The story so far:
I’m not sure exactly when all this happened, but based on the previous dates in the journal, I’m guessing it was about January 18th. Due to the events of the past couple days, I haven’t been able to keep up with my writing. The boss referred to it as ‘extenuating circumstances.’ I refer to it as a big pile of steaming hooey.
And it all started out on such a promising note, too.
We went back to Julius’ house and found what he’d described—a few vials filled with some yellowish liquid. It was a bit thicker than water and had the nastiest smell I’d been exposed to in a long time. We also found a handful of other contraband items—no surprise to me, of course, punks like that always think they’re somehow exempt from the law. Grif started to process them, but I had him pass them off to some of the lower-ranked Magehunters. No point in wasting our time on such trivial things, not when we had these vials to work with.
When we got back to the precinct, the lab threw out all sorts of excuses, claiming it would take days to process and test the liquid. I reminded them of the implications, the concept of criminals walking around, able to enhance their natural abilities at will, but they were stubborn gits. Or they were, until I had a few words with the boss.
“It’ll take time for them to be thorough,” the boss said. “Just let them do their work, then they’ll give you their results.”
Complacent prig. I wanted to remind him how much of a favor he wasn’t doing the rest of us by enabling the lab techs in their lazy, plodding pace, but I chose to take the high ground and press the urgency of the matter instead.
“Fine,” I replied. “You want people like Julius and Willsey walking around your streets, able to level entire cities with little more than a thought, let them take their sweet time. I guess I’ll just go play on the beach while the county falls apart around our ears.”
The boss let out one of those melodramatic sighs and rubbed his forehead. “Go away, Michael.”
But he also asked some of the lab techs to stay late and finish the first round of tests. He may have difficulty keeping a right attitude, but at least he knew wisdom when he saw it.
Still, I had to wait until the next morning before getting the test results. I was working on figuring out what to do next when a messenger walked in. Not just any messenger—one of the Maker’s special messengers.
The whole place went quiet as he walked through, a dopey smile on his face. I kept my head down, eyeing the top of the desk for anything that I could busy myself with. I wasn’t going to stare with breathless anticipation like the rest of these slackers.
He stopped at my side anyway. “For you, Michael,” he said cheerfully, setting a folded note on the desk in front of me.
I stared at the note, unwilling to pick it up. Not just yet, at any rate.
The room remained still a moment longer, then the others came crowding around me. “What’s it say?” “Why’s he sending a message to you?” “Aren’t you going to read it?”
Why. That question stuck with me, largely because I’d been trying to sort that one out myself. He hadn’t been forthcoming with help thus far—why would he be contacting me now?
But then it dawned on me. He’d hinted that I should use my creativity, and that’s exactly what I’d done. It had gotten us at least far enough to rescue all those people. The Maker must have been pleased by that. The message was a commendation—his congratulations on getting so far.
I straightened. Not that I needed a pat on the head, of course. But maybe he’d included some clue of where to find Willsey. They say faithfulness brings rewards, right?
Every eye was on me as I picked up the note. I held back a smile. They’d see what happened when you used your brain. And maybe they’d be inclined to give me a little more respect after they saw what the Maker had to say about me.
I unfolded the note. Read it. The shock was so great I had to stop and read it a second time.
There is a time to pursue and a time to step down. Time for you to let someone else take charge.
Fury blinded me for a moment. Hadn’t he seen how far I’d gotten? All the good I’d done? How dare he presume to pull me off this case, especially when we were getting so close to some real answers!
The messenger spoke up. “Do you have a response for him?”
Did I ever. I had quite a few responses running through my head, each one more creative than the last.
“What does it say?” one of the other Magehunters asked.
“That’s between him and the Maker,” the messenger gently chided. “It’s up to him whether he wishes to share or not.”
I stood. “I have a response.”
The messenger looked at me, waiting.
“You tell him that if he didn’t want me on this case, he shouldn’t have let me run into Willsey in the first place! I’m going to solve this thing—I’m going to catch her and bring her to justice, and if he’s not going to help, then he better just stay out of my way!”
That maddening smile never left the messenger’s face. “He said you’d say that. He sent another message.” He placed another folded note in front of me.
I almost crumpled it up and threw it across the room before even looking at it. The smug little…
But against my better judgment, I picked it up and read it.
Pride and falling tend to correlate.
Then I did crumple it. And glared at the messenger. “Your work’s done.”
He nodded. “Good luck.” Then turned and left.
The other Magehunters waited until he was gone, then began peppering me with questions again. What did the note say? What was the second note? Wasn’t I afraid of speaking to the Maker like that? How dare I be so rude to one of the Maker’s messengers?
Blah, blah, blah. I finally pushed away from the herd of idiots and found an empty office to get some peace. And steam.
The nerve—even thinking that I would give up when I was this close? The Maker was supposed to know everything. I laughed at the thought. If he really knew everything, then he’d know I will never give up—NEVER—until Willsey is brought to justice for her crimes. And that’s all there is to it.
Feeling somewhat calmer, I decided to spend my spare time reading up on the Fenstermacher case. The sooner I solved this thing, the sooner I’d prove that I was the right person for the job. A time to step down, my ugly big toe.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled up the files on Fenstermacher. The guy was a grade-A loony. He’d lured in volunteers, promising great rewards for their participation in his work, then proceeded to break every code of ethics in existence. ‘Torture’ doesn’t even begin to describe what he did to those people. I didn’t find evidence in the files, but as I recall from the initial reports through the Magehunter grapevine, some people had been found in his lab turned inside-out. Literally. And somehow still alive, hearts forced to continue beating through magical means.
His records had been recovered, but leafing through those resulted in no mentions of extracting any source of magic power from his victims. There was some mention of ‘tapping,’ however. I recalled that Julius had referred to the method in that way and studied the pages that mentioned it, but there was nothing useful. Nothing explaining what it was, how it worked… or how it was done.
The reports concluded with descriptions of Fenstermacher’s arrest. Three Magehunters had gone to his address. Two of them were dead before the third one could even get off a call for backup. In the end, it had taken more than a dozen of our finest to bring the so-called professor down. His manipulation of the world, of their emotions had been far more powerful than anything experienced before. Those who survived reported conflicting emotions so overwhelming they hadn’t been able to think straight.
It’s how he killed them. Overwhelmed them with such powerful waves that their brains just shut down.
And Willsey was faithfully following in his footsteps.
But how? She wouldn’t have had these reports, which had all his personal records. There were no instructions left, no explanations. How did she—or much less, a common street punk like Julius—figure out how he’d done this?
They wouldn’t have had access to the official reports. I tapped my fingers on my desk. They probably wouldn’t have had access to his records, either. What did they have access to?
I sat up. Activated the computer in front of me. Began my search.
Two hours later, I had to stop before I became physically sick. As it turned out, there was a whole community out there of groupies celebrating the psycho professor’s work. It had taken some digging and a few false accounts, but I’d stumbled across forums, message boards, and whole websites dedicated the Fenstermacher’s work.
Complete with step-by-step instructions, diagrams, and photos.
I found myself staring at an image, the photo of a young man laying on a cot, an IV in his arm. He’d be turned slightly to one side, and the photo showed an injection site on the back of his neck.
It looked identical to the victims we’d rescued from Willsey’s warehouse.
I was stewing over that photo when Grif passed by my desk. “Take a look,” I called to him. “This is how Julius and Willsey knew about Fenstermacher’s work.”
He hovered over my shoulder and stared at the picture. “Is that one of the victims we recovered?”
“It’s some other sicko,” I replied. “There’s a whole mess of them out there. We’ll have to get these websites to the techs. They’ll be able to trace the accounts back to people. So we can make arrests.”
Grif leaned in closer. “So it’s true?”
I pulled up a few of the other sites I’d found. “Everything a budding psychopath needs to get started. This is how she did it. This is why she kidnapped all those people—why she was storing them like that. She had to keep them alive so she could come through each day and suck them dry.” I was too disgusted to even continue speaking.
Grif stared a moment longer, his eyes wide. Then he leaned back. “Hey, I was actually coming this way to get you. I found another lead on a local warehouse. Some local saw something funny happening and peeked in the window. He said there were some weird boxes in there, and the boss thought that might be the start of Willsey’s new collection.”
I was already on my feet, grabbing my coat. “What are we waiting for?”
The drive was short, which was good. The sooner we found Willsey…
No one else was around the dark row of warehouses when we arrived. Grif led the way to one at the far end, away from the road and streetlights. One crappy light stuck out from the side of the warehouse, illuminating maybe a three-foot sphere around it.
“The maintenance guy unlocked it for us,” Grif said, turning the knob. The door swung open into a gaping, black room.
“Any lights?” I asked, digging for my flashlight.
“Here.” Grif flipped the switch.
One florescent light flickered on. Then another. A couple others activated, but only let out a tiny glow as they warmed up.
But it was enough. A handful of boxes, the same type Willsey’d kept her victims in, were stacked by the back wall. Another one stood a couple of feet in front of them.
“Find out who this warehouse is registered to,” I ordered as I crossed to the lone box. “Name, address, contact number, everything. We’ve got her.”
Grif nodded. “I’ll call the manager first thing in the morning.”
I stopped beside the box and contemplated it. “Why do you suppose this one’s set out?”
“The person who called in the report said they startled whoever was in here,” Grif replied with a shrug. “I’d guess Willsey was tapping the person inside and had to rush off before she could put the box back with the others. Or this was a new victim she was dropping off here and just didn’t get it stacked before leaving. Who knows?”
I put my hand on the lock. Grif handed over a desealer, and I popped the box open.
I didn’t see what was inside the box, not before it was already flying at me. I took a step backward, and I’m pretty sure I yelled. But it was too late.
My body was frozen in place, locked tight by a seal on my forehead.
Grif took a step forward, concern on his face. Then he leaned against the side of the box.
“My dear, dear friend,” he said.
Then he smiled.