Friday, August 27, 2010

Chapter 20

The World Grows Dark

Sometime in the evening, around the time the Febwith Team’s plans were hitting a snag, a white car with MACATTO INSURANCE stenciled on its sides in black paint arrived in Metromax City. The car eventually found its way to an establishment called the Caprice Motel. The car parked in this establishment’s parking lot, and a man emerged from the car. The man walked to the front office and paid for a room. The owner of the motel, a middle-aged red-haired woman named Madelyne Caprice, did not like the look of him, but could find no reason not to take his money and give him a room; so she did. Still, she was so discomfited by the man, she considered calling an old friend of hers, a psychic; but decided against it.
This is not to say that the psychic in question, Rynza Adreynac, was not made aware that something was afoot in her city. As she and her sister Carissa were enjoying a television program in their home (which was also their place of business), Rynza suddenly gasped, and grabbed her sister’s arm in a painful grip, and said: “He is here.
“Who’s here, Rinnie?” her sister asked.

Early Friday morning found the same white car parked in front of a frain station. The driver got out of the car, walked up to the entrance of the building, and entered.
Inside was a cacophony of voices; the voices of people who sat at, or navigated around, paperwork-cluttered desks. The man walked up to the front desk, and spoke to the officer there for a moment. The officer took down his information, then pointed up to an office on the second floor, and directed the man there. The man walked up the stairs to the specified office. On the frosted window of the office door was writ:
Under that, in smaller letters:
George Mallacharr.
The man opened the door and walked inside. There, behind a massive desk, was a small balding man of about forty. He seemed to be sweaty despite the air conditioning, and looked like the kind of man that absorbed punishment for a living. He wore a brown suit and had a thin almost fake-looking moustache.
He had a telephone receiver to his ear and was writing down the information from the officer downstairs. He looked up at his visitor.
Mallacharr’s first fleeting thought upon seeing Charles Longstreet was: this man is a ghoul. He shook this childish idea from his head. True, the man made Mallacharr’s skin crawl, for some reason, but he didn’t LOOK bad. So why did he feel like bolting from the room?
I need a vacation, he thought to himself.
Of course, if he didn’t find and catch the Vignach’s current obsession (the gang of child thieves known as the Dreadniks) sometime soon; the vacation he would receive would be permanent.
“So, Mr. Longstreet,” Mallacharr said, as Charles Longstreet sat down in the chair opposite him, “How did you lose your kids?”
“They ran away.” Longstreet replied.
“Give me their names and ages.”
“Michael and Callindra. Sixteen and fourteen.”
“Where are you from?”
“Noah’s Oak, New Heedol.”
“How do you they came here?”
“A friend tipped me off that they would be here.”
Mallacharr rubbed his fingers to his temples. He was beginning to get a headache. “Mr. Longstreet, the chances of us finding your kids are---“
“They’re with the Dreadniks.” Longstreet said.
“What did---? What?!” Mallacharr stammered; thrown off his stride, and not knowing how this conversation had veered off the road into this, of all tangents. “Did you just say, ‘the Dreadniks’?”
“I did.”
“What do you know of them?”
“Only that my kids are with them.”
“How do you know this?”
“Like I said, a friend told me.” Longstreet said, “He also said that you were interested in catching them.”
“Who is this friend of yours, and how does he know so damn much?” Mallacharr asked.
“Trust me; you wouldn’t want to meet him.”
“Okay, but did your friend happen to tell you WHERE we could find the Dreadniks?”
“Alas, no. My friend is a tad unpredictable with the sharing of information,” Longstreet said, “Sometimes he makes me work for it.”
“What does that mean?” Mallacharr asked.
“That means he told me how I could find out for myself. That’s why I need your help. I need to get the Dreadniks out of my way; otherwise they’ll complicate things.”
“If you can indeed find them, call me. I’ll order a sweep, and catch them all.” Mallacharr said, “Including your children.”
“Understand this, though: my kids are mine. You will hand them over to me when you catch the whole group. No questions, no paperwork, no further entanglements. Do we have an understanding?”
Mallacharr thought it over.
What did he have to lose? The axe looming over his neck was ready to fall, and if this lunatic could succeed where he had failed, who needed to know?
“We have an understanding.” Mallacharr said, and pointed out a small holder with a vertical stack of his cards in it.
Longstreet stood up, took a card, then offered his hand.
Mallacharr was loathe to shake it, but forced himself.
“You’ll hear from me soon, Crellat Mallacharr.” Longstreet said, and exited the office.
Once he was gone and the door to his office closed, Mallacharr grabbed his trash can, and vomited into it.

There was a storage room adjacent to Mallacharr’s office, and in that storage room, Siana Nandehl crouched low, next to an air vent. She had discovered, weeks ago, that it was possible to hear what was being said in the crellat’s office, if she put her ear to the vent.
She heard the exchange between Mallacharr and the man named Longstreet, and it perturbed her. She was a hairsbreadth away from landing Mallacharr’s job, and she wasn’t about to let anyone help him keep it. The Dreadniks were the key to getting Mallacharr axed, and if this Longstreet person was actually capable of finding those kids, he could ruin her plans. She had not risen this far this fast in her career to be stymied by the likes of worms such as those two.
Siana walked out of the storage room and went to her office. No few male eyes followed her; for she was a head turner. She was in her early thirties, and had gorgeous blond hair that she rolled up into a tight bun. Her cold blue eyes looked damn near predatory.

Rak awoke earlier than anyone else in the Wherehouse that morning. The day looked bright and promising, and he was eager to get started on his pounding run.
Once downstairs, something caught his eye: the table where Spencer had prepared the Tullaxiffan. It was all still there; the bottle of the pure stuff, the gallon container of the diluted stuff, as well as the box of syringes. No one had bothered to put any of it away yet.
Always thinking ahead, Rak considered the utility of having a syringe of super knock-out juice at his disposal, against some future moment of need.
He went to the table, removed a syringe from the box, and uncapped it. He unscrewed the top of, and drew a syringeful from, the gallon of diluted Tullaxiffan. He recapped both the syringe and the gallon container, and slipped the syringe in his pants pocket (the same pocket where he kept his special wad of clay).
Finished, he went and prepared his breakfast. He was done before the first of the other Dreadniks started descending the stairs; and slipped out unnoticed.

Pounding was his joy, and he had a particularly fruitful morning. Even this early, he was always able to find easy targets.
He had no need of partners, though they were often forced on him. Even the best of them he found to be cumbersome, and a drag on his quick style. Such was his skill that, most of the time, his targets did not even realize they had been pounded until he was long gone (Mike was one of the few exceptions).
Because of him, the Dreadniks not only survived, they thrived.

It was getting close to noon, when he decided to head back to the Wherehouse for lunch. He was baffin-heavy, and hungry. His homeward route cut across the enormous parking lot of the CityScape Mall, where he had first met Mike and Callie, two nights ago; though now it felt like he had known them forever. Nor was this a recent feeling; he had felt that way not fifteen minutes after meeting them.
Rak marveled at how sure he had been, that they would be allowed into the Wherehouse; and damn if he hadn’t been right! Who could have forseen that? Especially after some of the betrayals and close shaves they’d had to overcome recently (nothing breeds envy amongst the inviduii like success). Rak didn’t need a psychic to tell him that there was something special about the Longstreets; something mysterious that lit them from within.

It was then that Rak entered the long alley between the Jakes and Bozun buildings; the same alley he had led Mike and Callie through two nights ago. In the daytime it didn’t look as spooky as it did at night; though it still looked like the bottom of a great abyss. He was a third of the way through, when he realized that there were no slumped figures at the sides of the alley. True, the homeless and destitute tended to congregate here more at night than during the day; but he had never seen this place as empty as it was now. Plus, there were cloaks and blankets and personal junk strewn at the sides. Things guarded fiercely and fought over by these people; never left behind or abandoned like this. It was as if something had scared them all off suddenly.
Well, not all of them.
At the halfway point of the alley, Rak spied a single figure, slumped under a grey tattered blanket.
I guess he didn’t get the memo, Rak thought, and continued walking, unafraid.
He had walked confidently past such figures many times in the past, sometimes even at night; why should this one be any different?
But, as he neared the slumped figure, some primal intuition at the base of his brain woke up, and began to scream.
Rak stopped.
Without sound or preamble, the figure rose to it’s feet; the blanket still over it’s head making it look like a grey ghost. It pulled the blanket off; but Rak had already turned back, and began to run.
Without people, objects, or architecture to weave and dodge around, Rak was reduced to depending on mere speed; and though he was fast, he felt a cold hand grasping at his back.
It would have him soon, if he didn’t do something.
Rak tried to duck and whip around, to get his pursuer to stumble (a trick that had worked for him before), but the grasping hand managed to hook in on the back of his shirt collar.
Rak’s feet flew out from under him as his attacker lifted him up, and hurled him against the side of the building. Rak remembered the syringe in his pocket; but it was already too late. He smashed against the wall, and his world went black.    

Friday, August 20, 2010

Chapter 19

The Plan Unravels

“WHO THE HELL IS ON MY PROPERTY?!!” came the roar from inside Braneegan’s shack.
Jon tried to back away from the doorway, but enormous hands grabbed him and pulled him into the blackness of the shack. Mike heard a scuffle inside, then Jon was thrown bodily past him, and crashed to the ground a few feet away.
The Tullaxiffan shot in his hand flew free.
Mike, still on the porch landing, looked over at Jon, “Did you get him with the stuff?”
Reply was unnecessary. Braneegan was outside now, all six hairy feet of him in overalls, and loomed over Mike, who looked like a small rodent in the glare of a wullark’s regard. Braneegan grabbed him by the neck with one hand, and pulled him close.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON MY PROPERTY?!!” he shouted in Mike’s face, raining spittle and stench upon him.
Jon got up. There was no time to go searching for his lost syringe. He hoped Mike still had his and would have the presence of mind to use it. He ran up behind Braneegan, jumped onto the porch landing, then onto his back, and crossed his arms around Braneegan’s neck, in a stranglehold.
Braneegan dropped Mike, who remembered at last the syringe in his hand. He raised it up to Braneegan’s chest, like a dagger, brought it down on flesh, and pressed down on the plunger.
Only…it wasn’t Braneegan he hit.
He had missed Braneegan’s chest and had instead injected Jon’s arm, which had moved and shifted in the struggle to keep a hold on the wild man’s neck.
“You got ME, you DINK!” was all Jon managed to get out before he lost consciousness, dropped off Braneegan’s back, and fell to the ground like a sack of dirt.
“Oh…snot.” Mike said.
Braneegan gave Mike a backhand swat that knocked him off the porch. He stomped menacingly down the porch steps towards him.
Just then, from behind, something heavy and red flew through the air and struck Braneegan on the back of the head with a loud, yet musical, THOOMF sound. Braneegan looked aside, as if he had just thought of something interesting, then fell over like a tall tree in logging season. Standing there, a few feet back from where Braneegan had stood, was Rak.
“Never underestimate the power of a pipe wrench.” he said.
Rak spotted Jon’s dropped syringe of Tullaxiffan, and picked it up. He walked over to Braneegan, and emptied its contents into his neck.
Mike got back to his feet. “Thanks, Rak,” he said, “You’re a life-saver.”
Callie, Kevin, and Edward arrived, huffing and puffing from the run.
“What the hell happened?!” Kevin asked.
Mike filled them in on what had transpired.
“Is Jon gonna be alright?” Callie asked.
“Sure. He’ll just be out for several hours,” Mike said, “Kevin, help me carry him over to the front gate.”
From a distance came an animal sound; more yawn than roar, the sound nonetheless froze their blood.
“Is that what I think it is?” Mike asked.
Callie slapped her forehead. “The gallanashes!” she said, “We didn’t check the gallanashes!”
“Should we go back now?” Edward asked.
“It sounds like only one is awake.” Callie said, “If it’s still woozy, maybe we can get to it. I have my Tullaxiffan.”
“Even a woozy gallanash is dangerous.” Kevin said.
“But Woodrow is still over there!” Edward said, “He could be in danger if he hasn’t found the wagon yet.”
“Okay, this is what we do,” Mike said, “First we get Jon outside the gates, then Callie and I will go deal with our woozy gallanash. Kevin and Edward, you guys go look for Woodrow in the Labyrinth. Rak, you stay outside the gates with Jon and wait for us.”
“What if Woodrow shows up after you all leave?” Rak asked.
“You wait.” Mike answered, “You two put Jon in the wagon and wait.”
“What if no one shows up?”
“Then you're on your own.”

This is what happened to Woodrow.
He entered the Labyrinth. He knew it well enough to run through it, even though many parts of it were in the dark. What Woodrow did not know, however; was that in the two years of his ownership of the place, Braneegan had made changes to the layout of the Labyrinth. Minor ones, to be sure, but certain paths were now shut off that weren’t before. One of these was in a dark area. Woodrow entered this dead-end at a full run. When he reached the end of it, he smashed his forehead on an outreaching obstruction, and was knocked out cold. Blood trickled from his forehead, where the skin had broken.

Sometime after that event, Kevin and Edward stopped at the entrance of the Labyrinth.
“We’re gonna have to split up,” Kevin said.
“Splitting up is never a good idea.” Edward said.
“It is if we want to find Woodrow sometime this year.”
“Okay.” Edward sighed, “Good luck.”
The two took off on their separate paths.

When Mike and Callie reached their destination, they found four sleeping gallanashes; one was missing.
“Looks like one didn’t get his fair share of the spiked meat.” Callie said.
“Look.” Mike said, and pointed to a clear line of gallanash tracks that led back towards the Labyrinth.
“Please tell me those came from the Labyrinth, and are not going to the Labyrinth.” Callie said.
“Only one way to find out.” Mike said.
The two started running.

Woodrow awoke in darkness. He wasn’t sure what had happened, but the throbbing in his head, and the blood trickling down his face gave him the facts needed for a guess.
“Idiot,” he murmured to himself, “You shoulda brought a flashlight.”
Somewhere in the darkness, came the sound of a low growl.
Woodrow turned and saw a gallanash enter the dead-end he was currently occupying; drawn by either the scent of the blood, or perhaps the sound of his voice. It had passed through a shaft of light that illuminated the entrance of the dead-end, and then disappeared into its dark mantle.
“Shike!” Woodrow hissed, and got to his feet. He felt a moment of light-headedness, but it passed. He couldn’t see the gallanash anymore, but knew it was closing in on him in it’s slow, almost sluggish, gait.
He knew he couldn’t go out the way he came in, so he turned and started climbing up the car pile at the end of the path.
Then he heard a voice.
“WOOD-ROW!” the voice sing-songed, “WOOD…ROW…!”
It was Edward.
Edward entered the shaft of light at the entrance of the dead-end, and called out: “WOODROW ARE YOU THERE?”
Woodrow sensed rather than saw the gallanash turn around, and start bounding after Edward.
The gallanash roared, not sounding sleepy at all anymore; and that roar, more than anything else, froze Edward where he stood.
Mike and Callie appeared then, from an intersecting path; and as the gallanash pounced, Mike leapt, and knocked Edward out of its way. The two fell to the side, as the gallanash hit the car wall instead. The force of the collision was such that it knocked loose a dangerous rain of bits and pieces from the top of the wall of cars. The gallanash, dazed and bewildered, turned its attention to Callie, who was still standing in the place from which Mike had leapt to save Edward.
“CALLIE!” Mike cried out as the gallanash reared up on its hind legs and leapt at his sister.
Callie screamed.
The gallanash landed its paws on her shoulders and knocked her to the ground, where it straddled over her; bringing itself face to face with her. In the shaft of light they had landed in, she could see its wild eyes focus on hers.
Callie stifled another scream and stared back; her green eyes to its yellow. The creature seemed fascinated.
A silent battle of wills seemed to be taking place between those two unblinking sets of eyes. Then, abruptly, the gallanash dropped on top of her; as if it had fallen in love and was trying to hug her. When Mike and Woodrow moved the heavy animal off of her, they saw Callie’s Tullaxiffan shot sticking out of its side; its contents all gone.
Callie sat up. Terrified, if unhurt.
Mike, Edward, and Woodrow looked at her with awe.
“How the hell did you do that?!” Mike asked.
“The syringe was already in my hand,” Calle said, “So I figured if I could hold its stare for a second, I could jab it. So that’s what I did.”
Woodrow laughed. “That’s the ballsiest thing I’ve ever seen!” he said, “Amazing!”
“What’s amazing?” someone called out from a short distance away.
It was Kevin. “What did I miss?” he asked.

When they found the wagon at last, Mike saw that the back was empty; all their stuff was gone.
“I guess you were right about that, Woodrow.” he said.
“I usually am.” Woodrow replied.
“You’re an arrogant phote, Woodrow.” Callie said.
They all laughed.

When Rak saw the wagon, and everyone in it, he opened wide the front gates, so they could pass.
“Close the gate and reset the padlock.” Mike told Rak through the lowered driver’s side window, “Then get in the wagon. Woodrow and Kevin, help me put Jon in the back.”
Mike took the keys, got out of the driver’s seat, and opened the wagon’s back hatch. Then, between him, Woodrow, and Kevin, they picked Jon up off the ground and carried him to the back of the wagon. Callie got in the back with him.
Mike closed the back hatch, then walked over and got back into the driver’s seat. Woodrow procured the front passenger seat; Rak, Edward, and Kevin got the back seats.
With high spirits, the team headed home.

When they got back to the Wherehouse, Mike parked the wagon in the back, where it couldn’t be seen from the street. Corrina and Kitty heard their arrival, and awoke the others.
Through the back door, Mike and Woodrow carried Jon inside; there they were met by the other Dreadniks.
“What happened to Jon?” Corrina fretted.
“He’s just out of it.” Woodrow said, “He probably won’t come to till morning.”
“Put him in his room.” Bear said.
Once that was done, they all met back at the ground floor.
“Okay, what happened over there?” Bear asked the team.
“The Febwith went sharfle.” Rak said.

They began. 
Each one recounted the bit of the story they were involved in.
“Anyway, that’s pretty much it.” Woodrow said, when they reached the end of their tale, “We found the wagon and drove it back here.”
“Well,” Bear said, “The mission was accomplished and nobody died, that’s something. Frankly I’m too sleepy to do the proper head-slapping over some of the bone-headed decisions made in the wake of the original sharfle-point, so let’s just call it a night.”
Everyone agreed. They all made their way upstairs to get some well-deserved sleep (except for Kitty and Corrina, who had night watch).

This would be the last time any of them would ever sleep in the Wherehouse again; the next day, everything would go to hell.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Chapter 18

The Febwith Goes Down

When the team at last reached the location, they met up there with Kevin and Edward.
“Anything to report?” Jon asked.
“He closed and locked up already,” Kevin said; a pair of binoculars hung from its strap around his neck, “He released the gallanashes, turned the big lights on, spent an hour or so doing various chores here and there, and then disappeared into his shack. The lights inside have been out about thirty minutes. He drew the shades when he went inside, but you could still tell when they went off.”
“Tell ‘em about the wagon.” Edward said.
“Oh yeah,” Kevin said, “When we got here, the wagon had already been moved.”
“We expected as much.” Jon said, “Can I borrow the binoculars for a second, Kev?”
“Sure.” he said, and handed them to Jon.
Jon brought the binoculars to his eyes, and looked down upon their target destination.
Light poles illuminated the car dump like daylight, and created long shadows in places, mostly in the Labyrinth. Five gallanashes roamed freely inside within its high fenced domain. A dirt road split off the main road, winded it's way down into the basin, and up to the dump’s front gates.
Jon handed the binoculars back to Kevin.
“Okay let’s move, people.” he said.
Jon, Mike, Rak, and Woodrow walked down the dirt road that led to the front gate, while Callie, Kevin, and Edward took a more direct route, down the descending hill, to get to the spot from where they intended to feed the animals.
The gallanash team got to their destination first. They hooked one of the bags of Tullaxiffan-treated meat to the fishing pole.
“Send it off, Kev.” Edward said.
Kevin put the pole to his shoulder, and with as much force as he could muster, whipped it up and forward. The bag flew up, and the expanding line made the reel clickety-clack; but the bag snagged on the pointy tops of the fence, and split open like a slit belly. Its meat guts spilled out and plopped to the ground on the other side of the fence like giant turds. The bag remained stuck to the top of the fence. Kevin pulled on the line hard until the plastic tore, releasing the hook.
“I’m glad we decided against just throwing the bags.” Kevin said.
“Come on; let’s get another one over there.” Callie said.
“And try to get this one across, would’ya?” Edward added.
“I’ll try.” Kevin replied.
Callie and Edward hooked another bag. Kevin hurled it across with better results. This one made it to the other side, and even tore loose of the hook, as it fell. 
It hit the ground intact.
Callie and Edward gave Kevin good-natured slaps on the back for this success.
“Good job!” said Callie.
“Well done!” said Edward.
Kevin then drew back the line, but the hook caught and lodged itself into the cross-twist of two fence wires. Kevin fought to unhook it, but it wasn’t moving.
“Shig!” he said, “It’s stuck!”

Mike, Jon, Woodrow, and Rak arrived at the front gate. Rak took out his lock picks from his little black bag, and worked on the padlock. There was a “click”, and the padlock sprung open. Rak removed the padlock and the chain, and put them aside. The fence doors had wheels that allowed them to slide open.
“We wait,” Jon said, “Until the others say it’s safe to go inside.”

The Gallanashes came, all five of them, drawn by the scent of meat. They were not unlike panthers, except that they were hairless; their naked skin a pale and mottled grey. They ate the meat with gusto, and tore open the bag that had remained intact. There were three more yet to deliver.
“I’m going up there.” Callie said.
“To free the line?” Edward asked.
“Shig the line!” Callie replied, and grabbed one of the bags.
She slid the bag’s handle up to her shoulder, and climbed the fence. Edward and Kevin did likewise. The three of them reached the top, and tossed the bags over and down to the gallanashes; who tore into them, and devoured their contents.
“Eat ‘em up, kitties.” Callie said.

“Look at this.” Rak said, gesturing Jon and the others closer to the gate, “What is this?”
There was a line of fishing wire running low across the fence; interwoven with the fence itself. It began somewhere to the right of them, across the right-hand side sliding door, and ended in a single-prong hook that was hooked on one of the links of the left-hand side sliding door. The wire was tied to the hook through an eyelet, and was nearly invisible.
“Looks like some kind of homemade security device.” Jon said, “The unknowing thief slides open the door, pulling the wire, causing what?”
“An alarm,” Rak said, nodding, “And if we hadn’t had to wait, we would have missed it.”
“So, what do you think?” Jon asked, “Do we cut it?”
Rak scratched his chin. “I need to see where this wire leads,” he said, “I don’t want to cut it before I know what it’s connected to.”
Hunched down to the wire’s level, Rak walked off to the right, around the turn of the fence, and followed the wire to its conclusion.

The gallanashes finished their meal, stumbled around comically, like drunks, for a few minutes; and then dropped off, one by one, till none were left standing.
“Okay, they’re all under.” Callie said, “Time to join the others.”
The three left Rak’s fishing pole there by the fence, and took off running.

Rak returned.
“The wire leads to a pin,” he said, “If the pin is pulled out by the action of sliding open the fence door, it sets off this contraption of soda cans, cow bells, tire rims, engine parts, and other metal junk that makes a ruckus like the end of the world.”
“Cut the wire then.” Mike said.
“It’s not that easy.” Rak replied, “It’s a double-sided thing. The pin is spring-loaded, so if the wire is loosened from its taut position, the pin is pulled out from the other side; to the same effect. It’s quite brilliant, really. I might just rip off the design one of these days.”
“Braneegan’s gotta have a way of disarming it.” Woodrow said.
“Yes, but we’re not inside, so we can’t disarm it the way he does.” Rak said, “However, I do have an idea.”
At that moment, Callie, Kevin, and Edward arrived.
“The gallanashes are down.” Callie said, “We can go in now.”
“Not quite yet.” Jon said, and explained the situation.
“So what are we gonna do?” Edward asked.
“Rak’s got an idea.” Jon said.

Rak took out a pair of wirecutters and a pair of needlenose pliers from his black bag. Jon and Woodrow followed him a few strides to the right of the right-hand side sliding door.
Rak gave the pliers to Jon and pointed, “Hold the line right there. I don’t know how much pull-back it’s gonna have when I cut the line, but be ready for it. Woodrow, you go over to the hook and be ready to bring it to me once the line is cut.”
Woodrow nodded, and did as told.
“You got a good hold on it?” Rak asked Jon.
Jon nodded.
“Good thing Braneegan keeps all these lights on,” Rak said, “I’d hate to have to do this by flashlight. Here we go.”
Rak took his wirecutters, and cut the wire some twelve inches to the left of where Jon was holding the line. There was immediate heavy pullback on the wire from the source, but Jon’s deathgrip on the pliers kept it from snapping back.
Woodrow was already there with the hook. He handed it to Rak. Rak used the wirecutters to remove the wire tied and knotted to it. He then passed his hand through the fence, and grabbed the twelve inches of slack wire to the left of the pliers. He ran the wire through the hook’s eyelet, and tied a new knot. He then tensed the line as tight as he dared, and hooked the hook to a fencelink.
“Okay, Jon,” he said, “Let it go, carefully.”
“And get ready to run like hell if this doesn’t work.” Woodrow added.
Jon eased his grip on the wire, and the hook held the wire taut.
“You did it, Rak.” Jon said, breathing a sigh of relief.
“I do what I can with what I got.” Rak said.
They slid the doors open and walked through.
“Time to split up, folks.” Jon said, “Good luck everyone.”
Callie, Kevin, and Edward went off in the direction of the sleeping gallanashes, while Woodrow headed toward the Labyrinth, and Mike and Jon walked toward Braneegan’s shack.
Rak remained behind, to await their return. He closed the gate doors after them.

“So how did our scouts miss Braneegan setting the alarm wire?” Callie asked Kevin and Edward, as the three rushed to where the gallanashes were sleeping.
“He was moving around for an hour,” Kevin explained, “Doing this and that. You know how dull it is watching anyone do anything for an hour?”
“It’s BORING!” Edward added.
“So maybe our attention lagged at some point,” Kevin continued, “Or we were distracted by small talk for minute or two. So SUE me!”
“Don’t bite my head off!” Callie laughed, “I was just asking.”

Mike and Jon approached Braneegan’s shack and climbed the two steps up the roofless porch landing. They retrieved their Tullaxiffan shots and popped the caps off the needles.
“Try not to poke yourself with that.” Jon warned, “I’d hate to have to haul your carcass all the way back to the Wherehouse.”
“I’ll try to remember that.” Mike replied.
Jon went up to the solid and windowless front door and tested the knob. It was unlocked. He pulled it open and it moved easy and without a single creak. The utter darkness of the shack stood ready to be breached.
“Well that was easy enough.” Mike whispered.
Jon took a few cautious steps inside, until his foot snagged an unseen tripwire low to the floor. From within the depths of the shack came the loud crashing sounds of metal clanging against metal.
Apparently, Brannegan was quite a paranoid fellow.

Woodrow, only a few steps into the Labyrinth, heard the unearthly metal racket. A moment of uncertainty stopped him, and he was unsure whether to turn back, or go on ahead and hope the others could deal with Braneegan. 
He decided on the latter.

Callie, Kevin, and Edward, having just reached their sleeping wards, suffered no such uncertainty. They turned and ran back toward Braneegan’s shack without a second thought.

Rak, back at the front gate, knew what those sounds meant: the febwith had gone sharfle. Or, as Mike and Callie would say, the plan had gone awry.
Rak knew what he had to do.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chapter 17

The Team Departs

After the meeting at the planning table, the Dreadniks scattered.
Spencer departed to procure a bottle of Tullaxiffan, Bear and Dom volunteered to go get the syringes, while Wes, Woodrow, and Rak were sent off to get the raw meat with which they intended to sedate Braneegan’s gallanashes. Kitty and Corrina were already set for night watch duty that evening, so they just lounged around and did nothing. Edward and Kevin had a scouting expedition later, so they did the same (Kevin took the opportunity to take a long nap). Peggy and Mike got permission from Jon to go run down a few of the fourteen names and addresses on the pages they had ripped out of the phonebook earlier. Callie intended to go with them, but decided instead hang around with Jon.
She followed him up to the third floor, with its empty offices, dusty with disuse; up another set of stairs to an unlocked door, which they pushed through, to get to the roof.
“Wow, you can see far from here.” Callie said, squinting in the sunshine.
“Yeah, I like to come up here sometimes, and relax.” Jon said.
Callie walked to the edge and looked down. She noticed there was a ladder built into the side wall that could be used to climb down to the ground; it was painted the same color as the building.
“Funny, I never noticed this ladder until now,” she said, “The idiot who decided to paint it the same color as the building practically camouflaged it.”
“I was that idiot.” Jon said, joining her at the edge, “And that was the purpose.”
“Oops! Sorry!” Callie said.
“That’s okay. Most people don’t see it unless they know it’s there, or are really paying attention.” Jon said, “And that’s how we want it.”
He led her away from the edge, to a pair of lawn-chairs. A beach umbrella was set behind the chairs to shield both from the sun. Its top was pockmarked with bird droppings.
“Charming.” said Callie.
“We really ought to clean that every once and awhile.” Jon admitted.
They sat down.
“Can I ask you something?” Callie asked.
“Do you really think we’ll be able to get the wagon out of Braneegan’s place tonight?”
“If I didn’t think so, we wouldn’t be taking the risk.”
“You sound confident. Do your plans usually go off without a hitch?”
“No plan ever goes off without a hitch.” Jon replied, “Certainly not the complicated ones. The trick is to have people on the team who can improvise.”
“Don’t you ever get nervous?”
“I’m always nervous before a Febwith.” Jon said.

The two continued talking, unaware of the figure that arrived just then at the doorway behind them. It was Corrina, and she watched and
listened to the two of them chat with the cozy comfort of old friends…or lovers.
        It maddened her to no end.
        She herself was never able to even approximate the level of comfort these two had talking, and she knew Jon a hell of a lot better than Callie did. Yet, she was a mess whenever she tried to hold a conversation with him; a stuttering, stumbling mess. In her mind she sounded suave and self-assured; then she would open her mouth, and her voice would betray her, making her sound silly and immature. Childish, even.
        A hand grabbed Corrina’s shoulder.
        Startled, she whirled about, hand to her mouth to stifle a squeal.
        It was Kitty.
        “Dammit, Kitty!” Corrina whispered, as she closed the door, “You scared the hell out of me! Don’t do that again!”
        “Ooooh!” Kitty said, “Are we spying on someone?” She opened the door a crack and sneaked a look at Jon and Callie, “Oh… I see why you’re pissed off. That Callie chick is with your Jon.”
        “That Callie shank, you mean.”
        Kitty and Corrina walked down the stairs to the third floor, where they could talk without being overheard.
        “Where does that shank get off coming and taking Jon away from you?” Kitty said, “Who the shig does she think she is?”
        “It’s all that stupid Rak’s fault, Gods damn him!” Corrina said, “If he hadn’t brought them here, Jon would be that much closer to falling in love with me!”
        “Yeah!” said Kitty. She personally didn’t think Corrina had a snowball’s chance in hell with Jon, but she loved selling Corrina her own fantasy back at her, knowing that one day that dream would be punctured. The bigger the bubble, the bigger the boom when it burst; and that was something Kitty did not want to miss when it happened. She did this out of an innate cruelty, though she really did like Corrina and thought of her as a friend. It’s just that she loved melodrama; and she so loved mind games.
        “You have to help me Kitty!” Corrina begged, “You have to help me find a way to get rid of her!”
        “I don’t know, Cor. If you get rid of her, that’ll get Jon angry at you; then he’ll never fall in love with you.”
        Kitty was pleased at the trapped animal look in Corrina’s face. Corrina was faced with opposing problems she did not have the wherewithal to solve, and Kitty loved every minute of it.
        “C’mon, Cor. Let’s go to our room.”
        Kitty put her arm around Corrina’s shoulder like a good friend and led her down the stairs to the second floor, and their room. She looked forward to working on Corrina’s fears some more.
        Who knows? Kitty thought to herself, Pushed hard enough, Corrina might just freak out and kill the shank!
        She smiled at the thought, Wouldn’t THAT be fun!

        In five hours, Mike and Peggy checked out seven names on the list. The two Longstreets, they checked first. E. Longstreet turned out to be a man, while Liza Longstreet turned out to be a nice, if senile, old widow; who insisted on feeding them cookies and milk as she told them the same story, three times, about how her husband died.
        The five Shales they tried consisted of: two young single women who happened to be distant cousins living in the same building; a married couple; a young man whose name, Elizar, had been misspelled on the phonebook (as Eliza); and an actress who had changed her name from Shlak to Shale for her hoped-for career in films.
        When they finally made it back to the Wherehouse, exhausted and disappointed, it was already six in the afternoon. Edward and Kevin had already left to their scouting mission, and Spencer had already prepared the raw meat and syringes for the Febwith.
        “So how’d it go?” asked Jon. He and Callie were sitting alone at the eating table. The remains of supper were still being cleaned up.
        “It was a bust.” said Mike, dejected.
        “But we still have seven more names to go.” said Peggy.
        “Have you eaten yet?”
        “Yeah, we stopped at a place.” Peggy said.
        “Well, we leave in about an hour, so make sure and get some rest until then.” Jon said, “Both of you.”
       Peggy and Mike went upstairs, and into Peggy’s room. From the sounds, it’s doubtful those two ever got around to getting any rest.

An hour later, they all assembled in the main room; those who were leaving, and those who were to see them off.
“Okay, let’s double check.” Jon said, “We got the meat bags and the fishing pole. Rak, you have your lock picking tools at the ready?”
“Yessir.” Rak said. He held up what looked like a doctor’s black bag, and shook it; the things inside jingled and clinked.
“Wagon keys, Woodrow?”
Woodrow wiggled the keys in affirmation.
“I have my Tullaxafax shot, does everyone who’s supposed to have one, have one?”
“Got mine.” said Mike.
“Likewise.” said Callie.
“This is it then, people.” Jon said, “Let’s go!”
“Good luck!” Bear said to them as they left.
“Don’t get yourselves eaten!” Dom added.
“Take care of yourself, Mike.” Peggy said, and gave him a kiss.
The Febwith Team departed.

One by one, the Dreadniks left behind went up to their rooms. Kitty and Corrina, of course, had night watch duty, and were expected to stay up all night. Bear was the last to go. “Wake me when they get back.” she said, and went upstairs.
Later, when she thought she was alone (Kitty had wandered upstairs for a bit), Corrina went to the table where Spencer had prepared the stuff. The bottle of Tullaxiffan was still there, as was the plastic gallon of water which held the diluted amount. What was in the syringes Jon, Mike, and Callie had taken with them was drawn from this gallon. Beside it, was the box of syringes with needles Bear and Dom had acquired. The box was still mostly full. Corrina took one syringe from the box and removed the protective cap over the needle.
She filled it with Tullaxiffan; not from the diluted batch Spencer had mixed, but straight from the bottle. A killing dose. She recapped the needle.
She turned, and saw Kitty there, looking at her.
For an uncomfortable moment, the two looked across the room at each other without saying a word.
Then, Kitty smiled.
Corrina smiled back, and went upstairs to their room, where she hid the syringe for later.
“Just in case.” she whispered to herself, “Just in case…”