"Hey girl, let's just hang up here for a bit. Relax yourself. Conner's gonna have a little fun."
Susie wrinkled her nose at the stink of his breath.
"Oh, well I don't really think that's smart. After all, we could just go to my mom's house. She's gone on business and my bro and sis are at my aunt's for the weekend. We could have a lot of fun there!" she forced a bright smile on her face.
Conner tilted his head and rolled his eyes up to think about it.
God he makes it sooooooo easy she thought as she reached into her huge shoulder bag. From behind, a fist came at Conner's head.
Conner dropped to the ground.
"Sis, what the hell?!"
Kenny stood there rubbing the sting out of his knuckles. He started to flex his right hand.
Susie flung herself at him. The look of angry disbelief melted from Kenny's face. Susie spoke with her face muffled in his hoodie.
"Ohmygod, ohmygod, I thought you were dead," she sobbed. She pulled back. Kenny saw the tears and the beginnings of a runny nose. Just like she used to look after fighting the kids on the playground he snickered.
Her eyes narrowed. Stronger than he thought, Susie pushed him back and pounded his shoulder.
"Dammit! You asshole, this isn't funny!" she cried.
"I know" he laughed again.
Susie's face was all screwed up in classic bitch-fit style. Kenny forced himself to stay cool. God, if it weren't so crazy, this whole mess would be funny.
"Come on, let's get you out of here. It's not safe for kids like you right now."
"Oh, ya think?! It's not safe for you either Kenny, you're still a kid too. And mom? Oh mom is the one you should be worried about" she threatened.
"'It's not safe fer kids like you'" she mocked in a goofy voice. She glanced around. Kenny was leading her to a dead end alley. Why is it always an alley? Why not the 7-Eleven or Jack In The Box? She sighed. Hmm…I'm hungry.
Kenny stopped at the end of the alley. What the? Helloooooo? Guess I got all the smarts in the family. She glanced around at the piles of trash and castoffs. Ew, is that smell urine? Ewwwww-uh! Susie looked around with her face squinched up.
"Ewwwwww!" she moaned.
"Does she know where you are" he asked flatly. Kenny held her by her arm and stared into her eyes.
"Well, sure, I just said 'Hey ma! I think I figured out where Kenny's at! I'm gonna go dress up like a jail bait ho and lure Kenny out of hiding. Don't wait up!" she hung her tongue out and rolled her eyes in disgust. "Nur! I'm not stupid."
"Could have fooled me" he muttered.
Apparently Susie had been dragging the poor unwitting thug through the neighborhood. She'd strung him along with girly charm, letting him think he was successfully putting her under his spell. After a while, the thug's patience had begun running out, so she started offering him bits of contact: a brush of her hand, allowing a squeeze here and there. Kenny watched furiously, holding back because he knew it was a trap. When Conner flipped and decided to claim his prize, she decided to throw him a curve ball with the whole "empty house for a weekend" comment. Conner paused too long, lost in thoughts of sex romps, lots of food, an all night party with booze and more of Susie's friends, and an end-of-weekend finale: clearing out all of the valuables in the house. That's about all the opening Kenny had needed to step in.
"Ok Kenny, genius move taking me into a dead end. Can we like go now? Let's just go home." She complained hopefully.
Kenny saw the flickering of fear in her eyes.
"Just a sec" he promised.
Kenny walked off to the left wall past a mound of crumpled cardboard boxes and random trash. He stopped next to a stack of crates and grabbed the corner.
"C'mon, let's get out of here" he waved Susie over.
Kenny tugged the corner of the crates and they swiveled out to reveal a dark entry.
"Whoa…" she said. He swiped a flashlight from his pocket and flicked it on.
"Here, hold this a sec" he asked her, "don't point it at the door, just point down at the ground."
From the inside, Susie could barely see the bolts and bracing on the door frame that attached the stack of crates concealing the alley entrance.
"Okay, maybe you're not as dumb as you look" she offered.
"Gee, thanks. That means a lot coming from you." Kenny paused. "I still can't believe you'd do something so stupid!" Kenny remarked.
Susie rolled her eyes and glanced around. They had been replaying the same old arguments for years. Genius mixed with boner moves seemed to define their greatest hits moments. She sighed. Geez, I'm seventeen, practically a woman. He was out on the streets at my age.
He finished pulling and securing the latch mechanisms in place. He pulled a black curtain across the entrance and turned to grab the flashlight. Susie eyed the shadows suspiciously as she turned and followed. Visions of dead rat bodies, dead people, and nasty nasty dead smells flashed through her mind, but she was surprised how not nasty it smelled. Kenny led them down the hall and down a flight of stairs.
"I thought squatters and rats would've torn the place up." Susie prompted.
"Don't worry. It's a small maintenance building behind the abandoned storefronts. It didn't take me long to clean up because it was such a bitch to get into in the first place" he said. Kenny and Susie came to the bottom of the stairs. "Nobody set up shop in here before me." He opened a door across from the stairs. "You hungry?" he asked.
"Puh-lease, do you even have to ask?!" Susie walked in. The lights came on and she looked around in disbelief. "Whoa-ho! What's all this? It's like 1980's end of the world shit in here."
Around the edges of the room, clunky white track lighting hung suspended from a twelve foot ceiling. The walls were painted that blah shade of gray-green that means somebody mixed a big batch of all the paint they had. Up in the rafters, Susie could see tubes for electricity, water, and whatever criss-crossing the ceiling. The lighting pointed at a few task areas and Susie took-in the sights. One corner had a dozen flat-screen monitors; three were installed in a frame and from the look of the tools haphazardly spread around, Kenny had been in the middle of rigging the rest into the monitor bay. Susie walked over and glanced at the moving images. Various citizens went about their activities, images from shops, restaurants, laundromats and apartment buildings flipped by in short cycles.
"This how you spotted me?" she asked.
"Yeah, I tap into the city traffic cams, they're almost everywhere. The few places of interest they don't cover, I added a few cams of my own to. I was running a camera scrolling program and testing the coverage. Originally, I was going to use this place as a base to pull together my documentaries, working on sound, editing, et cetera. When the kids started turning up dead, I thought I could add my cameras and a new program to get more coverage. I wanted to help keep an eye out and find out what's behind this." Kenny paused. "I was just about finished setting up the new monitors, but instead I had to toss out of here to save my sister's hide." He replied casually.
"Yeah, well I had some goodies with me." she explained.
She slung her large purse around and opened the top. Kenny whistled. Inside was a can of mace the size of a bottle of hairspray, and a light-weight tazer gun.
"It's pink…" Kenny said.
"Yeah, looks nicer than the red or blue."
He shook his head.
"You might'a done okay with that, but the odds still weren't in your favor." Kenny lectured.
"I didn't have time" she snorted, "I wasn't thinking" she admitted.
"Ha," he laughed, "been there, done that!"
She offered Kenny a warm smile of gratitude.
Kenny gestured his head at a little room off to the right. The same décor prevailed, but Susie only had eyes for the little fridge and the pile of snacks on the table.
Like a fat kid loves cake Kenny thought to himself. He chortled. 'Cept she's rail-thin.
"Geez, where does it all go Suz?"
"Mfwhere? Hnwhat you tnalkin' bout?" she formed the words around a mouth crammed with what looked like cupcakes and cookies. She gazed at the food and reached to open a bag of pork rinds.
"Nevermind." He said.
Kenny strode to the fridge and grabbed two cans of Coke. He plopped onto a folding chair at the table, scooching the two cokes over to Susie. She swiftly opened one and began guzzling the contents.
"Urrrp!" Susie belched.
"How'd you find me?" he asked.
"Oh please, I spotted your log-ins online. I read all your blogs; the one on your documentary project changed. I noticed you took out a couple sentences about this neighborhood."
"I was hoping no one would notice, but I had to get rid of it to keep anyone from looking for me here" he said.
"Well, it wasn't easy. It took me a few days to realize what you deleted."
"Suz? Someone could have followed you."
"I watched the surveillance for the house and when you were strutting around, I didn't catch anyone, but…You didn't think maybe someone could watch you and see if I was contacting you or it led back to me? That's why I had to lay low. If people thought I was dead, you guys would be safe. If the guys killing those kids find out I'm alive, they'll come for me" he finished.
"Mom!" she cried.
Kenny shook his head. "I got it tapped there too. I'll know if something's wrong…" Kenny paused. "I heard what you said the other day, to Elisa and Mom. I should've known, but I thought you'd leave it to the police."
Susie shoved the empty wrappers aside. She pulled the second Coke open and started sipping casually.
"Ken, whatcha doin' out here anyway? You said you were documenting underground city nightlife…" she opened.
"I was," he swallowed. "Or at least it started out that way." Kenny looked down at his hands. "I was following a group of b-girls that night. We went to an abandoned lot and they starting doing their thing with the dancing. Something swooped by in the alley. I just stood there for a minute. I thought it was one of the gargoyles, but I couldn't get a good look. I could tell it was in the mood to attack though, so I took off. The girls ran the other way and made it out. I ran into some guys in the alley. They jumped me and knocked me around pretty hard, so I threw my wallet.
"The guys tossed me aside to fight over my wallet and I ran off. I had to jump to a fire escape and dropped my camera on it, but I couldn't go back. The guys with my wallet…I heard them scream... woke up the next day back here, but it took me the better part of the day to recover. I didn't really get up again until the next day. By then, people on FaceSpace were messaging about me being found dead. I looked up the news; I just thought it would be easier to stay "dead" while I kept digging. I didn't want any attention," he glanced up at Susie, "and I was right. I found something interesting that I want to check out. " Kenny stood up. "But first, we have to get you back home."
"No!" Susie yelled. "I didn't come all this way just so you could drag me back. Besides, I was s'posed to be the one dragging you back." She countered.
Kenny and Susie argued their way back into the living room. Kenny went to clean up the tools at the bay. A black shape blotted out one of the monitors from a camera across town.
"Hold up!" he held a hand towards Susie as he glanced at the monitors. He sat at the main control monitor and tapped at the keyboard. One of the monitors stopped cycling. The black shape swung across the camera again. It was fast and blurry. "It's gone!" he cried. Another monitor flipped locations and the black shape was smaller and still zooming fast. "Wait, what the-!" Susie started getting nervous. The monitors were flipping, and for two minutes, she watched as Kenny frantically tapped away and tracked the thing's progress. It showed up on so many screens that she lost count.
"Change of plan," Kenny said. He picked up his cell. Susie didn't recognize it. It must be a pre-paid.
"Hello? Is Detective Maza there?" Kenny asked. I thought this number went straight to her desk?
"She's in a meeting; she won't be available for a few hours. This is Detective Lett, I'm covering her calls for now. How can I help?"
"Oh, no, it's not important. Just let her know that Kendall called."
Lett paused. "Sure, I'll do that."
Kenny let out a gust of air as he flipped his phone shut.
Lett set down the phone and glanced at the caller ID. He put up the caller ID block? Hunh! Kid must have thought it would work here. In the precinct? Lett shook his head. He scribbled the number down with a note to call Kendall back. He glanced at the latest reports, reading through the evidence and comparing it to the latest leads.
"Hey Ray!" Detective Vasquez called. He walked by and peered in the door. "What're you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be in the meeting with Elisa?" Vasquez looked down at the reports and gave Lett a considering look, settling himself in front of Elisa's desk.
"We'd just gotten these reports in and I offered to go through them and update her files. It's going to take hours, but hey" Lett shrugged as if to say 'that's life'.
"I'm going to be heading back to the 22nd. Catch you later." Vasquez turned to leave. Thinking better, he turned back. "Oh, uh, did you go over those transcripts from the three sisters yet?" he asked.
"Yeah, I did. I had some trouble trying to make sense of it, but it seems like a good lead, albeit a strange one" Lett looked down and shuffled through the papers. "Pretty interesting group, those three. You read it yet?" he asked.
"Here" Lett held out the report, "take it. It's pretty interesting. I'll pull up another copy later."
He reached out to grab the stack of papers from Lett, but his hand bumped into a stapler and coffee mug. The mug shot towards the edge of the desk.
Vasquez lunged and snatched it up before it could fall. He checked it over and set it back on the desk.
"Close call" Lett remarked.
"Yeah, sorry, I didn't see it there." Velasquez grabbed the file and headed out of Elisa's office.
Elisa strode into her office. She flopped into the guest chair in front of her desk.
"So, any messages?" she asked blearily.
"Yeah, here." He handed her a stack of sticky notes. "Nothing big."
"Oh", she flipped through them. "Alright, I'll get to these later. Let's get cracking. What have you got for me?" Elisa asked. She reached forward to grab her cup. Frowning, she looked inside. Something's funny. She remembered the warning and quickly touched her right hand to the cup. The blood in her veins seemed to grow ice cold. Just then, as she held it, she felt the exhaustion grow. Elisa fought to stay calm, nodding to Lett even though she couldn't hear him anymore. He was saying something to her, but Elisa was preoccupied with the internal struggle. I can't take it, this case isn't worth it! Feeling confused, Elisa began to set the cup down. As she let go, her mind began to clear.
"Hey, Ray, why don't we just wrap up and go over this later?" she asked.
Ray stared at her. "I thought we were going to go over it now." Frustrated confusion filled his voice.
"I know, but I think it'd do us some good to wrap up early tonight. It's Friday, go home" She smiled, "don't worry, we can get in an early start on Monday" she promised.
"Yeah, but you'll be in tomorrow and Sunday" he complained.
"Ok, but go home. We can catch up tomorrow, but I better not see you here Sunday" she said.
Elisa offered a smile and Ray shook his head.
"Alright." He conceded.
Elisa ushered Ray out and closed the door. Confused, she glanced around. Okay, what was I doing? She shrugged and sat down at her desk. She began working on her computer for the next fifteen minutes. Oh! She picked up her messages and flipped through them. Vivienne: wants to help with leads…Beth: call her back ASAP! Elisa snorted. Joan: Susie's up to something… Elisa sighed. She turned to reports on Kenny's home computer. The techs reported that it was a clean computer, nothing helpful or incriminating. They concluded that Kenny kept another computer, most likely a laptop, which contained all his real info and activity. Elisa closed the file. Just three messages…wonder what Beth wants?
Sighing, she went to the desk and picked up the mug. A wave of uncertainty hit her. A flash of anger lit into her and suddenly the mug was flying at the wall. The impact was loud and pieces of ceramic shattered and fell to the floor.
A tiny trickle of energy began to flow into her. It felt like sweet, golden warmth.
Matt came flying in and took in the scene.
"Um, thought that was your favorite?" he asked.
"Yeah well, not anymore." She said. "Matt, I need your help."
The flow of energy subsided. Elisa felt like she'd had a few hours rest. It wasn't perky, but it would do.
Elisa told him about the curse the Sisters warned her about. Together, Matt and Elisa spent the next hour combing through the office and common areas.
"No," Elisa set down book after book from her shelf. "No…no…no!" Nothing in the shelf was spelled. She sat on the ground against the shelf. Only the Batman mug so far. She pressed her head back against the books. Ahhhh!
She glanced at her desk. Curious, she crawled over and started emptying out the contents of the drawers. Wait a sec!
Elisa got on all fours and began to look under her desk. There, right beneath the center of her desk on the base of the center drawer was a strange rune. She reached out and touched her hand to it. The blood in her veins turned to ice and a coil of sadness gripped her. "Uh!" she groaned, dropping her head. Matt rushed over. "The desk, get rid of it" she gasped. "Now!"
Matt opened their office door. Racing back, he grabbed the end of the desk and shoved it out into the hall. He waved down maintenance and a few moments later the desk and parts were ordered dismantled and disposed.
"You should go home Elisa. I'll drive you back." He shut the door. "We've been over all the other nooks and crannies, but more things might show up tomorrow. We'll probably have to sweep it everyday for this stuff."
"If I find any of this in my apartment…" Elisa threatened. "I have to talk to Goliath."
Elisa clicked on the stereo system and grabbed the remote. She surfed and left it on an eighties music station as she made her way to her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes and peeled off her suit piece by piece. Settling into her dark rinse jeans and skintight white tank, she ran her fingers through her hair. Closing her eyes she massaged her temples. The unfamiliar feel of the ring on her finger reminded her to focus.
Cagney lay curled up indifferently at the center of her bed, eyes closed.
"So," she said out loud, "how 'bout we check the apartment for magical booby traps?"
Cagney stretched and rolled over. He put his paws over his face and feigned sleep.
"Lazy boy," she called after her as she began testing the ring on her stuff.
She'd done a cursory inspection when she first got home, but she felt compelled after the earlier discoveries in the precinct.
"Broadway and Hudson, I want you to cover the patrol routes. Call us if anything out of the ordinary occurs." Goliath ordered. "Brooklyn." He summoned the red gargoyle aside. He placed his hand on Brooklyn's shoulder. "Elisa has been placed under a curse-"
"What? Is she okay?" he asked, stunned.
"For now. I need you to go to her and watch over her. I would go to her, but I need to see for myself what is happening in Harlem."
"But Goliath, I have to show you the buildings where-"
"Brooklyn, please…" Goliath pleaded. Brooklyn swallowed his objections. "I, uh, no problem." He'd rarely seen Goliath like this: afraid. It wasn't a huge display of fear, but it danced in his eyes as he'd pleaded with Brooklyn. "I understand" Brooklyn finished. He talked with Goliath and Lexington about the suspicious activity and where it was located. He watched with concern as the two parties flew off in opposite directions.
Brooklyn climbed up the edge of the castle ramparts. He stood on the edge for a moment, taking in the lights and noises. Suddenly, he launched into the crisp night air. He glided in a rapid ascent above the city. Moments later he spotted Elisa's apartment and tucked into a crosswind to enjoy a good spiral on the way down to her rooftop.
The sounds of music pumped through the windows.
Brooklyn raised his brows in surprise as he tapped at the window. Phil Collins?
He heard the rapid steps of Elisa as she came into view from her hallway. "Hey Goliath- Oh hey Brook! What's going on?" She sounded a little winded as she greeted the red gargoyle at the glass door.
"Hey, yeah, sorry to crash the party. There was some stuff going down that Goliath had to check out, so you have to settle for me tonight" Brooklyn shrugged.
Elisa knocked him in the shoulder with a friendly nudge.
"Hey, don't knock it. I can't be that boring. You want to play board games?" she asked.
Brooklyn's mouth fell agape.
Elisa struggled to keep her face straight. She lost it and started laughing loudly. Brooklyn looked down for a moment, chagrined. Elisa stepped out and gave him a friendly half-hug with her right arm.
"I'm just kidding," she laughed. "Look, you gotta learn not to take everything so seriously sometimes." She offered.
Brooklyn looked up and was relieved. "I'm sorry, for a moment there I thought you were making fun of me."
"Something on your mind Brook?" she asked.
Brooklyn climbed and crouched on the edge of the rooftop wall. Elisa popped up and sat next to him. Brooklyn raised his brows in mild surprise.
"You know, not a lot of humans are so casual with heights like that. But then you're not like a lot of humans, are you?" he asked.
She raised her brows and smiled. "I don't know… no wings, five fingers, five toes." She pointed to her feet, wiggling the toes that she hadn't bothered to cover in socks or shoes. "I think that qualifies."
"Sometimes, I look around and it feels like everyone's got someone. You know, I really liked Angela-" he cut off. I still like her. He groaned in dismay. He shook his head to clear his thoughts.
"Everything isn't always about hooking up, getting married, and having kids. The best things are having friends and letting yourself enjoy your life. If you can learn to appreciate what you have and who you are, you'll be on your way to living a fulfilling life."
Brooklyn looked up at the sky.
"It sounds great, but sometimes I feel like I don't know what I'm doing. Goliath picked me to be his second, but instead of going out to patrol or investigate, he sent me-" he cut off and looked out into the city streets uncomfortably.
"Here?" Elisa finished.
"You know, even I'm still figuring out what I want." She said.
"What do you want?" he asked.
The ring of the apartment intercom went off.
"Hold it just a sec." Elisa replied quickly.
Brooklyn laughed to himself inwardly. Saved by the bell.
"What's up?" Elisa spoke into the intercom.
"Hey, let me up! I got hella goodies and chick stuff for us sis!" Beth's voice sang out through the speaker.
"Oh, yeahhhh," Elisa shrugged and turned to Brooklyn. "I forgot! Um, well. I hope you don't mind-"
"The chick stuff?" Brooklyn teased. "I dunno, Friday night with two Maza chicks could be fun."
Elisa rolled her eyes and laughed full out. She buzzed Beth up and tugged Brooklyn in after her.
Oh yeah, this is dangerous. He sighed to himself quietly. I can't believe I'm stuck here while Goliath is out hunting. No offense to Elisa, but I'd rather be out chasing criminals.
Elisa opened the door. A wave of citrus and vanilla wafted in.
A slightly smaller, younger version of Elisa flounced into the room. Her hair was short and cropped, but softly styled about her face in a way that just cried out nymph or fairy. She wore a purple mini sweater that had long sleeves, but the bottom just barely covered an ample bosom. Large hot pink hoops dangled in her ears. Combined with her low-cut jeans, Brooklyn was treated to a sight not often seen in the human females he knew: a taught midsection with planes and curves in a sweet shade of caramel skin. She leaned against the doorway like she was making an entrance.
"Hey Elisa! Get a load of this stuff. I found the hottest---Oh hey! I'm sorry…you didn't call back. Did you have plans?" Beth ducked around Elisa and peered at Brooklyn.
He stood there unmoving.
"I'm Beth" she beamed at him.
Brooklyn waved absently. He blinked and opened his mouth in an attempt to speak.
Elisa glanced at Brooklyn with bemusement. She smiled as she watched Brooklyn try to talk with Beth.
Beth glanced around the apartment. "I tried to call. I wanted to spoil you and force you to have some fun."
Beth blushed momentarily. "But I didn't know there'd be male company" she blurted.
"Uh, hey! It's cool" Brooklyn stammered.
Elisa sidled over to Beth's bag and peeked in. Elisa's head shot up and she bit into her lower lip, eyes dancing with laughter.
"Um, I can't leave, but maybe I should go outside or hop across the rooftop?" Brooklyn offered. What is in that bag? He wondered uncomfortably.
"No, I think you'll like this" Elisa said, waving the bag at him.
Brooklyn narrowed his eyes in suspicion. He peered into the chick bag.
"The Mummy 3, Encino Man, George of the Jungle, Journey to the Center of the…hey!" his head shot up from reading the cases. "These all have Brendan Fraser."
"Bingo!" Beth giggled. She bounced over to the TV and stacked the cases on top of the DVD player.
"Yeah, well, a girl's got to dream, right? Hey, have you seen Encino Man?" Beth asked.
"Mmm, no. Can't say as I have."
"I think you'll like it. A handsome cave man is frozen and sleeps through several millennia, only to wake up in the present."
Brooklyn raised his brows in surprise.
"Sounds like my kind of guy" he said.
"Yeah, me too" said Beth.