Author Topic: Chapter 2  (Read 9010 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 2
« on: June 10, 2022, 01:03:44 AM »
Chapter 2

Petra didn't usually attend Sunday morning services, but her mother did, so she resolved to wait until the afternoon. When she finally did get some screen time with her mom, Petra was getting a little impatient. She liked mysteries as much as the next person, but this was hitting a little too close to home. This Darius person was at least a friend of the family, but Petra had never heard of him. "Hey, mom."

"Hey, Pebble. How're you doing over there?"

Petra gave a slight smile. Her name literally meant 'rock', so as a child she'd been called Pebble. Old habits did indeed die hard. "I'm okay. Trying to get a ton of shots of people in the fall for my company, so they can set up an album for potential customers. You never know who might want to buy which pictures and why."

"I heard you got some good shots of that town Councilmember, when he was being arrested for that embezzlement thing. Good for you!"

That was a surprise. "How did you know those were my pictures? The editor never put my name on them- just the company name."

"I have my sources," her mom said evasively. "People keep me informed when my daughter's covering someone important."

Petra nodded as the pieces fell into place. Her mother had worked for one of Vancouver's bigger newspapers for almost twenty years. She'd probably kept in touch with some of her old colleagues. "So mom, I was looking over some photos in my old album, and I came across these." She lifted the webcam off the top of her computer and panned it over her desk. There were the five pictures featuring Darius, in order of when they were taken. "This guy was named Darius, right?"

Her mom squinted through her glasses at the screen, and then nodded. "Yeah, he was one of your father's friends. Or your grandfather's actually. I didn't know him that well, but he was living in Manitoba when your great-grandparents emigrated from Germany. He helped them set up shop, and then kept in touch when your grandfather moved out here." She paused for a moment. "Those last two were taken.. about a year before you were born. Darius stayed with us for about a week here in Vancouver, before heading over to New York. I don't know where he went from there, but it has been a long time. I barely remember his face." She tilted her head slightly, as Petra put the webcam back in place. "Why do you ask?"

"I'm just curious," Petra said uncomfortably. It was looking more and more like this was a case of freakish similarity after all. If Darius had known her great-grandparents, this couldn't be the same guy. "You don't remember his last name and occupation, do you?"

"Hanson. That was his last name. And I think he sold insurance? I'm not sure. He definitely went to New York City, though. Your father was worried he might not build a successful business there; I remember that much."

There was a crashing noise in the background, followed by a male voice "Dammit!"

"What was that?" Petra leaned forward with concern.

Her mom looked over her shoulder and sighed. "Mark's trying his hand at gardening and hanging plants. Looks like it's going just about how I expected."

Petra smiled slightly. She hadn't liked her mom's new husband much at first, but Mark had grown on her a bit over the last two years. He wasn't as boring as he'd initially seemed, and he did seem to make her mom happy. He practically worshiped the ground she walked on, too. "I should go. You stay safe, all right, Pebble?"

"Thanks, mom. Love you."

"Love you, too."

Petra leaned back, staring at the blank computer screen for a while and thinking hard. She had always believed that everything happened for a reason. Whether horrible or beautiful, the actions that people took had a purpose beyond what they intended. Who, or what, might be organizing that purpose, was one of the greatest questions in history.

She couldn't just ignore this. That man, whoever he was, could just be someone who looked improbably similar to her father's friend, but she had to be sure. He had walked in front of her camera for a reason. Her mind made up, she pulled out her phone and dialed up an old friend's number. "Hey, Sandy."

The man's voice on the other end sounded surprised, but not unfriendly. "Hey, Petra. What can I do for you?"

"Yesterday I took a picture of a man at about 4pm, on the south end of Port Royal Park. If I scan it and email it to you, do you think you could find out who this guy is? I'd go to the police, but I don't actually think he's done anything criminal yet."

"Uh, maybe. I can run it through facial recognition, at least on public databases." She heard typing on a keyboard over the phone. "Looks like there's a currency exchange just south of there, with cameras. Maybe he showed up on them too. But it'll have to wait a bit. I've got a pretty long line of clients right now. Mostly suspicious housewives looking for evidence that their husbands might be cheating- that sort of thing. It's not exactly edifying work, but at least they pay well."

Petra hesitated. "Sandy, I'm calling in my favor on this."

There was a pause on the line. "Whoa. Ok, then. I'll get started right away."

His surprise was understandable. Petra had been sitting on that favor for almost four years now, ever since she'd destroyed a photo instead of showing it to her editor, who would have taken it to the police and gotten Sandy in a lot of trouble. He might work with a lot of unsavory people, but Sandy was a man of his word, and very good at his job. If there was anything to find on this Darius person, or if that was even his real name, Sandy would find out.

-.-

It actually took a few days before Sandy came through, in spades. He sent a file to her apartment, complete with pictures and a strong recommendation that she drop the whole thing and give the file to the police. It wasn't until she started going through it that Petra understood why.

His name was Daniel King and according to the file, he had a criminal record as long as Petra's arm. They were mostly misdemeanors, petty theft, fraud, identity theft, trespassing, that sort of thing. Apparently he'd moved to Vancouver a few years ago, and gotten involved with a gang called the Independent Soldiers. Petra had heard of them from her work at City Hall and the VPD. They'd been around since 2005, and were known for money laundering, drug trafficking, human smuggling, prostitution, and extortion. It seemed that Darius, or Daniel, whatever his name was, made routine deliveries to some of their members. Whether he knew the full extent of his associates' crimes or not, only he could say.

Petra flipped through the rest of the file, her mind only partially on it. The IS group had been linked to several murders over the years. Sandy had urged her to let the police handle this, and maybe he was right. What was the point of risking her life just to satisfy her curiosity?

Then she came to Daniel's last-known addresses. He'd lived in New York City. Petra's eyes widened at that, and she pulled a box from underneath the bed. She'd visited her mother the other day, and gotten this collection of keepsakes. It included a series of letters between her father and 'Darius', which included the name of Darius' insurance company in New York. And on each letter there was a NYC address: the same address and company name listed in Sandy's file.

Petra suddenly found herself breathing more rapidly. It was clear that Sandy had no idea that Daniel/Darius was.. different. The only photos of the man back then were here in her apartment, and there had never been any copies made.

So she was right after all? She had to find him. Criminal or not, only he could explain this!

-.-

Sandy's file had also included a current address for D/D, which she was calling him in her head for now. Later that evening, Petra was parked on the street about two buildings down from that address, binoculars focused on the front door.

Apparently D/D also lived in an apartment building, but in a much worse neighborhood than hers. The building looked poorly maintained, and seemed to be mostly abandoned. The street lighting was minimal, and Petra could hear sirens in the distance, off and on. She wondered if they were from police cars or ambulances at first, but then decided it didn't really matter. She was trying to stay inconspicuous, for her first-ever stakeout.

Minutes stretched into hours, and Petra's legs and back began to ache. Driving for hours on end was easy enough, because she had to keep her attention on the road and adapt to changing traffic. Sitting in her car alone was turning out to be challenging by comparison. She wished she'd brought an audiobook, or some snacks.

When something finally happened, Petra almost missed it. It was about one thirty in the morning when the front door opened and D/D stepped out. She almost started her car, waiting for him to get into his, but stopped herself. She knew which car was his from Sandy's file.. but he turned away and started walking up the street. Confused, Petra tried to open her door as quietly as possible.

What was he doing? From her own research, Petra was fairly sure there weren't any Independent Soldiers living in this area, or any of their hangouts nearby. Petra followed quietly, hoping not to be noticed. For once it was a good thing the lighting here was terrible.

His stride was measured and confident: clearly he didn't care if anyone saw him, or if he was being followed. Petra tracked him for more than a block before he took a left turn. Careful to put some space between her and the corner, Petra followed his example. Up ahead about forty meters, she could see him meet another man, outside of what looked like some kind of bar or club. They exchanged brief words, and then both moved off into a nearby alley. It was pretty dark all around, so they probably wouldn't see her unless she was up close.

Petra fumbled with her camera briefly. This small one had much worse focus and range, but her full gear would practically be a neon sign pointing her out to anyone in the area. She'd have to make do with this cheap knockoff to get pictures. When she was confident she could take a few snapshots without too much concentration, Petra followed them.

She was almost to the alley entrance when she heard a whisper of movement behind her. She felt a metal circle press against the back of her neck, and a low voice spoke. "Don't move a muscle."

Feeling a chill, Petra came to a stop. Whoever it was reached out and ran their other hand up and down her sides briefly. Then they checked her legs, ankles and waist. It took Petra a few seconds to realize she was being searched for weapons. Apparently satisfied, her 'captor' took a deep breath. "Back up with me inside the building. Don't call out or I'll paint this wall with your brains."

Her breath still a bit ragged, Petra shook her head. "If you do that, you'll make just as much noise."

"Which is why I have a silencer on this thing," the voice retorted softly. "Don't push your luck. Now move!"

Petra allowed herself to be pulled backwards inside the building, thinking hard. Despite the low rasp, the voice was distinctly female. There were other oddities to this situation as well. On her captor's urging, Petra closed the door. She could hear typing on a keyboard behind her briefly, and then a low curse. "He's gone. Thanks to you, I missed my chance!"

It seemed like this was a warehouse of some sort. Petra slowly turned around to get a better look, but her captor closed the laptop, cutting off its light source. The only light in here now was coming through the window, meaning Petra could be seen, but not really see anything else.

"Who are you and why were you following King?" The other woman demanded.

Petra scoffed. "I could ask you the same thing."

"I'm the one with the gun. Answer my questions."

"I don't think so," Petra responded. She still felt nervous, but less so. The details were starting to slide into place. "I've seen pictures of silencers at the VPD. They're long, and unwieldy. There's no way you could have kept that pressed against my neck while you were searching me, not unless you have freakishly long arms. You don't have a silencer, and I don't even think you have a gun! The metal against my neck was warm, not cold. A wedding ring, I'm guessing, which you took off and tried to use to fool me."

The other person was quiet for a few moments, before letting out a soft chuckle. "Not bad." There was rustle as she apparently picked up her laptop. "I'm leaving now. If you're smart, you won't try to follow me."

Whoever it was started moving off, or Petra thought so, in the darkness. Feeling a moment of panic, Petra reached out in her direction. "Wait! I can help you!"

Her potential friend stopped moving, but it was hard to be sure. She was wearing quiet shoes, and Petra felt a moment of shame at that. Her own shoes had probably advertised her presence here more than any specialized camera would. "You're obviously not some kind of bodyguard or you would be armed, and you're trying to stay hidden from Da- from King," she amended quickly. "I doubt you're one of the Independent Soldiers either- they're pretty sexist and would never let a woman gather surveillance for them. If you were VPD you'd recognize me and identify yourself. My guess is you're with the CIA or FBI. You tracked him here from New York, am I right?"

There was just a derisive snort in answer, but Petra wasn't put off by it. "Look. Obviously you're better at this than I am, but I'm going to keep looking into this King guy no matter what you do. I'll follow him and track his associates, and eventually talk to him directly. Think about it: an untrained civilian like me, stumbling all over your investigation. You're obviously not willing to just make me disappear, so your only other option is to work with me! Please. Let's just share information, and figure this guy out together."

Petra was guessing wildly at her potential friend's motivations, but it seemed the other woman was taken aback by what she'd said. "You're very well informed, or you're a very good guesser. Either way you're wrong. I don't work for anyone else. I'd tell you why I'm here, but there's no way you'll believe me." She started moving again.

Feeling triumphant, Petra spoke up again. "Let me guess: you think he might be immortal!" The other's footsteps stopped, dead.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 01:21:45 AM by Daen »