AN: And it comes at last to the beginning of Hellboy 2...
Hatcher looked up from her desk as the door opened. Papers and books were scattered all over the scuffed wood surface, burying personal items and her calendar desk pad. As Detective Luna shut the door behind him, she was grateful for the mess that covered the Hello Kitty notepad. She took one look at his face, for once devoid of its usual hard sarcasm, and leaned over to adjust the window-mounted air conditioner to the cooler temperature that he preferred. It was the end of June and New York's summer was winding up its curveball heat like it did every year. "You look like hell, Detective," she said conversationally as he dropped with a weary sigh onto the overstuffed couch wedged in the corner beside a narrow bookcase with no more grace than a tired bear.
And he did look tired. The suit was wrinkled, the tie undone, the shirt collar was unbuttoned and stained with yesterday's sweat. She frowned. "Martin, haven't you been home?"
"Not since yesterday morning," he said, rubbing his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. A standard gray case file folder was held loosely in one hand on his lap. His hand dropped to rasp against the stubble as he rubbed his face. "I came here because I wanted your advice on something."
Hatcher suppressed the first flip comment that came to mind. She leaned back in her chair, ignoring the squeak from the springs underneath the seat. "About what?"
"You remember those prints I asked you to run?"
A touch of sarcasm escaped unintentionally. "I'm a criminologist, Martin. You ask me to run a lot of prints."
He didn't glare at her or rise to the accidental bait. He flipped open the slim file and paged through it. "Cat food," he said tiredly.
Now she knew which prints he meant. He'd gotten called to another gang-related homicide, a double one in an alley near the Brooklyn Bridge, and amidst the blood and body parts there had been some items that had struck him and the rest of the forensics team as a little odd: three cans of 9 Lives' brand "Seafood Platter" cat food. Her colleagues had managed to lift some very clear friction ridges off the cans that did not match either victim, and Martin had insisted they be run right away. With rival gang slayings on his beat, Luna wanted to know who else had been in that alley before tensions erupted into a full-fledged gang war on his streets, a war that had apparently ended abruptly in a bloodbath two nights earlier. He'd gone to Hatcher with the prints and asked her to contact her sister-in-law at the FBI to speed up a search that normally took weeks to complete. "Fiona found a match," she said, not bothering to phrase it as a question. "Is it someone you know?"
"Yes and no," he said. Four sheets of paper with fax stamps across the tops were picked out from the rest. "Fleming, Michelle Patrice. Born April 23, 1994 to Paul and Alexandra Fleming. Went missing in Fremont, California in July of 2004. Parents divorced in March of that year, and Alexandra got full custody. She remarried three months later, and Paul moved to Washington. According to this, the daughter wanted to go live with her father, but her mother got custody because she had the better income."
"Four years to cross the U.S.," Hatcher said. "Not bad for a kid, but she went the wrong way."
"Yeah," Luna said and leaned forward. "Now take a look at this," he added, sliding the pages across the papers already scattered in front of her.
She picked them up and paged through them rapidly, scanning the locations and dates associated with this missing person's case. On the second pass, she noticed the black-and-white photo and her eyes widened. "She looks familiar."
"Yeah," he said again. "That was the kid looking into the alley while we were investigating the Marquez homicide." The one he'd scared off, and it looked like that exchange was haunting him over and over. "She was right there, Debra. Right in front of me."
Hatcher got up from her chair and went over to sit next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders. "You couldn't have known, Martin," she said. "Hundreds of thousands of children go missing every year. It's impossible for you to have guessed that she was one."
"That's not going to help her parents," he said. "Now she's involved in this Blood and Crip bullshit, and with the slaughter in that old hotel..." he sighed. "I don't know. There were only South Central Crips and Pure Nation 13 corpses there, but as far as we knew, the two gangs were allies. I don't think they were fighting each other, but how in the hell do eighteen gang members get cut down like that and not a single rival corpse is at the scene?"
"Well, on the upside," she said, "at least you know she wasn't there. Or, if she was, then she survived. The FBI can still locate her." She glanced over at her desk, frowning at the report she'd been reading intently when Luna had walked in. Eighteen corpses, and there were nineteen different blood samples at the scene, along with two other fluids that Jeffrey had said were "just weird and probably not blood."
Eighteen of the samples had been matched to the bodies, but whose blood was the nineteenth sample? It was pushing the boundaries of coincidence that it was the Fleming girl's.
"That's not what I wanted your advice for," he said. He leaned back onto the cushions, and she leaned back with him. It brought back memories for her of how they'd had sex on this couch twice - once during business hours right after lunch. He slumped down and rested his head on her shoulder. "I want to call her parents and let them know I saw her."
"Martin, that's something the FBI should do," she said. "You tell them and let them worry about calling the parents."
He shook his head and sighed. "I can't. I saw her and I scared her off. I'm the reason she's missing again, and I feel like I should at least talk to them. Thing is, her mother got full custody, but I don't know if I should call her."
She frowned. "Putting aside the fact that you'd be stepping on enough Federal toes to be a security guard next year, why not?"
Luna smiled, an expression that had absolutely no warmth to it. He flipped through the file again. "Mass-mailers with a missing kid's photo on them flood the postal service right after a kid's gone missing. After the initial print, the next hot abduction or lost child gets the spotlight. Parents that pay for it can have their kid's photo rerun periodically, and Paul Fleming's been footing the bill for that, not Alexandra. Makes me wonder just how fair the custody decision was."
"Legally speaking, you should call the mother..." she said slowly.
"But my gut says to call the father," he finished. "And at the same time, wouldn't that be too cruel? What am I going to say? 'Hey, I found your kid at a homicide scene in Brooklyn and scared her off. Found her prints at another homicide scene a couple weeks later, but since we haven't found a body, I think she's really okay after all.' Debra, I'm an asshole, but I'm not that much of an asshole."
Hatcher shrugged, not knowing what to say or how to say it. He slipped an arm around her waist and she put her other arm around his shoulder, cradling him against her. "I don't know, Martin," she said finally. "I don't know what's the right thing to do."
Dim firelight fell across the massive relief set into the wall, casting twitching shadows that made the metal sculpture seem more alive than it was. Nuada stared at it intently, resting his halfspear casually across his shoulder. He could see within the branches and roots of the tree more faces that he hadn't noticed before. Each time he viewed the image, he found more details that added to the overall beauty, which even the rust stains and mildew of the sewers could not conceal. The prince could almost lose himself in the intricacy of the relief, if not for his purpose here.
As always, his narrow gold eyes picked out the images of Elves and fairies, trolls and brownies, even lesser fey whose names could not be given shape in human speech. The relief was similar to a hand-painted picture in the book of the creation of the races that he possessed, but was far more intricate than its smaller sibling. His white eyebrows drew together slightly as he tried once again to find a goblin amongst the frozen fey.
A subway rumbled above, shaking the den. He and Wink had long ago memorized the transit schedule, keeping track of hours and days with the gaseous passage of human-made trains.
It was almost time, but not quite.
He gave up on finding the goblins within the roots of the tree; no doubt he would see them eventually, and most likely when he was not looking for them. Nuada turned his wrist, languidly spinning the halfspear, then slashing it across his body to pierce an imaginary enemy to his left. The scar on his shoulder pulled, but it was expected for newly healed wounds. With time and exercise, he wouldn't even notice it any more. He flipped the spear about in his hand again, focusing on the heft in his palm and the rasp of the rayskin under his fingers as he turned away from the relief.
His thoughts were turned inward as he spun the halfspear again, slashing out on occasion in an attack pattern only half-aware. Thousands of years of exile and secrecy would end tonight. At first, months before, he had been content with merely retrieving the crown piece and restoring it to Elven hands. He had been content with convincing his father once more to war upon humanity; surely Balor, hidden in his decaying court, would understand once Nuada returned with tales of humanity's "virtues." He had been content with once again being the princeling who followed where the king led.
Too many failures in the past, too many losses and too many ill turns of fortune had hardened his heart to hope. It was a childish fantasy, to place his trust in his father. The king valued his peace too much, and he would never give it up unless compelled to do so. Tonight he would force his father's hand. It would be an open declaration of war.
His body left the ground as he lashed out at phantom enemies again, his body taut with controlled grace and power. Air whispered across his white skin as he ran and spun and flipped, revisiting his sky. He came down on one knee, slamming the pommel of the halfspear onto the stone floor and it sprouted in his hand to its full length.
Public, was the first thought he'd had when they changed the plan for tonight. Messy had been Wink's contribution. Though he turned and cut at the air with lethal speed, it would not be by his spear the first humans in the war would die. And, oddly, it had been the troll who had come up with the perfect idea. Unorthodox, dangerous and very messy, but perfect. He had thought briefly that his friend was jesting, but the humor in his friend was still buried under the fresh pain of losing his adopted daughter and the festering, never-healed loss of his son. Nuada almost couldn't wait to see the results.
Simple and vicious, and capable of decimating the entirety of Manhattan once they got out. Water splashed up from his boots as he leaped up in a spin and landed, driving his spear down to cleave another phantom from skull to heel. Purchasing the illegal beasts had been far easier than he'd expected; Wink had remembered a chickcharney that sold them in San Francisco. The vendor had since moved his questionable wares to the troll market in New Jersey, but the troll had easily found him. The hardest part of their new plan had been commissioning the crates for their storage, and paying for the fairies. Bribing the vendor had been unnecessary; the chickcharney had taken one look at Nuada's expression and whispered his oath of silence.
Nuada whirled about, focusing on a single water droplet in the cascade that came back down and with a sharp slice, cut it in half. He halted his exercise, staring at the other drops falling into the water and the ripples they made in the puddle. Each ripple touched others, sometimes halting the motion, sometimes enhancing it. His father and sister would make ripples of their own, but they would not be able to alter the course of his actions.
The sense of no longer being alone intruded upon his thoughts. He flipped the spear around, its length a line of cold metal along the back of his arm as he turned back towards the relief. Another subway train, this one passing right behind him, shook the den harder. It was of little matter; he and Wink had no further need for this lair. His Elven eyes picked out the dark shape in a side tunnel, the hulking figure watching him silently. "How long have you been there, my friend?" he asked.
Wink's bristles lifted and fell as he shrugged. Nuada held the spear out, horizontally to the ground, and the metal haft tickled his skin as it collapsed in on itself. "They're over there," he added.
The troll glanced away and Nuada flipped the halfspear about to point at the crates. Locked and fitted with the Bethmoora clan sigil of war, they trembled upon the stone hearth. The rasping cacophony of a thousand tiny claws and chittering teeth were muffled within. "I bought them this morning," he commented, stepping over to the crates. "I haven't fed them... at all."
His dark lips curved in a mirthless smile. The humans would take care of feeding the new pets.
He rested the halfspear on his shoulder again, glancing up at the moonlight streaming in from the sewer cover above. "I will go up first; you will follow," he instructed. Wink nodded, the metal of his fist squeaking as he flexed the fingers. Several forays into Blackwood's had taught Nuada every detail of the interior, and the troll knew well which path he should take to most quickly rendezvous with the prince. Since they were declaring war and not sneaking within to steal back what was rightfully theirs, it mattered not who saw the troll, or who died soon after. They were only human, after all.
Nuada gave him only one last order, a statement phrased intentionally to pierce the troll's grief and feed the behemoth's anger. "And remember, Mr. Wink... don't be shy."
The echo of Orchid's teasing had the desired effect and the troll growled, the sound stretching up into a snarl echoing throughout the tunnels. Oh, yes, Balor's hand would be forced indeed. No more would any fey's weakness, not even Nuada's own, would stop the prince from waging his war and saving his world.
Author's final note:
--An average of 2,185 children are reported missing each day.
--Statistics show that the first three hours after disappearance are the most crucial for recovery.
--Runaways represent the largest number of missing children cases each year, followed by family abductions, lost/injured/otherwise missing, and nonfamily kidnappings (wherein the child is at the greatest risk of injury or death)
--One in six missing kids featured on mass-mailer postcards and through the efforts of other National Center for Missing and Exploited Children photo partners are recovered as a direct result of the photograph.
--If you think you have seen a child reported as missing, call the NCMEC toll-free: 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Would you rather make the call and be wrong, or not make the call and be right?
PS - Thank you all for reading and for such kind reviews; you've kept my inspiration going at a constant level and the magic that came from that is because of you. There is a sequel in the works.