Author Topic: Chapter 3  (Read 9001 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 3
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:02:59 AM »
Chapter 3

After watching D/D leave his meeting and walk back home, Petra and her new associate left the warehouse building together. The other woman identified herself as Dierdre Halstaff, or Didi to her friends. Petra didn't want to presume, but she couldn't help but be impressed at Didi's methods.

"This is my address," Didi said shortly, pushing a scrap of paper into Petra's hands. "King doesn't usually do anything illegal until it's late, so you should drop by tomorrow at four pm. We can do that information sharing thing you wanted." Her tone made it clear she was still skeptical.

Petra made her way back to the car and was relieved to find it unharmed despite its surroundings. Her drive back home was uneventful, but her head was swimming. By all appearances, Didi believed the same impossible thing Petra did!

Someone with Didi's skills wouldn't believe something so preposterous without evidence. The fact that this hadn't made its way into the papers yet meant that either Didi didn't want to tell anyone about it, or she didn't have enough evidence to take it public. Come to think of it, Petra wasn't sure what she wanted to do herself. D/D was a criminal, but he hadn't hurt anyone as far as Petra knew. One of Petra's uncles had been caught up in a pedophilia scandal back in Manitoba. Sure he deserved it for what he'd done, but the man had gone from private citizen into a circus animal for the media, overnight! Could she do the same to D/D?

By the time she stopped by the address the next day, Petra was still wrestling with the implications. At least she'd decided to be completely forthcoming with Didi. As observant as Petra apparently was, she was no trained investigator.

Didi apparently lived in a small house about twenty minutes to the east, away from the ocean. When Petra knocked, the older woman opened the door. She didn't exactly smile, but her voice was at least polite when she invited Petra in. Now that Petra could see her in the light, she didn't look so intimidating. Her hair was a dirty-blonde, and her eyes dark like Petra's. Her walk was measured and calm, but it didn't give the impression of confidence so much as tight control.

"It goes without saying," Didi spoke as they moved past the small kitchen towards what looked like an office down the hall, "but I want to be sure. What you see in here stays in here. No one can know about this: not your mother, not your friends at in the Vancouver Police, not your PI associate Sandy Webber. No one."

"How did you know about Sandy?" Petra asked, feeling a little nonplussed.

"I did some checking on you this morning," Didi admitted, not looking ashamed in the slightest. "Now, do I have your word?"

"I swear," Petra said after a moment, gaining both a further appreciation and disquiet for Didi's apparently controlling nature. Didi nodded and pulled out a key. She unlocked the office door, and then ushered Petra inside. She didn't get very far in, though.

Pictures and newspaper clippings covered almost every surface of these walls, dwarfing Petra's own collection back home. A blue string had been wrapped around tacks stuck in the pictures. A very long string, actually. It circled the room several times, avoiding the door before turning back on itself again. Each tack was placed next to a date. The most recent date was only a few months ago, and the picture was similar to the one Petra had taken the other day. They were all of D/D.

Didi gave her a few moments before tapping her on the shoulder. "Your turn," she prompted, gesturing at Petra's bag.

Feeling a trifle Lilliputian in comparison, Petra opened her satchel and removed her 'evidence'. "These are letters between my father and.. this man. They were mailed to and from this address in New York City. This picture was taken when I was a child, and he hasn't aged a day since." Petra looked back at the various images on the wall. "But you knew that of course," she trailed off reluctantly.

"What name did he go by back in New York?"

Petra pointed to the signature at the bottom of the first letter. "Darius Fowler."

"That makes sense," Didi said thoughtfully, looking over the rest of the letter. "He's had dozens of aliases over the years, most of which I haven't uncovered yet. About a third of them have his name as Darius, though. I assume that's his real name."

"What.. is he?" Petra managed, still sweeping her gaze across all the pictures. The earliest date on the string was 1804, but it was a drawing instead of a photo and the date had a question mark next to it.

"That's the big question, isn't it?" Didi said, her voice softening a bit. "I've been trying to answer it for three years now. Is he an alien, posing as a human? An android? Some kind of freak mutant able to ignore the passage of time?"

Petra hadn't even been sure he was ageless until just now, so she hadn't put much thought into why or how.

"You're a photographer," Didi changed subjects abruptly. "Does the name Henri Cartier-Bresson mean anything to you?"

"Sure. He was one of the most famous early photographers, over in France. He was known for.. candid shots," Petra finished with surprise. She scanned the blue thread again. Cartier-Bresson had done most of his famous work in the 1920s and 30s. Sure enough, there he was. More than one photo of this Darius guy graced that section of the wall. Petra even recognized his work from some of her earlier studies.

"I thought you might appreciate those," Didi added, sounding satisfied.

Something about this just seemed wrong. "If you've been following him for years, why don't you just approach him? Ask him how this is possible. He has to know, doesn't he?"

"That's what my father tried to do," Didi said, and the hard edge to her voice was back. "He studied history, back in England. I don't know how he got started with all this, but he tracked Darius down in New York, twenty years ago. He brought his evidence- most of what you see here- and demanded an explanation. He'd even planned ahead, waiting until Darius was trapped before confronting him. Darius ran downstairs and out of sight, but there was no exit. When my father followed him down, there was no sign of him! He was just gone."

Petra sighed. "Maybe Darius planned ahead too. Could he have dug a secret tunnel or something?"

"It's possible," Didi admitted. "My father never found out for sure, and he couldn't pick up the scent again either. He died a few years ago, and I promised him I'd keep looking. I'm not gonna make the same mistakes, though. I've been watching Darius carefully, recording his conversations. Eventually he'll slip up and I'll have some idea who or what he really is."

Now that she had a little more time to look, Petra could see the full scope of this timeline on the walls. Most of the Darius sightings after 1930 had been in America, but before that he'd been all over Europe. There were a few possible sightings in China and Japan as well. "How do you know about these earlier ones- the pictures drawn before cameras were invented?"

Didi shrugged. "I don't, for sure. There are some historical accounts from my dad's research, but the idea of immortality crops up in religions and mythologies all over the world. It's hard to tell what's him and what's just a story. Best I can tell, he's over two hundred years old, but there's really no way to know just how far back he goes."

No wonder she didn't want to take this public! If Darius really was some kind of physical and social escape artist, Didi might never pick up the trail again. And if he really was ageless, her lifelong search might all be for nothing. Shaking her head, Petra looked down at the desk in the corner.

One side held camera equipment much like her own. It was of lesser quality, Petra noted with at least a little smugness, but that was about the only thing she'd done better. What might have eventually become an obsession with Petra had already bloomed fully with Didi. This room represented years of work and two generations of interest!

There was other equipment as well. Petra wasn't sure, but it looked like a series of microphones. "Is this how you listen in on him?"

Didi lifted one of them gently. "Parabolic mic. If he's in a room with a glass window, I can point this at the pane, and it'll let me hear what he's saying. There are other versions, for outdoor use or when it rains. My dad was independently wealthy, and I inherited most of it after.." she trailed off briefly. "It's how I've been able to afford all this gear and spend so much time following him. Financially, Darius is pretty well off, too. I've identified several different accounts totaling maybe three million dollars. There could be more."

"You're a hacker, too?"

Didi looked uncomfortable. "Less so. I had to learn it myself, so I'm sure there's a bunch I don't know."

"Still," Petra said, impressed. She got the impression that Didi was proud of that fact as well. The more the conversation had progressed, the more it was becoming clear Didi was enjoying it. Petra was sure she'd feel the same: if she'd been the one pursuing the same goal alone for three years, Petra would enjoy talking about this with someone else as well. Obsessions were lonely work.

"May I?" Didi asked, pointing to the childhood photos. Petra nodded, and Didi sorted through them. She took one of them and carefully added it to the wall, along with one of the letter envelopes. Then she wrote the date, without a question mark, and smiled back at Petra. "I was never sure about New York. Darius Fowler never had any pictures. Thanks for that."

"It's the least I can add to this.. monument," Petra said truthfully. They both stood there for a moment, and Petra felt that she was starting to understand Didi's solitary journey. People who said it was the journey and not the destination might feel the same, even if the journey in this case was one through time. "So, do you know what he's after? Why is he here working for the Independent Soldiers after all this time?"

"That's been bugging me, too," Didi's frustration was evident in her voice. "He's had connections to organized crime all over the world. Most of his previous identities had something to do with gangs or white-collar criminals, but as far as I can tell, his money is legally obtained. He must want something else from them." She paused for a few moments. "I do have one clue."

She unlocked one of the drawers and pulled out a picture. Hesitating briefly, perhaps concerned for its safety, Didi handed it over. It was of another man, perhaps thirty, talking to Darius in one of the alleys. "I took that two weeks ago. I also caught the end of their conversation. That guy said he'd 'keep him updated' and Darius responded, 'thanks, Nick.' Darius kept with his usual minor-criminal routine, but I haven't seen Nick since."

Petra hadn't seen him before. He was a lot taller than Darius in the photo, but seemed somehow less. Was he a subordinate to Darius? No, there was affection in that look as well. At the very least they were friends. "Any idea who he is?"

"None. I'm still waiting back on some of my foreign connections, but so far 'Nick's' face hasn't shown up on any database in the States, Canada or England. It's like he's a ghost. He's definitely not a member of the Independent Soldiers, so he's my only real clue who Darius really is. Or our only clue now, I guess."

That last sentence stuck in Petra's mind. She handed the photo back, and took a deep breath. "Listen, I want to thank you for letting me see all this. You should know how grateful I am that you trusted me. Even if you're only doing this to keep me from messing up your own plans while I try to do it myself."

Didi gave a rare smile, though it looked a little forced. "Listen, Darius is supposed to meet one of the IS upper-management types tomorrow night. I'm gonna be there in case Nick shows up again, but I could use some company. If you're interested, I'll text you the details."

She had changed the subject, possibly because she wasn't comfortable with Petra yet, but it didn't matter. "I'll be there," Petra promised.


Petra was assigned to the courthouse the next day, for a manslaughter case. While inside the courtroom she'd been reduced to a pencil and sketchpad, drawing the unfortunate defendant as he nervously answered questions. Once the trial had adjourned for the day, she was back in the hallways taking snapshots again. Petra was reasonably sure it had been an accident on that guy's part, but she wasn't on the jury. Most of them looked like they wanted to hang him.

In truth she was having a hard time concentrating on the job. Didi had lent her some reading material that she and her dad had compiled over the years. According to various accounts, Darius had kept to himself for the most part. He'd never married, had few friends, and certainly never adopted or mentored anyone. Aside from the mysterious Nick, he didn't appear to be close to anyone.

Then why had he ingratiated himself to Petra's grandfather and his family? What made them so different from the billions of others populating the earth? Was it the same reason Darius had come here to Vancouver- because the Hildebrand family had moved here? Was it also the reason he'd been in that park for Petra to photograph? He might have been keeping tabs on her.

Didi had made similar speculations, but that's all they were: guesses. The only way either of them could be sure was to keep tabs on Darius. Once again, Petra felt gratitude for having such a dedicated colleague. Friend might be a bit much, especially so early, but definitely a teammate.

When she met up with Didi later that night, Petra was impressed at the surveillance setup. They were on the second floor of a battery-manufacturing plant, overlooking the auto-repair joint where Darius was supposed to arrive. Next to the window was a complicated array of cameras and microphones, all sitting on a table and connected to a laptop. From their design, and the look of the table, Petra guessed most of them were collapsible. They all had to fit into Didi's backpack after all, and probably weighed over ten kilos when fully loaded.

Didi gave her one of those patented not-quite-smiles on arrival, and pointed out the window. "Some of the Independent Soldiers are already down there, waiting."

"I know this battery factory is supposed to be empty right now, but what if someone shows up and turns on the lights? Won't they see us even from down there?" Petra looked nervously back towards the stairs.

"I blew one of the fuses in the fuse box downstairs. Even if they try, this building will stay dark. No need to worry."

That idea never would have occurred to Petra, she realized immediately. Or perhaps it would have, if she'd been doing this as long as Didi. She knelt next to the window looking down, and belatedly noticed another device next to the mics. A stun-gun.

Didi must have noticed her interest. "It's just a precaution," she said softly. "I've only had to use it once before, back in New York."

Not entirely reassured, Petra looked back out the window. Darius had arrived, and the men out front were frisking him. Apparently satisfied, they let him past the outer perimeter to where a heavyset blonde man waited. From Didi's information Petra knew him as Roger Talbot, one of the higher-ups in the IS.

"You've got a flair for the dramatic, I'll give you that," Talbot said, sizing Darius up for a moment. His voice was tinny at first, but Didi made some adjustments and it evened out through the microphone. "Why didn't you run when we found out you'd been playing us? Or go to the cops with a deal for immunity?"

"Because I need to talk to your boss," Darius answered, his voice clearly scornful. Petra tensed. Talbot was like number three in the organization. If Darius had done all this just to go over his head, he was likely to take it personally.

Talbot's expression darkened. "That's not gonna happen. Did you think he wouldn't recognize you, Darius? We have no interest in Veil business, and my boss has nothing to say to you."

Petra and Didi shared a confused glance. "They know who he is!" Petra said softly, and Didi nodded. It seemed Didi hadn't heard of this 'Veil' either. From context, it sounded like it might be another criminal group.

Darius sighed. "Listen, I've worked hard to arrange this meeting. I've been undercover with the IS for over a year now gathering information. I could have turned everything I know about you over to CSIS, but I didn't. I could have run, and sold what I know to your rivals, but I didn't! I'm extending an olive branch here."

Talbot paused briefly. "After Lisbon, how are we supposed to trust you? We lost seven people in that firefight!"

Petra mouthed the word Lisbon towards Didi, who shook her head, looking astounded. As far as Petra knew, the Independent Soldiers only operated here on the West Coast. Didi tapped her shoulder, and pointed at the camera screen. The device had zoomed in significantly, showing the side of Talbot's head. A black earpiece was clearly visible. Talbot was just a messenger. He was getting instructions from someone else!

Darius seemed to have come to the same conclusion. He looked around for a moment, past Talbot and the other guards. "I know you can hear me, Greed. The Veil had nothing to do with what happened in Lisbon! I would never sanction anything like that, and I think you know it! Come on out and talk to me, just like in the old days. Let's hash this out, one on one."

Talbot held a hand to his ear, not bothering to hide it anymore. Then he pulled a gun and aimed it at Darius. "You were told to come here alone," he said harshly.

Looking confused, Darius raised his hands. "I did. Greed, you know I wouldn't risk the ceasefire by bringing anyone else!"

"Then who's up there?" Talbot growled, pointing his other hand upwards. At the window where Petra and Didi were hiding.

Petra felt a stab of panic, which she saw mirrored in Didi's eyes. "I have no idea," they heard through the mic. It didn't matter though. Talbot had pointed directly at them. They had to go. Didi pointed at the far door in the darkness, and scooped up the stun-gun before heading in that direction.

Loud voices echoed both through the mic and from the street below, but Petra couldn't make out what they were saying. Soon enough, shots rang out as well. Didi held up a hand as they approached the door, and beckoned Petra to move behind her. After a moment Petra could hear why: footsteps were approaching from the other side.

Two men burst through the door, looking around. They had just caught a glimpse of Petra hiding behind it when Didi moved. With a yell she charged forward, jabbing the stun-gun right into the second man's neck! The crackle of electricity sounded and he yelled in pain, but managed to twist away from the attack. He backhanded Didi hard, knocking her to the ground and sending the stun-gun spinning away into the darkness. The other man looked at him in concern for a moment, and then grabbed Petra's arm and pulled her away from the door.

The gunshots outside had faded away by now. Didi wasn't moving. In the darkness, Petra couldn't even tell if she was breathing! The injured man was rubbing at his neck and groaning. After a moment, he knelt down next to Didi and put two fingers to her neck. He nodded up at his companion, and Petra gave a sigh of relief.

It wasn't long before Talbot made his way up to this floor, with two more guards carrying flashlights. He took in the scene as they illuminated it. "Your friend got away, but at least we have you two," he said softly, gazing over at the surveillance equipment. "All that shooting down there got some attention. The cops are probably on the way. Pack all of that up and take it with us," he ordered the guards, pointing at the table. "Well find out how much you two know."

He paused suddenly, with his hand to his ear again. "Or not. Take her with the equipment," he nodded at Didi before turning back towards Petra. "As for you, it looks like the boss wants to deal with you personally."

One of the guards lifted Didi easily and headed for the stairs. Petra tried to go after her, but another guard stood in her way. Talbot grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her tightly and then dismissing the guard, who joined the others. "I don't know what makes you so special," he said conversationally, "but you should feel honored. I've only ever seen him do this twice before."

There was a brief glimmer in the darkness, just for a moment. A figure appeared in front of her: an outline that looked vaguely human. It moved slowly towards her, and Petra tried to shy away, still held tightly from behind.

The thing reached a faint arm out towards her, touching her throat. Pain seared through her neck and chest, burning everything into darkness.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:40:34 AM by Daen »