Author Topic: Chapter 3  (Read 8782 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 3
« on: July 29, 2022, 05:37:50 AM »
I probably should have let it be, but I just couldn't. I thought I remembered the hand being smaller than usual. A kid's hand instead of an adult's. And yes, it had touched me, but it had been eleven years since Blake had killed anyone with his touch. His own father believed he might one day gain control of his abilities. Maybe that day had come sooner than he'd thought.

And then there was the whispered message. Whoever it was had asked me to keep it a secret. At first I'd thought he meant passing the roll. Weird time changes sounded like something important enough to keep secret instead.

Maybe Vought had sent another supe to our building; most likely to keep the Howlands safe. Someone with time manipulation, possibly. If so, they were terrible at their job. Someone had shot Sandra Howland twice. If not for her vest, she might have died back there.

I couldn't let this go. Whatever was going on had all to do with the Howlands. I had their home address from my job, so that night I packed up some birdwatching tools and drove out in that direction. Maybe I was being stupid, possibly to a career-suicide degree, but I'd learned to trust my instincts.

I couldn't be careless about it, though. Capes for Christ had bought them that home, which meant that Vought had had plenty of time to reinforce it and fortify it. I'd have to keep my distance. Fortunately there was a tall hill nearby, which was now apparently an abandoned machine plant. I didn't want to risk cutting the wire to get through, but I was high enough to get a vantage point on the house. Or more specifically, Blake's room. It looked like he was on the second floor on this side.

My binoculars had been calibrated for owlwatching, so they didn't have any trouble zooming in on him. All I could see through the window was his computer screen and the end table, presumably next to the window. I was surprised to see a computer. Somehow I'd figured the Howlands, who insisted on homeschooling all their kids up to college or finishing school, were luddite-like.

It was foolish thought, in hindsight. They used plenty of technology in their work, including their family van. Blake had been a big part of outfitting it for crime-fighting. It was probably bulletproof, too.

Like the window I was looking through as well. It was doubtful that the Barrios Azteca gang cared about what Blake had on his computer, but they might be ok with killing a kid. That window was almost certainly bulletproof, and all the others were probably the same.

Blake was actually at his computer, working on some document. His internet usage was probably sharply restricted by his parents, so it was most likely a school report or something. I waited for maybe half an hour before he closed the document. He opened up some kind of program and then shut off the monitor. I didn't catch what that program looked like or what it did. Whatever it was, it looked like a habit to him. Something he'd been doing for a long time and was second nature by now.

His mom came in, apparently to tuck him in. He was out of sight by now, and I saw her lean down briefly before shutting off the light and closing the door.

That was that, I supposed. Maybe it hadn't been him in that stall next to me. Maybe my mind really was playing tricks on me, and this was all one big nothingburger. Leaning back against the fence in defeat, I gave one last look through the darkened window. There was night light in there and the blinking power indicator from the computer's monitor.

Wait- power indicators didn't blink like that. Whether the monitor was on or off, the power was supposed to stay constant. It took me a few more moments of staring before I put it together: the blinking wasn't random. It was a steady, repeating pattern. It was an SOS.

There was no mistaking it. Three short dots followed by three long, and then three short again. Blake was asking for help. It had been him in that stall! Memories flooded back into me, of my time in Houston and the situation I'd faced there.

There was still security near the house, and it was probably layered with alarms as well. There was nothing I could do to help, tonight at least. At least I knew that help was needed now.

-.-

"You broke into their house?" Gwen said harshly, look at me as if I'd suddenly grown horns.

"Of course not," I said quickly, spreading my hands. "I was nowhere near their house. This was through the window, at a great distance. It was an SOS- I'm sure of it. That kid's asking for help, Gwen. We have to do something."

"Based on what? Your super-creepy and totally inappropriate spying? The Howland family is one of the most closely scrutinized in the whole city. The whole state, probably! We can't just go hurling accusations around at them, because you thought you saw a pattern on some computer screen!"

I shook my head, trying to keep my voice even. "I saw him start up that program, Gwen. He's been doing it for a long time, I'd guess. Probably every night since he got here. This isn't my imagination. It's deliberate! Maybe it's his family and maybe not, but he's definitely afraid of something!"

She still looked troubled at the idea of speaking out, and I could hardly blame her. Reluctantly, I decided she had to know my own story. "Look, before I moved here I lived in Houston. I had a pretty nice apartment, up on the third floor. There's not much birdwatching to be had in a city that large, but I did get the chance to watch my neighbors from time to time. I've always had a knack for noticing patterns. Back there, I noticed some strange behavior in one of the families living nearby."

I sighed. This was going to get ugly. "This man liked to go to his daughter's room, late at night. After his wife was asleep. At first I told myself he was just worried about her. Maybe she had sleep apnea or something, and he wanted to make sure she was still breathing. But I could also see into their kitchen. I saw how that girl looked at him in the mornings. I knew what he was doing."

Gwen's expression was turning horrified, but I hurried on. "I did what I was supposed to do. I called the DFPS, but nothing came of it. He must have been careful not to leave a mark, and the wife didn't believe he'd done it. I called again and again, but they never protected that poor girl. Then one day the family was gone! I got back from work and their place across the way was empty. I still don't know what happened to them. Maybe the wife wised up and got her kid out of there, or maybe he's still with them, abusing her every night. That haunts me every day. I can't let it happen again. Not if I can do a single damn thing to stop it."

"I would feel the same, I'm sure," Gwen said, her voice a little sour at my story. "But Vought keeps all supes under a close watch. Do you really think they'd let one of their supes engage in pedophilia?"

"You mean like they keep the super-terrorists under a close watch? Or HC for that matter? Vought didn't even know about Compound V, and it was under their very noses the whole time! Or worse they did know about it, and they're lying about it now! So either they're ignorant, or they're evil. Besides, maybe it's not child abuse as we know it. Either way Blake needs help, and he's clearly not willing to ask his parents."

"This isn't just any family, Ahab," she said softly, looking worried. "These are the Howlands we're talking about. Do I really need to make some cliched comment about a white whale right now? Look, I have contacts inside the Vought offices in NYC. Let me reach out to them- see if there's any reason Blake has to fear his parents. I know you want to do something now, especially after what you saw in Houston, but it's not just your reputation at stake here. If you go after the Howlands without proof, Vought could bury you. Maybe literally, given how fervently some people here support the Howlands."

I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything more from the conversation. Agreeing that child abuse is bad is easy. Figuring out how to stop it, or even recognizing that it's happening... is less so. "All right, but I'm going to look into their past myself, too. I'm not the only one who thinks that Vought is less than trustworthy, after that whole mess up in New York."

"Vought partially owns this company," she reminded me darkly, and then let out a frustrated breath. "Look, just stay away from that house, ok? I'll do some checking today, and get back to you with what I find."

I nodded slowly. "Thanks."

As I left her office, my mind was already arranging strategies about where to start. The Howland's history was mostly public record already- as you'd expect from celebrities. If they had any dirty secrets, they had probably been buried by Vought years ago. Gwen meant well, just as I had in that old apartment, but she wouldn't get any answers from them. I was on my own for now.
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 05:40:31 AM by Daen »