Well, at least the physical therapist is happy about my progress. I wish I could be– its still going way too slow for me.
He says I'm right on schedule. I guess its good, but it made for a rather depressing morning for me. I'm still at least two weeks away from running the bike. Two more weeks of Fort Lewis and chauffeur runs. I was a bit disgruntled as I took the bus back to the condo.
I was surprised when I got home and found several messages on my answering machine. One from Mrs. Walker and three from Mario. Seems Mrs. Walker had her talk with him, and maybe made some headway. I don't know– Guess I won't know until I talk to the man.
I ended up taking a taxi. Everett General was everything I remembered it to be– crowded, confusing. I made my way up to Mario's room and took a deep breath. My hands were shaking when I finally got the courage up to open the door and go inside.
Its funny, I felt a lot less nervous when I saw how bad Mario was looking. I waited in the doorway until he looked up and waved me in. Something in the gesture conveyed concern and perhaps apology.
"Jess," he called. His voice was strained, almost as if he'd been crying. I found out he had. It was hard on him, talking to me after having condemned me for what I'd done.
Knowingly or unknowingly I had done something unforgivable in his world– and still I was his adopted daughter. He couldn't stop caring and the fact that I hadn't only seemed to make things worse.
"Please," he said softly. "Sit... I have much to explain."
I sat and shook my head. "No, you don't have to," I objected.
He gave me that knowing smile of his and nodded. "Yes I do– Just as you felt you had to tell me what had happened."
I thought about that for a moment and then nodded.
He seemed lost in thought for a very long time and finally when he spoke– I began to understand.
Some time before he'd met Trina's mom, he'd been very much in love with a young woman. He thought he knew her, he knew he loved her. He would have done anything for her and in the end, he did.
She was twenty-three when they found out she had leukemia and it was too far gone to do anything about it. His own skills as a healer were just beginning to develop and even now he couldn't have done anything to save her.
So he'd gone further and further afield as things got more and more desperate. In the end he found several mages from AZT who were willing to help him for a price. He would become their apprentice– serve them in whatever capacity they demanded and in return they would save his beloved Angelina.
He was a desperate man and she was dying. He agreed to their offer. They killed three men to heal her and that was only the beginning for Mario.
For Angelina– she took Diaz's approach, embraced it even. She became everything Mario despised. She craved the blood of others, the power it brought her and he... he was apprenticed to a circle of blood mages.
He was their student– their ‘donor'-- anything they needed. He would prepare their victims, clean up after them... suffer so that they did not suffer any from the power they wielded. And he continued in that capacity until they'd all but used him up and then they'd discarded him like the other ‘donors.' They thought he was dead, and he may as well have been. It took him a long time to recover from his injuries– body and soul.
He thought it all long buried– until I'd announced that I was looking for a blood mage.
He knew all too well the price and he was afraid I would be enslaved as he was or worse, that I would find it appealing-- as his Angelina had. He feared that I would view it as a worthwhile sacrifice especially now that it was over.
I shook my head. "Its not over," I told him softly. "It will never be over. I see his eyes when I close mine– but sometimes... sometimes I think – I hear him sigh when I save a life."
I met his eyes and opened my heart to him. "I... take what he was as my past– that if I am ever to find redemption– I have to make every day count and do everything I can to make amends for his life, for his death and for my own... survival."
He looked at me for a very long time. "I know Jess– and I'm sorry... sorry I didn't warn you and yet... glad I didn't for if I had, you wouldn't have gone and you surely would have wasted away."
He looked at the ceiling as he tried to find the words and I saw the tears streaming down his face. "So help me... I'm glad you are alive."
We held each other and cried. We cried for our loss, for Angelina, for the nameless ganger, for the loss of our own innocence.
It wasn't that Mario didn't understand– he understood all too well. Now I do too.
I had Case drop me off at Lone Star this morning. I know the chances of them finding the boys, especially if they don’t want to be found are slim, but– its still a place to check.
I followed his advice and steered clear of Det. Young, the detective who’d taken over their case. Probably a good thing, I’d just gotten back to the point that I was at least semi accepted here, last thing I needed was to get kicked out again.
Saunders was so happy to see me he forgot to be gruff. We talked about a few things before the person behind me decided that I was wasting his precious time. So we agreed to meet at the hotdog stand at lunchtime.
Not the best of meals, but Saunders was great company. He filled me in on the comings and goings at the station, and on the case. He also slipped me a case disk, like Andrews used to give me.
“You do more good and work harder than half our people,” he told me. “Don’t you ever give up, you hear?”
I smiled. It felt good to hear him say that– sometimes, you need a little encouragement. I warned him about Young’s opinion of me and he just waved it off.
“Man’s got a good enough record, but he has no imagination, more’s the shame,” he added. “Cause I think its going to take a lot of imagination to find your brothers.”
I studied him for a moment and nodded. “I think you’re right.”
He smiled. “You know I am,” he said seriously. “If they’d wanted to be found, we’d have found something by now– you know that too. But you don’t stop checking. Never give up and just because you’ve checked one place, doesn’t mean they aren’t there now...”
I nodded. “Unfortunately– they know this town a lot better than I do.”
“There is that,” he agreed. “But you’ve been caught in their backwash a couple of times now.”
I nodded. He was right. And I knew that they were at least alive as recently as Halloween.
“You back on duty yet?” he asked.
I chuckled. “If you can call it that. I’m at Ft. Lewis,” I added when I saw the confused look in his eyes.
“Ah, Ft Goldbrick,” he teased me. It was pretty much common knowledge between the Star and Citywide, that unless you were military, Ft. Lewis was pretty much a ‘do nothing’ assignment. I grinned. “You take care of yourself hu?”
“I’m in records,” he reminded me. “I process people's requests and I get to growl at em so they leave my people alone.”
I nodded. “Just the same...”
“Jess– biggest threat I get all day is sheer and utter boredom,” He winked at me. “Now quit bustin’ my chops and let me get back to work!”
He ‘stormed off’ with a wink.
I can’t believe how much I’d missed the man. He’s a genuine trip.
After that I dropped by Everett General to see Mario. He’s doing a lot better now– and so am I.
He asked me for the low down on what Diaz had found– and done. There wasn’t too much to be told about what he did to undo it– he knocked me out before it really started. But before that...
“He’d said that...” I paused as I tried to remember. I remembered him checking me out astrally– but he hadn’t said much. “That they had... used me in three spells, one for each brother...” I shook my head.
“He said that they had to be undone in one shot... that they’d used me to... take the ‘drain’ off of them? As well as to do something to my brothers.
Mario nodded. “What do you remember of Raz and her friends?”
Again I shook my head. “Just... being helpless... pain... fear... “ I paused as another image filled my mind. “I... remember seeing something... leave... it was.. spectral... its face....”
I shuddered and Mario gently patted my hand. “Jess... it is over– what they have done has been undone.”
I nodded but the images still hung in my mind. When I looked at Mario I could see them in his eyes too. Guess we both still have our ghosts.
For the first time since– I don’t know when, I slept peacefully. When I woke up Case was just staring at me. His expression was peaceful, happy even.
“What?” I asked as I stretched.
“Its Saturday,” he told me.
I looked at him, still not understanding.
“Its Saturday, and we have nowhere to go, and nothing that has to be done.”
I sat up, intrigued.
“Well, Tomorrow Night, you’ll be at Ft. Lewis– so I thought we’d celebrate New Years tonight...”
I smiled. “Just what do you have in mind?”
“It’s a surprise,” he told me... and it was.
First stop was Council Island for breakfast and Saturday morning Trids with Mike. Case left us alone. Its funny he doesn’t understand my fascination with the-- less than impressive drek that passes for entertainment on Saturday mornings, but it amuses him. Sometimes I’m as much of a kid as Mike is-- sometimes a lot more.
The Walkers were all there, even Jonathan. I’m pretty sure Case ended up talking business with him while Mrs. Walker made breakfast and Mr. Walker read the papers and commented on the politics.
It was wonderful.
Next he took me to Everett General to see Mario. Its amazing how much better he’s doing these days– how much better we both are doing. Just like he did at the Walkers, Case let me alone to visit.
“He’s good for you,” Mario said as Case stepped out of the room.
I chuckled as he voiced what I’d already known.
“Whatever happens,” he advised me. “Always talk to each other and don’t stop until the other one understands.
I nodded. “That goes for friends too,” I added looking at Mario.
He waved it off with a chuckle. “Now go... enjoy...”
I kissed him on the cheek and headed out. It was as if someone had finally put the pieces of my life back in order. Not all of them, but most. There’s still a lot to be done– a lifetime of things to be done– but there is a lifetime to do them in.
After that Case took me out to the Space Needle for dinner. Kinda funny, I’ve been in town almost... six months and this was my first time I had been there, let alone inside. The Eye of the Needle was elegant, and I was very out of place.
Case was absolutely wonderful. He wouldn’t let me talk business and he returned the favor. Tonight we were just– young lovers out on the town. At midnight we toasted the new year. It was wonderful, although the waiter looked at Case like– he’d waited too long for New Year’s Eve reservations and was trying to cover his lack of planning with a clever ‘lets go out early and celebrate,’ approach.
I knew better. Let’s face it by this time tomorrow I’ll be up to my elbows in carnauba wax.
Case and I lazed about his place until just about seven, when he took me to Fort Lewis for my shift. He warned me that there were a few cases pending that might involve him being away for a while.
Neither of us were too happy about it, but that’s part of the job. Lord knows, if a disaster (natural or otherwise) were to hit– we’re both going to be in the middle of it. He promised that if it happened he’d do his best to call me but–
I nodded, I knew that if there wasn’t time to call that there was nothing he could really do about it. If he didn’t pick me up from Lewis on Wednesday, then I’d know something was up and that I should go back to the Condo.
He kissed me good-bye and I headed into the station.
Terry was waiting for me just inside the door. “Why’s a cop dropping you off at the station?”
I grinned as his suspicion and concern became evident. “He’s not a cop,” I told him as I turned at watched Case pull out of the parking lot. I could feel him start to relax just a touch before I added. “He’s a fed.”
He looked at me for a minute. “Now you’re funnin’ me.”
I shook my head. “He’s also a paramedic, and I’m dating him.”
It was kind of fun to see the man’s eyes bulge as he tried to digest that. “You’re dating a... Fed?”
I grinned. “It’s a long story hon,” I told him. “And we’ve got a long boring shift for me to tell you about it.”
He chuckled and we headed into the briefing together.
I’m so used to an hour long briefing as the number and types of cases received were discussed, but here that same discussion took ten minutes– if that. Seven calls in three days– I’m beginning to wonder if I can take that much excitement.
We were on our second coat of wax when Terry looked at me expectantly. He wanted the low down.
I started telling him about the pictures I’d received and being a protected witness, when we got our first call of the night. It was an accident. I would have been surprised if we hadn’t been listening to the scanner all night. Base staff had already dealt with three accidents, one shooting and a heart attack. Right now they were on a officer down call.
So we got the accident, only when we got there– there wasn’t anything there. Well that’s not entirely true... there were two cars– no people. Both cars had control boxes in them– remote control.
When we got back to the station I checked on the other calls. One of the accidents the base medics had taken care of was the same sort of thing. I called it into dispatch and they passed on my warning to the MP’s.
They seemed less than thrilled that a civilian medic was giving them warnings of possible danger. On a hunch I pulled up the call history for the area on holidays in general and New Year’s in particular. Something was definitely up.
Since the MP’s weren’t listening, I told the local Star folks. They were a little more receptive, but not much. I was obviously a bored medic imagining conspiracies to make the job more tolerable.
It took another two accidents without injuries for the MP’s to catch on that I wasn’t imagining things; four for the Star.
That’s about when the real hell broke loose.
2355 the calls start swamping dispatch. I think they logged more calls for us and the base medics than they do in a month, maybe a year.
Since there was no way to tell a real call from a false alarm, we were running everywhere. Since the target was most likely military, Star and Citywide got to check out the calls while the MP’s concentrated on where the diversions weren’t.
We were jumping from 2355 Dec. 31 2056, until at least 0200 Jan. 1 2057. Then it was as if whoever it was had either gotten what they wanted or given up– nothing but silence.
We didn’t find out until 0300 that they’d given up and called it a night, without getting whatever it was they’d come for– at least as far as the military was willing to admit.
Terry had had enough– there had been a few ‘real’ calls in the middle of everything but for the most part all we did was run.
I didn’t mind– I felt like I was actually earning my keep.
New Years day and no rest for the wicked. After all of last night's activity– there were trucks to wash!
Our first call of the day was from the Base Duty Officer. We were to stay at the station until we could be interviewed about last night’s ‘activities.’
We were expecting one, maybe two people. What we got was a horde of investigators and MP’s. They quickly isolated each person at the station and began questioning us. They asked about every call, wanted as much detail as each of us could give– They also wanted to know specifically how I had known that something was up.
As my investigator, JAG-171-Marrick, began questioning, I told her everything I remembered and what I had filed with Citywide.
“You were the one that reported your suspicions after one call,” she prompted sternly.
I nodded. “One call for us, but it was the second for the night.”
She looked at me for a moment. “Excuse me?”
“The base medics handled a similar call about an hour prior to our call.” I took a deep breath and explained that equipment like that costs money and two vehicles involved in a property only crash was rather suspicious.
“Two similar in the same night, in the same district...” I shook my head. “That’s too coincidental.”
“And what did you do after you reported your suspicions?”
“I checked the log books at dispatch for holiday activity general and specific to New Years.”
She reviewed her notes and a nice file folder with my holo-pic on it. “It says here you have a private investigator’s licence.”
I nodded. “Mostly missing person’s cases. I was doing some consulting work for a friend and he figured it would be best if I had one.”
She nodded and made another note in her book. As she did so, I heard the call out signal and stood.
She pointed back to my chair. “I’m sorry Miss Miller, but you are not allowed to leave this building until our investigation is completed.”
I looked at her and shook my head. “That’s a call out– medical... That means someone’s life is on the line, and I’m on the clock.”
The MP at the door moved in front of it, standing at ease, but still managing to look rather threatening as he did so.
“Am I under arrest?”
“No ma’am, but we are conducting an investigation and you are under our jurisdiction.”
“No ma’am,” I corrected. “You are military police and investigators, I am a civilian, off base – I am not under your jurisdiction and I have told you everything I know and or have seen. Now, if you do not let me go... There will be a military case– one involving you preventing me from performing my duties.”
I handed her a disk with copies of all my reports. “This has everything I remember, recorded after each event. It’s what I filed with Citywide and all my case notes incase it needs to be reviewed.”
She looked at me and I could see the wheels turning. That I had not only prepared such a disk but was willing to give her a copy was setting off all sorts of danger signals, but– if she looked at my jacket in any detail, she’d know and maybe even understand why. I may be slow, but I do learn.
She looked at me a minute and then nodded to the MP. That was all it took, he not only moved out of the way, but opened the door for me.
Terry was already in the truck and ready to roll.
By the time we got back the station was clear of all non-Citywide personnel. They never did tell us what they were looking for.
Looks like I’ll have a little more to talk to Case about this ‘weekend’.
I didn’t have to wait until end of shift to talk to Case. He, and a host of other Federal Agents showed up at the station around 0800.
It was classic. Terry wakes me up with a cup of coffee, tells me that the JAG people are back and they’ve got MP’s and Feds with them. I headed downstairs and was immediately herded into one of the conference rooms.
Marrick gave me a predatory smile as she carefully set my jacket out in front of her. She looked up at me and her smile broadened. “Ah, Miss Miller...”
I watched her warily as I took the seat across the table from her. “Inspector Marrick,” I greeted her with a nod.
I could see her smile grow as she played her trump card. She may not have jurisdiction off Base, but the Feds do. As she informed me of this Case walked in and smiled at me.
“Jess,” he said with a nod.
“Case,” I answered.
I wish I could have seen the look on Marrick’s face, but I was busy watching Case.
“Marrick here tells me that you’re too prepared,” he told me.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I realized she probably would, but you know how bad I am at not playing my hunches.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, you been here what, a week? Trouble should have found you by now.”
“Hey!” I objected, then turned back to Marrick and her folder.
“You– know each other?” she asked.
I nodded. “When you have my propensity for things just... happening around you– you make some interesting acquaintances. So, can we drop the cloak and dagger stuff, I’ve already told you everything I know. If you give me enough time, I can figure out the rest, but I’d really rather not have another mystery in my life.”
Marrick looked at Case who just shook his head. “She’s not kidding,” he finally told her. “Jess hates mysteries.”
Marrick studied the two of us for a few more minutes and finally nodded. I guess she figured that if I was in on the distractions that I already knew the score. She definitely hadn’t given up on me as an accomplice.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t as curious as I am. I did not need to know that they’d been working on some new versions of some old diseases. A bubonic plague derivative to be exact– and it seems our friends got away with enough to cause some serious trouble somewhere. Major uncoolness right in my backyard.
Case just shook his head when Marrick finished and my expression had turned from perplexed to mildly shaken.
“You wanted to know,” he reminded me.
I nodded and slowly let out my breath. I did ask for it. I thought back over everything that had happened that night, then looked at Marrick.
“Are you sure they got out with it?”
“We’ve checked and re-checked the inventory, we’re one tube short.” Marrick confirmed.
I nodded. “But are you sure they got it off base?”
Her eyes narrowed as Case’s nodded approvingly. “Get it out of storage but keep it on base.”
I nodded. “It’d work,” I agreed. “No risk of getting caught.”
Marrick watched us like we were in the middle of a tennis match. “What would work?”
Case pulled up a chair. “Instead of stealing the tube, you use the ‘distractions’ to call attention to the missing supplies. But...”
“But its either already gone or...” I began.
“Or you hide it and when the search is over,” Case added. “You just walk out with it.”
“With nobody being the wiser.” I nodded at that, and then another thought crossed my mind. “You should also have your people verify that what’s in the other tubes, is what should be there– I mean, if I were going to all that trouble– I don’t think I’d settle for just one tube...”
Case nodded. “Good point.”
Marrick was stunned as we finished our brainstorming, but it all made sense. Nondescript distractions, accidents, property damage, but to be honest, no sign of real break ins. Almost as if they were drawing attention to a problem instead of actually distracting people.
They found it in the air ducts– before anything nasty happened... Case told me that they put a dummy in its place with a tracking device. Who knows, maybe they’ll find the people responsible. Should be interesting.
Case was smiling when he told me what was going on. So was I. We make a good team.
Three coats of wax, a long workout in the weight room and nothing else. I don’t think my heart can take much more of this excitement.
I did finally get to tell Terry the whole story behind me and Case. He loved the part where Marrick figured I’d crack under the pressure of having to deal with an honest to goodness Federal agent and it turned out to be Case.
He agrees with me though that she’ll probably always figure I was somehow involved. “Better watch it,” he warned me. “Woman with your reputation could really jeopardize ‘Fort Lewis’ reputation’ as a vacation spot.”
I chuckled and shook my head. He didn’t really seem to mind the fact.
After shift I stopped by missing persons so Saunders could grouse at me in person. Since Case didn’t pick me up I was pretty much on my own. It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to having somebody around.
Once I got home though, I didn’t have too much time to concentrate on being home, I had milk in the fridge and a note from Fin. From the looks of things he figures I owe him for Chicago, and I guess in some way I do. Looks like I have plans for tomorrow night, I’ll just have to wait until then to find out what they are.