Chapter 8: A Shot In The Darkness


I walk out of the restaurant carrying Wentworth's body like a drunk.

"Sorry." I say, summoning up a sheepish grin. "I guess my friend couldn't hold his liquor."

But Wentworth isn't drunk—he's dead.

The body is surprisingly light, and as I haul him out to the car I start fitting the pieces together. Wentworth said he hadn't aged because his mental image hadn't changed. He still pictured himself as a forty-year-old, so the drug altered his body to match his deluded self-image.

But his vanity was only skin deep—Wentworth's mental picture didn't include his insides, and those aged just as fast as anyone's would.

My forty-five years of torment must've hit his heart like a .45 slug.

It feels good, but in the end I've lost the game. With Wentworth dead he can't tell me where Rebecca is.

I slam my fist against the side of the car. The frustration of being so close is only magnified by the knowledge that I'm the one who fucked it up. Now I'm out of leads, and all I got out of questioning Wentworth was a moment of cathartic release when I killed him.

The rage is exploding in my skull, but with nowhere to go it just goes down—dragging me with it. I squeeze my eyes shut and slam the Mercedes with my fists. My throat is choked with the tears that won't come. The tears of a thousand frustrations and disappointments all summed up in this final, defining piece to the fucked up puzzle of my life.

Wait.

Logic breaks through the haze of emotion, like it always does. It's how I've survived this long—it's what makes me such a good detective.

Wentworth only looked half his age, because the effects of the drug reinforced his mental picture of himself. He got exposed to it when his lab flooded during the storm. You got exposed to it during the flood…

The flood.

The memories rush back in a dizzying haze. No school, no parents, no safety, no help—just you and Michelle side by side, fighting for your lives in the apocalyptic wasteland of the old city.

Michelle.

My eyes open wide as it hits me.

Wentworth only looked half his age.

Michelle, always knowing where things are—so accurately she can point to them from across town.

I throw Wentworth's body in the back seat, leap into the car and fast-start the engine—dropping the gas pedal to the floor and tearing out of the parking lot at something approaching the speed of sound. My hand is already dialing her number.

"Nathan?"

"Michelle, where are you?"

My voice is urgent. The promise of success and the dread of failure beat against my skull, all connected to the one thin hope…

"I'm on the corner of Bourbon and St. Louis—what's going on?"

…I jerk the wheel to the left, passing it hand over hand as I throw the Mercedes into a turn so sharp I have to take it on two wheels.

"Stay there, I'm coming to pick you up."

I get there in minutes.

I spot Michelle sitting at an open-air café, screech to a stop, and throw open the passenger door.

"Get in."

She knows from the look on my face that it's serious. She jumps in and we tear off down the road. "Nate, what's going on?" She looks behind her and sees the body laying across the backseat. "Who is that?" She asks. There's a rising note of panic in her voice.

"The source of our problems." I reply with a crooked smile.

"Is he dead?"

"Yeah, but that's not important right now." We've come to a red light. I decide not to run it.

"Michelle, there's something I have to tell you." I turn to look at her, reaching my hand out until it's almost touching her cheek. I focus, hard, and the shield presses against her skin.

She jerks her head back, eyes widening in disbelief. "Nathan what—?"

"I didn't think you'd believe me unless I showed you." I say apologetically. The light changes, and we head off again. I tell her the story. About Wentworth, the drug, and the power I never told her about. "It's hard to believe," she says, shaking her head slowly, "but it makes sense. It explains so many things. Nathan I—"

"There's something else." I say, cutting her off. "If I was exposed, that means you were too. Do you remember how you could always find your way around, even when entire houses got washed off their foundations and set down blocks away from where they were supposed to be? I think that's how the power manifested in you—you can find things."

"I know." She says quietly. I jerk my head to look at her, and nearly crash into something. I need to slow down.

"I always knew, but I was afraid to tell anybody. I couldn't even admit it to myself. I was afraid—"

"You were afraid you were crazy." She nods silently. "You should have known I wouldn't care." I say.

Michelle and I are close. You can't go through what we did without that happening. It isn't love. At least, not the kind I feel for Rebecca—that shocking, violent, kind of love that tears out your soul and leaves you hollow and shaking inside. Michelle and I are more like brother and sister.

Maybe not. I think, recalling those fire-filled nights when we first started to learn what our bodies were for. But that was partly the hurricane too. After all those years together, and all you went through to keep each other alive—at some point you both needed that. It was the only way to convey—something that couldn't be expressed.

Okay, so I have no idea what we are. Not quite lovers, not quite family—just a really bizarre mixture of both that somehow is that much stronger for it. It was that bond that held us together when they caught us. Don't think about it.

"l need your help to find Rebecca." I tell her. She understands. What we are won't ever change, but this is something different. Still, sitting here in the car, thinking about both of them, it feels almost like a betrayal. A betrayal of which one, I can't be sure.

"Where are we going?" She asks.

"To Orrin's."

She makes a face. "I can't stand that guy—he gives me the creeps."

"I know," I say, rounding another corner at a somewhat safer speed. "but I think we're going to need him."


Orrin is a voodoo man, specializing in curses. He's got a reputation for reliability and results—a rare thing in the charm-selling business. I have a sneaking suspicion his magic works because he believes it does.

Whether or not he's one of us, (Christ, I'm already thinking about it like that.) he'd be a good person to have along—I've seen enough of what he does to know that it works. We aren't exactly friends, but we have a habit of helping each other out.

Besides, Orrin's an old Shadowrun player—what I have in mind should be right up his alley.

We pull up to his shop around two. The afternoon sun is baking down like a nuclear oven—fortunately this car has good A/C. He's inside, Michelle has enough of a handle on her power by now to confirm it.

It seems that once you understand it, control of the power comes easy. Even mine has intensified—I have to focus to keep it from pulsing on and off with my mood.

"Let's go" I say to Michelle.

The inside of the shop is dark and claustrophobic. A thick, pungent incense hangs in the air like dry heat and spice. It's hard to breathe. We make our way down a narrow, candle-lined hall to the room where he's waiting—a dark, wiry figure sitting crosslegged on the floor in a haze of magenta smoke.

"Nathan Cole." He says, opening his eyes and giving me a shrewd, mildly amused look. "Nice to be seeing you again…"

Orrin is still in his twenties, but his eyes claim to be much older. His voice is low and soft, and he speaks with a deep melodic tone, as though communing with far-off mystical forces. That, or enjoying some really great pot. His deep black eyes gaze past my shoulder, fixing on Michelle. "…and I see you brought the woman, too."

I'm not sure how to broach the subject. To tell the truth, Orrin makes me a little nervous. This guy is crazy, even by my standards—a man with no concept of limits. My shield can't block a curse, so I need to find a way of suggesting his powers aren't what he thinks they are—without insulting him in the process.

I never was good at this subtle crap.

Michelle saves me. "We need your help," she says, "and we have some information you might find useful."

We tell him the story, from Rebecca's kidnapping, to the things I learned from Wentworth—it takes a while. The magenta smoke is starting to get to me.

"What is this stuff?" I ask, coughing. "Secret recipe." He replies with a smile. "I tell people what it is, and the dealers will want in—then I'll lose customers."

He pauses to suck in a lungful of smoke before blowing it out in a long, narrow jet. The swirling of the air reflects the swirling in my skull, and I nearly fall over. Orrin just laughs, spilling smoke from his nostrils, his bald head gleaming darkly in the candlelight.

Maybe it's the smoke, but he looks like a carved ebony demon. "Some of my clients," Orrin says, chuckling softly, "they come in just for the atmosphere."

His eyes sharpen instantly, like a knife drawn out of nowhere. "You think my powers are like yours—a fantasy made real by this drug in the water?" I nod slowly, my body tensing to react. The dangerous look in his eyes shifts back to amusement.

"It probably is." He says, laughing. "All this," he gestures around the room, "I learned from the movies, back when I was too young to know the difference. Then I grow up. At some point, I realized this shouldn't work—but it does."

He shakes his head slowly. "I want to learn real magic, real voodoo—but I can't find anyone to teach me. This is all I have."

Michelle, sitting on the floor beside us, raises her head. Her eyes are bloodshot and hazy—that might explain why she hasn't spoken in the last hour. "Doesn't it scare you?" she asks.

"Of course it scares me," Orrin replies, "that's why I want to learn. When I control it, I'll have nothing to fear from it."

We discuss the plan—it isn't much of one.

"A shadowrun," Orrin sums up, "on Quentin Pharmaceuticals."

"That's essentially it." I tell him. I'm finally getting used to the smoke. "First Michelle uses her power to find Rebecca, then the three of us hit the place and get her back."

Orrin is smiling, I really wish he wouldn't do that.

"So she's the Decker," he says, pointing to Michelle, "I'm the Shaman, and you…?"

I draw the gun from my pocket. "You have to ask?"

"Street Samurai." He whispers, shaking his head in amusement. "Not a bad team."

"We'll need some better weapons." I say, looking at my revolver. "You got any guns in this place, Orrin?"

His smile broadens. "I do."

Orrin leads us to a back room. He lifts the lid of a trunk, and we peer inside—it's filled with every kind of gun I've ever seen. "I run a very accommodating business here." He explains. "We accept payment in whatever the client has to offer."

I reach in the trunk and pull out a couple of machine pistols—Glock 18's by the looks of them. They're about the size of regular handguns, but fully-automatic with an extra-long magazine and the ability to pump out thirteen-hundred rounds a minute. Problem is they only hold about thirty. I grab some extra magazines.

Automatics aren't my style, but where we're going I'll need them. Just the same, I find myself a nice '45 and stow it away for later. Michelle is looking warily at the hardware in the trunk. Guns aren't her thing, though I know she can handle one if she has to. She settles on the MP-9, an unusually stable submachine gun equipped with a suppressor, laser sight, and a flashlight. It's the gun with the most gadgets, picking it is the first stereotypically geeky thing I've seen her do.

"What about you?" I ask, turning to Orrin. He just smiles. I really wish he'd stop doing that. He opens a small lacquer box on the shelf next to him, and pulls out what looks like a comically oversized revolver. It takes me a minute to realize what I'm looking at. "Jesus, Orrin, is that—?"

"Custom-made." He answers with a wide smile. "It fires 10-gauge shotgun shells."

Fuck!

"Not one for subtlety are ya?" I ask.

He smiles and shakes his head. "Oh no, for subtlety, I have this—" He draws a long white knife out of a sheath at his back. It's carved from a single piece of bone that looks like it used to be human. "Do you want to know what it does?" He asks, the smile growing on his face as he looks at me.

"No." I say. Just looking at that thing scares the fuck out of me—and the worst part is, I don't know why.


Next: Countdown