story

Night Menagerie I

I woke to the sound of a person screaming. After a moment I realized   that it was me. I sat bolt upright in bed and looked around, trying to remember where I was. My heart was beating like a jackhammer and I found myself clutching the blanket to myself.  Instinctually I reached out to the right side of the bed but there was no one there. There had not been anyone there for almost six months and most nights I had no problem remembering that but Robert had been a comfort in the darkness for so long that I still reached for him in my times of need.     I looked around at the plain white walls barely visible in the moonlight and took several long slow breaths, forcing myself to calm down, slowly my heart began to beat slower and  my mind started distanced itself from the nightmare  and come back to reality.  Okay lets start with the first question, where was I. 

   The room was small and solidly built without any extras; there was a foot locker at the end of my bed with military markings.   I remembered I was in an army barracks in a town with no name, some place in Nevada. I remembered where it was but also remembered I was not supposed to tell anyone where it was.  It was the same place I had been for the last month, doing research for my latest book by spending some time at an anti-terrorist unit training ground.  

 I reached out for the notebook that I kept by the side of my bed and tried to remember the dream that had shocked me awake. As a writer that notebook had served as a constant stream on inspiration and I wrote down almost every one of my dreams from the scary to the spicy.   This dream was different somehow however every time I  tried to focus on the  details the memory of the dream seemed to fade more and more, the only thing that reverberated in my head was the howl of an animal and a searing moment of pain.

    I gently shook my head to clear it and slowly lay back down on the bed.  I don’t usually get nightmares; in fact my dreams were usually filled with action filled adventures or sliding between the sheets with a handsome man. The latter had increased in an indirect proportion to the time since I had last taken an actual lover to bed. I involuntarily reached out again to the right side of bed, which was untouched. I knew I could have been using the whole bed but even after six months the right side was still his side, was still Robert’s side.  I closed my eyes to dispel thoughts of him and try to return to sleep but when I did the vision of the beast coming to sink its teeth in my throat came back vividly.  I gave up and looked at the clock, 4:45 am.  Well it was too late for warm milk and Oreos, and too early for a shot and a beer, so I figured I might as well go for a run.

  I got up out of bed and pulled out some sweats and a baggy t-shirt from the top drawer.  That was not my usual choice of work out uniform but I  had learned the first day that running around in tight shorts and a halter top while comfortable did get me more attention on the base then I  had bargained for.  Which might have been okay if I was ready for someone else to slide onto the right side of the bed, also the squad commander had told me that while he appreciated my efforts to raise morale that he needed his men’s attention on their training. 

    That had sounded like something father would have said when he was in charge and probably should not have been something that needed to be said.     I had grown up as an Army brat travelling with my father as he went from Infantry to the rangers, to OCS and finally to a battalion command. It had been a long road and my only companion had been my twin sister Kumani.   I allowed myself a smile which turned bittersweet. Whenever I thought of my sister, my thoughts naturally went to our mother. She had died in child birth and the only thing we had to remember her by was our names, Kumani and Sansara, they were small pieces of her, well our, Nepal ancestry.  My parents had met when my dad had been serving in Asia and from all the stories he told it had been love at first sight. After she had died he had refused to be apart from us except when he was deployed in a forward position.  He even put special effort into allowing us to develop our own identities and never dressed us the same or pigeon holed us into being like each other, except when it came naturally.    

 Kumauni was more of girly girl and loved fancy clothes while I was more of a time boy and could be usually be found halfway up a tree or on a roof top.  

    He also decided at an early age to teach us how to take care of ourselves,  we both learned general hand to hand to combat, but he also gave each of us specialized instruction.     Kumauni was trained how to handle knives and blades of various sizes while I got taught how to shoot.   When I  was young it had always seemed strange that  father had split things up like that with him always making an effort for us to be a family but  I soon realized that it  provided time for each us to be with him father, individually. Also it meant that any of the boys who had tried to go too far in high school had an unpleasant surprise waiting for them.      

 We did have one thing that united us, no matter where we went, we loved stories. It probably started when we would constantly ask our father to   tell the story of how he and our mother had met and their courtship.  Then when he was deployed we would tell each other those stories and it soon grew into us creating new stories all our own. We would wile away the hours working on huge convoluted stories filled with action and romance. Kumani would come up with a grandiose flight of fantasy and I would populate it with the day to day details that would make the story believable. 

        I was still focused on my memories to get rid of the after effects of the nightmare when I reached the edge of the training ground.  The Army had some military classification for it, but all the troops just called it The City. The City was   a life sized simulation of a bombed out Middle Eastern city. It was used for training in urban combat but this morning I had different thoughts about what it would be perfect for.  I ran into the ruins and leapt to the top of the first fence I came to then leaped off it to grab onto the edge of building’s roof. A moment later I was on top of the building and sprinting across the heights, leaping and rolling from one high position to another, hopefully looking like a cross between Jackie Chan and spider-man. 

  My last book had been about a street wise kid who used Parkour, or free-running, to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.   I had started hanging out with some practitioners to make sure my book was grounded in reality and they invited me to try and keep up. I had been a gymnast in high school but this was so much more intense and after just one afternoon I was hooked. 

    As I sped through The City, I saw a huge divide looming in front of me; I dug my heels in and propelled myself faster and faster. Contrary to what most people believe, being too gutsy was not the greatest danger to a free- runner, the biggest threat was hesitation. The moment you were not confident that was the moment when you got hurt. 

    I locked my gaze on the balcony of the building across the chasm and then a horn shattered the silence of the morning. I twisted at the sound and my feet went out from under me and I was sliding towards the edge, a moment later I felt air under me. I started to tumbled downwards. As I fell I saw out the corner of my eyes a clothes line between the buildings. Later I would reflect on how realistic a detail to place to make the illusion of it being an actual city that people lived in but at the moment I had no thoughts just a blind instinct to reach out my hands. I grabbed the rope, the impact causing the line to cut into my fingers but I held on, for one long moment my descent was stopped. I took a deep breath as I hung there and then the hook that was holding the rope to the far building pulled out of the wall. I swung backwards desperately keeping a grip on the rope and then slammed into the wall.  I felt the wind smacked out of me and I tumbled to the ground.  

    “Oh my god, Are you alright?”

    I looked up at the private as he ran over from his humvee. I was caught between wanting to get up and kick him in the balls or screaming at the top of my lungs that I was still alive. As I tried to move, my entire body protested and I decided I could wait on both.

“I have had better mornings.” Well at least I was not too damaged for sarcasm that was good sign.

    “I am so sorry after we could not find you at the auxiliary barracks. The commander said you might be out here and I had to get you the news right away.”

    I very slowly got to my feet. “What news?”

    “We got a call from a hospital in Saint Louis. Your sister is in intensive care.”   

An hour late I was 70 miles away from the base heading back home to Saint Louis. I had the pedal almost to the floor in my corvette, a present to myself after getting the royalties from my last book, and the scenery was passing by in a blur. There were great things about being allowed access to sensitive military places for an author but the downside was they usually took away all the electronic devices that we use to keep in touch with family and friends.  It also means that you are usually very far away from civilian cell phone towers.

 I checked my phone for the tenth time and finally saw some bars. I had service.  I took some of the pressure off the gas pedal and divided my attention between the phone and my driving. This was one of the few things that used to scare Robert more then his days in combat. I pulled up my voice mail. 

  “You have seven new voice messages.”    

  “Sara this is Jacqueline, I was wondering if you had any pages for me to go over.”

Delete.

The last thing I needed right now was to worry about my editor breathing down my neck.

    “Hey sis, I must have just missed you.  I am going to miss you for the next month. Hope you get lots of research done and keep an eye out for any cute G.I. Joes, it’s been six months time for you to start dating again.”   

   Delete 

I could not help but smile even though I was worried. My sister had been trying to me back into the world of dating for months. 

    “Sis you are not going to believe this.  Wired offered me a gig to attend a convention and cover a new occult social game called the Facade. They are going to pay me to attend a gaming con. Pretty sweet, huh.”

    Delete

 I wondered if something had happened at the con.  Kumani did free lance writing to cover the gaming community and had once on a dare tried jousting. She had taken a nasty spill and been laid up for a week.”

“Sara this Jacqueline. . .” 

Delete

     “Sara, oh my god the con was great, the game was fun it’s kind of a mix between face book, a LARP and a role-playing game and I met a bunch of great guys. You have to come to an event when you get back.”

    Delete  

 It sounded like the game was just acting and no combat involved, I was starting to really wonder what happened, the message at the base from the hospital had been referred through five different people so there had not been any details.  I hesitated between listening to the rest of my messages and just calling the hospital but I was already halfway through them and it would be hours before I made it home. 

    “Sis, I hope you get this. There is something really weird going on. I found some people had gone missing from a facade event a couple of months ago and started trying to investigate what had happened. The people at the event found out I was press and suddenly all their attitudes changed toward me. I could use the help of a sibling who is so good at connecting the dots and details.”      

    Delete

. I felt my heart start to beat a little faster. I had thought that my sister had been in an accident but maybe she wasn’t.  I started to have all sorts of vision of things that people might have done to her.  I took a silent vow if someone had hurt my sister they were in for a world of hurt.

    “Sara if you get this you have to come home right away. I am really scared. I think there is somebody following me around. The police said just to go home and wait for them there but I don’t know.  . ..  . Oh my god what is that – stay back stay back noooooooooo!” The message ended.

    I replayed the message three times, trying to get a hint of what had happened. My feet pushed the pedal the back down until it hit the floor and the car hit 120.  I took a moment to wipe the tears from my eyes and dialed the hospital. 

    “Mercy Medical center” 

    “I need to check on the status of a patient a Kumauni Williams.”

    There was a very long pause. “I am sorry I can not give that information out over the phone.”

    “Sure you can, I am her sister? I need to know”

            “I am sorry but I can’t.”

            I closed my eyes and tried not to think of harmful things to do non helpful receptionists. “Listen; just transfer me to the nurse’s station on her floor.”

    There was another long pause. “Please hold.”

         “ICU, can I help you.”

    “Yeah this is Sansara Williams, my sister Kumauni is a patient and I need to find out her status.”

    “Miss Williams we have been trying to get a hold of you. There has been a development with your sister’s case.”

    “What happened?”

    “I would prefer to speak with you in person about what happened.” 

    “I am on my way but I have a very long way to go. What happened?”

    “You sister was brought into the hospital after having suffered an animal attack. She was grievously injured and the doctor’s had placed her under sedation while they decided what actions to take.   She was being checked on several times during the evening and the last time the nurse went to visit her, she was gone.”

    “Gone, someone took her?”

    “I don’t know, there was no sign of a struggle.  It seemed like she just got up and walked out. We called the police and they are investigating what happened.

            “No one noticed a person who needed to be intensive care walking out the front door.  What kind of place are you guys running? “

 “I don’t have any more information I am allowed to give out. I can let you talk to the hospital administrator. “

            Click “I ended the call. One thing I hated is that there was no satisfaction any more with hanging up on the people. I liked old days when you could slam the phone down when you did not want to hear some bureaucrat covering his ass after they lost a patient. 

The following hours blurred away in a haze of caffeine and speeding tickets.

      I pulled into the parking lot of our condo just as the sun was starting to rise. I had been on the road for almost twenty fours hours straight.  My first thought was to continue straight to the police department but the detectives would not be on shift yet and I was probably too fuzzy to be of any use in helping find my sister.   I wondered up the three flights of stairs more from habit then my usual desire to knock off some calories and got to the door.  I pulled my keys out and started to insert them in the lock but the door slid open.  This would be the part in my novel where the heroines pulls her gun and jumps in to accost the bad guy but I did not have a gun on me. I could have gotten a permit to carry one concealed but since I had voted against the bill it seemed wrong to take advantage of it. Its not that I have a problem with guns I just think for a person to carry one concealed they should demonstrate an above average ability with firearms.  The only thing I fear more then a terrorist is a well intentioned amateur blazing away with his brand new glock now the fact that all of that went through my mind as the door was slowly opening  probably meant I should have had one more mountain dew on they road. 

    So since I was not that well armed heroine what I should do is call the cops but somebody  might be in there who knows something about my sister which meant I wasn’t going to  wait  for the local constables.  I gave a gentle push to the door to make it slide open enough for me to slink through. I looked around the front room and it was a mess papers and furniture were scattered everywhere.  I could hear a low barking from the back room which meant that Fenris was still in his crate. I kept my eyes forward and reached behind the door and after a moment got a grip on the baseball bat.  We kept it there in case of softball games and ex-boyfriends.   I took a couple practice swings and then held it parallel to the ground as I walked through the apartment. I tried to focus my senses to determine if anyone was in the condo but couldn’t pick anything up, until I caught a sound from Kumani’s bed room.  I sprinted forward with the bat held up high and kicked in the door.  A black and white shape darted out the door as I came in; entangling itself in my feet and a moment later my face impacted the floor.

    “Ounce!” As I lay on the floor I watched my cat tear around the corner and head for the bathroom, her favorite hiding space.  Well at least both of the animals that shared the condo with us were accounted for.  I got up and then sat back down onto the bed.    

    Okay enough of playing Sam spade. I pulled my cell phone and dialed 911. 

    “911 what is the nature of your emergency?”

    “My apartment has been broken into and ransacked.”

    “Are you okay, do you think that that people who did it are still in the area?”  

    I gripped the bat a little tighter “if only  .. ”  I whispered.

    “I am sorry I did not hear that.”

    “No but it might have to do with another case, the disappearance of my sister Kumani Williams.”

    “I will send some officers right over, do you need me to stay on the line till they get there?”

    “No.” I hit the end button on the phone. Sis what have you gotten yourself into.  I got up and went into the kitchen and let Fenris out of his crate. The Pomeranian ran out and started barking at me. Yes my sister has a Pomeranian named Fenris.   We had anticipated getting a much larger dog but the condo had very strict rules. Anyway I poured out some food for him and Ounce and then sat down on the kitchen floor with my back against a wall, a few seconds later I was asleep… , and that is where the officer’s found me a half hour later. 

I woke up to a gently shaking.        

    “Miss Williams’ are you okay.” 

    “Yeah” I dragged myself off of the floor. 

    “Okay, a lot of people were worried when you left the hospital after being attacked. Can you tell us what happened?” I must have gotten a very confused look on my face because he continued quickly.

    “We can get you some medical care. I understand you had been hurt quite badly.”

    “I am Sansara Williams, my twin sister Kumani is the one who disappeared from the hospital, not me.”

    “Oh.”  He stood for a moment like; he had no idea what to do.” I am going to need you to step out of the condo while we go through it and check for evidence.”

            Well that was an amazing display of empathy.     I walked out into the hallway; my confidence in my sister being found by the police was quickly waning. I leaned against the wall with Fenris in one hand and Ounce in the other while they ran a piece of tape across my front door. As I reclined I tried to watch every move they made, I had done the practice a hundred times before to get a feel for how a professional did something but this time I was also trying to pick up if they were finding anything.  They did not seem to be having much luck.

    “Are you Sansara Williams?”

    I jumped at the unexpected voice and Fenris started barking at the sudden intruder to our personal space. There standing next to me was tall, dark haired man, flashing a detective’s badge.  I wasn’t a combat veteran but I did pride myself on being observant and wondered how he had come up on me without me noticing it.  I just looked at him for a moment. He was at least six feet, three and heavily muscled but more like Bruce lee then hulk Hogan, his designer suit hid most of it. He had his hair in a long black pony tail, he looked like someone had combined Richard Gere and Steven Seagal, you know back when they were younger and cute.

    “Sorry I did not mean to startle you, miss Williams”. 

    “Everyone just calls me Sara.”

    “Okay Sara I am Val Lawton I am the detective assigned to your sister’s disappearance. Do you want to go down and get a cup of coffee? “

    “I don’t really drink coffee but sure…” 

    Val motioned to an officer standing by the door. “Hey Polanski can you take the ladies’ pets while we step outside.”

I handed Ounce and Fenris to the officer with much barking and scratching and followed the detective outside. Our condo was in a newly renovated section of the suburbs and there was a coffee shop on the ground floor.  The detective got himself some sort of triple espresso something or another and I ordered a coke, for which I got a disapproving look from the cashier.   We took our items and sat in one of the booths.  I took a drink from coke and looked down at Val’s hands. They were well manicured but the knuckles were scraped like he had been in a fight recently.  I can usually get a read on people pretty quick but he seemed a study in contradictions.

    “So what can you tell me about your sister’s disappearance?”

    “What? Isn’t that my line? You’re the detective.”

    “Well we don’t know what is going on. Your sister stumbled into a hospital emergency room, hysterical and bleeding. She had been attacked by some animal probably a large dog.  Then several hours later she is gone. There is no sign of struggle, she is just gone.  We put of an APB on her because she had made a call to 911 shortly before she arrived at the hospital. But we had no evidence that there was any foul play involved.  We figured she got up and left, maybe drugs were involved and she did not want to risk running into the authorities.”

    “My sister did not do drugs!” I pounded on the table. “Maybe if you were not too busy getting manicures you could get off your ass and do some police work and find her.”

    Val looked down at his hands. “My personal hygiene does not interfere with me performing my job duties. I don’t know your sister so I have to work with the information we have at hand, most time people are usually not even considered missing until 24 hours have passed. Now with your sister’s Condo being tossed, we know there is more to this.”

    I gripped the bottle of coke tightly, luckily it was not a cup of coffee or I would have been tempted to splash it in this guy’s face. “You sure you’re a detective, you look more like a . . .”  

    “Criminal?”

    I nodded.

    “Listen I will be honest with you this is not my usual beat. I just transferred to this area but I will tell you this I will do everything I can to find your sister.” 

    “Now do you know anyone who might want to harm your sister? Has she talked to you about any issue she has been having.”

    “Just this…” I played him the last message on my cell phone. 

    “No wonder you are so concerned. That must have been right before the attack. Alright I am going to list this as a possible kidnapping and pull in all the resources I can.  Here is my card, if you think of anything call me night or day. If I get any information I will call you.”

    “What am I supposed to do in the mean time?”

    “Nothing, leave it to the professionals.”

The look on my face must have shown what I thought about that idea.

    “Okay, if you can track down all the places where your sister has been in the last forty eight hours then that might give us a clue about what has happened to her.” He slid out of the booth and got to his feet.” If anyone calls you let us know right away don’t try to handle it on your own.” 

      “Why would someone call me?”

    “You’re a best selling author right. This could be about money.”

    “I’m not rich if that is what you’re saying, I can afford a roof over my head and a nice car but I’m not Stephen King.”

    “Well to some people anyone who has more then they do are rich and someone might have thought your sister was their golden ticket?”

    “Could be, hey how did you know that I am a best selling author.”

    Val reached over and tapped the paper back of my latest novel sitting in my coat pocket. 

    “I’m a detective, remember?”

     I watched Val walk away and was not sure what to think.  He had been right when he said that he appeared more like a criminal then a cop. He was attractive, and well dressed but beneath it all I got this vibe that their was violence lurking just under the surface.  Was that that guy I wanted looking for my sister,  I mean I could think of all sorts of things he would be good for but he seemed more like a person to wreck terrible vengeance then to be your guardian angel.  However he had seemed steadfast when he told me he would find her.  I shook my head I could sit here all day, well probably not without buying at least one coffee, thinking about the situation but that would not help Kumani. 

     I got up and headed out to my car.  Okay first order of business was to get a little sleep but since my place was now a crime scene that was not going to happen, well I always felt a shower was worth like 2 hours of sleep so I drove over to the YCWA. Yeah I know everybody raves about those huge sprawling gyms with thousand of different machines but I liked to keep things cozy and not have to worry about being ogled when I was my most sweaty and undesirable.       

    After a shower and a change of clothes I felt closer to a regular person and headed over to the cell phone store.   I walked up to the counter and put my best ‘gee I am a helpless female’ expression on my face. I really hate using it but it is effective in a lot of situations.  I looked at the name tag of the guy behind the register.

    “Hi Bob, I am having a little bit of trouble. I lost my phone is there any way you can tell me the last place I used it.”

    “I am not sure I could do that.”

    “Bob, please I have replaced my phone twice already and I just can’t do it again. Can you do it just this one time.” I leaned closer to Bob. “Please I would really appreciate it.” Yes I know Gloria Steinem was rolling over in her grave and she isn’t even dead yet but desperate time call for desperate measure.

    “Um okay I would need to see some ID.”

    I opened up my purse and pulled out my sister’s license.  Once years ago I had lost a bet and had to attend jury duty as Kumani, and ever since then we have started carrying copies of each other’s identification.  There were just days when it paid to be someone else.

    “Well by using the GPS on your phone. I can see that the last call was near Lindbergh and 270. I can’t tell you anymore then that.”

    “Oh I remember now. Thanks Bob I know just where to look. I am going to give you the best customer service score.”

    Bob leaned forward. “Is that all?”

    “I promise the next time I come in I will have something special for you?”   I pulled back.  I smiled as I thought what would happen the next time my sister came in to get a new phone and then the smile faded as quickly as it had come. I took a deep breath. My sister would be getting another new phone soon just as she had many times in the past, (it had been the truth that she had lost two phones in as many months) I was not going to allow myself to think any other way.  

     So I was once more on the road. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out on Lindbergh and headed towards the highway. The trip was a short one and soon I was looking around. There on the corner was a comic book and game shop.  I remembered my sister’s voice mail and thought about that con she had attended. Could her disappearance have been about that, it seemed unlikely but then again some of my sister’s gamer friends were pretty far out there. 

         “Kumani!” 

I looked around as I walked through the door to the shop.  There in the corner a twenty-something man was waving frantically at me.  I waved back.  He got up from a table covered in dice and books and almost ran straight into me.

    “Are you okay when we saw your car open and trashed in the back parking lot we were worried?”

    “Is it still back there. . .”  I made the universal sign for ‘I completely forgot your name’ with my right hand.

    “I’m Thomas; we’ve been playing Facade for like a month.”

    “Sorry Tom, it’s been a rough couple of days and I am a little fuzzy.”

    “Its Thomas and okay.”

He looked at me sideways and I figured I would not be able to pull the deception off for very long.     

    “Here I pulled your keys out of your car to make sure no one took it.”

    “Thanks.” I grabbed the keys out of his hand and looked at the back of the shop but there was no clear way out the back.

    “C’mon K. ” He grabbed my hand and started to drag me back behind the counter.  The guy manning the cash register gave me a dirty look but made no move to stop us, just picked up his cell phone.  We walked through a storage area and then went out through a large iron door.  As we exited onto the rear parking lot I could see my sister’s 68 Camaro, parked taking up two spaces like she always did.  I leaned over and peered into the driver side window.  The car had been trashed, someone had taken a knife and slashed the seats and the glove compartment had been rifled through. 

    “She’s going to be so pissed.”

    “Who is?”

Damn I had forgotten for a moment that Tom, I mean Thomas was standing next to me.  There was not much point on continuing the charade.   

    “Kumani is going to be pissed. I’m her sister Sara.”

    “Wow she told me she had a sister but not a twin.”

    “We tend to hold that back to give us more options.”

    Thomas got a wide smile on his face and I reached out and smacked him. “Not those kind of options.  Now focus, when was the last time you saw my sister?”

    “Monday, we were supposed to play a game of Facade but she called and said she couldn’t. A couple hours later she came in and bought every book and supplement the store had on the game and ran out the back door. We quit playing around seven in the morning and when we were going to breakfast we found her car.”

    “Well crap, that’s not that much help.”  I turned around and leaned on the car. 

    “What’s going on? Is she okay?”

    “I don’t know?”

    “Hey what is the game you guys were playing?”

    “It’s the coolest thing, it’s like D20 meets the world of darkness meets warcraft.”

He stopped as he noticed my eyes glazing over.

“You don’t game, do you?”

    “I play Halo does that count?”

    “Kinda but not really. Facade is a role-playing game, you make up a character, usually a shape shifter of some kind, and then you get together in a group of other people. One person is the game-master who decides on the story and challenges of the game and the other people work together to complete the mission.  Facade is different then most role-playing games because not only can you play it with pencil and paper but you can also go online and some people even get together and dress up like their characters and do a live action version.” 

    “Kinda weird but I can my sister getting into it.”

    “Well she liked the game but she was also asking all sorts of questions about who were the organizers of the events, what was the company who put out the supplements. Which was understandable   since Facade  went from  pretty much an unknown game to making more money every month  then Dungeons  and Dragons in just a couple of months.”

     “Dungeons and dragons, okay I have heard of that.”

      “Does any of that help?”

    “I am not sure I find it hard to believe that gaming could be that big a deal”

    “World of warcraft has over seven million subscribers at 15 dollars a month, do the math.”

    “Damn.” I was apparently in the wrong business. “Okay well it’s someplace to start thanks.” I started to walk back to the shop.

    “Hey.”

    I stopped and looked at Thomas. “What”

    He reached out and handed me a card.  “Call me if you need anything, your sister was a class act, she was smart and beautiful but never thought she was better then any of us.  If I can help find her in any way I want to help.”  

   I took a quick look at the card, Thomas White computer solutions.  I slid the card into my back pocket. “Thanks.”

    I walked back into the store and strode around looking for a copy of this Facade game, Thomas has been talking about.  After a few minutes caught sight of a large hardbound book and reached out for it. As I came into contact with it a hand shot out and grabbed my wrist.  I was jerked around painfully and confronted by a large man. He must have been six foot five and 250 pounds. 

    “I don’t know how you got out of the compound but its time for you to return. The pack leader made it very clear what would happen to you and your family if you did not comply.”

    “Let go of me!” I took a hold of his wrist and attempted to separate him from my arm but it was not budging. It was a sad fact of genetics that a girl in good shape was never going to be as strong as a man in good shape and this guy was covered in muscles.  But that’s okay I know another fact regardless of  how big you are it still takes the same amount of force to dislocate  one of your fingers. I slid my hand forward and grabbed his index finger and snapped it backwards with all the force I could. There was a loud crack as the finger went a way nature never intended it to go but his grip on my arm did not waver. I looked up into his face, dislocating his finger seemed to have no effect on him, check that, it had made him very pissed.  I maintained my hold on his finger and ground it round while I locked eyes with him.  Even looking straight at him all I saw was a blur of movement before his head crashed into mine, stars swarmed over my vision and my knees buckled.  I felt myself being dragged towards the front door but could not seem to get any commands sent to my feet to stop.   We were halfway through the store when he stopped abruptly. 

    The pause let my head clear for a moment.  I looked around the thug and saw the detective was standing between us and the front door.

    “Cat this is none of your concern. Let me pass.”

    “You are mistaken on many levels, let the girl go?”

    Did he just call him Cat was he stuck in the seventies.   

    “You want her take her.” 

    The detective pulled out a pistol from a holster under his arm pit and placed it on the floor. He then took a position with both hands in the pocket of his trench coat.  What had this guy never seen Raiders of the lost ark, the whole glorious mano-ad-mano combat was a little outdated?  It did have one effect the thug released his grip on me and then snapped his finger back into place. I cringed at the sound and wonderer about the possible effects of steroid induced psychosis.  He smiled and rushed at Val but the detective seemed to shift a moment before the other man reached him. He whirled around under the big man’s hands and rose up behind him. He pulled his hands from his pockets as he moved and they each held a taser.   Before the thug could turn to face Val both tasers were impacting his neck and he collapsed.     

     Val pulled the thug’s hands behind his back and handcuffed them together.   He leaned in and whispered something to the man and then smacked him on the side of the face then turned to face me.

    “You Okay.”

    “I think so.” I rubbed my wrist.  “Hey how did you know to be here? And why did you drop your gun that was just stupid. And why don’t you have one of those cool tasers which shoot out the wires so you don’t have to get so close.” 

    Val looked at me sideways. “You know for someone who just got their ass saved you sure have a lot of questions.” 

    “I’m just that kind of girl.” I took a step toward him and my legs swayed under me. Val crossed the distance between in a flash and caught me before I could take a tumble.  The sudden stop wrenched muscles already sore from yesterday and I cried out.

    “How bad did he hurt you?”

    “Not that bad but yesterday I fell off a building.”

    “You lead an interesting life.”

    “You have no idea.”

    “Alright let’s go.”  He directed me towards the door. 

    “Hey just cuz you’re better looking then that guy does not mean you get to just tell me where to go.”

    “So I’m good looking?” 

    Sure that is the part he focused on.  “Where do you want me to go?”

    “You’re going to come to my place. You’re not doing any good to your sister like this and you can’t go back to your place.”

    “I don’t know I got here before you did. And you still haven’t answered any of my questions.”

    “If I agree to answer some questions will you get in the car?”

    “I guess.” 

    Val helped me out to his car where I sat for the next half hour. He called a patrol car to come and get the Thug, who it turned out was named Sidney Portman.  A man that big should not have a name that weenie.   He seemed to take a long time talking to the officer that showed up but I wasn’t sure because I was starting to drift in and out. Finally he slid into the driver seat and started up the car.  We drove for a while down into the north side of the city into what was not a very good neighborhood. 

    “You live here? I guess they don’t pay detectives as well as I thought.”

    “I’m just staying my folks and they do. They lived here before the neighborhood turned and they refuse to leave.”

    “You live with your parents?”

    “It’s not like I am. . . You know you really quite . . . inquisitive.”

The deliberate pause he put in there made me sure he was going to say ‘quite the nosy bitch’ but he was too polite. “Sorry I am a writer I am always trying to dissect people and problems, it’s just my nature. Plus its one way to keep me from thinking about what has probably happened to my sister.”

    “I understand. I am just used to asking the questions. But I said I would give you some answers so ask away.”

    “Okay how come you are apparently a hot shot detective but not doing hot shot stuff at the moment?”

    “Well, I figured you would start with something innocuous but alright. I am actually a Chicago police detective. I was working undercover and things got to hot. So since my parents lived in St Louis they transferred me here for a while until things quiet down. That is also why I don’t carry standard police issue gear.  It would have been a liability on my earlier assignment and I haven’t really had a chance to change out my kit.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry.”  I bit my lower lip. I fought back my first urge to press further and get more details. I could not afford to aggravate my primarily ally in finding my sister.

    Val looked over at me. “Hey nobody died. My cover just got blown because of a routine traffic stop by a cop who I went to the academy with but did not know I was trying to infiltrate the mob.” 

    “That’s good, I mean its bad but it’s good. I mean….. Never mind.” I was not sure if it was lack of sleep, concern about my sister or how good Val looked but something was turning my brain to mush.

    “Are you sure you’re a writer?”

    I flashed him a dark and threatening look. “Yes, I have just had a very long 24 hours. One more question, how did you know to show up at the gaming store?”

    “Our technology guys figured out that was the where your sister last called from.”

    “Me too.” 

    Val made a sharp right and pulled into the drive way of a one story brick house, the lawn was well manicured the whole place was obviously well kept up. 

    “Nice place.”

    Val looked over at me like he was expecting sarcasm. I raised my hands up.

    “Hey I always wished I could have had a nice house in the suburbs when I was growing up on base housing.” 

    “You’re an army brat?”

    “Yep I never spent more then 2 years in any one place from birth to about 15, I got to see a lot of people and places but never felt like I had a home. That looks like a home.”

      “Thanks. It is. My folks keep pretty busy so they won’t be home till later in the day so you should be able to get some rest.”

I followed him the walk, he unlocked the front door and held it open as I entered.  I walked into the front room and plopped down on the couch.  Suddenly a wave or tiredness washed over me.  There are times when a body just says it has had enough and this seemed to be one of them.  I turned slightly and leaned my head on the back of the couch.  I could just close my eyes and then I sat bolt upright as I felt a set of hands on my back.

    “Hey there!”

    “Relax I am just checking to see if anything is out of whack. I am a couch of a marital arts team and have picked up a lot of physical therapy knowledge.”

    I did not really trust what he was saying but as soon as he started massaging my shoulders, my body said it did not care. After a moment I put my head back down and he slowly worked his fingers into my muscles, untying knots that I had not been consciously aware I had.  He started his hands at the base of my spine and slid them upwards with gentle pressure, eventually moving to my neck. Then he started kneading and my head seemed to disconnect from the rest of my body.  I kept thinking I should be telling him something or should be getting up and working on tracing my sister’s steps but all of that seemed to fade away.

The kneading subtly shifted to the feelings of his fingers gently tracing the curves of my neck back and forth and I felt a slow rush of heat begin to enter my body.  I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It had been a long time since I had felt such a touch.  This was not what I should be doing but as his fingers trailed upward and lightly traced the lobes of ear a shiver ran up my spine and it pushed all thoughts of resistance.  I reclined backward into his body and his arms.  I felt his hands sliding down my arms and then tracing inward and then up with a whisper of a touch on my breast and I took a sudden intake of breath.   He brought his hands up to explore my neck again but the desire was starting to rage inside me and I needed more. I grabbed his hands and brought them down to my breasts and squeezed. He got the message immediately and cupped and squeezed my breasts.  The feeling was very intense and I felt naked under his touch. I opened my eyes and I saw that I was naked.  It all seemed to happening so very fast as I watched his hands drop, lower and lower and then they were there, in my most intimate parts and I felt the rush coming onto me.  My body thrashing side to side out of control and then I was falling, falling . . .

            Then I hit the floor and came abruptly awake and for the second time in the week had no clue where I was. I was in a bed and fully clothed. It had just been a dream. Wow I must really need to get laid.    I looked around, it looked like I was in a teenage boys room, the walls were covered in posters of muscle cars and girls in bikini’s and in the center of the room was a huge picture of a black panther that looked like it was about to pounce right off the wall.   I slid my feet around and sat up on the bed. On the nightstand was a picture of what must have been a teenage Val in a football uniform.  I made a quick check to see that all my pieces of clothing were still attached. That had been the most intense spicy dream I had ever had and was still not sure that parts of had not been real.   

    I got up and headed for the bed room door and then stopped as I heard shouting coming from the other side. That must have been what had waked me up. I opened the door a crack and peered out, from my vantage point I could see into the front room there on the couch were two people that must have been Val’s parents. They were being yelled at by Sidney and another person both of whom were accompanied by the biggest dog I had ever seen.  I opened the door a little bit more and it creaked, suddenly all eyes were on me.  

    “Hans, Grab her.”  Sidney yelled and his companion came running at me. I slammed the door shut and leaped at the bed. It was common knowledge that all detectives slept with a gun under their pillow.  Hans smashed through the door just as my hand was sliding under the pillows and coming up . . . empty.  What the hell, that just wasn’t fair.  The thug grabbed the mattress and upended it throwing me on the floor next to the night stand, either he was toying with me or he thought that there was going to be a gun under the pillow too. 

    I squirmed on the floor and pulled the drawer open on the nightstand, hoping cliché number two would pan out and it did. I felt my hands close around the handle of a Berretta 10mm. I pulled the gun out and flipped the safety with my thumb Hans dropped the mattress to collect me.      

    He saw me with the gun and a smile spread across his face like I couldn’t or wouldn’t hurt him. He was wrong. I know I should have threatened him or told to him to freeze but for all I knew he could have been the one to grab my sister. I shot him four times, three center mass and one in the shoulder. Hey it’s been a couple of days since I hit the range. He collapsed with a look of disbelief on his face.

    “Never underestimate a pissed off bitch, Hans.”

    I got to my feet and made my way to the hallway.  I locked eyes with Sidney and I brought the gun up but before I could pull the trigger the dog was on me. But it wasn’t a dog it was wolf and it was huge. The beast’s impact knocked me to the floor and it took a vicious bite from my left arm. I screamed in agony and the beast pulled back, hesitating as if it was enjoying the carnage it was doing. I summoned every bit of concentration to keep myself from going into shock and as it came down for a second bite I shoved the gun into its mouth and the pulled the trigger, blowing the back of its head off.   The bloody body fell heavily on me. I ignored it and dragged the gun up into a sight picture with Sidney but he was already running out the door.  

    The couple on the couch ran over to me and someone who must have been Val’s father pulled the wolf’s body off of me.

    “Mr. and Mrs. Lawton, it’s nice to meet you.”   Then the gun fell from my fingers and my head lulled back against the floor.    

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