Chapter Four – Setting Expectations
Rachael Faust. Why would the group that kidnapped her need me to help find her? Her father said he spoke with a man with yellow eyes and the only two I know of that fit that bill and one of them just asked me to find her as well. Silence. This was making my headache worse by the second. I tried to figure out the game at play. But there are missing pieces and it all seems shrouded in mists of confusion. Is Cortney unaware that Leo has the girl? I feel like a am walking in a tightrope made of detonation cord and the man in front of me is holding the detonator. One wrong move and the whole thing goes up in flames.
“How about you untie me and we talk like adults?” I said instead of the fifty things going through my head.
He was staring at me pretty intently. Had my face given away my inner dialogue? I hope not, by the Silence that is the last thing I need right now.
He nodded to himself and then announced to the others, “Leave us. Mr. Dreary and I are going to have an adult conversation.” I heard the sounds of muttering and was shocked to see seven people detach themselves from the shadows around us. I didn’t know I was that big of a threat.
“That’s a lot of troops for little old me. I’m honored.”
“I saw the scene after you came back from your year long sabbatical. I have seen some twisted shit but that was at the very top of the list,” Cortney said while staring me in the eye. “We aren’t going to have a repeat here, are we?”
Flashes of blood and gore zipped through my mind. Screams echoing through the rafters of the warehouse. I shook my head no vigorously, trying to shake the scene from my head. I felt my dinner try for the umpteenth time to purge itself and choked it down.
“I’m gonna need a little more than a head shake. I’m not one of the Squirrels, you’ll find I am quite a bit tougher than them.”
“No repeats. I just want to feel like this is an actual job offer and not another barely veiled threat. I don’t take kindly to those.”
He never took his eyes off of mine as he unlocked the chains around my arms and ankles. I shook my hands to try and restore blood flow and then massaged my legs. “Thank you.”
He still eyed me warily, “You’re welcome. So you wanna tell me why you tensed up when I said Rachael Faust?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your pupils dilated when I said her name. And I could see your entire body tense up. That tells me you know something about her. Add that to the rumors about her father swinging by Brad’s bar and I think you already know something.”
Shit. He’s good. Perceptive. Nothing like Rocky and his group of misfits. This was truly The Butcher of Pleasant Grove standing before me. The number two of The Pride. I wonder if I will have to kill him one day. If I had been asked three hours ago I would have said yes without blinking. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I don’t want to now that I have come face to face with him. Fuck. I don’t need anymore conflict, especially not internally. Just another bridge to cross late down the line. For now the best reaction is deflection.
“You mean when you asked me to work for you after clocking me in the skull, kidnapping me, kicking me in the ribs and gassing me? I seemed tense? My apologies for having a reaction to the creatures that have done all they can to ruin my life.” The sarcasm was thick like honey, coating every syllable. And the best kind of like is based on the truth. Learned that one the hard way a couple different times.
“Look, that was between you and Rocky. And that shit seemed settled to me. Have we bothered you once since? If we wanted to put a blood marker on your head we could have. But we didn’t. Thought long and hard about it, I’m not gonna lie. It still gets brought up, especially the remaining Squirrels. They want your blood and it is only mine and Leo’s voices keeping them off your ass. What did you do to Rocky and his boys? Did one of them infect you? You don’t smell like one of us but what you did…”
I laughed, a cold bitter laugh that surprised both of us. “A pound of flesh was owed, and a pound of flesh was taken.”
“Chaucer, huh? You don’t look like the Canterbury type. But I get it. Ain’t no payback like medieval payback unless you decide to go full biblical. And you may have transcended that. We know it was you and you alone. There were cameras that caught you entering. But you knew that I think. You’re smarter than that. You wanted them to know you were coming for your revenge.”
As much as enjoyed the look of discomfort on his face I really wanted to go home. “That was between them and myself. But one day maybe we can have a drink and I’ll fill you in the little details. Tell me about this job. The food has dried and my shirt is crusty. My head hurts and I am tired of being strung along.”
He nodded. “The boss wants this girl found. The why is not important. The when is critical and that is immediately.”
“Why don’t you just find her. Shouldn’t something like this be a breeze for someone with your, umm, talents?”
“The boss wants to maintain a distance from this.” He looked decidedly unhappy with that.
“How do I know you don’t already have her? That this isn’t another trap? I mean seriously, fuck you guys. I never asked to get mixed up in your shit. I was headed home, minding my own business and you jump me, drag me to Silence knows where for a supposed job offer you won’t tell me shit about. Tell you what, you have five minutes to either be honest or let me leave. I don’t give a shit which. But I’m tired of being a pawn, the subject of forces I couldn’t care less about. Don’t take this personally but I couldn’t give two fucks about any of this. If, and that is becoming a rather large if, there is a girl out there that needs help I will do anything for her. Not for you, certainly not for your fucking boss. The timer starts now Cortney.”
He looked like I had just slapped him in the face. Apparently honesty is not something he is used to. Well I’m not his subordinate, if he wants his shoes licked he can grab one of his wolves for that. I could see him taking deep breaths, trying to center himself. Damn. I think he really wants me to take this job. I also truly believe he would have ripped the throat out of anyone who dared speak to him that way under normal circumstances. Good. Time for someone else to be off balance for once. My head was starting to clear and I could feel myself returning to whatever state of normalcy I normally exist in. Good for me. Bad for him.
“That it? You done?” he asked with that quiet of someone either at the end of his rope or experiencing the realization that he isn’t dealing with a regular person.
“I could use some water too. That gas gave me a nasty case of cotton mouth if you don’t mind.”
He nodded. “Bring us water and another chair. Mr. Dreary and I are going to have a heart to heart.” One of his men came in with a cooler filled with bottles of water and metal chair like the one I was sitting in. “You guys head back now. I’ll be back when we finish. Have Terrance wait in the car for us.”
“I don’t like this C. You can’t trust this reggie scum. We don’t need him, the boss is wrong about him. He ain’t nothing but a piece of shit. Let me take care of him now and then I’ll find the girl,” he said as if I wasn’t sitting there. He turned towards me and his eyes flashed a deep green as he showed his teeth. I was willing to bet this was the piece of shit that had kicked me while I was down. That helped me decide my course of action.
Cortney looked pissed at his outburst but I held out my hand to him and stood up. I’m tired of being bullied. Tired of being taken for granted, like a cog in their machine. Time to show them a little bit of who I have become over the last couple years.
“If you want to settle this, here and now, we can do that. Go ahead and change, make it even. I accept your challenge mutt,” I tried to calmly utter, only a small quaver in my voice. “Cortney, if I kill your man for his offense are we good?”
He looked at me trying to figure out if I could. I know what he sees. I’m five foot nine, a buck ninety and not necessarily toned. Hard to put me and the person that got his position and of flesh from the Rocky. That’s fine. I’m used to being counted out. It’s nothing new to me. He nodded curtly.
“Say it. When I kill him I want to know there will be no revenge. Call your boys in here to watch. It’s time for a lesson.”
“David, do you still want to challenge Gear Dreary? Knowing it is within his right to demand recompense for your words and your actions this evening?” he casually asked. So casually. Like this was just another simple matter to him.
“Fucking right I do.” Confidence dripping from his words. David turned towards me and spat on the floor.
I stood up and tried to limber up. Not letting any of the fear coursing through me show. Drawing deep breaths in and holding them for a count of ten. Focusing all of my energy into the flame in my mind. Feeding my fear and nerves into it, a raging inferno inside my skull. White-hot as I threw every ounce of pain to feed it. As it burned away the detritus of emotion I felt the ice cold flow around me. I was ready. Had been for a long time.
The six others came into the room and formed a circle around us. “You sure about this Mr. Dreary? When he changes it will be too late. We take blood challenges seriously.”
I smiled, not feeling anything but ready. Coiled and ready to unload. “Too late for whom?”
The wolves laughed at my words, mistaking them for bravado. All except Cortney whose eyes grew wide as he looked at me. “Then consider the challenge accepted.” Howls erupted around me. I felt them slide down the ice coating me, feeding the fire inside. The dichotomy of complete control.
David howled louder than the rest. His body began to distort, the air seeming to shimmer around him. The sickening sounds of joints popping out of socket and bone breaking. His jaw stretched in an agonizing scream of pain and ecstasy as his face elongated. Patches of brown fur sprouting across his arms and face. His hands growing, long claws erupting from his fingers. It took seconds but seemed much longer as he transformed. It was primal, similar to what I had seen the Squirrels go through. But whereas they became something almost comical, David became a beast. His slavering maw filled with razor sharp teeth. A final howl of triumph signaled the change complete.
I warily watched him drop low to the ground. The feverish glow of his eyes reflected in the faces surrounding us. He looked to Cortney who nodded at him. If I didn’t know better I would say a look of regret crossed his face. But for which one of us I didn’t know. He might not have known what I was capable of, but he had seen the aftermath of my fury. That was the key to David’s misunderstanding of the situation. There was no fury involved then as there was none now. What I was about to do came from calm not anger.
David came at me with a speed that would have been enough to take out any normal person. A blur of fangs and slashing claws that was death incarnate. Or would have been if I were normal. I felt these words flow through me, when the torrential water tosses boulders it is because of momentum, when the hawk breaks the body of his prey it is because of timing. The Art of War, one of the many books I read as I healed from the tortures The Pride put me through. The one book I came back to time and time again as Here Doktor experimented on my broken body and mind. When I was put back together again I was no longer the same person I once was. I still wasn’t though I was trying to find him again. Hopeful he still existed somewhere in the metal and chemicals that mad up this new version. One day I hoped the two sides could realign. But now was not that time.
The savage monster raced at me but I used his momentum against him. His fierce motions and my incremental movements infuriated him. He tried to rake his claws across my face and I spun to the side and pulled him past me, slapping him in the back of the head as I did. He launched at me, three hundred pounds of muscle and dropped and threw and elbow into his stomach as he flew over me, driving the air from him. His rage was palpable. He came at me again and as I spun he reversed and dragged his claws down my side drawing blood. I watched as he licked the blood from his claws. I bowed my head to him and smiled. Play time is over. That hurt, even through the shell of ice. Another hit like that I would be nearly worthless. But it was exactly what I was waiting for. Time to show them what I had become.
“That all you’ve got Fido?” I taunted him. I wanted him to be in a frenzy. He didn’t know it didn’t matter. As foam began to drip down from his mouth and his howl filled the room, answered by seven others in the room I drew all of my energy into this coda. He had put himself directly in my control without even realizing it.
Of course he launched himself at me, going for center of mass. If he connected he would eviscerate me. It was obvious that would be his reaction to me. Why I had taunted him in the first place. This wasn’t a battle between man and beast, it was between a beast and a monster. Too late for David to realize, I was the monster in this scenario. As he was about to tear into me with those razor sharp claws his eyes bulged as he froze in midair a foot from my chest. Silence filled the room as disbelief grew. I lifted my hand and made a fist. As my fingers folded in so did his limbs. I squeezed hard enough to pop my knuckles but it was drowned out by snapping bone and screams of agony. I turned my fist and he spun, belly up as I opened my hand and he fell limply to the concrete floor. My head was spinning. I was at the edge of passing out from the exertion, blood flowing freely down my side and the effects of an all around shit night. I casually walked back to my chair and sat down as the Wolves stared at me. Respect and a new fear on their faces.
“You guys take David to the incinerator and leave. Mr. Dreary and I are gonna have a nice chat.” A chorus of angry mutters greeted him but he shut it down with just a look. I ignored the stares. I did exactly what I intended to with that performance.
As they filled out of the room Cortney handed me a bottle of water from the cooler. I waited until he took a drink of his before opening mine. He sat down and drank his entire thing while I sipped mine. I decided to let him break the quiet. Not that I didn’t trust myself to speak, but it was a needed moment to try and recover from that fight. It lasted maybe three minutes from the change to my sitting but it had felt like an hour or six. I was exhausted and had really pushed myself in the theatrics.
“How’s your side?” he finally asked.
I could feel the nettles as the skin was stitching itself back together again. “Fine. It was barely a scratch.”
He cocked an eyebrow, “A scratch that went to the bone.”
“Okay it was a good scratch. I’m fine. Do you have the girl?”
He really seemed confused at that. “Why would we want you to find her if we have her? That makes no sense.”
I believed him. Or at least believed that he didn’t know if Leo had her or not. Is that why he refused an offer from Franklin? Someone was lying to someone else and I didn’t like that I couldn’t figure out who. Of Franklin had made up The Pride’s involvement in order to entice me he had not done his research on me very well. I still didn’t know why I agreed to help him. It sure as hell wasn’t so I could have battle to the death with a werewolf. But if The Pride didn’t have her, who did? What is so special about Rachael Faust that someone would take her and blame the fearsome rulers of the entire Eastside? And why was I being drawn into the affair? Who is pulling the strings here?
“I’m guessing her father told you it was us that took her. Don’t look surprised. We have been watching you. And once word of this reaches Leo and the rest of the group you can guarantee we will continue watching. We know he stopped in to speak with you. The unspoken truce between us has been shaky sure, but it still stands. After this altercation it may be tested but I will report that it was a matter of disrespect shown and revenge delivered.”
“He said he spoke with your boss and tried to offer ransom but was refused. He asked me to look for her, but you knew all of this. So why the game? Why the job offer for a job you knew I was already on?”
“Leo has been curious about you since your escape and subsequent return. The mess you left was read loud and clear. But the how of it was what bothered us. So when the opportunity arose to try and work together it was too good to pass up.”
“But that not all is it?”
He smiled wryly at me. “You’re perceptive and smart Mr. Dreary…”
“Call me Gear, Cortney. Now that your men are gone maybe we can toss out the games.”
He laughed at that, a real laugh. I joined him. It was stupidity, this preening and strutting about. But as stupid as it was, it was a necessary gambit. “Well then Gear, you want to explain how you did that to David? I saw your face after, you didn’t enjoy it. And it looked like it damn near wiped you out.”
“Maybe over drinks one day. Gotta keep somethings close to the vest. How about next time you ask me to talk instead of clocking me in the back of the head?” I rubbed carefully on the back of my head where the goose egg was forming. The small metal port on the base of my skull felt undamaged. As much as I hated the thing it would cost me all of my creds to have it repaired.
“I made sure to not hit your jack. It was barely a love tap. How long do you figure we have before Brad figures out where we brought you?”
Damn. They really had been watching me. And that answered the question of why they left my phone in my pocket. They really had brought me here to talk.
“I imagine it will be some time yet. By the time I came to and called it was a pretty bad connection. And since we are, what? Under the old train yards off of Forty Five? Half an hour or so longer I would guess.”
“The rumors about you are probing to be more true than the tall tales I expected them to be,” he sounded surprised. And I had no doubt he hadn’t expected what he got at all really.
“I have that kind of aura I guess.”
“That you do. It is just going to be worse from here out. You know that right? Leo gave me authorization to offer you the Bite. Do you know ow what that means?”
I did. I shuddered at the thought of it. The Bite was how new members were brought into the fold. That was the last thing I wanted. I could barely understand what I had become so far without the need of that added on top of it all. “Thanks but no thanks.”
He nodded. “I suspected that would be your reaction. You don’t yet truly understand the power that comes with it. And I don’t know if I want someone with your, abilities as is, indoctrinated into our little group. No offense.”
“But Leo might not see it the same way I do. You just shot your way up the ranks in his mind when he finds out what you are capable of. Some kind of telekinesis, the rapid healing and whatever else you are hiding. Plus that jack is state of the art, cutting edge tech I haven’t seen outside of prototype. Who put it in? Certainly no chop shop doc could get his hands on that. You working for the Sun’s?”
That took me off guard and I laughed at the suggestion. He was as good as his rep was bad.
“Nope. Wouldn’t know a Sun from a Diamante. I’m a small fry trying to make it. That’s above my pay grade I’m afraid.”
He didn’t smile, just watched me. His nostrils flared I began to wonder if he could smell if I tried to lie. That was ridiculous. About as ridiculous as stopping someone midair and crushing them I guess.
“I will send you all the info we have on the Fausts. And it ain’t much. Find her for us and we will make you a wealthy man.” He stressed the man at the end, for both of our sakes.
“And if I find her why would I turn her over to you? Her father came to me first. And I know what being in your care can mean. There is no way I will give her to be tortured.”
“That is something we will have to deal with when the time comes. But if you work with us, even if it is just sharing information it could prove to be in both of our interests.”
“No offense, and I mean that, but I cannot see any future where our interests rest along the same lines. In another world maybe you and I could be friends. But in this one, I’m afraid our ideologies don’t really mesh. But you ever decide to come to the bar, alone that is. The first bottle is on me. You can tell me about how you became known as the Butcher of Pleasant Grove and maybe I will tell you about myself. Off the books.”
“And if you find the girl?”
“We’ll figure that out if it happens. I don’t like this. It seems someone is playing all of us in a some game I cannot see. That bothers me.”
“It bothers me too Gear.”
“You still owe me food and I need a new shirt. This was my favorite shirt.” I pointed at the four long slashes down my side. It hurt worse than the claws had.
“Well, it is nice embroidery. Mrs. Wu has a special touch.”
Fuck me. They really have been watching me. And I didn’t even know it. I thought I had been running under their radar. Add that to the list of things I wasn’t happy about.
“We may not have an agreement, but at least we have an understanding.” He stood and offered his hand to me and I shook it.
“That we do Cortney. That we do.”
“Let me drop you off at the bar before Brad sends SWAT down here. He is another interesting individual. You run with an odd group Gear.”
“That’s a fact. Getting more odd everyday it seems.”
We drove the twenty minutes in silence back to Brad’s. I texted him and let him know I was on my way and needed some whiskey and aspirin when I arrived. He responded with a series of symbols I didn’t quite understand. When we arrived I nodded at Cortney and walked into the bar. I watched out the window until they left. I was relieved as they pulled away. I turned from the window and saw Brad had closed for the night and it was just the two of us. He walked over and his eyes glowed cerulean as he scanned me. He nodded, satisfied that I was okay but didn’t say a word. He knows me well enough by now to know I need some time to process. He grabbed a bottle and a glass for me and set it on the bar. I painfully sat on the stool and poured to top of the glass.
Who are you Rachael Faust? And why do so many people want to find you? I sipped and thought until I felt relaxed enough to fall asleep. More questions than answers rattling through my head. By the time I managed to crawl out of my clothes and into bed I was worse off than when I had started. And the feeling that tomorrow would be no better taunted me as I drifted off drunk and sore to sleep.