The story so far:
January 17, 2009
The proverbial rabbit hole just got deeper.
And looking at that line, I just want to hit myself. Do people really start writing that pretentiously when they journal? I’d quit, just based on that, but… I get the feeling a solid record of this is going to be crucial.
We checked out the address on the unit, but of course it was phony. A real address, that is, but it turned out to be some old lady’s place in the sticks. It only took a minute of talking with her to determine that she should’ve been placed in a nursing home, preferably one that specializes in dementia patients, years ago.
Grif told me to hit the hay, get some rest, etc, while he tracked down the name on the unit. If it was anyone else, I wouldn’t have trusted them not to screw it up, but Grif, I was sure, would handle it right. He’d learned that much from me.
This morning I arrived at the precinct to find Grif already (or maybe still?) there. He’d gotten the paperwork set, the forms done, and the research—it was just a matter of hearing back from the phone company and the records department. He’d tried to simply track down the name and phone number, but that search had turned up empty. We had to wait to get more information before we could move forward.
And the other departments clearly weren’t recognizing the urgency of the matter.
In the end, it only took a little less than half an hour before we got the call from the records department. Turned out the name was a known alias for a thug named Julius Vance.
Grif recognized the name. “He goes by Truck. Usually has some hand in the gang activity down around the warehouse district, but never enough for us to tie him to anything.”
I recognized that type. Kings of their own sad little universes. Believed they were untouchable by the law.
We were about to prove him very, very wrong.
The records department supplied us with Julius’s (I refuse to call him ‘Truck’) last known address, and Grif and I headed out. The boss insisted on sending a couple of lower-tier magehunters with us—grunts, really—but we made it clear that the two of us would be handling the initial contact. And the talking. And the arrest. In other words, the whole thing.
The address was in a seedy area, filled with overgrown lawns, peeling paint, and trashed homes. A couple of bums looked up from rifling through a nearby trash can as we walked down the sidewalk. The house we approached was simple, one-story, with a couple of broken windows repaired with cardboard. As I stepped onto the broken cement walkway to the front door, I gestured for the grunts to slip around behind the house and keep an eye on the back.
If Willsey was actually in there with this Julius guy, I wasn’t going to let her slip away again.
I knocked on the front door as Grif stood a few steps behind me, keeping an eye on the dingy curtains in the windows.
And we waited.
After a minute, I knocked again. “Julius Vance! We’re magehunters, and we have a few questions for you!”
Silence. More waiting.
I was raising my hand to knock again when the door flew open, coming just inches from hitting me in the nose. I jumped back, but the door, it turned out, was just a distraction from the wave building behind the door. Confusion, distraction, and hopelessness crashed over me with a might force. I heard Grif yell behind me, felt someone rush past me, but the wave had caught me too off guard.
“Michael!” Grif shouted.
I clenched my eyes shut, focused everything I had, and cut through the wave, pushing it aside like Moses and the… whatever sea that was.
Grif had only been caught by a corner of the wave, but he was still caught, reeling and stumbling backwards in a weak attempt to chase the man running at full speed down the sidewalk away from us.
I focused on the ground ahead of him as he shoved one of the bums aside, and his feet abruptly slid out from under him, sending him tumbling head over heels. Then I shouted for one of the grunts to come around to the front as I shifted the wave from underneath, pushing it off to the side so Grif could duck free.
“Thanks,” he gasped as he staggered out of it, but I didn’t stick around. I was already running toward the escapee,, who was just regaining his feet. I prepared to alter the ground again, but this time he turned and faced me, his feet planted in a bracing stance. His dark eyes were set deep in a stony but somewhat pale face. Comes from living most of life at night, I figured. A scar on his upper lip made his sneer all the more jagged.
The blast came heavy and hard, filled with rage and irrationality, but I was ready for it this time. I shifted my energy forward like a wedge, and the blast shattered on it, trailing off to either side.
The bum that was still standing began to holler at the other one, but seemed to forget what he was doing after a moment.
Grif came up behind me, lashing out with a short blast of raw energy. I cringed inwardly at the rookie mistake, but then realized the perfect opportunity his move afforded me. As the perp easily sidestepped Grif’s attack, I was already tossing a wave out right in the guy’s new path—sleepiness and apathy, mostly, with a good dose of hopelessness just to give him a taste of his own medicine.
The man’s jaw sagged a bit, and he staggered over his own feet a few times before crumbling to the ground.
The grunts finally arrived on the scene, mumbling hasty apologies as they wove a quick containment field around him.
I stared at them. “Why are you both here? Who’s watching the back?”
Their blank expressions were all the answer I needed.
“Through the front,” I ordered Grif as I ran toward the back, my eyes and other senses fully open for any signs of the fleeing Lilyan.
No one was around the back, and from the looks of things, the back door hadn’t even been opened. I tested the knob and found it bolted shut. It was unlikely Willsey would’ve taken the time to bolt the door behind her, but it was hard to say for sure.
We’d have to have us a chat with Mr. Julius Vance.
It didn’t take long to clear out the house—especially since no one else was there. Grif and I checked the place over thoroughly, but there weren’t any signs that Willsey had ever been there. No residual magic traces, no more people with weird holes in the backs of their necks. Nothing.
So we took a rather sedate Julius back to the precinct and set him up in an interview room before I dissolved the waves that still clung to him.
He blinked a few times, then grunted a low curse.
“Where’s Willsey?” I demanded.
I narrowed my eyes. “We found your little storage unit, Julius. We know what you’ve been up to. Now tell us where we can find Willsey!”
His already pale face seemed to go even whiter. “Look, man, that wasn’t a thing. It was just one time, you know? I just had to try it out! I didn’t have nothing to do with that big thing with the warehouse. Nothing!”
“So you thought you’d help her just once?” I pressed.
I slammed my hands on the table. “That storage unit was paid for with your money!”
“Yeah, man, I already said, it was just a one-time thing! They’s just street people. No harm done, right? They get a bed, some food, I was gonna let them go later and all!”
“You were going to let them go later? To what, walk around the streets with missing organs?” I snorted.
“I—what?” He stared at me for a long moment, then his face slowly relaxed. “Oh. You pigs got no clue what’s going down here, do you.”
I stopped. It was never a good sign when the person being interrogated becomes that calm. Or makes statements like that.
“Kidnapping,” Grif said. “Assault. We got enough evidence to put you in lockdown for that. And given the similar injuries to these people, I’m betting a jury would find it reasonable to assume that you’re linked to that whole warehouse full of people. Especially how the public’s so freaked out over this thing.”
It was a gamble, I figured, but smooth enough. I felt a little note of pride in Grif.
“I want a deal,” Julius said, folding his arms.
“No deals,” I retorted. “I imagine it’d be pretty hard for you to walk around town after being accused of being behind all those kidnappings. It’s in your best interest to cooperate.”
His gaze shifted between me and Grif for a moment, then he sighed. “Whatever. I don’t know who this Wesley dude is, but I can tell you why he’s taking them.”
“Willsey,” I snapped. “She.”
Grif nudged me and lifted an eyebrow.
I studied Julius for a moment. His eyes were sharp, but I knew these types were generally dumb punks, just looking out for their own interests. If he knew anything about Willsey, he’d have been holding out for the deal.
“Okay. Tell us why she’s taking these people.”
Grif and I were silent for a moment, waiting for him to continue.
“Tapping?” I finally prompted.
“Yeah. They say it’s all over up north, you know? Nothing big. You grab someone with a little magic in ‘em—not enough to do anything to you, just a little bit—and you tap ‘em.”
Grif frowned. “Which means?”
“Straight-up magic stuff, man. It’s all right there,” Julius tapped the back of his neck, “you know, right with that spinal fluid stuff. You just tap the right spot, draw a bunch out, and the next day, it’s all right back. Shoot it straight up, and you got some fierce powers going on.”
I leaned forward, staring at the man. “You’re saying you can take another person’s magic from them?”
Julius nodded. “I’d been hearing about it, so I figured I’d give it a go, check it out. It works, but only for a few hours, you know? Doesn’t last so long. That’s why you keep the people nearby, so you can get more. It comes back, you know, like blood. You just keep getting it, and you use it when you need it. Gets a good boost.”
I glanced back at Grif, but he looked as shocked as I felt. Only I didn’t let myself look it. “Julius, you seriously expect us to believe that all those people were kidnapped because of some… magic juice in their bodies?”
“Don’t be callin’ me that,” he snarled, glaring at me. “The name is Truck. And yeah. That’s what it is. Some dude up north figured it out, crazy guy doing all these whack experiments. Pigs came in and locked him up, but his pals had figured out what he had going on. He put up a real fight for it, too, and it was coz he’d just tapped a couple people. Pigs almost couldn’t take him down.”
Grif frowned. “Are you talking about Professor Fenstermacher?”
“Yeah, that’s the dude.”
Grif and I exchanged looks. The professor had been insane, conducting all manner of illegal magical experiments on people. But Julius was right. The man had been inordinately difficult to secure, causing all sorts of destruction and injury before he was contained.
“You don’t believe me? I’ve still got a little left at my place,” Julius said. “I was gonna take it all when you guys came knocking at the door, but I saw the guys go around back and figured I had to act before you did.”
I leaned back in thought. I twisted my lips a little to make it look like I still doubted, but this whole ‘tapping’ thing was making more sense by the minute. Willsey was power-hungry, so she’d gathered a whole mass of people to keep locked away as her own personal source of magical power. She’d do anything to keep that a secret. And it would explain how she’d managed to best me, too.
“We’ll look into it,” I finally said, standing.
“I’m telling it straight, man!” Julius protested, but I was already halfway out the door with Grif right behind me.
Grif glanced at me as we strode down the hallway. “You think it’s true? You think there’s really something—they can pull it out like that? For magic?”
“I think we need to check Julius’s house for the rest of it,” I replied. “And maybe have a chat with Professor Fenstermacher.”