Previously: Phillip Usher’s whereabouts had been determined. The team took a breath and thought about what preparations they might need. Sadly the idea of calling the known phone number of one of their enemies and porting in did not come up. A dawn raid, with appropriate levels of heavy equipment, was agreed upon.
Crouched in the back of the rental van down the street from Saul Richards’ villa, Hitch runs through the plan again:
“I’ll teleport into the foyer from here. If it’s clear, I’ll IM Paul’s cell and you will all port through to me. Then we secure the place area by area, not worrying too much about the outside.”
The team nods, making last-minute equipment checks. Cliff pumps a 10-gauge round into his Browning BPS and shifts his tac vest slightly. Dan murmurs a prayer. Paul slides his stylus up and down his PDA’s spell list. Sandi checks her M4 is set to autofire and that the attached M79 is ready to fire.
Hitch blinks out, appearing in the marble-tiled foyer of the plush Richards villa. He snaps his cell-phone open, blinking around as his eyes strain to pick up possible threats. Water running in the fountain in the foyer’s middle is quite loud, but off in the background Hitch can hear piano music. He presses send: and a few seconds later the other four appear.
Cliff and Sandi swarm in combat crouches round the fountain: where a great blood-smear conveys ominous tidings: and round to the body on the far side. It’s been horribly torn asunder.
With sinking feeling in gut, the team begins working round the more accessible areas of the u-shape villa. A broad hallway connects to the dining area: three bodies, in sleeping attire but bloodily executed and propped up at the table post-mortem, slump around the wide, glossy dining table. In some chamber beyond, a stuck record plays Rachmaninov.
Sandi’s mobile phone vibrates: she flips it open: it’s a warning from Web, her contact at the G.
“OMG Miami PD’s onnitsway! We gotta book!”
There’s some panicky debate about what exit options they’ve got. As footsteps scrunch through the ornamental garden and John Law crashes through the doors, the team teleports out to a rear corner within the villa’s wall. The 6’ wall still provides deep shadow against the rising sun. More urgent and muted discussion: then Hitch and Paul throw invisibility over themselves, and Sandi, holding a badge aloft, advances towards the tac squads that surround the villa, calling:
“US Marshals! Hold your fire!”
“Where the hell ya come from? Goddammit – you weren’t at the briefing! What’s going on?”
“…We came in late, following a hot trail, heard the call! Who’s in charge?”
“That’d be Evans… head round front. And keep outta MPD’s way!”
Evans proves to be a bulldog-like woman, fiercely growling her jurisdiction to some other level of law enforcement. Sandi, Cliff and Dan drift up, the latter moving his bulk forward a little. Having driven off the interloper, Evans turns and greets the three newcomers with traditional inter-agency courtesy:
“Who the f*** are you?”
“Chief Evans? US Marshals… we seem to have ended up looking for the same suspect you are: one Phillip Marshal,” Dan explains smoothly. “How can we help?”
Evans eyes the trio dubiously. “What kind of outfit are you, exactly?”
“Couple of tacs and Dan here’s a consultant,” Sandi pipes up.
“Oh, one of those mystical-mentalist types huh? Gonna psych ya way into the killer’s mind! Well, I guess you can take a look through. Just don’t get in the way and keep your mitts off of anything and everything!”
“Say, have you seen Hitch? He’s kind of scruffy, a Brit, on detachment to us. He wandered off just before.”
“Say what? Goddam mickey-mouse outfit…”
Hitch wisely takes the hint to reveal his presence, and joins the team. Paul meanwhile teleports as far as the van, finds it being dusted down for prints, and sneaks quietly away to shelter with Judge Maynard.
A large, handsome brown rat scuttles up to Sandi where she’s seated on the unforgiving bench-seat in holding. A piece of paper is folded into a thread-harness woven over its shoulders and neck. With some trepidation, Sandi stretches down her hand and the rat clambers on.
The note reads simply, “Call Pablo.” A mobile phone number follows.
Sandi strokes the glossy brown rodent’s little skull between its beady eyes, releases it, and secrets the note away, resuming her nonchalant pose. The girls in holding are a colorful, eclectic lot. None of them choose to tangle with the slim burgundy-haired girl clad in black combat fatigues. Sandi wonders how the guys are doing. But she’s not concerned: they’ve handled Rieker’s thugs before. All they have to do is sit tight and wait for the Academy to “straighten out” their documentation.
Meanwhile, out on the waterfront in a savory-smelling restaurant, Paul’s organizing things with Elliott:
“Yes, I’ve eyeballed the paperwork the PD here pushed through. They had a really good description of Hitchcock. Charges are pending, including impersonating law enforcement officials. Yes, if you can simply validate the IDs those id… uh, the team waved around, that should fix everything. Yes, Mr. Usher showed resilience, and may I say an unsporting streak, calling in local law. Yes, apparently he severed his local ties in the worst way – six security staff, Saul Richards and his wife, and a visitor named Tyrone Richmond. Executed, in the main. Apparently they’d got together for one of those Beyond Wealth programs so we might presume some money has moved into Usher’s accounts…. May be a good idea to follow that up.
Paul concludes the conversation and makes a quick note in his PDA.
“Thanks, Maynard. I believe we’re all set now. I’ll stay with you, if that’s all right, until they’re released. Then we’ll head back to the hotel.”
“Sure thing, son. Sounds like a real clusterf***. You are the heavy hitters for the Academy, right?”
“Will be Deeply Missed”
“Hi! Is that Pablo? A cute little rat gave me a note to call you.”
“Hey chica, yeah I’m Pablo. So… you know Bernie, huh? You friends?”
“Sure we’re uh, friends, like, nothing icky but sure I like him. Why?”
“Bernie, we lost him. Dead. As in, we find him down by the waterfront, shot.”
“OMG that’s so sad! Poor Bernie!”
“Yeah he like you, Bernie did.”
“Uh, yeah, he was uh, kind of special.”
“Bernie’s funeral is tonight from 7, under the waterfront. You can come?”
“Sure! Can you give me directions?”
Leads and Lycanism
By 1pm, a courier arrives at the team’s hotel, returning the Academy firearms. Hitch is writing a masterpiece of a report. Paul’s working up traces from the phone numbers captured from the Greater Vampire. So far, they point to Kansas and San Francisco – known Rieker strongholds. Sandi, Cliff and Dan are readying themselves for a drive to the Melbourne Hotel, the place Usher had booked into on arriving. Their own transport has now caught up with them: they drive together in Cliff’s sturdy SUV.
Still clad in black combat fatigues but minus the armor and heavy weaponry, Cliff and Sandi descend on the reception, Dan in tow like a friendly blimp. As Dan points out, since they’ve been put to all the trouble of proving their Marshals IDs are genuine they may as well use them.
A helpful assistant manager moves them off the lobby and checks Usher’s check-in record. There’s no check-out time, though that doesn’t surprise the team. Security footage is retrieved and printed out, a more up-to-date record of Usher’s current appearance. Finally, the manager leads them up to 309 and swipes them in.
The room has been used, briefly. A Gideon’s Bible has been left on the bedside table, and some tourist brochures for the Miami locality are disarrayed. While Dan tries letting the Bible fall open to see if Usher was studying a particular passage, Sandi dons her surgical gloves and begins bagging the brochures. One has been opened and a venue underlined:
Coral Castle was an eccentric millionaire’s folly, boasting a coral garden, an ornamental garden, two stories of luxuriously furnished mansion, and facilities for tour buses, all enclosed inside a walled steep-cliffed promontory. It lies about two hours’ drive from Miami International.
Sandi’s phone vibrates: It’s Web again.
“Hey Sandi, how’s it going? No great problems I hope? Listen, my people were a little late to get onto this guy – I’m forwarding a still now – he transited San Francisco to Miami with a crate about the size of a coffin.”
Sandi shows Cliff the picture: it’s a good shot, of a thin youngish man, wearing leather gloves. The detail is so good Cliff can see that the left hand has only four fingers.
“Isn’t that the mage guy I brought down in the cemetery?” Sandi asks.
“Uh-huh. Rich Saville. I guess he wants payback,” Cliff confirms.
“Psychological baggage such as unresolved issues should be dealt with by rational discourse,” Dan remarks, setting down the Bible. “Some enlightened jurisdictions now practice face-to-face mediated meetings between victim and offender. This is known as Restorative Justice.”
“If he thinks he’s going to get a finger restored, he’s got another thing coming,” Cliff replies curtly.
“Anyway thanks Web, I guess I could have explained Usher’s connections a mite better,” Sandi continues.
“Yeah, you could have, at that,” Web says neutrally. “Any little thing else you might want to update me on?”
“Uh, listen Web, don’t take this the wrong way, but you can be all kinds of “ist” and I don’t want you to get all hard-core.”
“I’m cool, Sandi, I’m cool.”
“You know Bernie, the Australian? He’s dead.”
“Bernie… oh, Cruthers! But he’s a…”
“Lycan, yes. We think Usher’s guys whacked him, down on the waterfront.”
“That’s a shame, Cruthers was a reliable asset,” Web remarks, not sounding very sorry. “Waterfront, hey that reminds me we did pick up sizeable movement of unsubs, under the waterfront. I’ve lined up a team to deal with that.”
“Web those are Lycans! They are the good guys! They are just gonna have a funeral service for Bernie is all. Don’t be so Lycanist!”
“OK, I’ll stand the team down. And hey, keep in touch. It’s great that we’ve got some two-way information flowing here.”
Coral Castle and Confusion
It’s 4pm when the team sets out for Coral Castle. Paul and Hitch take Paul’s Aston Martin from their own Holiday Inn parking lot and Dan Cliff and Sandi drive direct from the Melbourne, so they rendezvous at a café in what is supposed to be a short distance from Coral Castle.
Unluckily, in one of those incidents without which the life of an Academy member would be so straightforward, they choose a café far too close to the city and far too far away from Coral Castle. Paul updates the team on his phone tracing: there’s a current hit on a location that squares with Coral Castle.
“So we have a live target at least… so to speak,” Hitch remarks approvingly. He’s been doing little more than sitting on his hands and is itching to have a crack, as he puts it.
“How many bullets would you expect to need, Cliff?” Paul asks.
“Oh, no more than ten I suppose.”
Paul slides over a box of ammunition: “These are phantom bullets. They’ll go through anything – cover, armor, whatever – to get to what you’re aiming at. Cliff take your ten, Sandi can have the rest.”
“Sick!” Sandi exclaims. “So Hitch – “
Her phone vibrates again, and again it’s Web. She flips it open, but this time doesn’t step away from the others. The rest of the team can hear Web’s voice rasp faintly from the speaker:
“You there Sandi?”
“Hi Web, yes?”
“Another couple of light trucks – delivery van size – made their way through Miami. The flags raised point to the people you are interested in.”
“Thanks Web, you’re such a hon!”
Web, who’s seeing Sandi’s mom, steps carefully around that. “So you really think these are true vampires, huh?”
“Hitch has the evidence for it.”
“How about he shares that intel?”
“That’s what I told him! But he was like, ‘no-one touches the precious!!!’ even to my mom!”
“Can I have a word to Mr. Hitchcock?”
Sandi gives Hitch a meaningful stare along with her mobile. His face works in a violent tic: “I am not Gollum!” he splutters, but then has to concentrate on fending off Web’s file-sharing demand. Hitch resorts to accusing Web of keeping files on them all, a puerile deflection strategy and one that eventually ends with Hitch simply terminating the conversation.
“Say Dan, how ‘bout you call Chief Evans and let her know we’re about to raid Coral Castle? That way we have some kind of backup even if it’s police.”
“Sandi… she arrested us.”
“Yeah, I liked her. Now that she knows our papers are good she has to be cool with us investigating.”
No-one raises a murmur as Dan acts on this dubious, one might even say cockamamie idea.
A good half-hour later the ‘five-minute drive’ to Coral Castle ends. Fooled by poor local knowledge! Cliff swings the SUV to the curb and he and Sandi peer toward the gates. Not only has Evans taken Dan seriously she has activated a local squad car, currently parked at the entry gate. The uniforms are discussing something with the civilian security guard there.
“So now Usher’s alerted, we presume,” Paul sneers, walking over to lean on Cliff’s side of the SUV. Hitch joins the confab on Sandi’s side, while Dan leans forward to make his own assessment.
“I’ve still got plenty of offensive spells,” Hitch offers, “and you will have too, eh Paul?”
“Oh, yes, quite, but look here, Hitchcock, if the local law thinks we need a proper warrant then they’ll actually be against us, won’t they? Judge Prentiss might be able to help don’t you think?”
“He’s not that kind of judge, Paul. We’ve got our cover story and an Academy warrant. That’s all we can do.”
“It wouldn’t do any harm if I did a little infil and checked what’s up with the layout, huh?” Sandi offers.
Paul lays an invisibility spell on her, so she doesn’t have to worry much about how she approaches the front wall. The police have been let in on foot: she clambers over near the exit gate, marking the security cameras along the high wall.
A broad sweep drive runs from the entry, around a roundabout to a tour-bus drop-off, parking lot and the mansion, and back to the exit gate. Two black vans are parked in the parking lot along with a few more nondescript vehicles. Sandi can see tennis courts to the right of the mansion, a somewhat florid art deco two-story style of building. Avoiding the wide ground-story windows Sandi climbs swiftly to the second floor. All the windows on her end have been blacked out. She climbs swiftly down and begins easing away, towards ornamental trees beside the drive. The front door opens: Rich Saville steps out a few paces, and stares straight at her!
“I’ve been made!” Sandi calls, ducking into cover and readying her weaponry. Outside, Hitch and Paul jump into the SUV and Cliff guns the engine. But the gates are shut and they are definitely strong enough to withstand a soft-skinned civilian vehicle. With some relief, the team hears Sandi announcing her safe exit. “Mage-guy just went back inside and closed the door. He did see me though.”
Farewell to Bernie
At 5pm the team has pulled out, agreeing to seek reinforcements to take on the fully-prepared killing ground Usher has for them. Hitch reports to Elliott, Paul to Maynard; Sandi calls the number Web gave her for the G hit squad’s leader Libby:
“Hi Libby? This is Sandi, like Web gave me your number?”
“Oh sure thing, Sandi, right,” a Gina Carano-sounding woman replies. “Hey, good you called; we’re lining up the hit on the waterfront. Ya want to join the party?”
“OMG Libby that was called off! Those Lycans aren’t hostile ones! Web did call the hit off, right?”
“Oh, right, right… hey yeah, nearly did some off-book wet-work there, huh,” Libby remarks, not sounding at all contrite.
“I guess you’re fully tooled, right?”
“Can’t discuss on an open line girlie but we do OK.”
“Rockin’! So Libby, I was hoping you’d be available to help execute a warrant on this Phillip Usher we have located. Maybe we could set a jump-off and ETA?”
“Usher… yeah, I see. Uh-huh, hey should be OK, so where and when?”
“How about midnight?”
“Midnight, that’s very trad. OK You got it.”
The Academy team arrives at the waterfront address by 8, and finds foot access down to the underside of the wharfs. They are all soberly clad: Cliff has gone for the formal bodyguard look, Paul is immaculate in his usual Armani, Hitch has a dark duster over a dark, slightly rumpled suit and Sandi has gone for the same Gothic-formal look as she used in San Fran. Dan is the real oddity, as he’s wearing rubber boots in case it’s wet and muddy, a mismatch to his formal suit. A guard challenges them.
“Pablo invited us: we’re here for Bernie’s funeral,” Sandi explains, and they are nodded through. A maintenance hatch leads down and past pipes to a surreally large cavern. Hitch and Paul, familiar with the arcane, have the strong suspicion they are no longer in the world as they know it.
Over 60 Lycan types are gathered in Florida-colorful ranks. Naked flames add to the garish pageantry of Hawaiian shirts and pastels. Gazing around, Hitch estimates that while most of the Lycans are of the Rat variety, some are obviously Wolves and several are razor-toothed, dead-eyed Sharks. The assembly overlooks a broad pool or small harbor, amidst which Bernie’s favorite vehicle, a chop-top Holden Camaro, floats. Accelerants of various types surround Bernie’s body, which lies in state, its face much nobler in death than in life. A human priest waits nervously to begin the ceremonies.
“Hola: our guests have arrived, we begin,” signals Pablo Fernandez from his vantage near the water.
The funeral service that follows is genuine. When comes the time for tributes to be said, Pablo invites the humans to contribute. Dan defers politely to Sandi. As her mouth drops open – either from surprise or to begin delivering some random homily – Hitch leaps into the breach, expressing the Academy’s appreciation of Bernie’s skills and how he will be sorely missed.
The Holden-craft floats away, bursting into flame and consuming the mortal remains of Bernie Cruthers.
“It is time. Time to speak of vengeance,” Pablo says darkly. Several werewolves, were-sharks and perhaps a dozen were-rats surround the Academy team.