- Mon Jan 21, 2019 10:55 am
Lafferty exited the apartment building and headed down the alley where he had parked his patrol cruiser. He had questioned several people there, but Miss Beauvais had the most useful testimony and evidence of any of them. The alley was dark, but through the shadows, he noticed a man walking toward the apartment building.
An errant floodlight from another apartment complex interrupted the shadows of the alley. As the man passed through the light, Lafferty got a good look at him. Caucasian, male, dark hair, dark shirt, soaked from the rain but clearly not dressed for it, covered in seeds and stickers as if he’d been walking through weeds recently and… those sneakers.
Those were the sneakers of the man who’d been sitting on the edge of his window earlier that evening. Clearly, he had seen something of the events that took place, and his shirt matched the one in the video.
“Sir? Sir, can I ask you some questions?”
The man stopped, “Sure.”
Betty desperately clung to Nola’s back as she raced down the road on her motorcycle. It was bad enough that the girl drove like a speed demon with no tomorrow on city streets, but in the rain, it was almost more than enough for Betty.
After about ten minutes, they came to a stop. The neighborhood was mostly single family houses, but it was about as bad as her own neighborhood. Most of the houses were dilapidated with weedy yards and barred windows.
“We’re here.” said Nola over the helmet’s Bluetooth speakers.
“Where?” said Betty.
Nola pulled off her helmet and talked to Betty directly, “Where we were going.”
She dismounted her motorcycle and walked over to an unmarked van about 20 feet away. This van was a darker color than the one Betty had seen earlier that evening, and it was a different make, but Betty was starting to have her fill of unmarked vans for the evening.
Nola walked up to the back of the van and knocked twice. “Carl,” she called. The back of the van opened up. The man inside had a dark uniform and a shaved head. Nola gestured toward Betty as if presenting her to him.
Betty slowly walked up to the van. Nola smiled her wolfish smile at Carl. “Well?” she asked him.
Carl beckoned Betty to the van. He took a device from a shelf and turned it on. A red light started blinking. He fiddled with the controls a bit then held the device out to Betty’s face. As he did, the red light went off. He moved the device slowly up and down, then side to side in front of her face. The red light stayed off.
He flipped the device off and leaned out toward Betty. “Hold still,” he said as he put his thumb and two fingers to the side of her head and closed his eyes. Betty wasn’t sure what to do, so she just stayed there.
After about 30 seconds, Carl opened his eyes and looked at Nola. “She’ll do.” he said.
“Do what?” asked Betty, more confused than anything else.
“Start tonight’s festivities,” said Nola with an uncharacteristic giggle.
“Come on in,” said Carl, moving back to make room for the two women.
“No.” said Betty. She had had enough of this weirdness for one night. She wanted to go home.
Nola drew closer to Betty, “Whaddya mean no?” she said, “Come on Betts.” Betty hated when she called her that.
“I mean I’m not getting into a van that I’ve never seen before for a reason that I don’t even know about. Nola, what are you getting me into?”
“Exactly what you signed up for. Nothing more, nothing less.” Nola let her eyes drift down to Betty’s forearm and come back up. Betty still had her coat on, but she got the hint.
Carl chimed in. “Look… Betty, is it? If you’ve been called, you’ve been called. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen, but I can tell you that you’ll get through tonight just fine if you don’t put up too much of a fuss.” He sounded mildly bored, like a technician who just wanted to get done with his job.
“And if I say no?”
“Did Nola tell you what would happen if you walk away and abandon your new brothers and sisters?”
“She kinda went over it...” Betty vaguely remembered Nola telling her something about that right before she got her tattoo.
“So she told you about being clawed, shattered, having your mind juiced dry and your thoughts vaped into the air by a cackling old man?”
“Um… something like that?”
“Well, she wasn’t exaggerating.” said Carl in a matter-of-fact tone.
Betty took a moment to process what she had just heard. She couldn’t even make sense of some of the stuff he said. What chilled her the most though was how nonchalant Carl was about all of this. It was like he had seen the things he had described to her before. It was no big deal to him. She hadn’t considered these people to be nefarious when she had said the oath in that shadowy apartment not too long ago, but now she realized she had no idea what they were really willing to do.
Or what they really wanted.
Betty weighed her options. She knew she was somewhere off Saffron Blvd., but she didn’t know the neighborhood. It was too late for a bus, and too long for walking. She didn’t want to call a friend for a ride and get them wrapped up in all of this. The rain had faded to a light sprinkle, but there was no telling if it could pick up again.
“What exactly are you going to do with me?”
“You remember the part of the book that talked about the Blissful Unity with the Higher Mind?” said Nola, “Think of this as the first steps toward that.”
Betty remembered the book referencing that phrase, and one of the later chapters was dedicated to it, but she hadn’t gotten that far yet.
“You promise me I’ll stay safe?” asked Betty.
“You’ll be home by morning.” said Carl.
Betty hesitated. She didn’t see herself getting home without getting through this first, whatever it may be. She decided to bite.
“Okay,” she got into the van.
Nola climbed in right after her, shutting the van door behind them.
Carl started working with another machine, a metal headset wired to some sort of large control board. Eventually, he brought the headset to Betty.
“That’s not going to electrocute me, is it?”
“No, see it’s insulated?” he pointed to the padding on the inside.
Nola mildly startled Betty by taking off her hat for her. “Relax Betts.” she said. She held Betty by the shoulders. Betty noticed that her grip was much stronger than any teenage girl’s had any right to be.
“Ready?” asked Carl.
“I guess...” said Betty.
Carl lowered the headset onto Betty’s head and turned to the control board. He started adjusting knobs and dials.
Betty didn’t feel much of anything. She just heard a steadily increasing hum. She turned to Nola, who was staring right at her and had peeled her lips back into a shark smile. Then she was blinded in an instant by
“It looks like you got caught out in the rain.” said Lafferty. The man – Fred – had been cooperative so far with all of the standard questions, but Lafferty was moving on to the meatier queries.
“Yeah,” Fred looked up, “unusual weather.”
“Mm-hmm” said Lafferty. It was a bit unusual this early in the year, but not unheard of.
“Those stickers on your pantlegs, where’d you get those?” he asked.
“Well, I -” Fred stopped as if interrupted. He started looking around, his eyes darting back and forth. Lafferty thought he looked kind of like a dog hearing a dog whistle, but couldn’t hear anything himself. Fred looked over his shoulder, as if honing in on the signal he was receiving.
Fred snapped back to the real world. “Officer! I have to go now. You can follow me if you want.” He ran into the shadows of the alley.
“Hey! HEY! Do not run!” Lafferty drew his pistol and ran after Fred. He saw Fred climb onto a large, dark, and not-quite-legally parked motorcycle near a back fence and turn it on. He stopped ten feet from Fred and pointed his gun at Fred’s center of mass. “Freeze!” he yelled.
“Officer,” Fred turned around casually, almost lazily, “if you shoot me, you’re going to miss. Now, I’m going to leave. You can follow me, or you can stay behind, but you’re not going to stop me.” He pulled out, slowly rolled to the end of the alley, and turned around to look at Lafferty.
Lafferty stood there in near shock. No one – no one – talked to him like that when he had a gun on them from ten feet away.
And yet this guy just did.
He snapped out of it and ran to his patrol cruiser at the other end of the alley, calling for backup as he ran. As he started the car, he saw Fred make a right onto King Street, heading east toward Ace Avenue.
Lafferty roared down the alley, his lights blazing and siren wailing, and whipped out onto the street after him.