With the renovations on the downtown mall to make it more inviting to nightlife as well as business professionals, there have been many renovations of buildings close to the area- changing from their original purpose to ‘unique’ living areas.
One such area is the Norcross Station Apartments. From the outside, it shows its age and original purpose as a Transfer and Storage building. But it has been renovated into one of the most hip- and expensive- places to live in the area.
Well lit and well secured with its own security, the place is a haven to those that want to party and walk home safely, but a hassle to those that want to get in quietly.
“Well, this doesn’t look too difficult,” Nick told the others. “Monk, prepare for a makeover. I could try making Sir Launcelot here look like Miss Trish, but she’d walk funny, and clank while doing so. Not very convincing.”
“There isn’t a lot of security here, according to the dossier.” David said, ignoring Nick’s barb. “But having them call the police would lead to awkward questions about what the three of us are doing here.” He looked at Nick, and then at Monk and then back to Nick. “A makeover? Are you intending to dangle Monk as some sort of honey badger?” He immediately corrected himself “Trap. Honey Trap”
Monk couldn’t decide which man’s shin to kick first, but it was certainly a close contest. Her finger pointed at one, then the other… measuring the distance between Doc Marten and ankle.
In an act of benevolence, she restrained from doing so. Or maybe, it was the alcohol. Probably the latter.
“I hate you both,” she said. “I want that on record.”
She sighed, “Alright. Work your magic.”
“Close your eyes.”
Nick wiggled his fingers, whispered some words that most people wouldn’t have understood but that were fairly recognizable to the others, and wound a bit of gossamer around the grumpy woman’s hat. David saw a shimmer, and Trish Wallace stood before them.
“Oops, almost forgot. Stick out your tongue.” When Monk reluctantly complied, Nick put a sugar cube on it. “Don’t swallow that. Not until you’ve sweet-talked the guard. In this case, literally. We don’t know what her voice sounds like, but the guard will hear it coming from your mouth.”
A tingling sensation accompanied the sweetness of the sugar cube as it touched Monk’s tongue- she had to call upon all of her willpower not to give into the sudden urge to swallow.
Just about that time, the security guard started to take notice of the trio on the street. He shifted out of his chair and walked to the small window beside the entrance, and began to look their way with definite interest.
Monk glared at Nick as he put the sugar cube in her mouth. Her jaw ached from the sweetness, nearly locking up. “What am I? A pony?”
Before she gagged on the sugar, she walked toward the build as if she belonged there. She swayed her newly acquired booty with moderate skill, letting the guard get a nice gander.
She smiled at him, catching a quick look at his name tag. A friendly wave as she headed by him, “Evening, Erich. Good to see you. Having some guests up, if that’s okay.”
Monk stopped and smiled again over her guard-stunning rack, “I was expecting some other visitors. Anyone stop by while I was out?”
David stood quietly. In truth he admired Nick’s bit of glamour. It wasn’t the sort of Seelie magic he used, of course, but he had seen it before. Been targeted by it before. Dealt with it before.
It was good not to be on the receiving end of it for a change.
Erich regarded Monk for a moment, apparently entranced by her ‘glamours.’ He fumbled with his words, “Evening, Ms. Wallace. I’m sorry, I don’t recall anyone, but you’re free to check the logbook.” He pushed the daily sign-in sheet toward her.
“Thank you, so much,” Monk smiled, leaning forward to check for names that might jump out. She made it quick before stepping away from the desk. “Guys, this is Erich. Erich, the guys.”
The guard gave them the briefest glance, before returning his not-so-subtle stare at Monk’s ass.
Monk headed for the stairs, “Night, Erich.” She hurried her step, feeling the last vestiges of the sugar cube melting in the side of her mouth.
Nick shook Erich’s hand enthusiastically. “Very pleased to meet you. Thanks for keeping an eye on the place.”
He clapped Erich on the shoulder and followed Monk away.
As they walked away, they could hear the guard door opening behind them as they mounted the stairwell.
“Miss Wallace!” The Erich’s voice rang out after them. “Miss Wallace!” They could hear his keys jingle as he picked up to a jog. But the one thing that made it more curious than alarming- he was still referring to Monk in character.
“I almost forgot- this package came for you today by courier.” As he handed off to Monk, he added, “Looks pretty important, so I didn’t want to forget about it.”
Thankfully, he walked after he nodded to her, instead of trying to engage, so the fact that Nick’s glamour had worn off was of little import.
Arriving at the door of Trish’s apartment, it was striking how much the styling still resembled the transport station this had once been with the high ceilings and spacious interiors, updated for living areas with the stone floors now finished and giving it a modern feel.
The door itself was very well secured- a large sliding slab that would be hard to move silently by someone that wasn’t there with good intentions. The door itself was a vertical deadbolt- presumably with a the lock running into the floor and the ceiling- again very secure.
Nick sighed as he looked over the door. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that there’s a key in that package. I suppose I could give you some more sugar—that’s not a euphemism—to convince our friend you’ve lost your key, but even humans tend to become resistant after multiple exposures.”
He looked at David. “Your turn, I think. You look more comfortable with large metal things than either of us.”
David laughed slightly. “You expect me to muscle this door down? I may be strong, but I am not that strong.”
“However.” he added, stepping up to the door. “A lock, a door, a portal. There are other ways to get through than just brute force. Other ways.”
The crackle of energy emitted from his finger was not the typical signature of a Knight of the Seelie Court. But the Knight of Star Lake, the Lake of Worlds, could go anywhere, if he but knew there was something on the other side, and drew on the Lady to aid him.
The deadbolt slid up of its own accord. David pulled the door open. He could have done it with a touch, but being a showoff didn’t count.
Doing the job right, was.
Monk watched David work, leaning back at the sight of magic. “Well, that’s handy,” she said. “Nice work.”
She glanced at the door, then back to Nick. “So. Might be dangerous in there. You go first.”
Nick laughed. “I don’t do dangerous. I merely recount the heroics of them that do. And help out a little, from a distance.”
He bowed to David. “After you, good Sir Knight.”
The inside of the apartment is all polished wood and stainless steel- the mark of urban living. The high ceilings are almost not visible, and a picture window looks out over the downtown. The bedroom is separated from the living space by height, rather than walls, with a spiraling staircase leading up to a platform where the bed is barely visible. One supposes that the tenant needs to not have a history of sleepwalking.
The most striking thing is how clean the living area is- almost to the point of sterility. Contrasted with the bedroom, where the platform bed lies unmade, and clothes are strewn across the bed. But nothing appears to be untoward in this disarray- just the pressures of fast living.
“Searching an apartment for clues.” David said aloud. “is not precisely my strong suit.” He wasn’t desultory about it, looking over the living room and kitchen areas for signs of…something. Not satisfied, he went into the bedroom, crouched and contemplated the bed.
Monk stood in the living area for a moment, studying the excessive cleanliness. “Maybe it’s just me, but I’m thinking someone did a once-over in here. Probably where she got nabbed,” she said. “Either that or she’s bipolar.”
She wandered over to the kitchen island and set the courier envelope down. She fetched a beer from the fridge – imported (gag) – while taking a moment to look for any notes that might be stuck on the door.
She began stalking around the room, taking heavy swigs from the bottle; acting all slutty was thirsty work after all. Her attention focused on things that might be missed in a clean up – like under a couch or wedged behind an end table. Not everyone was as close to the ground as she was, after all.
“It may just be a case of public area versus private area. If she does any entertaining, she’d want to keep it cleaner than the mess she’s made upstairs.”
“Regardless, I’m afraid my curiosity is about to incite me to break federal laws.” He grabbed the package from the counter, and was about ready to rip it open, but decided it might be prudent to check the label first.
Monk slid the envelope over to Nick, “Have at it.” She gave a dark smile, “And if it’s full of Anthrax, turn away from us, KK?”
“I don’t think discretion and hesitation are your strong suits, Nick” David said dryly.
“I am very discreet, thank you,” Nick replied, mildly offended. “However, that quality does sometimes come into conflict with a keen sense of curiosity.”
The envelope is unsurprisingly enough addressed to Trish at this location. The sender, however, is a bit less straightforward.
> Alphabet Soup, LTD
> B. Reidel
Tearing the envelope open, there are the requisite peanuts inside, protecting only a flash drive and a folded piece of paper.
> As required by our agreement, I’m enclosing all that I have on the subject. He was alive as of the last time I made inquiries, but his health was not of the highest import.
Again, I’d suggest leaving off this line of inquiry. It will lead to no good end.
But with this, I call all accounts even.
>I can’t help adding one more thing- if you are determined, there are certain rumors surrounding your rescue of people with certain abilities. This tends more towards their arena than mine.
“She was a hardly innocent kidnap victim, after all.” David commented, poking at the flash drive with a finger. “She didn’t get to use the information on this drive, but it could give us a sense of who grabbed her.”
“Drexl didn’t know the half of it. Think that ‘he’ was our late Warden?”
“You think Drexl Wallace is an alias for Bennett? I suppose that’s possible. A move to keep his daughter safe, perhaps. And we don’t know anything about the man, except that he’s an unspecified sort of consultant with a penchant for extremely durable business cards.”
Nick picked up the flash drive in a kitchen towel and wiped off David’s fingerprint. “Surely Ms. Wallace has a computer around here. Let’s see what information is on this thing.” He looked at the other two. “Neither of you have that particular wizarding ailment that fries computers, do you? I’d have to ask you to leave the room.” When nobody answered in the affirmative, he located Trish’s laptop and started it up, plugging the drive in to peruse its contents.
Monk arched her way back to the kitchen counter, nursing her beer. “Computers? Nope. My skills run more analog and squishy. I play a mean MarioKarts though.”
She leaned over Nick’s shoulder, as if trying to make sense of the materials on the laptop-thingy. “Told you she was in on this,” she said, taking another swig. “But here’s the thing. Who are we actually working for? Maybe we’re doing someone’s dirty work. Trying to find Ms. Perky Nips for someone unsavory, rather than Daddy.”
“Maybe. Killian could be lying. Or the man that hired him could have been someone else, pretending to be Ms. Trish’s father. This story could be going in any direction. Who can tell? That’s what makes it exciting!” He continued scanning the screen.
“A-ha!” he said. “Well, that’s very interesting.”
The dossier is far from complete- it contains a lot of information, but little in the way of context – a series of dots with no lines to connect them.
The first video depicts low-light imagery as if from a security camera. In a pit there is what appears to be a man- ferally crouched in the center, surrounded by the corpses of unfortunates. He is nude, filthy, and chained to the floor, looking around wildly, but staying as far as possible from the corpses. It’s also notable that his features seem strangely distended, and his incisors quite a bit longer than humanly possible.
A woman and three men come through the area, clearing opposition as they do with calculated violence. A flash of light seems to erupt from one the hands of one of the men, and the camera fails suddenly.
A second clip starts- this one in an outdoor area, as a chain link fence surrounds a small field that contains several prisoners. Three of them- a man and two women- are chained to the far side of the enclosure, spattered in the blood of the animal carcasses that decorate the grounds. Another man attempts to get out of the fence, despair in his voice as two guards outside of the enclosure keep him from getting a handhold on the fence links. A third man sits a bit more outside of gate, watching with a detached, almost scientific interest.
It takes a bit, but Nick recognizes that the man is the same in both images- the he’s just been cleaned up from his time in the pit. He looks less feral, and though his facial distortions are just as extreme, his incisors are not as pronounced.
As he points it out, David, studiously investigating rights a photo frame beside the computer, and he realizes that the man on the video is the same as the one posed with Trish Wallace in the photo.
Monk meanwhile picks up on what her Gobber sense has been trying to tell her the whole time- the residue that she sees on the bed sheets isn’t some unmentionable fluid- it’s the last remnants of ectoplasm. That’s the reason that there’s no sign of a crime- the kidnappers disappeared into the NeverNever.
“Uhhhh, guys?” Monk said, wrinkling her nose at the sheets. “Looks like she took the second star to the right, and went straight on till morning.”
She glanced around the apartment. Suddenly, things seemed a boatload more unnerving, the shadows far deeper. “Not good. Really not good. Can we speed this up? I need a drink.” She polished off the beer in her hand.
“Into the NeverNever, you mean?” David asked Monk. “This gets worse and worse, although I suppose we should have not been terribly surprised at this point.”
“the man in the photo is the same one in this video.” David added, picking up the former and studying it. “We don’t want to miss an important detail on these clips, though, if we fast forward too much through this.”
“We have an idea of where we’re going to find her though.” David said. “Although the exact part of the NeverNever is the question. Maybe one of these clips will reveal that.” A chill ran down his spine, as some nasty ideas and theories ran through his head.
“I’m not sure that ‘man’ is the right word anymore. But it appears that he is Ms. Trish’s father, and she’s been looking for him. So who really hired Killian to look for her?” He took the photo out of the frame. “We need to ask him if this is who came to him.”
“I’m also curious about this note. What does it mean by ‘rescue of people with certain abilities’? These videos certainly seem to show people in need of rescue, if it’s not too late for them already. We should see if we can find this Mr. B of Alphabet Soup.” He put everything back in the envelope and wiped down the computer before putting it back.
“As for the NeverNever, as far as I’m concerned, it’s practically a dead end. I can’t re-open that passage, and even if someone else can, I’m not keen on tracking her kidnapper on the other side. It’s not likely to be profitable, but it is likely to be dangerous.” He looked at the other two and sighed. “But I suppose if David can force a way through, Monk can do the tracking. And I can chronicle our heroic journey or something.”
“That would be the division of labor I would expect you to propose Nick.” David said with a slight smile. “But we do seem to face a choice. Trying to follow Trish’s kidnapper directly is a rather direct approach, perhaps not nuanced enough for both of you to use your skills.”
Nick shrugged. “So, which will it be? The NeverNever? Killian? Or Mr. B? If we’re going into the NeverNever, we should do it now: the trail won’t get any fresher. And it gets us past this place’s security on the way out, for what little that’s worth.”
She flipped David the Bird – and not the Charlie Parker. “Nuance this.”
Monk set the empty aside, “Listen, I just patch mooks like you two up. Never been one for the adventuring side of things. I like to keep my nose out of this crap. Tends to keep it attached to my face.”
She glanced back in the direction of the bed, “Unless one of you has a Key to Neverland handy, I vote we avoid the land of pixies and redcaps. Besides, I think if we find Mr. Smiley, we’ll find Perky Nips.”
“I suppose” David said dryly, ignoring the gesture from Monk. “That settles our course of action.”
With that decided, the not-investigators made their way out of the loft, to seek out their supposed client for a meet-up…