The Downtown Mall at night. A perfect place to meet up and have a drink, the night scene is pretty bustling beneath the canopy of lights.
There’s also opportunities for other knowledge, as The Twisted Branch is a known quantity in the supernatural world, and Plotius is known to hang out at the Freedom of Speech wall and offers advice for a price…
“So many choices.” David said as they entered the mall. His eyes flickered around. Indecision, a bane that sometimes stayed his hand, had come up. The events at the house caused him to doubt, to feel guilty that he would steer the wrong course. He had to right himself again, get himself settled.
“Look for Drexl directly, or prowl around the Wall or The Twisted branch first?” he asked.
“Let’s do the easy thing for once, shall we?” Nick pulled out his phone and dialed the number on Drexl’s business card.
Nick talked on the phone for some time, and when he was done he sounded frustrated. “He said he wasn’t interested in meeting with subcontractors, and anything we wanted to know we could get from Killian. So I arranged for Killian to meet us here in a bit. At least this gives us a chance to show him Trish’s photo and ask if the man in her videos is the man who hired him.”
Monk hung back, nervous as an alley cat strung out of Red Bull and Sugar Bombs. “I don’t like this,” she muttered to no-one, in particular. She glanced around the mall, searching the faces for anything out of place.
“This is usually the part in the movie where the stoolies get gunned down in a Michael Bay-orgasmic gun-fight.
“You guys have done this stuff before, right?”
“Goodness, no,” Nick said, smiling. “But if I thought there was going to be a gunfight, you wouldn’t be able to see me. Or yourself, for that matter. Relax. Nobody expects us here. Nobody even knows that Killian hired us. Unless maybe you suspect Mrs. Scruggs?”
“If there was a gunflight, Nick would be in the next zip code.” David commented dryly.
“This is about as neutral ground you get, though.” David says. “People pulling out guns means that very serious stuff has gone down. Even more serious than what we’re in.
“I don’t like what you’re implying, Sir Knight. I didn’t say that I wouldn’t be here, only that you wouldn’t notice me. If the true mark of courage is to stand before a hail of bullets, I am willing to ensure that you instead are lit up like a neon ‘shoot here’ sign, so you can show everyone how heroic you are. For the very last time. Is that what you want?”
“Peace, Nick” He held up a hand. “I just recall that incident at Monticello. The Ghost?” He breathed in and out. “Your sense of self preservation was laudable, in that instance.”
“Boys, boys,” Monk chided. “Put your gherkins back in the jar and let’s get this done, kk?”
She pulled her hat down tighter, self-conscious of her ears. “Now, are we meeting him somewhere I can get a drink? I’m edging dangerously on sobriety right now.”
“Where exactly did you ask Killian to meet us?” David turned to Nick. “Certainly not standing in the middle of the mall gawking like someone on vacation from New Jersey.”
There are several places on the mall tailored to those unaccustomed to sobriety, but before that can even be considered, Monk’s ‘Gobber Sense’ picks up on the fact that there is someone watching. Someone good. In fact good enough, that she’s sure that they’ve been there for a while.
Now that she’s aware of it, it’s pretty easy to localize the shimmering of a very good veil, over near the overhang of a nearby eatery. Even as she begins to focus, the person begins to walk towards them, fading into view as he does.
Not Killian… but he doesn’t seem to be a threat. He nods openly to Monk as he approaches, slowly enough to give her a chance to assess him.
He’s short, but not so much so… she’d place his height at a bit over 5’. Shrouded in baggy clothes and a trench, most that weren’t paying attention would probably think that he was one of the many peddlers on the mall. But as Monk was decidedly paying attention, she noted that his face was a bit too clean, and though he looked bowed, he didn’t have the defeated look of the others that she’d seen in that state- his eyes showed much stress and wariness, but also an inquisitiveness and intelligence and warmth.
But what sealed it for her were the boots. Maybe he was a fashionable hobo, but Monk knew her boots. And those, though battered, were Bates. And he didn’t look like the military type…
“Excuse me for interrupting,” he said when closer- far enough away to bolt if need be, but close enough to be heard without raising his voice. He seemed casual enough, but those expressive eyes gave him away on that regard. “I think that you were expecting someone… if not me. But I was what was sent, and you must decide if you will speak with me.”
David turned as Shane stepped into view. He cursed himself for allowing Monk to spot him first. Some sort of cloaking. Changeling stuff. He felt a little vulnerable, but felt his power within him rise slightly. He might not be a visible threat, he wasn’t who they were looking for.
“We are, I think it is safe to say, open to speaking to you.” David said. “I take it that you know who we are. But who are you?” His name, his identity was still dancing around the edge of his memory. But he wasn’t going to let this fish get away.
“People call me ‘Soup’,” he said, looking them over as they did the same. “Some friends and I worked with Killian on a couple of cases a while back. He’d pinged us about something new, but we… aren’t together right now…”
He cocked his head to the right, looking closer at David. Then he sniffed, and his eyes widened. For a second, it looked like he might bolt, but he forced himself to stand pat by visible effort. “…not quite Winter… but not quite Summer either. Who are you is the more interesting question?”
Nick stuck out his hand, holding Drexl’s card in such a way that it was equally an invitation to examine the card and shake the hand. “Nick Foxburrough. My colleagues and I were subcontracted by Killian to find this man’s daughter. However, there seems to be some conflicting information.” He pulled out the photo from Trish’s apartment. “Can you by any chance confirm that this man’s face goes with the name on that card? Or tell us anything about this man at all?”
“Wait. You mean Trish? She’s in trouble again?” Soup replied. Nick’s words took his attention completely off of David.
“And no… I haven’t seen that man…” he added, cocking his head.
“Though something does seem familiar about him…”
He shook his head after staring for a moment. “It will come to me,” he said, smiling. “It always does as long as I don’t concentrate on it.”
“I can’t tell you everything. It’s not my story to tell,” continued, shrugging apologetically.
“But yes, Trish was in a bit of trouble with one of Wallace’s- ‘former employees’,” he started, complete with air quotes around the last two words. He struggled to continue, though it wasn’t apparent if it was the memory or the separation of what he could tell.
“We performed a bit of ‘aggressive negotiation’ for her return. Took a bit of ‘heavy artillery’ too- as in wardens.” Getting into the story, he became more animated- and he did apparently love his air quotes.
“They finally thought something around here was important enough to take off from their ‘war’.” It was readily apparent that there was something there, though he just let out a sound somewhere between a sigh of regret and derision. Suddenly, he looked around a bit suspiciously, and added, somewhat abruptly, “Though, I’m sure they have their reasons.” The statement was a bit too loud, and too obvious.
“Sorry about that,” he continued, shrugging. “But Wallace is a good man that made some bad decisions that put him in a hard place. And Trish doesn’t seem to understand that. Understandable with…”
He looked down at the picture again. “I wish Hugo was here… he’d remember right off the bat… yes! Trish has… had?… an older brother. Collin… or something like that. I think that’s him… one of the points of contention between her and her father. His death.”
He looked back up at Nick. “They were really close, and she didn’t take it well.”
Monk cocked her head at Soup, catching the subtle – yet weird – reaction he kept having whenever Mr. Mysterious came up in the conversation. That kept gnawing in the back of her skull as things went on – threads from the night slowly tying together. They didn’t form anything concrete, but it got her wondering.
She nudged David’s arm with her elbow, “Can vampires mind-bugger you into forgetting stuff?”
“If they get the drop on me, and the Lady’s power is not with me.” David said. His tone suggested how unlikely that combination of events was. “But you were referring to “Soup”, I take it” he said. He watched Soup and Nick interact. “Either he is frightened out of his wits, or someone has strolled through his mind.” he agreed. “Certain members of either Court can get you to forget them, so that they can visit you again and again.”
“Ah,” Nick said, continuing his conversation with Soup. “That does clear that up, thank you. So, you said you were sent. Were you sent by Wallace, Killian, or someone else? What’s your role in all this?”
Monk stepped forward, sliding into Nick’s side as if she belonged there. She cast a lazy smile to Soup, pretending to be half-listening.
But in truth, she watched him with a trained eye – one of the benefits of being a street doc. She’d dealt with poppers, crooks, and all kinds of trash. Liars all. But, for all their tricks, the body didn’t, could’t lie. Pupil dilation, quickened pulse, the flush of capillaries. All signs of untruths. Or of someone under the influence, be it drugs or booze.
“And give us the straight on this,” she added. “I’ve had a long night.”
“Apparently, something set Wallace’s danger sense into high gear, so being the cautious dodger he is, he passed you down the chain to Killian- who I take it is a bit more familiar with you,” Soup responded, drumming his fingers on the table nervously.
“Like I said, Killian had tried to get us on the job, but after last time… and with my friends out of contact… I turned him down.” He shrugged. “Without backup, I’m not so good on stuff like this.”
As Monk sized him up, she could see that he was nervous, paranoid, and frightened out of his wits, though he tried to hide it. But he seemed to really want to help.
“But… accounts still aren’t settled with Killian, so when he explained… I felt obligation to get that off my ledger. He told me it was because I was familiar with the case- but I really didn’t expect it to be Trish.”
As he finished his explanation, Monk realized what she’d missed- he was a changeling also!
“What have you found out so far? And how can I help?”
“She’d asked a B. Reidel of Alphabet Soup for information about her brother. And someone recently left her apartment via… unconventional means. Anything else is pure speculation based on very little knowledge or evidence. Maybe if you were to look at the data that Reidel sent, you could give us more insight into what it means.”
David nodded in agreement with Nick.
“We were given a dossier on Trish.” he pulled out the folder he had been carrying. “We’ve only scanned the important information, and I think the data is probably more fruitful, but if you can make sense of the thread in this labyrinth…” he let his words trail off.
“People are also covering their tracks pretty well,” Monk added. “Using bad juju. So, that ain’t sitting well with me.”
She tugged her floppy ear, weighing her next words. “And are we sure this Collin guy is dead? Or could he be mostly-dead? It might explain a couple of things.”
“Oh…”, Soup said, his eyes widening. If he looked frightened before, he was at a whole different stage of terrified out of his wits now.
“I’m sorry… I don’t think I can help you,” he said.
But at the same time, he took out a napkin from his pocket and a pen._ There’s something you should know. But we can’t discuss it here. And even writing, I can’t say too much._ He slid the napkin across where the three of them could see the writing.
Observing him as he wrote, Monk could see that it didn’t appear that Soup was operating under anything other than pure unadulterated fear.
I know how this looks… and so, its your choice. But I have to get to the sanctum to say anything else.
In addition to fear- there was more than a touch of frustration in his expression as he awaited their response.
“Ah,” Nick said, “That’s unfortunate. Well, if you change your mind, please contact me. There is a girl’s life at stake, after all.” He pulled out a business card: it referenced a disposable phone, a post office box, and a disposable email address. He scribbled quickly on the back, Tell us when and where to meet, and handed it to Soup.
“It is a matter of your dishonor” David chimed in with Nick’s shadow play. “A girl’s freedom and her life is on the line. Be it on your head and conscience that you refused to help.” He screwed his face into not quite disgust, but he clearly had weighed, measured and found the Soup wanting.
Monk crossed her arms, glaring at Soup. “Well, thanks for nothing then, pal,” she said, perhaps louder than she needed to. For the added benefit of anyone watching them, she made a rude gesture and stormed off.
Because of her tiny legs, the ‘storming’ didn’t have as much dramatic impact as it should have. Still, she hoped it’d attract enough attention away from Nick and Soup to finish their covert exchange.
“I’m getting a slice,” she called back to them.
Soup scribbles an address, and nervously slides the card back across to Nick – 105 Madison Lane – 11:30. He recognizes the street, if not the address; it’s on the UVA campus, on a street where many of the fraternities are housed. But those are in general higher numbers… the lower numbers are more towards the administration center.
“I’m sorry,” he says aloud, his voice wavering a bit. “Really, I am, and I hope you find what you’re looking for,” he continues, rising. Averring his eyes, he leaves, his shoulders slumped, vanishing into the crowd.