Author's Note: This story is an attempt to get acquainted with White Wolf's new World of Darkness setting. It ought to be readable to those not familiar with the setting, as it will begin through the eyes of a mortal. It is rated R for violence which will include rape.
It was just a bit past midnight, and Detective Brenda Wild was just packing up her things and about to head home for the night when the phone on her desk rang. She reached over and grabbed the receiver.
"Detective Wild," she answered.
"Wild," came the voice of Lourdes Gonzalez, her boss. "I have a case for you, an important one."
"The Mayor's daughter, Grace Simmons has disappeared. I've emailed you the information available so far. Her nanny was the last person to see her, and someone has already spoken with her, but I would suggest you start there. Because of the importance of this case, I'm reassigning everything else you had to Detective Jones. Please email him everything you've been working on so far."
Brenda sucked in her breath. She dared not argue. This was the sort of case that could make her career, if she was successful in finding the little girl. Cases like this were time sensitive, and the majority of them ended with the recovery of a corpse. But because Grace Simmons, the Mayor of Denver's seven year old daughter was connected to someone important, there was more likelihood that someone had kidnapped her as some sort of leverage, which meant she was more likely to be found alive. Brenda preferred the cases in which she actually found the missing person still alive. "I'll get right on it."
"Good. I'll leave you to it. Don't forget to check your email."
"All right. Anything else?"
Brenda put the phone down and sat back down at her desk, turning her computer back on after having only shut it down minutes earlier.
She spent the next several minutes retrieving and printing the information Gonzalez had sent her, and sending all the information from her other cases to Jones, along with the details of the plans Brenda had made for her next moves.
Once she had everything together, she shut everything down once more and headed outside to her Honda CRV, and drove back to her apartment. It was a fairly nice apartment for Denver. The security door and all of the individual buzzers actually worked, and it was free of pests. Her apartment also had plenty of space for her things, and could even accommodate another person if Brenda ever felt so inclined, but she rather enjoyed being on her own.
She hung her coat and purse next to her front door, and walked over to her answering machine to play back her messages.
"Brenda, it's your dad. I was just wondering when you thought you might be free to have dinner with me like we'd talked about. Let me know. I love you."
Brenda smiled as she erased the message. Her father was retired from the FBI now, and had no doubt already gone to bed. She'd have to give him a call in the morning, and admit that she honestly had no idea when she'd be free. She had to give Grace Simmons top priority. One had to do such things when dealing with missing persons investigations. Otherwise, they became homicide investigations.
She would have to contact Jennifer Fast in the morning. The file said that she was a college student who had mostly afternoon and evening classes, so she was likely to be available by tomorrow morning.
With a yawn, Brenda walked back toward her room, slipping off her blouse as she did so, dropping it into her hamper when she'd reached her room. She removed the rest of her clothing and did the same with it, and then walked to her dresser, carefully removing the bobby pins from her wavy red hair, allowing it to fall loosely around her pale, freckled shoulders before crawling into the warmth of her bed and closing her eyes for the night.
In the morning, she ate a light breakfast after her shower, and then decided it was late enough that she wouldn't feel guilty for waking Ms. Fast. She usually preferred an amicable approach to those who were not suspects. No showing up unannounced on doorsteps. Brenda called Jennifer Fast on the phone. It was picked up after a single ring.
The voice on the other end of the line was anxious, and Brenda immediately suspected that the nanny hadn't slept all night. "Ms. Fast? I'm Detective Brenda Wild with the Denver Police Department—"
"Have you found anything out yet?"
"Well, I've just begun, and I would like to get together and speak with you about it. I know you've already been questioned, but I'd like to talk to you myself."
"How soon can I meet with you?"
"Um . . . would eleven o'clock be okay? Um, at Netherworld? Do you know where that is?"
"I can find it," Brenda assured her. "I'll see you then."
After setting the phone down, Brenda spent the next hour doing her morning exercises, and then taking a second shower.
Some people implied that Brenda's life seemed rather dull, but Brenda was rather content with her routine. She usually worked in the afternoon until late at night, which meant she could sleep in late, and occasionally, on very rare occasion, she actually recovered a missing person. It was a rare thing these days for a missing person case not to turn into a homicide investigation.
Café Netherworld had a tiny parking lot consisting of only six spaces, on the corner of Thirteenth and Pennsylvania. Brenda pushed through the door and glanced around. The lighting within was dim, with most of the windows blackened. A waitress with brightly colored magenta hair smiled distractedly in Brenda's direction as she ducked behind the bar to grab a Fat Tire.
Rammstein was playing on the juke box, and there were computers and stools along the wall directly to Brenda's right. At one of the tables in the corner, a young woman sat alone. Her red hair matched the picture Gonzalez had sent. Brenda made her way toward the table, reaching into her bag to withdraw her notebook that had a pen stuck inside the wires. "Jennifer?" she asked.
The young woman nodded. Now that Brenda had a closer look at her, she could see that her eyes were bloodshot, and the skin around them looked red. "Detective . . . I . . . can't remember your name," she said, looking away from the glass of water sitting in front of her. A lemon wedge lay on a napkin next to the drink.
"Wild. Brenda Wild," she said, sitting down across from Jennifer. "Now, can you tell me what you were doing last night, where you last saw Grace?"
Jennifer nodded. "I wasn't actually expecting to sit for her last night. They called me at the last minute, but I didn't have any classes last night, so I said okay. I took her out to Chuck E. Cheese, and it was in the cheese maze that I lost her. I don't even understand how. She went in, and she never came out. I went in looking for her, and it was weird. It seemed so much bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. And there was this weird blue powder on the floor."
"Blue powder?" Brenda couldn't think of anything that should be blue and powdery from the top of her head. "Do you have any of it, maybe stuck on your clothes or anything?"
Jennifer looked down, and then nodded, slowly raising her shoe up to the table. Sure enough, there was a faint blue smear on the black combat boot.
Brenda hadn't expected to be collecting physical evidence at this meeting, so she was ill-equipped, but she grabbed a napkin and carefully folded it around the shoe, pressing down and pulling the napkin away to collect some of the powder. She carefully folded up the napkin with its contents and put it in her pocket so it wouldn't get lost. "Thank you. I'll have this analyzed. Now, is there anything else out of the ordinary you recall from last night? Did anyone pay an inordinate amount of attention to you? Was there anyone there without a family?"
Jennifer shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't remember anything."
Brenda nodded. "It's okay. But sometimes something you thought was insignificant can turn out to be important. Listen, if you remember anything at all, no matter how trivial it might seem, please call me." She reached into her purse and pulled out a card that had her cell phone number on it.
"Thanks. Will you be able to find her?" Jennifer asked.
"I'll do everything I can," Brenda answered, afraid to say anything more.
Brenda was able to find Tom and Jesse at the crime lab when she went in with her folded up napkin. The two of them were the socially awkward sorts, young mad scientists, as Brenda fancied them. They also flirted mercilessly with her, and she rather enjoyed the attention, harmless though it was. She suspected that one of them would be much better company at night than her vibrator, but it wouldn't be worth the resultant complications.
"Hey guys," she said, smiling as Tom turned toward her, his green eyes lighting up as they met hers. "I was wondering if you could analyze this stuff," she said, holding out the napkin. "It's from a crime scene. I had to scrape it off a girl's shoe."
Tom opened up the napkin carefully, while Jesse waved at her from across the room.
Brenda rolled her eyes and waved back.
"No problem. It'll be easy enough to separate from the normal shoe-dirt. We'll give you a call as soon as it's done?"
"Thanks. I appreciate it."
"Where are you off to now?" Jesse asked.
"Chuck E. Cheese," she replied.
Brenda was relieved to find that Chuck E. Cheese was open when she arrived. She hadn't been sure if it was only open in the evenings for parties. But it was a Saturday, so she was in luck regardless. Of course lots of families liked to have afternoon parties for their kids.
She spoke briefly with the manager who'd been working the night before, but found he knew little of use to her. He handed over surveillance videos from the previous night for Brenda to look at when she returned to the station. He'd sectioned off the cheese maze already, so Brenda decided to have a look around there herself. Perhaps there was a crawl space underneath that someone could have hidden in with the little girl. It would explain why Jennifer hadn't seen Grace come out of the maze.
There were small shelves for children to put their shoes before entering the maze, which was adjacent to the ball room. Brenda glanced briefly in the direction of the multicolored balls housed within soft netting, and then turned to the small entrance into the bright yellow cheese maze.
She had to stoop so low to enter that it was easier to simply crawl. She didn't see what Jennifer was talking about when she'd said that it seemed larger on the inside. This was a claustrophobic person's worst nightmare. The maze was definitely not intended for adults. In the cramped quarters, Brenda began her exploration of the last place Grace Simmons was known to have been.
She'd been searching about for nearly half an hour when her phone rang. She reached into her pocket and pulled it out, reluctantly allowing herself to rest her butt on the dirty floor. "Hello?"
"Hey, it's Jesse. How're you doing?"
"Well, I'm a little cramped right now-"
"I don't want to hear about your female problems now!" he protested.
Brenda laughed softly. "It's really not what you're thinking. What's up?"
"I identified that blue powder you brought in. It's actually a type of incense called Blue Lotus Dream, and there's only one shop in the Denver area that makes it."
Brenda reached into her bag and pulled out her notebook, sliding her pen out from the rings, and quickly scribbled down the name of the incense. "Where's that?"
"It's called Seventh Dream Metaphysical Supplies. It's on the corner of Colfax and Race. And they actually have really weird hours. They're only open from eight p.m. to four a.m."
"Weird," Brenda commented. "I guess they must cater to a night crowd." Still, it seemed strange that they wouldn't have a day staff. She supposed it was possible they simply couldn't afford to. "Thanks, Jesse. I'll talk to you later."
"Don't work too hard now."
Brenda shook her head as she pushed the 'End' button on her phone and put it away again. She couldn't afford not to work hard and Jesse knew it. Someone's life hung in the balance.
As she began to crawl forward, she finally found a torn bit of carpet, underneath which was a metal latch. She lifted it up and back, revealing a staircase leading downward. It was too dark to see down there, but she pulled her flashlight out of her purse and shone it downward. It looked like a much neglected boiler room. She doubted that it had been used since the building's current owners had taken it.
She slowly began her way downward, spotting a splatter of dried blood on one of the stairs. She reached into her purse and found a nail file, wishing she had better forensic equipment as she took a small scraping of the blood. She put it away carefully, wrapping it in a Kleenex to keep it safe. At least Tom and Jesse would be forgiving about her method.
She looked around the room, finding only one door, behind which was impassable rubble. And a very large hole in the floor, large enough for a fully grown adult to pass through. She pointed her flashlight below, and it looked as though it let out in a tunnel of some sort. She realized it was most likely a bad idea to go down there alone, especially if the kidnapper was actually somewhere down there. She'd want back up. It was time to call together a search party.
The search party spent a few hours searching through what turned out to be steam tunnels. They found an exit that had been in recent use, which led to a train yard. Asking a few more questions revealed more people who had evidently seen nothing at all, but that the trains mostly led to various cities around Kansas.
If Grace Simmons had been taken across state lines, it was time to get the FBI involved in the search. Brenda paid a brief visit to the station, making a number of phone calls, and dropping off her newest sample with Tom and Jesse.
At last, it was late enough for her to go and visit the Seventh Dream Metaphysical Supply shop.
It was only a little after eight when Brenda arrived, and she did found the shop nearly empty. There were shelves of books, candles, incense, cards, and various oils. A young blond girl stood near a counter that displayed pewter jewelry beneath a glass. The girl couldn't have been any older than perhaps sixteen. "Can I help you find anything?" she asked in a sweet voice.
"Is there a manager I can speak with?"
The teenage girl straightened her shoulders. "I'm the manager," she said with a smile.
Brenda quickly shook off her surprise. "Detective Brenda Wild," she said, pulling out her badge to show the girl.
"I'm Sasha," she said, looking at Brenda with curiosity.
"I was wondering if you are fairly familiar with most of your customers. Would you be likely to remember who purchased a certain type of incense?"
"I'm not sure," she said. "Which incense?"
"Blue Lotus Dream."
Sasha wrinkled her nose for a moment. "That's really not one of our popular ones. In fact, I'm confident that I haven't sold it to anyone in the past year. But you might wanna talk to the owner."
"Thank you," Brenda replied.
"If anyone bought that, he'd remember. We don't sell much of it . . . it's kinda stinky," she whispered.
Brenda smiled politely.
"Hey Sanji! There's a cop out here who wants to talk to ya!" Sasha shouted toward a mostly closed door.
An elderly man who appeared to be of Indian heritage stepped out of the back room, looking Brenda up and down with assessing brown eyes that did not appear unkind. "How may I help you?" he asked in a heavily accented voice. Brenda guessed he was somewhere in his sixties.
"I'm Detective Brenda Wild, and I was hoping you would recall who has recently purchased your Blue Lotus Dream incense," Brenda repeated herself to the old man.
He nodded. "Only two people have purchased that in the past year. One was a regular customer of mine, by the name of Simon Graymir. He was going to use it to banish negative energy from his apartment. The other was a woman I'm less familiar with, but who bears the same name as young Sasha here."
Brenda hastily wrote notes in her book. "What did this woman look like?" she asked.
"She had a very angry look to her, as if she sought someone to lash out at, a reason to become violent."
"How old do you think she was?" Brenda asked, wondering for a moment how sketch artists could bear to do their work.
"Late twenties I suppose."
"Was she Caucasian?"
He nodded. "Yes, with black hair. Not dyed like many of our customers. And she dressed in flannel."
Brenda continued to take notes in her book. "And what about Simon Graymir?"
"He is slight of frame, like I am, with blond hair, and he wears glasses."
This was at least slightly more helpful than the woman's description. "And his approximate age?"
"Early thirties. Here. I can write down his address for you." Sanji went to the desk and withdrew a small slip of paper on which he wrote the address, and then handed it to Brenda. "May I ask what this is in regard to?"
She glanced up at him. "Some of this incense was found at the scene of a crime," she said carefully.
"Perhaps I can help you. If you would like, I'll do a reading for you," he offered.
"All right," Brenda agreed, figuring she had nothing else to do for the night anyhow. She shouldn't reasonably go and pursue questioning Mr. Graymir or this Sasha woman so late at night.
"Follow me," Sanji said, leading her into the back room, which was dimly lit by a few candles. There was a small table with a dark blue cloth over it, and two chairs. "Sit down. I will burn some of this incense for the reading, as it relates to your case, so that it will help us."
Brenda sat down and waited for Sanji to retrieve the incense and get it burning, before he sat down with a deck of tarot cards, which he began shuffling.
"I need you to concentrate now on your case . . . I don't believe you told me what it is about."
"A little girl has gone missing," she told him.
He nodded, closing his eyes for a moment as he continued to shuffle. After doing so for a short period of time, he laid down the first card. It was labeled 'The Moon,' and depicted something more like a sun, but with a crescent moon inside it, shining brightly. Below, two dogs looked upward at it, and a scorpion crawled out of the water behind them. "This card represents your experience to date. It appears here that you don't truly believe you are going to be successful with your investigation. You want to find the child, but you are already expecting to fail."
Brenda wanted to deny his words, but at the same time, she knew how rarely someone was actually rescued from their captors. And every hour that passed was an hour lost, even with the FBI beginning to search in other states.
Sanji then laid down another card. It was labeled 'Judgment,' and it depicted an angel with a trumpet looking down from the sky upon some naked people who appeared to be rejoicing. "You have a change coming, and you must cooperate with this change."
The next card he placed revealed a man wielding a staff, apparently fending off six other staves.
"This card is your near future. The Seven of Wands indicates that you are ready for a change, and this will be a good one for you, even if you become frustrated. Not only must your circumstances change, however, but your inner self as well."
Brenda wondered if the card indicated a possible advancement in her career if she was successful in finding Grace Simmons. But she reminded herself that she didn't believe in these things at all.
The next card bore the image of a hand holding up a golden chalice which water flowed up and out of, then downward into a pool below. A dove bearing a circle with a cross on it was pointed downward toward the chalice. "This is your environment in the future," Sanji explained. "The Ace of Cups indicates a new beginning. You will find what it is you're looking for," he told her.
"This next card represents the best that you can hope for," Sanji said, laying down 'The Hermit, which depicted an old, stooped man leaning on a staff, and holding a lantern in his other hand. "You will find help from someone else, someone able to enlighten you to help you to attain what you want."
"At least it wasn't the Death card," Brenda joked.
The last card Sanji laid down depicted a body, lying face down, impaled by ten swords through the back. Blood leaked out from the corpse, and although the night sky was black, the light of dawn was on the horizon.
Brenda supposed she'd spoken too soon.
Sanji looked from the card to Brenda for a long moment. "This is your final outcome. The Ten of Swords. There will be no resolution, no answers for you if you continue on your current course."
Brenda sighed. It appeared to her that what Sanji was avoiding saying was that she was going to die. No wonder she didn't buy into this crap. She politely nodded as he spoke.
"Now, the cards only predict what will come to pass if you continue on your current course. You can still change your destiny."
Except that she couldn't. She wouldn't. She wouldn't stop searching for Grace. "Thank you," she said.
"You're welcome, child. Please return if I can be of further assistance. This case saddens me greatly. A little girl belongs with her mother," he said softly.
Brenda nodded. "Thank you," she said again, but this time with sincerity. Whether she bought into this crap or not, she believed that Sanji was a kind old man. He'd been too kind to tell her that the cards were obviously predicting her death.