor answered, more to himself than to Derrick.
Clair extended her hand to Derrick. He hesitated at first, but then gave it a weak shake.
“Derrick, like I said on the porch, my name is Clair Nobles. If you’ve been watching the news or reading the paper, you may have heard of me. I was assigned to study something called the Triassic Journal. It told of a being called Hyraaq Tobit, and we have been led to believe that you’ve had some experiences with all of that.”
“Oh my God, how did you find me? Better question, why did you want to find me?” Derrick asked, walking past Clair to sit down on his couch. This was all turning out to be too much for him.
Trevor was busy trying to call Gregory. Each time the call didn’t go through he would look up with a frown, only to dial again.
Clair, in the meantime, sat down next to Derrick and tried to explain everything. “It’s a long story, Derrick, but my associates and I know that you were rescued in Antarctica. We also know that you explained to the doctors at the Dakota Science Station that you were taken to a place called Delphia, a hidden city that no one else can seem to find.”
“Yeah, no one ever believed me, but today, let me tell… I was in a hotel room, and..” Derrick’s conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Trevor, whose face lit up instantly, was certain that Gregory found them. He walked over to the door without hesitation, before either Derrick or Clair could advise caution.
“Brother!” Trevor shouted through the door as he turned the knob and opened Derrick’s apartment to the world.
“Not quite, try… Sister!” Derrick heard an all too familiar voice announce, and in horror, saw Trevor stagger back from the door.
Lacy and Lena walked in. Lacy looked around, locking eyes with Derrick. “Lover, so good to see you again. I was really looking forward to taking that shower with you, but you ditched me. Didn’t your mother ever teach you that it’s rude to leave a lady waiting, especially one with a bullet in her stomach?” Lacy announced.
“Do you know them?” Clair asked Derrick, who was currently backing up into the furthest corner of his sofa, eyes locked on to Lacy.
“You must be Clair Nobles!” the girl that Derrick called Lacy said. “We have just so much to talk to you about, and we’re going to talk about it nice and close, all night long.”
Trevor stepped forward, “My God, are you… are you the ones Gregory was talking about? The Sisters of Tobit?”
“Oh-my-God Lena,” Lacy shouted, while still staring directly at Derrick. “This guy is the brother of the asshole that shot me. Can you believe it?”
Trevor opened his mouth to speak again, but Lacy shut him up with a swift kick to the groin. “Sit down, little man. I would love to have another go with your brother. He was quite a handful, but I’ll settle for you, but not yet. You’ll have to wait your turn.”
“How… how did you find me?” Derrick stuttered.
“Easy as pie, once me and Lena had some time to think about it. We already knew where you lived. We, like, totally study our prey,” Lacy explained, doing a mock Valley Girl accent. “When you got away, I was a little nervous, and when Lena over there lost Clair, well, she was a little nervous too. But then we put our heads together, and figured that you’d likely run home. There was a chance that you’d call the cops, but we figured after the way the police treated you last time, you might hesitate, and look at that, we were right. But holy shit, who knew that Clair would be here too, and just for bonus points, the brother of the asshole that shot me. Hail fucking Tobit, baby!”
Clair, who was still in the dark about Derrick and Gregory’s little adventures with Lacy, slowly rose to her feet, her hands held out in a matter that she hoped conveyed little threat. “Ladies, I think we can discuss all of this. I am quite sure that if we just sit down and…”
Clair was interrupted by Lena. “Miss Nobles, we are going to talk, that is true, but whether it’s a discussion or an interrogation, well, that is yet to be determined.”
Lacy giggled like an excited school girl from behind Lena. Lena spoke again, and her words chilled Derrick, Trevor and Clair to their core. “Lacy, shut and lock the doors, disconnect any land lines and collect all of our friend’s cell phones. We’re going to sit down and have that discussion now, and I believe we are going to want no interruptions tonight.”
Lacy drew her blade and went about her business, collecting phones and disabling any communications from within the apartment. Derrick, Clair and Trevor all looked at each other, sharing their combined terror and confusion, at what events would unfold tonight.
Once Lena was satisfied, she took a seat across from the three captives, with Lacy joining her. Lacy blew a kiss to Derrick and stuck her tongue out at Clair.
“Now,” Lena stated in a firm voice, “let’s all get to know each other.”
Written by K. Banning Kellum
Published August 18th, 2015