Shia and Patterson poured blood-spiked coffee from the carafe – hers black, with plenty of sugar, theirs with cream and even more sugar.
“How are we doing this, then, boss?” Shia asked, leaning against the counter.
Patterson tilted their head in thought, “This dude’s a telepath – and by all accounts, a strong one. I think we persuade him to show, rather than tell.”
Shia nodded, “OK. You or me? Or can he do both?”
“That’s one of the things we need to find out. But first, we need to make him talk to us.”
The pair had run down yet another lead on the witch. On arrival, they found yet another almost abandoned house, the only person there a short, weedy man, tied to a chair with multiple bruises.
His relief at being freed made him open his mouth to begin with. Before his reticence had returned on the way to the Lawkeeper station, he had revealed that the witch – or her cronies, at least – had captured him some weeks ago, and were trying to get him to use his powers as a tracker. According to his rap sheet, this was his regular job, so quite why he required kidnapping for it, neither were sure, and at this question he had remembered himself enough to shut up.
So they needed his information, but he didn’t want to give it. It could be forced by various skilled individuals, but that was a last resort. First, came diplomacy. Then, threats. Then, following through on the threats. Then, another attempt at diplomacy. Only then could he be turned over to what Shia thought of as the Lawkeeper Brute Squad. Usually by the time they were done, there was little left of the person who went in.
The door to the interview room opened as they got close, and both of them were surprised to see a member of the Brute Squad exit. She gave them a wink as she passed, and murmured, just loud enough for them to hear, “He won’t remember me, but he’ll talk.”
Patterson gave her a slight nod and slowed their step, so she could be well away, and they could update Shia.
“That’s Kat, an old friend from when I first joined. She knows what catching this witch means to me. I suppose she heard who we had, and decided to assist.”
Shia nodded, “Alright. I’m not gonna turn down the extra help.”
Inside, the room was pale grey and lime green. Shia privately thought the colour combination was a legal way to torture the person sitting there. It certainly tortured her a little to look at. The scrawny man – Ellis, he had given as his name, Ellie Mounthaven, last scion of a once-rich, elite family of hereditary telepaths. Now, after the family was found to be part of a human slave trafficking ring – one that included selling children to people who did not want them for housework – he was broke, strung out on his own special brand of home-mixed coke, meth and speed, and selling his ability to anyone who would help him feed his addiction a little longer. His abilities allowed him to track anyone whose thoughts he had felt before, and, with a little more effort, he could usually track someone from a photograph, provided they hadn’t taken measures against it. This made him a valuable asset in some circles. He could have consulted for the Lawkeepers – but the fall of his family had given him a mistrust for law enforcement, both human and extranatural, so he was left with private buyers. Who did not always treat him well.
His face was puffy and bruised, as was his body beneath the torn, thin sweater and ripped jeans. The doctor had told them the bruises were both new and fading, meaning more than one beating. He was also malnourished – no surprise there – sleep deprived, and in the beginning stages of major withdrawal.
Whatever Kat had done, he seemed to be relieved of the pain and withdrawal, and even had some energy. It wouldn’t last, but it would give them time, and then they could hand him over to be looked after and detoxed. He was also ready to talk, as much from relief as from anything else Kat had done to open him up, Patterson thought.
They both sat, Shia turned to check the camera was recording, and Patterson waited for Ellis’ eyes to meet his, “Hey. You remember us?”
“Good. Now, you need to know that you won’t feel better for long. Once we’re done with you, the doctors will take you to rehab, get you clean and fed, and that will be the next few weeks of your life. Which rehab – high security or low – and what happens afterwards – whether you go free, get into a light security prison, or a heavy one – depends substantially on how you help us today, and what we put in our report for the judge. Do you understand?”
Ellis nodded again, “S’killin’ me, I known that for ages. Whole family got sen’ down, jus’ me. I wuzza kid, didn’ know nothin’. Jus’ left on me own.”
Patterson’s eyes were gentle as they nodded, “I understand, Ellis. I do. And we want to help you out, get you clean, maybe even find you a job working with us, if you show us you can stay that way. But you got caught up in some seriously bad things, and I need to know everything you can show me about the witch. Anything at all. Can you do that?”
Ellis nodded. Tears were falling down his battered face and Shia wondered how it might have looked, free of the pain both physical and emotional. She hoped she would be able to find out eventually.
“Thank you, Ellis. Tell me, are you able to take both me and Shia into your memories, or just one of us?”
“I c’n do both. Least, right now I can. Barely take mysel’ anyplace b’fore. Lemme do it, ‘fore it all comes back,” Ellis reached out emaciated hands and grasped one each of theirs. “Ev’rythin’ abou’ t’ witch?”
“Everything. No matter how small it might seem,” Patterson confirmed.
The interview room faded, and Patterson and Shia stood in a small, filthy apartment, with a clear infestation of roaches, ants, rats, or – more likely – all three. It was one room, with a hotplate and a microwave in one corner, a toilet and sink behind a door that hung off its hinges – no bath or shower – a sofa, exploding its stuffing all over, that was so low slung it touched the floor, and a filthy mattress with springs sticking out of various holes. The walls were damp, wallpaper peeling away to reveal cold brick underneath. The carpet looked sticky, mushy, and threadbare. One bare, flickering, lightbulb hung in the centre of the room, making more shadows rather than fewer, and the only other illumination came from the cracked screen of an old, CRT TV set on legs.
On the sofa, stretched out, fast asleep, with one arm dangling onto the floor, was Ellis. He was unbruised, but that almost made it worse. He wore the same sweater and jeans he did now, with sneakers held together by duct tape. His face was gaunt and pale, looking sickly green in the faint light.
Even though they knew they weren’t really there, both Shia and Patterson wrinkled their noses from the smell they knew would be present – urine and sweat, mouldy food and damp – and shifted from foot to foot as if trying to avoid getting the disgustingness of the carpet on their shoes.
The Ellis that had accompanied them hung his head in shame, “I can’ believe I live like this. ‘M sorry you gotta see it but this gonna be t’first time I sees her people.”
“It’s ok,” Shia told him gently. “We understand, and it’s why we’re going to make sure you get helped, once we’re done here. Just show us what you need to show us, and we’ll report what’s relevant and nothing else. OK?”
Ellis nodded, and the scene began to play.
As the man on the sofa dozed, the door to the room burst open and two bulky men entered, guns out.
Ellis didn’t even stir, until one of them grabbed his shoulder and shook. Then he looked blearily up at them, “Wha’?”
“Got a job for you. Get up. You’re coming with us.”
“No’ today. ‘M busy,” Ellis told them, and flopped his head back down.
“Today,” stated the other man and nodded to the first, who picked Ellis up easily and slung him over his shoulder.
Ellis was far too gone to put up a fight, and after a moment of surprise, he hung limp, seemingly asleep again.
Scenes continued to play. The journey. Entering the house where they found him. Being tied up, and beaten for apparently no reason other than entertainment for the two heavies.
Then the witch entered. In person.
The Ellis tied to a chair gaped at her, face already bruised.
The other Ellis moaned and shook his head. Reliving this was going to be unpleasant.
The witch sat in a chair, which one of her men brought over for her, and crossed her legs primly. She was tall and willowy, with long auburn hair and fair skin. Her outfit was an old-fashioned, royal blue dress, which covered her from neck to toe, revealing both everything and nothing as it swirled around her.
She smiled at Ellis, “How are you today?”
Ellis glared and spat blood.
“Yes…my employees can get a little carried away, I’m sorry for that, but, you see, they were instructed to encourage you to help me. So when you refused, well, they aren’t particularly intelligent. They don’t really understand that there are ways other than violence to gain somebody’s agreement.”
Ellis continued glaring.
“You see, I know where your family members are. They’re all in human prisons, with their powers bound. Helpless, one might say. If someone were to cause one of the guards to engage in some…unpleasant activities upon their persons, they wouldn’t even be able to fight back. That would just be dreadful, don’t you think?” She smiled sweetly, her perfect teeth showing.
Ellis mumbled something and the witch leaned forwards.
“I’m sorry, my dear, I didn’t catch that.”
“I’ll help. Don’ hurt ‘em,” Ellis repeated, slightly louder. “But fu’ you fer this ‘n’ everythin’ else.”
The witch tinkled laughter, “Oh my dear, such crude language. But I accept your acquiescence. I wish for you to find this person for me.”
The witch nodded and one of the heavies produced a phone, presenting it to Ellis to show a photograph.
Shia and Patterson looked, and both sighed in frustration. They knew that target – a powerful witch who chose to help rather than harm – was already dead.
The current Ellis spoke, “Is ok, this isn’ the only one, an’ you mi’ get time to save the last un.”
Scenes played again, Ellis being fed what looked like a thin stew, and occasionally being punched by a heavy, both of whom slept in shifts and apparently got bored easily. Then, the witch came a second time. This time, she wore a startlingly red combination of tunic top, ruffled down one side, and flares, with wedges. She sat in the same chair and smiled at Ellis.
“Well. That went better than expected. Thank you very much for your help. Now. I need you to do this a few more times. My next target is this one.
The heavy showed another photograph to Ellis, who nodded wearily. They had kept him provided with his drugs, but never allowed him off the chair, so his sleep had been fitful and achey. It meant that his talent was more difficult to use, which he tried to explain to the witch.
“Then we will give you encouragement. I wonder what would help…I could kill one of your family members rather than just hurt them, would that give you a boost, do you think?”
Ellis shook his head, “Please don’. I’ll do me best!”
“Ensure that you do. And ensure you remember this: you cannot win, here. The only way out is to do what I need, and then we will release you, with pay. Because, whatever you may think or have been taught, my dear, the meek don’t inherit the earth. That’s just what the bold – like myself – tell them to keep them out of the way, and make sure they do what we want. Are we clear?”
Ellis nodded miserably, and the witch left.
Scenes passed, again, and this time the witch didn’t bother to visit. The current on-duty heavy received a message, waited until Ellis had come back from his most recent dose, and set him to work.
Then, there was a loud crack at the downstairs door, and the sound of boots on the stairs, and both heavies bolted, guns out to challenge anyone that got in their way. Two gunshots came from outside, dropping them down dead before they got far.
The scene stopped, and they all returned to the interview room. Ellis let go of their hands and sat back, “Tha’s you comin’ in. S’everythin’ I c’n give you.”
Patterson’s vampire senses noted that his heart rate was slowly increasing, that he was beginning to pale under his bruises, and nodded, knowing whatever Kat had done was wearing off. They needed to get him under the care of the doctors immediately.
They stood, and Shia followed, “We’ll send the doctors in now, Ellis. They’ll treat your injuries and sort out rehab for you, and our report will note that you were willing and helpful. Work with the rehab programme. Get yourself better, alright?”
Ellis nodded, sinking back into himself.
Shia leaned against the wall outside the room, “Fuck me, I’m exhausted just having seen all that. But we got some clues, at least, and we know who her current target is! That’s great!”
“Provided we can get help to them in time,” Patterson nodded.
“Then let’s go!” Shia pushed herself upright and headed down the corridor, knowing Patterson’s strides would catch up with her soon. There was no time to waste, they needed to get a team in place right away. Foiling the witch’s plan might not bring her out, but it would certainly make her angry, and that might lead to mistakes.
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