The following morning Jessica stood staring at her corkboard, following the connections over and over again with her eyes. At least, what few connections she had made. Whoever this Edgerrin guy was, he was damn good at covering his tracks. Despite hailing from the South-East End, he had no criminal record to speak of, or at least nothing as an adult. His juvenile records were almost certainly sealed, and she couldn’t find a damn thing in any crime articles from the late 90’s or early 2000’s.
It would appear as if the man had simply popped onto the business scene one day with his doctorate in hand. Of course, not even the most nobly-intentioned businessman could get anywhere in Blackburn without shaking the right hands. And clearly Edgerrin was shaking a lot more than hands. Sooner or later he’d slip, and she’d be there.
“Hey, Ms. Napier, I got you some bagels and stuff,” called Isabella from the entry. “You in? The mail guy handed me some bills and stuff for you.”
“I’m in the second office,” she called out. “I was up half the night getting not much accomplished.”
“Guess it’s a good thing I picked up some java on the way, huh?”
Jessica sifted through her mail. Bill, bill, chinese restaurant ad, bill…
“Hmph. Good thing Quinn’s paying the rent for the next six months…”
“Who?” Isabella set a box down on a clear section of folding table near her, along with a travel carrier with two cups of coffee in it. “You got, like, a sugar momma, Ms. Napier?”
“What? God, no,” she scoffed, shaking her head. “I probably shouldn’t have let that slip, but. Quinn is Chiroptera’s real name. She agreed to pay for my college and my rent until I got my feet so long as my GPA was a 3.2 or above. Not out of pocket, of course, Scott left quite a will behind.”
“…Oh. Wow. Oh wow, that’s crazy, dude! So, like, she’s really your teacher and stuff? Man, that’s totally bananas.” Helping herself to a bagel and some cream cheese, Isabella smeared it on with a distant look. “What was that like? Working with her?”
Jessica scratched the back of her neck. “I wish we could have met under less dire circumstances, and I wish I wasn’t so much of a bitch at the time, but it was cool nonetheless. She’s basically become my mother figure since my real mom, you know, committed crimes against humanity. A little stiff, but she’s good people, knows her stuff.”
“Did you get the full American Spirit tour? See all the super cool gadgets and tanks and costumes and stuff?”
“Yeah, I saw Scott’s costume. And I saw his father’s costume too, Kyle’s. Back when the Mavericks were fighting Nazis and the Mafia. I’m not too cool to admit that was pretty awesome.” She smiled at nothing in particular, then turned to Isabella. “No offense.”
Her assistant scrunched up her nose in confusion for a moment before it clicked. “Oh! Dude, none taken. It’s not like I’m excusing them for doing shady stuff. Why d’you think I wanted this job? Helping people like you help other people is where it’s at.”
That begged the question.
“How did you even find my office anyways? We didn’t really talk that much in college, and I hadn’t begun advertising my first day. And please, don’t say magic, or I’ll have to fire you.”
“Uh… Can I say ‘mumbo jumbo’?”
“We don’t know each other that well, Ms. Napier. Plus, like, that’s super unprofessional,” Isabella teased. “Sorry, I used magic. Just don’t come over to my place unannounced if you don’t wanna be creeped out. I saved a ton of newspaper articles and stuff from the Incident and I knew you were gonna do something with your degree once we graduated. Pretty easy to put that together, you know?”
“Wow, double standards. Double fuck you.” Jessica took a long, exaggerated sip of coffee. “But you’ve got a point there.”
She turned her attention back to her mail. More bills, useless junk, a weird letter…
Wait, what? There was no sender address, or even a recipient address. Someone must have dropped it in her box manually. She tore it open, and took a step back. It was like something out of an old noir. Individual letters, cut out of newspapers and magazines, were glued onto a looseleaf piece of paper.
wE hAVe HosTaGEs, cOmE ALonE. waReHOusE OfF 655 HoMEsTEad sT.
“Oh, goddammit!” Jessica shouted, shoving the letter into Isabella’s hands. “Come on, grab your jacket, we’re heading out.”
“Uh… Ms. Napier? It says come alone. Won’t me coming along, like, endanger the hostage?”
“I’ll do what I do best!” she shouted, rushing into her closet. “Make it up as I go along.”
The warehouse off 655 Homestead Street was out in Olympic City, not too far from the Port of Blackburn that was a favorite spot for gang members. Olympic City was foreboding, sure, with its salty air and rusted buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in Cleveland, but the view of Vicio across the bay reminded Jessica that at least the place hadn’t gone full post-apocalyptic yet.
Jessica pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders to ward off the chilly night air blowing in from the bay. This was definitely the place. She entered the warehouse, finding it too dim to see, save for a spotlight in the center with four shabby looking hobos tied to chairs. The hostages. She stepped into the light, only for six thugs to enter opposite her, led by a dreadlocked man.
“Hahahaha! I thought you would at least put up a fight! I told my men to expect some tricks, told these gutter rats they wouldn’t live to see tomorrow. But this? Pathetic. Kill her!”
The men opened fire, horribly inaccurate. Jessica slumped to the ground after taking several dozen rounds to the torso, much to the men’s visible approval. Then a mocking laugh echoed through the rafters above. Pushing herself up onto an elbow, the redhead grasped her chin and pulled away a mask, revealing instead a dark, curly haired Italian woman.
“Dude, you need to, like, stop smoking so much crack.”
The gangsters yowled in agony, doubling over at the sudden pulse of light. A purple blur descended from the rafters, sending the hostages to the ground with a kick. One man, dribbling spittle onto his chin like a rabid animal, still had sense enough to level his rifle at the blurry vigilante. Only, he couldn’t see where she had gone. One moment she was there, the next, vanished. He spun around, aimed at the hostages, and let out a burst. His bullets all struck the ceiling. Shade wrested his weapon away and bashed his skull with its butt.
She hurled the weapon into the corner before jump kicking a second thug. A third gunman, not caring for the safety of his comrade, fired in her direction wildly. Despite her jumps, flips and using her legs to choke him out, she was shot in the shoulder.
The gunman crashed backwards thanks to the impact of his buddy, both going sliding into the darkness. Isabella and another gunner locked eyes. He raised his gun to fire, she mimicked him, and then suddenly the gun was in her hands instead. To his credit, the man recovered quickly and charged her, only to drop like a rock when she struck him in the throat with the buttstock. “Oh, shit, sorry dude!”
The last two gunmen, deciding to cut their losses, fled without a fight. Apparently one of them was the leader, given Shade couldn’t find his unconscious body amongst the goons. Oh well. He got the message. She picked the chairs back up and began untying the hostages.
“Sorry about the kick, had to keep you guys out of the line of fire.”
“You kiddin’? That was Zo Bwa Tet! Them guys is all kicks of wack. You saved our lives.”
“Hmph. Don’t mention it.”
Isabella blinked repeatedly. “Wow, hey uh, boss? That was pretty crazy, you taking out all those goons by hand and all. You alright?”
Shade moved her right arm around. “Yeah, I’m good. Got hit in my bad shoulder but I’m good.”
Isabella raised an eyebrow. “You want me to, uh, enchant your stuff like mine?”
“I’m good. After I got stabbed during the Incident, I got Scott’s buddy, the Blacksmith, to re-design my costume. This isn’t the nineties anymore, so cloth and body armor has been phased out for an experimental nanotech bodysuit. Not bulletproof, but a hell of a lot more bullet resistant. And it compliments my figure.”
“Lookin’ good!” said one of the hostages, giving a thumbs up. Isabella shot him a dry look. Really, guy?
“Now come on, let’s head back before I have to drop some more exposition. You guys, stay off the streets for a while, don’t go anywhere near Little Haiti.”
If you didn’t understand Blackburn, you weren’t going to last long in it. The city was ruthless, and fish who tried to fight for feed were less likely to get full and more likely to get dead.
Eddy liked to think of himself as a big fish. But he didn’t operate like a mindless animal. He knew the key to survival wasn’t mindless brutality, because there was always a bigger fish. Smart criminals thought with strategy, not fists. They held their cards close and played the long game, played the big fish against each other. And more importantly, they showed proper respect to big fish.
Clearly Jimmy Stenhouse wasn’t aware of that. Eddy hoped that, with every strike of his blackjack, he was getting closer to the idea. After a swift strike to the collarbone (didn’t want to leave bruises after all), Eddy took a long puff on his cigar.
“That hurt, Jim? It’s okay, you don’t have to say anything. That’s just Synapse doin’ what it’s supposed to.”
He savored a long drag, smoke billowing from his mouth as he laughed. “You’re a pretty tough cookie Jim. But you don’t understand pain like I do. Have you ever fired a piece before? No? I have. Many times, in fact. First time, I was eleven. Got mugged at knifepoint for a pair of Air Jordans I was selling, was cut on my leg in three places. So I took my homeboy’s nine, took my J’s back, took my money, and took his knee. I’ll ask again, Jim…”
He put his cigar out on an ashtray and straightened his tie.
Crack! Crack! Crack!
“Where’s?! My?! Damn?! Money?! I don’t think you want to play tough for much longer! The last guy who Mouse gave that concoction to ended up in the tile room.”
“Alright, alright!” Jim blurted up, lips quivering as he slunk lower in his seat. “I, I’m a little behind on rent but I can make it work! You’ll get your damn money, Hamilton!”
“Hahahaha! You won’t have to worry about that brother, I’m taking the club too. Stone! Take Jim back to his club. And if he don’t got my money in fifteen days, I want you to go back there with some of the boys and get it with interest. Be careful around the furniture though, I might keep some of it.”
With that business taken care of, he slipped his jacket back on and ventured out into the halls. Or at least, what were to become halls. Soon he’d be able to stop doing his dirty work at his own construction sites.
“Nisa, time to go… Nisa?”
Putting her fingers up over the receiver of her cellphone, the woman mouthed ‘Just a moment, sir’. “Listen, I don’t care about your misuse or ineptitude. You purchased arms from us and failed to utilize them effectively. That isn’t our fault. I fail to see the purpose in you pestering me further.”
That fucking worm Elifort… He should have known better than to deal with unhinged islanders. He extended his hand out to Mouse and beckoned for the phone. “I’m transferring you to Mr. Hamilton. Watch your mouth,” she bit out before acquiescing.
“What seems to be the problem here?” he demanded.
“Dammit li nan lanfè! One of my men landed a shot on that witch and it did jack shit! I don’t know if she upgraded her armor, or, or what, but this cannot stand!”
“And what exactly is the reason you called us, Elifort?”
“Shade is as much our problem as she is yours! We need heavier firepower. You have RPGs, yes?”
Eddy couldn’t help but chuckle. “What, you want them at a discount or something?”
“Yes! It would make up for your inadequate sale.”
“Hahahaha!” He took the phone from his ear, shaking his head at Mouse. Was this fool serious? “Yeah okay. Listen, L’Ouverture, how about we set up a meeting and I refund you fifty percent, huh? Then you can buy an RPG directly from Grigori and go ghost hunting.”
“… Fine. Be there on time.”
Eddy mouthed the word ‘motherfucker’ before hanging up.
“You’re not really considering his terms, are you, sir?”
“‘Course not. Russian Santa would put coal in my stocking if I sent that crazy cat his way. No, no one’s going to be making any deals with Elifort ever again. Or Jessica Napier, for that matter.” He started to punch in a phone number. “Hope you’re not sentimental. Two birds one stone, y’know?”
Nisa was quiet for a moment, brows drawn as she stared at the floor. “Of course not, sir. Excellent idea.”
He stopped before he made the call. “You sure? We can deal with Jessica another way, this plan is off-the-cuff and all.”
“She made her choice and I made mine, sir. There’s no argument to be had. Not with that one.”