Happy Thursday. To help keep my own feet to the fire, I'm using Thursday as my public accountability day. That means, posting a bit of coherently creative output for you to read and feedback on every week. If I perform according to my own intent, what I put here will be available as a whole elsewhere at the same time or shortly after appearing here.
Similarities to Persons Living or Dead is currently available as a part of The Official Private Eye Handbook, first book in the CITY OF MAGICK series. Please, feel free to take a look here, though, and at subsequent chapters. Let me know how you feel about it. For those of you finding your way here relatively late, no problem. The start of the story is just a click away.
SIMILARITIES TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD
It was a dark and stormy night. In a rare stroke of luck, I didn’t have to be out in it. For the past couple of hours, I’d been engaged in one of the mainstays of detective work: the stakeout. I supposed that if I were inclined toward some of the magical proclivities that were so popular in The City, I could’ve watched stuff from home or even hired some hotshot to watch stuff for me. I was too stubborn and hands-on for any of that, though, so I had myself positioned behind a set of tripod-mounted, night-vision binoculars. And so I waited…and waited.
I was trying to get evidence against a waste of DNA known as Stark White. I had been led to believe that he was the man who’d put an enchanted bullet through the beautiful bosom of the late Whitney Gregg. With only a corpse and the remains of the slug, I knew I could count on the local cops to do precious little to close her case. To make things more difficult, whoever White was working for was some high roller who had enough juice to keep him protected from at least moderate legal entanglements. If I could start making things more complicated for him, though, I felt confident that I could separate him from that support and, ultimately, his freedom. I still wasn’t sure that tying him to Whitney’s murder weapon would be enough to bring him down, though that was certainly the crime I wanted him brought to justice on. I was motivated enough to find out about his other criminal activities and interfere with those. I would either gather more evidence against him or destroy his value to his employer. I was determined to find a way to nail the bastard.
My latest information indicated that the nightclub Corona was worth watching through the storm because White was supposed to stop by to inspect a new shipment of “product”. No one had been able to give me a solid answer about what the “product” was, but whenever people started referring to items in generic terms and refusing to talk in detail it was usually because whatever they were doing was too wrong to talk about openly. Strangely, even though they knew inside that it was something they couldn’t talk about, it didn’t stop them from doing whatever dirty deeds they were doing. Some people tried to use money and power to patch damaged consciences like bits of tissue paper on shaving cuts, but that only worked until the realization hit that they‘d been trying to stop hemorrhages instead.
One other lucky break I had received was having a friend whose apartment had a perfect view for overlooking the club. From the angle we had, I was able to see the entire rear of the building and its loading dock, the side of the building with the only vehicle access to the rear and even a bit of the street that ran past the front of the club.
“All quiet?” my host asked.
“Welcome back. Yeah, all quiet so far,” I told him. Sun Tzu (yeah, that Sun Tzu) was silent in his silk PJs, even as he switched from his floating meditation to gliding around the room practicing the breathing and graceful movements of his martial art. “You getting another one of those feelings? Should I be expecting something soon?”
“Soon, yes,” the old man said.
“You should try some ribs,” I told him. “They’re really good tonight.”
“Soon,” he assured me.
I called him an old man and, sure, any calendar would say he was. There was no arguing that. He just didn’t show it. Whatever mojo he had working for him must’ve been good because I never saw more than three gray hairs on his head. He really didn’t look much older than I did. I expected that would only last till I clocked a few more years, since I was also pretty sure he looked the same as he had the day I met him.
“I should commend you,” Sun Tzu said, walking toward me across the candlelit room, “for exercising the wisdom to take the time to get to know your opponent, rather than allow your passions to lead you into rash action.”
“I‘ve been trying to conserve bullets,” I said. “I wish I could say it's been paying off. I’ve been having a hard time getting any info on the organization he‘s gotten into bed with. I’m trying to stay optimistic that if I can get past the security at Heliopolis and into his suite, I’ll be able to get something solid. His ex said he’s got ambition and a Jones for magic items, so…”
“Is he a user?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” I said. “He’s just a punk trying to shortcut to the top.”
“So, a collector, meaning he’s likely unaware that you’re stepping on his shadow as yet.”
“Yeah, I’m trying not to spook him,” I confirmed. “I’m going to keep the element of surprise as long as I can.”
“Eyes sharp,” Sun Tzu said.
“Ah, another van,” I said, watching a white cargo van turn from the street to drive along the side of the club. “Fifth one tonight.”
“Yeah, just plain white,” I said, looking at the driver through the binoculars. “That’s a big guy…looks a little rough.”
“Not that rough.”
“Ogre maybe?” Sun Tzu asked as the van stopped with its rear doors near the loading dock.
The large driver emerged from the van and lumbered to the back of the van. As he opened the van’s rear doors, someone opened a door from inside the club. A smaller, even rougher looking man stepped out onto the loading dock, into the light of a single overhead bulb, and signaled to the larger man who waited by the van in the rain.
“Loading or unloading?” Sun Tzu asked.
“Neither yet,” I answered. “They just told the big guy to stand in the rain. How did this guy even fit in the van? He‘s huge. His mom‘s probably still recovering from the birth.”
“Giant in the family, perhaps.”
“Probably,” I mumbled. “Glad I don‘t have to feed and clothe him.”
“Gold limo,” Sun Tzu announced, pouring himself a cup of tea.
“Showtime,” I said, adjusting the binoculars.
The long car stopped with its headlights near the van’s, forming an odd-looking “L” near the dock’s staircase. The dark-suited chauffeur hurried out of the limousine and opened a large, gold-colored umbrella as he ran around the rear of the car, then to the right side. Opening the passenger door, another lean, dark-suited man stepped out of the car to join his driver under the huge umbrella. The boss man was almost a head taller than his driver, making the smaller man work a bit to keep the bigger one dry as he escorted him to the shelter of the loading dock. With the umbrella pulled away, the man who had to be Stark White stood tall under the light that shone down on the dock. In a white suit, shoes and gloves, he fussed over his lapels and his hair, preening like a kid on his first date. Obviously, a strawberry blonde pretty boy with expensive tastes. The club’s rear door opened again and White smiled an evil smile that a demon would envy.
The guy who’d poked his head out before emerged again, this time with a willowy blonde in a clingy party dress in-tow behind him. He had her by the elbow and it looked like they were doing a dance that involved her trying to stop and collapse while he kept her upright and walking. I noticed he wore the same twisted smile as White. The girl had no expression at all, but as her head flopped from one direction to another I did notice that she had pointy ears. White reached out and grabbed her by the face, then ran his other hand down her torso to her hips. He looked at her intently all the while, then lifted his head to look at the man who had brought her outside and gestured toward the van. The minion yanked on the girl’s arm, pulling her to the edge of the dock where the plus-size man in the rain took her in his huge hands and lowered the young woman into the van. The guy from inside the club ran back inside and in a few seconds came back with another girl and the cycle started again. Every time I started to forget how depraved people could be, I ended up getting smacked in the face with another reminder. My bad.
“What do you think?” Sun Tzu asked.
“Looks like Elf trafficking to me,” I said. “Really pretty girls, dressed to party, different colors, different heights, even some of the little ones, a couple may be Vanir…all really pretty, some of ‘em even glowy…”
“Shipping for a variety of tastes?”
“Well, if they’re only taking elfin, there’s not too much difference there, even if the Vanir aren’t mistakes. They’ve really got a pretty narrow target group.”
“What do you think it means?”
“Well, they could be spell components,” I speculated, “which isn’t really much better than other options. Whatever’s going on, they’ve got their hands bound and they look drugged.”
“Partying hard with the green fairy?” Sun Tzu asked.
“Fits with what I heard about White: he’s not working for anyone good. It may tip my hand early, but I’m sure not going to stand and watch. I’m going to crash this slumber party. You want a piece of the action?” I asked as I put my private eye hat (standard issue) firmly atop my head and slid back into my private eye trench coat (standard issue).
“Not our usual festivities, but I’m all warmed up,” Sun Tzu said, a short wooden staff flying from the wall and into his waiting right hand. “I may as well use it. Let’s rumble.”
As we ran off through the door and started racing down the many flights of stairs in Sun’s building, I caught myself thinking about how much faster a zip line would’ve gotten us to where we were going. Even taking them two stairs at a time, coming downstairs from the fourth floor took longer than I wanted. Worse still, the nearest door to the outside, put us on the sidewalk that ran past the front of the nightclub. We were just starting to sprint down the alley to get to the rear of the club when White’s limo splashed past us. I was pissed, but we kept running. I tried to stay focused on stopping the kidnappings.
The van driving goon was still talking to the club goon, probably about something stupid. Sun Tzu circled around the van to come at the big one from behind while I charged up the stairs and onto the loading dock. I think the big goon saw me just as I reached his little buddy. That was great, since it didn’t give him a chance to interfere as I spun ugly my way so he could hear me play some chin music for him. My punch knocked him off the dock, sending him head first into the rear doors of the cargo van. I watched him collapse, then noticed that Sun Tzu already had the big goon on his knees.
“You haven’t lost your touch, old man,” I said.
“You flatter me, my friend.”
“Says you,” I replied. “I’m the only one breathing hard. Can Kong still talk?”
“I believe he can be persuaded,” Sun Tzu said, poking the beaten goon with his wooden stick. “What say you, villain?”
“Ow!” he snapped.
“What’re you clowns doing with the girls?” I asked him angrily.
“I-I don’t know,” he said, wiping water and hair from his forehead with one of his meaty hands. “I just drive the van.”
“To where?” I pressed. “Where were you taking them? To the hotel?”
He nodded, saying, “Yeah, to Heliopolis…for M-M-Mr. T-T-T…Ch-Ch-Cherr…” Suddenly, his efforts to fight through his stammer turned to grunting and choking. The big man grabbed at his throat and then collapsed.
Sun Tzu and I stood in stunned silence for a moment, the unrelenting sounds of falling rain around us and driving bass beats from within the club. Sun Tzu finally crouched and put a hand to the fallen man’s unmoving chest to confirm his condition.
“No pulse,” Sun Tzu said solemnly. “Fatality.”
“I’m not a fan of coincidence,” I said. “Looks like White’s got a magic boss who likes his anonymity.”
“Agreed,” Sun Tzu said.
“Let’s get the girls cut loose so we can get out of the rain,” I said.
I went back to the stairs and back into the rain to help as my friend opened the back of the van. We found fourteen confused and frightened elfin women inside, bound and gagged. We helped each of them out of the van and freed their hands. I let Sun lead them back inside to see if they could find any of their personal items while I followed the pack from the rear. As I stepped inside the back door of the club, I noticed a smiling blonde standing nearby in dim light.
“Nice work,” she said. “You just kept that bachelorette party from escalating past ‘weird’ and on to ‘tragic’.”
“One does what one can,” I said. “You part of it?”
“I should catch up with my friend,” I said. “I’m his wingman and--”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” the blonde assured me.
“I know you?”
“Not yet,” she smiled.