Mike woke to a dark house, the only noise being the white noise of the fan in the living room. The evening was well under way. After the "morning" trip to the bathroom, he headed for his computer.
Logging in to his email, there was one short message from John.
"Not much to report, Have a possible lead on the thing we talked about. Will know more soon."
Mike got up and headed back to the bathroom for a shower. After a bit of thought, he had decided to cut out the middle man, and hunt Willy without the elaborate games he usually had to play to make an "official visit".It was completely unheard of, but Willy had some pull with people who could make your life miserable if you broke the rules. No surprise visits. Period. The standing watercooler theory was that this was to give some of his more influential clients an advance warning. Some very circumspect but pointed memos from on high forced anyone calling on him to go through the ritual.
Midnight found Mike handing over seven bucks to a lot attendant in one of the empty fields that become pay-lots after sundown in Ybor. They had sprung up almost overnight, and within a few years it was impossible to park within a mile of the strip at night without paying. He could have flashed his badge, but the order for the night was low profile. He had even gone to the length of wearing a Ybor compatible version of camouflage.
A black silk shirt, black jeans, black bike boots he hadn't worn in years and leather belt with a silver buckle announced to anyone caring to look that he was headed for the Castle, the areas best known "Gothic" bar.
Showing the bouncer his drivers license, and paying his cover, he got his bracelet, and moved into the lower bar, hunting for his target.
Moving around the lower bar, a good cross section of the underground culture in Tampa was on full display. Goths, Skaters, Punks, Alternatives, and various other fringe groups were out having a good time.
Sliding out the back door into the small walled courtyard , Mike was peering at every face, checking every dark nook and cranny, looking for the trademark multi-colored dreads of the one person he came to see.
The courtyard proved a dead end, so he moved back into the club heading for the main areas upstairs. Along the way he picked up a beer, more to blend in, than anything else.
As he headed up the main stairwell, he took a drink thinking "Well, at least I don't have to worry about the conversation being ruled inadmissable due to alcohol." A small smile lit his lips as he reached the main level of the club.
Heading into the clubs main area he was assaulted by "Old Wave" night, with eighties alternative music and videos played out in bright color on the bars three projector screens.
After a full circuit of the "L" shaped bar and dance floor, he headed back out toward the small "quiet bar" at the head of the stairs.
Walking in, he moved to a corner of the bar closest to the wall, and turned to survey the whole room. It was a small area, with couches and chairs huddled in shadowed corners lit only by tea lights in colored glass holders. His eyes locked on the back corner of the room, on a set of red, blue and black dreads moving in the dim lights.
Willy was apparently holding court , and his supplicants were a pair of goth twenty-somethings. They were sitting in a loveseat facing Mike, hanging on whatever Willy was saying.
Moving closer, Mike managed to cage a seat on the couch backed up against Willys chair. Leaning back at if napping, he could hear Willy giving the couple advice on whether to bring another girl into their relationship.
After another ten minutes of talk, the couple finally went on their way, no doubt sliding Willy a nice "donation" on their way. Sighing in relief, Mike slid himself up out of the seat, and swung around, putting a hand on Willys' shoulder as he stood to follow the departing couple.
"Hey, Willy, I need some advice, man." Mike said, gently pushing the man back into his seat.
Willy looked up, annoyed that someone was touching him, and at first there was no recognition in his eyes.
"Look mon, I don' do 'tings without an appointment. You wan' to talk to me, you talk to my girls first"
Mike held up a finger in the "shush" motion, and continued. "Look at me."
Willys' eyes seemed to slowly focus on Mikes face. After a moment, recognition finally dawned.
"Mr. S, what you be doin' 'ere? Where's Mr. J?" Jansen was Willys usual contact. Mike had only dealt with a handful of times.
"This isn't a "business" call, man. I just have a few questions about something else that's going on. I was hoping you might be able he give me some pointers."As he said this, Mike slid a hundred dollar bill out of his pocket and held it between his legs for Willy to see, while keeping it hidden from the rest of the bar.
Willys hand slid up out of the murk and snagged the bill.
"So dis be off da record?"He looked a little confused, but more unnerved that a TPD officer was in front of him giving him money with none of the unofficial protocols.
"Way off. There's some things going on that don't fit the normal bill. " Mike mentally made a plunge, and continued with, "What can you tell me about supernatural creatures around here?"
Willy looked around as if to see who might be listening, then opened his mouth to speak. Before the first word came out, he froze again, finally realizing who was asking the question. He seemed on the verge of total mental seizure when Mike continued.
"Look, I know there's more going on then the "official" world acknowledges. I think you know something about this world. And I need information." Mike's voice was deadly serious, his expression was even worse.
"Wha' choo mean 'bout "official" Mr. Mon? Dere ain't no monsters round here. Dey all be back on the islan'." Despite what he was saying, he was still keeping his voice low.
Mike scooted further forward in his seat and shot back sotto voce "You owe me. I'm here to collect. Remember the bridge? How's your leg?"
Willy sat back, confusion showing at first, then a deeper recognition and agitation. After a moments thought he seemed to relax, but maintained a very unpleasant look at Mike.
"I'm not here, Willy, and whatever you tell me never happened, as long as you don't screw me around." Mike was leaned forward across the table trying to placate the dealer..
Licking his lips, Willy leaned forward, so they were almost face to face. "What you wan' to know?"
"Shapeshifters. What can you tell me?" Mike stage whispered across the table. A moments silence as the dealer pondered what Mike said.
Willy flopped back against his seat, then gave the room a brief scan. As he moved, he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and palmed it against his crotch. His other hand came out of his other pocket. The two met between his legs and he scribbled a brief note as he leaned forward again. His body was screening him as he wrote, and Mike made an effort not to notice what he was doing.
"Tol' ya Mon'.Don' know what yer' on about. I tink maybe you should go." His voice was pitched loud enough to carry without seeming staged. His eyes gave a different message. He knew something and he didn't want to talk about it.
"OK, I just thought you could help." Mike reached out to shake his hand and take the palmed paper. He slid it into his pocket in one smooth movement.
Getting up from the loveseat, he gave one last look at Willy, who refused to look back, and headed downstairs..He didn't pause until he was back in his car with the doors locked. Pulling the slip out of his pocket he found a cryptic message:
7seas 130am Vanessa.
OK, the Sleaze was a fairly notorious strip bar/part time rave club. Leaning back in his seat, he wondered if he was getting the runaround. Then a darker thought. Trap? There was enough time to set one up. Nearly an hour until the appointment.
Looking at the situation, he decided that he didn't really have a choice. It was either follow it through, or go home and hope the answer would fall from heaven. His faith in heaven was eroding rapidly.
Finally making his only real choice, he sat up and reached under his seat, coming out with his "civilian" weapon. He could carry concealed legally anywhere except a bar. Oh well, when I tell them its in case of Werewolf attack, they'll understand.
Cranking his car up, he slowly pulled out of the dirt lot. The attendant waved at him, and out of view of his rear view a couple that had been leaning against a car making out stopped long enough for the guy to raise a hand to his face. Pulling out onto Republica he headed toward Kennedy looking for a burger joint to kill some time.
Pulling into what passed for a parking lot exactly fifteen minutes early, Mike found a vacant patch of gravel, and backed his car into it. Walking around the side toward the street, Mike could tell the club was slow tonight. No line out front, he could hear the music thumping inside, but none of the usual background noise a jumping club generated.
After going through the entry ritual, Mike headed for a back corner, looking for a shadowed table to watch the door for a few minutes. Almost as soon as he sat down, the first girl made her approach. Mincing around tables and other patrons, she came at Mike with the stilted walk that seven inch platform heels imparts. They must be able to smell money from across the room, Mike thought wryly.
She was an attractive young black girl, with large expressive eyes, and a gymnasts body. As mike warmed up his "not interested" speech, she almost pounced into his lap.
"Look.." He started. That was as far as he got.
"Your early." she whispered into his ear. A moments confusion, before Mikes highly trained investigators mind put the obvious together.
"Vanessa?" he started again.
"Shhh, thats my real name, here I'm Jayde." As she talked she slid off his lap into the booth and cuddled up to him with the practiced air of someone who could like anyone as long as their credit card held up.
"How did you know who I was?" Mike finally finished a sentence.
Still leaning against him, she replied into his ear. "Um, maybe Willy told me what you look like? What do you think." The look on her face told him how dumb she thought the question was.
"So what now? Why did he send me here? What do you know?"
"Jayde" gave him an appraising look, "All I know is what he told me. Low profile, and to tell you where to go. " Mike wanted to sit up in the stool and ask what the hell all the cloak and dagger was about, but forced himself to relax.
"So where am I going?" He was almost able to keep the annoyance out of his voice.
"Come on." grabbing his hand she led him back to the VIP area. Pushing him back into a seat she murmured in his ear, "Have to keep up appearances." The look in her eyes told him this wasn't all business.
Mike tried to avoid thinking about the attractive semi-nude women rubbing against him, and focus on his mission, but it was rather distracting. Finally after she finished the second dance, she started putting her "clothes" back on, and got back down to business.
"Willy going to be waiting for you in Oldsmar, .."
Sitting in the lot of the small business center Mike felt like the worlds biggest target. All it would take would be one bored Deputy to make his life hell. He had been there for nearly ten minutes, and no overt sign of the Hatian.
Looking in his rearview, Mike saw the same Lincoln cruise by again. It had been the only car to drive down the side street since he had been waiting. Mike already suspected it, and its second appearance had now convinced him. This time however, he caught a reflected flash of brake lights once it was out of sight.
OK, this has got to be it. Mike unlocked the doors, and adjusted the gun that was currently digging into the small of his back.
Getting out of the car, he lit up another cigarette, leaning back as if these nocturnal rendevous were an everyday occurrence.
He was halfway though the smoke when he saw someone step out from the shadows bordering the building. Willy.
He started to say something, and was immediately shushed by the man in the shadows. As he left his car, he could see Willy's eyes shining in the dark.
There was definite fear in them. Coming around the corner, he received another motion for silence from the former dealer. Willy quickly led him through a series of twists and turns leaving them on the railroad tracks. The Hatian led on without another word.
After another few hundred yards, and another furtive glance around, the dealer started to speak.
"Look, the guy you're looking for, he's wild. I heard 'bout the shooting. Knew someti'ng was up after the morgue van turned up whacked." Willys Caribbean accent had dropped about ten points. Apparently twenty plus years in the states had done more for his pronunciation than he liked to let on.
"OK, so what the hell is he?"...
From three hundred yards the figures in the night vision scope were a grainy green and grey. Thanks to the pictures he was still able to identify his subject though. The other man was an unknown, but obviously somehow involved.
The man shifted himself where the armrest was digging into his ribs. The van was a nondescript late model with tinted windows and a workmans rack on top. It would blend in nearly anywhere, but worked especially well in this part of town. Laying back across the bench, with just his head and scope above the door line, he was as close to invisible as possible. Reflecting for a moment, he thought it was a pity he didn't have the rifle that was the scopes usual partner, the shot would have been cake. It was an idle thought. His orders were to watch.
"He's what you think he be, he not a man, but one of the ones dat run on all fours. You don't know how lucky you be to take him down once." Willy pronounced in a matter of fact tone, tinted with a tiny amount of admiration.
"OK, so you're telling me I shot a Werewolf. Obviously I didn't put him down hard enough. That part I got. What do I do now?" Mike tried to keep the bewildered tone out of his voice, and mostly succeeded.
"What ya mean what you do now? You get the hell 'outta town, he be out there, and he know your face. This one, he the kind that'll come back for 'ya. You don' want to go back there again, cause your luck wont hold out."
Mike stopped for a moment, looking to the sky hoping for a message from God telling him that this was all a joke. Deciding that none were forthcoming, he turned back to his companion. "I'm not running. I'm a cop, he's a monster. As cliched as it sounds, he has to be stopped." Mike paused as something else occurred to him. "And you said "ones", you mean there's more out there?"
This time Willy stopped, turning to look at Mike in a clearly surprised way. "You fuckin' crazy boy? I told you, you go after him he kill you. And you really don' want to get involved more than you are."
Mike started to reply, but Willy plowed ahead, talking in a rush. "Look, you saved my life once, now I save yours.. So I tell you 'dis. He already a dead mon, he just don' know it yet. De mess he made has pissed a lot of the others off. They don like noise and publicity. So dey take care of things. You just gotta keep yo' ass low for a while." Willy was almost pleading by the end, his accent coming back under the stress. .
"What others?' Mike pounced as soon as the dealer stopped talking.
Willy seemed to realize what he had just done, and visibly clamped down on himself. "Look, just trust Willy dat you don't need to worry 'bout it. This ain't you're fight anymore. Just go visit somebody. I done all I can." Turning on his heel, he started back down the tracks in the direction they had been walking.
Mike stood irresolute, watching the dealer fade into the night. The worst part was that he wanted to follow the Hatians advice. He knew in his gut that Willy was telling the truth, at least some of it.
Finally he turned, and started back for his car.
The two figures were now heading in opposite directions. In the dim glow of his eyepiece he could make out his subject heading toward the van. Settling a bit lower he continued surveillance.
Taking a deep breath, the creature crouched in the patch of bushes and scrub trees, waiting for its first victim to get close enough. It had been patient, but now they had separated. The time was right. He tensed for the pounce.
The watcher bolted upright as the grey blur shot out of the bushes taking the unknown subject completely by surprise. The mans shriek echoed into the night. He knew this was a possibility, but had never seen how fast one could really move. Before the shriek died the subject had vanished into the bushes.
Mike spun at the scream. His backup weapon was already in his hand. Staring back down the tracks, all he could see was black. Breaking into a sprint, he charged back toward where Willy had left him.
As he crossed the property line between two businesses, he thought he saw movement out of the corner of his eye moving parallel to him. Swinging his gun, and sliding to a stop, he froze, after hearing and seeing nothing else for a heartbeat, he resumed his charge down the track. Before he realized it, he had passed the area Willy should have been in. Sliding and almost tripping over a railroad tie, he reversed his course, looking for the break in the bushes, any clue as to where Willy was.
Coming up on a dense patch of brush, he heard a distinctive "chacka-chacka-chacka", followed by a bellow that could not come from any human throat. He veered toward the clump, seeing a broken path through it as he hit.
The watcher saw the shape of the creature drag the unknown subjects body across the small clearing between the tracks and adjacent buildings after its first pounce, His target had just passed the area the creature had crossed. What the....
Two figures materialized, seemingly out of nowhere and crossed the same clear spot. The watcher recognized the body armor and weapons as common to many spec-ops types, not to mention police SWAT teams. The quick, quiet and fluid way they moved, weapons up and tracking said professional. His instinct's were screaming. He knew the situation had just changed drastically. Black Team. This was not part of the briefing.
The newcomers disappeared around the corner the creature had taken. His target was now crashing thought the bushes the creature had used, heading for the same corner.
Dropping the scope from his eye, he slid back over to the driver side, and cranked the vans engine. He needed to get clear of the area and make a report. He knew the situation was blown, and it was unlikely his subject was even still alive.
Clearing the bushes, he saw the corner of a building less than ten feet away. Veering toward it, he heard a male voice bark quietly, "Clear!".
Another voice responded the same way a beat later.
Clearing the corner, Mike registered that he was about to crash into someone a split second before he felt a tremendous impact on his chest, followed immediately by a jarring impact with the ground.
Coming back to himself after a moment, his brain started to try to make sense of what was going on around him. Shot. Oh shit, I'm shot.
As his senses came back, The next thought was Edwards. He's got me. This idea was dispelled as a pair of human hands grabbed his arms and he recognized that he was on his stomach, and a pair of zip ties were being tightened around his wrists. What the fuck.... Pulling his head up, he had a moment to register the shape of Willy, laying still on the ground a few feet away. Splatters of black were on the wall behind him. Blood? A sharp impact at the back of his head silenced all thought.