Category: Uncategorized

Missing Pieces – Part 7: Revelations

 

Whitley and Titan rushed through the Andersen homestead in search of Hannah Andersen. Over the mental link Whitley demanded Shawna & Brett answer and realized with an icy suddenness that she had avoided recognizing that it was unnatural to feel nothing from them.

Nothing.

“Titan! I can’t reach them.” But his response was simply, “the Barn.”

Rushing back through the front door and down the porch she realized that the barn door stood open and a dark sense of foreboding swept over her. Taking to the air was natural and she flew toward it and Titan’s floating figure.

He landed before her, a hand outstretched as if he wanted to stop her from entering but she rushed past him with a flare of purple energy aiding her speed. Titan probably could have stopped her most likely, or at least slowed her down but instead he simply hovered nearby and let her gaze alight upon the table and the body atop it.

The bloody rent and torn body. The chest cavity racked open and the gaping hole revealing the lack of a vital human part. The heart gone from the body. The pool of blood, no longer pouring, barely a drip that revealed that while fairly fresh this kill was not brand new.

Jeremy’s lifeless eyes stared at her and she felt something inside her mind snap like a rubber band. Suddenly she was tightly focused, like a laser, zeroing in on the sounds of crying from further back in the barn.

Titan had already headed in that direction and Brujeria joined him. Her mind trying to make sense of the sprawled form of Hannah Andersen, the nearly empty whiskey bottle at her side explaining the wet liquid that sprayed her, except for its bright crimson hue. One hand stained with blood clear up the elbow.

Without hesitation, Brujeria’s eyes snapped a sharp vivid purple as she slammed into the mind of the woman before her. The woman who meant so much to the Andersen’s, who had been the guardian savior angel to Jeremy.

And there written in tragic agony and whiskey stains, Brujeria watched the tableau unfold. The broken Hannah Andersen, alone in her farmstead, her children and husband gone. She’d prayed for answers, she sought them in every religion she could find. She’d chased pipe dreams, every possible hint of her children she chased down until she was broke psychologically as well as financially. She had nothing. No one. With a despondent futility she traveled to Northern Australia on one last hint of a sighting of Brett. Chasing the phantoms of her children…and there beneath the desert sun she had given up hope, fallen to her knees and begged to die. Heat exhaustion had buried her beneath fatal slumber and she would have died if not for the aborigine witch that nursed her back to health and finally offered her what she sought…

…the return of her kids. For a pact with Mokoi.

Had she known what this pact would have entailed, if she’d had any idea what she had agreed to she would never have done it. But then the stories had become more real, the authentic sightings of her sons increased. And finally, her truest dream came true. The boys had returned, together as a unit.

She’d given thanks to Mokoi in the barn, turned a blind eye to what her pact had cost. It was worth it. It was all so worth it, and then Jeremy had found her. His questions had angered Mokoi, threatened their pact and with a desperation she had done as bidden.

Brujeria was unaware that some of this story had been spoken aloud as she sought these answers. She had no idea exactly what Titan knew, only that he stared at her in silent assessment as she announced, “They can never know.”

She didn’t know she was crying. She didn’t feel the tears pouring down her face as she began to re-write the memories of one Hannah Andersen. Placing dark shadows in place of the pacts of evil she had made. She took from her the decision to sacrifice her soul for her children’s return.

Moments later she moved past the corpse of Jeremy without seeming to see him, she stopped only briefly by Titan, “Let them know that there has been tampering…like Anubis, she didn’t know what she was doing.” A partial truth followed by a bald faced lie, “She was being controlled.”

“I’m off to set some of this straight.”

She didn’t wait for an answer or confirmation. Disappearing in a sharp blast of purple energy, her movements and words brittle and sharp. She was rigid with purpose. One more push and she would break.

But that could come later.

There was work to be done.

Advertisements

Missing Pieces – Part 6: Showdown at the Church

 

Titan flew in overhead even as the roar of the spider cycle revealed the Team Leader’s arrival. Whitley had just deposited Rook and Deathstalker on the steps of the church as she explained, “I can’t seem to teleport inside, there appears to be some form of resistance.”

“We’ve got to get inside! Olivia’s in there!” The bike hadn’t come to a full stop before.

Spider wasted no time, taking the steps two at a time, his bike still purring to a stop. Deathstalker beside him they both leveled a ferocious kick at each door as Titan blasted the top of it with some sort of energy cannon. Whitley used a thrusted hand to throw purplish kinetic energy at the door as well and Rook wasted no time in tightening her wings to her body in a spiraling flight pattern, scythe extended before her. She would have willingly crashed into the door had any of it remained to be moved but it shattered upon their impact, splintering and disintegrating before their conjoined efforts.

Titan and Brujeria flew through the top half of the double doors seconds after Rook had gone down the center of the entrance and on the floor level the Andersen brothers rolled through. Within seconds the team was inside and ready to wreak havoc on their enemies.

From Rook’s vantage point in the sky she could make out the rows and rows of kids sitting in a trance-like state staring straight ahead at the pulpit as if dutiful acolytes of the faith. But there was something unnatural about their posture and gaze. That alone would have been enough to trigger a protective reaction but it was the sight of the shadowy monstrosity seated atop the altar, his inky blackness writhing and undulating in nauseating fashion that drew her attention. Before him, attached by tendrils of shadow, hounds of horrific proportion snarled and snapped at their arrival.

Seemingly unaware of the horror, a row of young novitiates had risen and were walking up the aisle in spellbound lockstep and even as Brujeria shouted a warning they all watched as yet another child entered into the shadowy swirls and disappeared from sight.

“Brujeria, Deathstalker get those kids out of here! Rook, Titan with me!” Spider launched himself into the sky, his spikes raining angrily at a nearby hound’s head as Titan and Rook flew in from opposite sides, blasting the figure in hopes to distract him from his conquest. “Find OLIVIA!”

Brujeria used her kinetic energy to grab the front of row of kids and sling them as gently as she could back toward the destroyed front door. A chain whipped down the center aisle and grabbed a child wrapped in black tentacles. A struggle began as a hound leaped to snap at the chain only to find a scythe cutting into its frame. “Thou art not to harm a child, foul creature!” Rook spun in the center of two of the hounds, her blade leaving tremendous swaths that remained bloodless but torn.

Fearlessly, Spider grappled with another hound who intercepted him before he could reach its master, but spikes flung outward at the seated creature who stood to proclaim in a thunderous voice:

“I AM MOKOI AND YOU WILL NOT INTERFERE WITH MY PACT.”

“Fuck your pact, you ain’t getting’ these kids!” Spider’s muffled shout came from beneath a hound’s snarling form.

“I HAVE GIVEN CROPS & FORTUNE AS PROMISED, YOU WILL GIVE ME MY EIGHTEEN DAYS OF SACRIFICE!”

“The only thing you’re getting is destroyed!” Spider flung the no longer moving body of a hound at the ground and launched himself at the creature even as Titan blasted him again.

“Titan help!” Brujeria shouted as Rook dispatched another hound and went for Mokoi. A glance back revealed that the children who had been flung to safety were dutifully lining up to march trance-like back down the aisle toward their doom, an endless cycle that Deathstalker and Brujeria couldn’t stay in front of, even as Olivia stood up in her row and began to move up near the front of the aisle: a mindless bride headed to her end.

Titan flew up and threw out a forcefield near the front of the door, immediately recognizing Brujeria’s request from their previous experience on the island. Now with a barrier to help, the witch and the assassin flung children behind the barrier, preventing them from marching to their doom. They weren’t altogether gentle at this point as they tried desperately to stay ahead of the flow, focusing on the kids at the front and moving back aisle after aisle.

As Olivia flew overhead and back behind the force field, Rook lashed her scythe at Mokoi even as Spider delivered a series of blows meant to kill. Titan offered a blast of energy that slammed the shadowy figure backwards.

Mokoi yelled, “THIS IS NOT THE END. MY PACT REMAINS,” before his shadowy figure seemed to sink in on itself and slid like spilled ink into the candle sconces, disappearing beneath their raining blows.

The kids fell like dolls. Broken marionettes that spilled about the church. With eyes only on Olivia, Spider launched himself down the aisle in a leap that could only be supernatural, landing at her stirring form.

Rook swung wildly at the candle sconces, “Come back foul beast, for thou have not faced judgment!”

Landing before Brujeria, Titan shared a look. “Crops. A pact.”

With a sharp nod they both seemed to agree on something, “Find Mrs. Andersen.”

Deathstalker was already racing through the church to find his mother and over the comms his anguished voice announced, “She’s not here. I can’t find her.”

“We’re on it.” Brujeria and Titan disappeared in a flash of purple light leaving the rest of the team to follow.

Missing Pieces: Part 5 – Puzzling it Out

Image result for puzzle artwork

Henri had insisted Whitley bring her to Alliance 2 so that she could “conduct research.” She’d been on the comms with the new Apex, who quite frankly gave Whitley the undeniable heebie-jeebies, since they arrived and Whitley found herself yawning into her closed fist. She’d brought Bryan with them and he seemed content to simply watch the librarian alternately mutter to herself and into the comms. She considered going back to the hotel with Foster but knew that as soon as she left someone would demand she return to take them somewhere else. She wasn’t sure exactly when she’d become Team Taxi but she was going to start asking for tips at this point.

The thought brought a smile as she considered getting a little chauffeur’s cap as a joke before realizing that the humor would probably be wasted on any of them. It occurred to her that once upon a time Gleam Shimmer had been Team Teleporter but that ability seemed to be lost at least from what she’d gathered. It was a sore point so not really something anybody ever brought up. The group certainly liked to avoid topics that caused upset. Such a way of thinking was actually alien to Whitley. After all, when you grew up with a window into people’s minds you kind of got over the fact that people had secrets or weren’t always up front about how they felt about…well, really anything. It was partially because of this skill and her own upbringing that Whitley had grown to simply accept people for who they were: faults, flaws, and hidden agendas all the same. Hell, most people were deeply hypocritical, at least in the privacy of their own minds and it was for this reason that she tended to be unapologetically who she was. What did it matter, you could be as self-sacrificing as a saint and people would still judge you, so why not simply enjoy life and be who you really wanted to be. Quite honestly, there really wasn’t much worse than being privy to everyone’s thoughts during the critical stages of puberty. It wasn’t until after her 17th birthday that she learned how to control and shield herself from other people’s minds, but by then she was over trying to please people who would always see things through their own perspective.

Probably why self-righteousness always prickled her the most. And Amelia Taylor was nothing if not a walking, living, breathing example of it. Whitley was probably better off here on the jet than with Bryce even if she thought his going to see Olivia alone was a bad idea. The ex-fiancé of Brett Andersen made her want to abuse her powers in ways that would surely get her lectured if not downright ostracized by the team. But, seriously, if that woman stuck her nose up any higher she’d bend backwards and have to smell her own asshole.

“Ah ha!” Henri proclaimed with a glee that most women reserved for orgasms: “We’ve got a pattern!”

“Bout damn time.” Bryan muttered in an uncharacteristic display of impatience. Whitley offered him an arched brow that he pretended not to see.

“Apex, can you do me a favor and put it on screen and share it with Titan?” Henri’s request was polite, a question from one colleague to another and Whitley was once again reminded that the computer program was now a living sentient being thanks to Foster’s questions about humanity.

“Sure thing Henri!” The disembodied voice chirped cheerfully from somewhere in the digital bed of screens, knobs, buttons and displays.

Filling up the screen, detailed dates and odd tragedies began to populate their vision and Whitley was about to question what they were seeing when Henri launched into an explanation:

“So the first pattern that caught my attention was the last 17 days. As you can see here on July 10th people were found petrified in a bank with one death, and then only the 11th there were strange lights and exploding light bulbs in several homes that resulted in injuries reported to the local hospital with a couple of fatalities. And here, do you see this headline, a farmer discovered 42 head of his cattle slaughtered. And it all keeps escalating, two days ago it was the museum massacre, but yesterday it was a grain elevator explosion with 30 dead, no cause discovered as of yet…” she paused breathlessly to slide her glasses up her nose, her eyes on them before explaining, “of course these kinds of investigations take time and that is certainly no slight against the police or emergency response teams in this area.”

“Right, Henri, we know, you would never imply incompetence,” Whitley made a continue on motion with her hands even as Bryan moved closer to the screen his brow furrowing as he read over the details.

From over the comms, William Foster asked, “Did you see the overarching pattern?”

“I did!” Henri announced excitedly as she flipped a screen to begin showing more dates and more tragedies, “see here, a child dove headfirst onto rocks in 2016, and it began in 2015 with a young girl unexpectedly jumping in front of a bus, a man set his aviary on fire killing 150 of his birds with no recollection of doing so, just like Dr. Mullins! Well, those were birds and Mullins killed people.” Henri’s excitement was tempered with a quivering note of sadness at the tragedy.

Whitley tried to follow along but it was zipping by too fast. Henri further explained: “These types of tragedies seem to always occur in July and last for 18 days before culminating in a huge unexplained mass disappearance of some kind.”

“Mass disappearance?” Whitley managed as Henri began flipping back again to demonstrate, “yes see 35 children on a field trip last year, and the year before a movie theater collapsed during an animated film and bodies were not discovered and—“

“Wait, 18 days?” Bryan asked, “And the first event was on the 10th…”

“Yes. And today would be the 28th!” Henri confirmed with the glee of someone who has placed the last puzzle piece.

Over the comms, Foster stated, “Inaugural event July 10th, 2013. The year after Bryce ‘died.’”

They all shared a frozen look for a moment before Bryan exploded out the door of the jet racing for the farmstead. Over the mental link Whitley asked, “Bryce, did you get that?” At the same time he said, “Olivia is at the Church with a bunch of kids at some kind of religious retreat. Alliance Get there Now!”

Whitley, sent a team message over the mental link, “ALLIANCE to the CHURCH!” And gave a moment’s thought to how Brett was going to react to the news that Olivia might be in danger. She didn’t get much more of a moment to think about it when she heard the end of a now familiar phrase, “Reave’s Sweet Reaping.”

It was time to go to work.

Missing Pieces: Part 4 – The Police Station

Image result for hypnosis artwork

They rolled up on the police station in the shiny luxury sedan that Henri had ordered. Leave it to Henri to find a car delivery system that had the driver unfolding his collapsible bike and pedaling away with a wave and a hefty tip.

Whitley wasn’t always the first to acknowledge her privilege but she sometimes found herself unable to stop from gawking at the level of sheltered that Henri managed to exude. Unable to keep her eyes from rolling she strode past the police officers at the front door of the building, taking note of their lack of guns with a bit of surprise. Quite different from the wild west frontierism of the United States.

She’d planned to let Bryce handle the proceedings but when the police officer at the desk turned toward them, he looked to her.

“How may I help you?”

Affecting the air of the slightly rushed businesswoman on a mission, she flashed him a smile with just a hint of sensuality, “Yes, we’re here with the Paragon Center. A little late, of course, who knew that things would be so busy around here with that motocross thing?”

He blinked at them in some confusion and she pressed on deliberately, “Oh please don’t tell me you didn’t get the message. We’re here to aid in the investigation of the Museum Massacre. You know, we’re from the Paragon Center.”

As he looked from them to his desk and computer with growing confusion, she rushed more information at him to continue to off-balance him, “Hopped on a flight to Australia! And here we are. Can you believe it? I just can’t. But such is the way of things now as we try to make sense of the unnatural, no? And from my understanding nothing about this incident is making sense, right? Your suspect still is maintaining his innocence and swears he remembers nothing at all, right?”

“I don’t have anything on…wait, who sent you?” He looked up again with a frown, “You know I should just ask my—“

“Oh you don’t want to do that, Officer Newman.” Whitley purred, a flicker of purple energy appearing in her eyes as she coaxed him mentally to stay put, “look there on the paperwork, right before you, see our names.”

With the power of persuasion at her beckoning, he did as he was told and nodded, “Oh yes…yes I see. Uh huh. Alright, well then, he’s uh, in Holding Cell B.” The officer waved a hand toward a locked entry door and motioned to the officer there, “Show these people to Holding Cell B. They’re here to question Mullins.”

She gave him a flutter of her lashes.

“And, give them whatever they need to help in their assistance…” Office Newman ordered.

Smiling with an airy wave, Whitley sashayed past the guard desk with the rest of the group behind her. She resisted the urge to point out how much easier life was when they let her actually use her powers to their advantage but just barely.

Foster murmured something about getting a closer look at the murder weapon and with a commanding presence simply insisted that the officer show him to it in the way that made it seem like there was no reason to not do as he asked. As he moved off down the hall, the door to the interrogation room opened to reveal a middle aged man, balding, with a dejected air of defeat hanging all about him. Whitley had expected a nervous or even angry person, but the sadness that poured from him made her even more certain that they were up against mind control, “This has to be Sebastian Dunn.

She ignored the icy cold shudder of fear that washed over her at potentially encountering him inside this man’s mind. Pretending a calm she didn’t have, she slid into the chair across from him, “Good afternoon Mr. Mullens.”

“Doctor.” Henri corrected from the doorway, cutting through the tension in the room like a scalpel. Every eye in the room turned toward her. “What?” She asked, before explaining, “You can’t be the curator of a museum without a doctorate, not even in Australia.”

“Well, she isn’t wrong.” The curator spoke for the first time since they entered, his tone weary.

Whitley slowly slid her head back around to the suspect after giving Henri an exasperated look, “Excuse me, Doctor Mullens. My name is Dr. Ferreiro and I’m with the Paragon Center. It has been brought to our attention that you are maintaining your innocence in the intentional slaughter of twenty seven innocent people in your museum.”

He winced at the description, shrinking back in his seat at each word. “I didn’t do it. I don’t remember anything!”

“You don’t remember chaining the doors shut and locking all those people inside the museum with no escape.” Bryce cut in angrily.

“No!” But his denunciation was weak and tired sounding. “I wouldn’t ever do that…I… don’t remember…”

“Tell me what you do remember…” Whitley coaxed, her tone gentling.

“I..I was in my office, it was about lunch time. I was going to go get something to eat…and then nothing…and then blood…so much blood, I was holding the moonshard…I dropped it…”

“So you did kill them.” Bryce snarled.

“No! I …called the police! I immediately went to my office and called the police.” His eyes went from wild to dejected, the brief spurt of energy seeming to be too much for him to maintain, “I called them…why would I call them if I did it…?” He seemed pitiful and pleading.

Whitley looked up at Bryce for confirmation and at his sharp nod, she told Mullins, “I’m going to try something Dr. Mullins. To see if I can help you remember. It is almost like a hypnosis.”

He scoffed.

She cut him off with a simple, “Can it make anything worse?”

The question seemed to hit home as he consented with a shake of his head and shrug of his shoulder, “sure do your worse, make me bark like a dog, or cluck like a chicken. I… what does it matter anymore?”

Whitley didn’t wait for a stronger capitulation, instead she steeled herself for another encounter with Dunn, taking a deep breath and diving inside Mullins’ mind.

 

****

 

Henri fidgeted. Her fingers fluttering over the buttons of her blouse before readjusting her glasses for the third time since they’d entered the interrogation room. She didn’t like deceiving the police. Well, she really didn’t like deceiving anyone actually and she was a really bad liar. Utterly convinced that at any minute the police were going to bust through that door and demand real documentation she kept staring in its direction with wide eyes. What were they going to do if they got caught? She couldn’t very well turn into Rook against a bunch of police officers just trying to do their job. And they were here under their own identities. How in the hell was she going to explain herself when they inevitably called her parents?

She felt heat rising up her neck and realized her cheeks must be flushed a vivid shade of crimson. Her skin was starting to feel clammy and she thanked goodness for good antiperspirant. What was taking Whitley so long in there? Any minute they were all going to be busted. This is why you didn’t break the rules. Because the stress alone was going to do her in. Her heart was racing and her breathing had grown increasingly erratic. She felt eyes on her and knew that they were caught. They were most definitely being watched. Fearfully she skittered her eyes up and realized that it was Bryan watching her. His expression was quizzical and she thought she saw his lips twitch when Whitley suddenly drew a deep breath as if she’d been under water for too long.

Bryce was immediately at her side, his clenched fist held in a way that warned a spike was imminent if Mullens did anything threatening. “It’s not Anubis.” Whitley announced to all of their surprise. Thankfully inside their minds, out loud she was explaining to the Mullens that she believed him, that he was being framed and that they were going to help him.

“What do you mean it isn’t Anubis?” Bryce asked in a tone that revealed he wasn’t quite ready to believe Whitley. Henri was already trying to run variables in her mind.

“Something else is at play here. Something unfamiliar and dark.”

Henri immediately turned to leave.

“Wait, where are you going?” Bryan asked as they all took that as their cue to leave with hasty explanations.

“Well isn’t obvious,” Henri announced, “We need to Research!”

Barreling past the police officers that had so worried her just moments earlier she paid them no mind as she demanded, “I need to get to a computer!”

Missing Pieces: Part 3

 On A Mission that Afternoon

Henri was still staring in dismay at the lack of seatbelts when Foster climbed in beside her and she found herself bumped up against Jeremy. The cab of the truck had that old smell to it that wasn’t altogether unpleasant, just slightly musty reminding her of hard work and country life. There was a hint of lemon to the air that she realized came from the air freshener that was swinging directly in front of her face.

Bryan patted the top of the truck to signal that he and Whitley were safely inside the bed and ready to roll and Jeremy reached across her to shift the gears. Henri nearly shrunk to half her size as she slid closer to Foster who seemed completely unfazed by their mode of transportation. She was going to bring up the seat belt situation again when it occurred to her that he wouldn’t care if they got in a wreck, he’d just download into a new body or something.

Squinting her eyes shut she concentrated on ignoring the statistics associated with vehicle accidents and resisted the urge to share the percentage chance of their survival and instead asked Foster, “So do you think this feels like Anubis?”

He started to answer when Whitley’s mental link zipped through, “Really? It is like you don’t even realize Jeremy is a person. Stop talking about Alliance in front of him!”

Henri jumped guiltily and stared at Jeremy. His gaze flickered to her and he smiled, “Sorry if I’m crowdin’ y’there, the museum isn’t too far from the hotel so we’ll be just a bit.”

She swallowed and managed a noise that sounded like an agreement.

“Y’know, I had no idea that you were all caught up in the Supers. “

Henri could only nod and Foster thankfully slipped seamlessly into the misdirection that Whitley had laid down at breakfast after they had openly talked about investigating the museum in front of Jeremy and Hannah, “Yes, the Paragon Center is devoted to assisting, researching and aiding those impacted by the Upsurge Incident. Dr. Ferreiro handles the medical side of it, and Dr. George here the research side. And the Andersen’s provide our security.”

Jeremy gave him a bit of side-eye as he had almost robotically reiterated what had been said over the hastily cleaned up breakfast, “And you’re the Boss Man, eh?”

Foster’s nod was curt and to the point. The conversation faltered into an awkward silence that Henry tried desperately to resist breaking with babble. They were approaching the museum and Jeremy was reaching for the gear shift when he asked, “So how does an Egyptian God play into any of this? You all keep mentioning an Anubis?”

Henri choked on her own spit. And then realized with growing alarm that she was going to cough, or sneeze, there was nowhere polite to turn inside the cab and she whipped her head between the two men before shoving her face down toward her lap, coughing wildly. Her elbow hit the gear shaft and a grinding of metal revealed she’d done something wrong as Jeremy yanked it back into position.

“Just a project name, business shorthand. You know how these things go.” Foster answered calmly with seeming no emotional response to any of the series of catastrophes tucked next to him. He barely waited for the truck to roll to a complete stop before he was opening the door and gliding out onto the sidewalk with perfect calculations of speed and velocity.

Henri gave Jeremy an awkward thumbs up and fumbled her way out the door after Titan, her face red and eyes tear filled. Beside her Bryan landed silently with a look of confused concern. She gave him the same wheezing thumbs up as Whitley slipped into Jeremy’s outstretched arms, somehow managing to only look slightly windblown from her travels in the back of the pickup. Her usually sleek black hair wavy and billowy. No one could ignore the lingering embrace of Jeremy’s hands on her; nor the genuine smile he received at being the one to offer her assistance.  Well no one except Foster who didn’t seem to much care one way or the other.

The gentle purr of Bryce’s motorcycle interrupted them all as he pulled in behind them all.  “Let’s do this,” He was already ordering as he swung a leg over the bike before it fully stopped. The engine cut off as he lifted the handlebars slightly to guide the still gliding bike up over the curb and toward the entrance.

Whitley kissed Jeremy to distract him from the strange chain of command displayed by their group: “Go on, we’re good.”

“Are you sure?” He asked with another look at Bryce testing the locked doors to the museum.

“Si, we’re fine. We’ll get a look around, go talk to the police to see if we can help with the investigation and then be back at the farm…” Whitley walked him back around to his door with a wicked little sashay to her step, keeping him from noticing that Bryan, Foster, Henri & Bryce were engaged in a lock-picking discussion.

“So Dinner and a Movie tonight?” He asked in a tone that revealed he was expecting her amused reaction. “Oh, that’s right, you’re not a ‘movie and dinner’ kind of gal…”

“I could be.” She stopped him from climbing into the truck for just a moment longer. “Maybe, here in Australia, I could be.”

His grin coaxed her own as he nodded, “If you need another ride somewhere, just call, I’ll be in town for a bit.”

He would have waved to the group but they’d already headed around the back alley where their break in would be less noticeable. Whitley’s smile slid from her features as she turned to follow them, her mental thought blasting angrily at them all: if you don’t like me playing in people’s minds so much you should probably stop revealing who we all are every 5 minutes.

“Does that mean you played with Jeremy’s mind?” Henri asked in shocked tones reserved for bad wine spills, people who didn’t hold open the door and books with bent spines or creased pages.

Whitley glared at her as Bryan slid his eyes from the shadows of his hoodie in her direction. Pissed, she purred, “Honey, I am too busy playing with other parts of him to—“

“Alright, alright.” Bryan cut her off as Bryce turned to Foster, “I could kick it in.”

“Oh, for the love of all that is… Teleportacion!” Whatever she was going to curse was lost as she purple energy flared up wildly and she disappeared from sight. A moment later she reappeared beside them, “There is a security device, I could not disable it and open the door.”

Bryce turned toward the door again, “Looks like we’re doin’ it the loud way.” And just as he was about to kick it in, Whitley reached out and grabbed his arm. Her other and finding Titan and with another incantation they disappeared in a flash of purple. Seconds later they reappeared inside the museum. “Really?” She arched a brow at them both before disappearing yet again to go and get Bryan and Henri.

Once the entire team assembled inside they began their explorations of the museum. The chains on the door drew Bryan’s attention and he was examining them with a keen eye, “An amateur. These are simple chains, simple locks, and they don’t appear to be specifically purchased for this task.” Henri shuddered at the sight of the barricaded doors, her gaze lingering on the chalk outlines and stains that were everywhere.

“How many victims, again?” She asked, her voice tremulous.

“He killed 27.” Bryce answered as he examined the display case that the weapon had been taken from.  Foster was reading over a brochure and shared the information out loud, “A rare moon artifact, this bladed shard was used in Aboriginal ceremonies until discovered by European tradesmen in the early 1900s. Stolen from the tribes, it was tested and found to contain high levels of potassium, extremely rare in mare basalt from lunar meteorites. Passed through several owners before it was most recently donated to the museum by the European Geological Institute to become a capstone piece in Early Aboriginal art.”

“That sounds vaguely like a relic.” Whitley looked from Foster to Henri. “You should take a closer look at that information Henri.”

The little librarian didn’t move and Whitley went to nudge her shoulder before realizing she was staring at the chalk outline of what could only be a small child. “Henri?”

She startled and blinked up at them all, her normally green eyes glowing a golden hue. With an audible swallow she rocked forward into motion as if having to force herself, her voice deeper than normal and resonant, “When we find out who is responsible for this…they will be judged.”

Whitley shared yet another look with the men before slipping away to explore the curator’s office. It didn’t take her long to determine that he was a rather boring, sedate man with conservative tastes and a decided lack of imagination.

Rejoining the others she realized that they too had seemed to hit a brick wall. But Henri was already on the phone with a car service. “There didn’t seem any way to look dignified and respectable pulling up in the bed of a pick-up truck” she explained over a moment of being placed on hold.

“You know they’re not going to just let us see this guy without paperwork or something, right?” Whit asked Bryce as they headed across the street to await their car and get a cup of coffee.

“Well that’s where you come in.”

“So I have your permission to ‘nudge’ someone?”

Bryce grimaced before giving her a short nod. Whitley made a point not to make eye contact with Bryan. Looked like they were finally going to get some real answers.

Missing Pieces – Part Two

Related image

Missing Pieces – Part Two: The Morning After

She awoke to the smell of breakfast and it sent her flailing up out of the warm nest of blankets, “Hamilton dammit! Get out of my kitchen—!”

Around her the navy blue and hunter green scheme of the room sent in a bewildered state of confusion. And then she remembered where she was with a suddenness that had her gasping dramatically out loud in a way that would have undoubtedly gotten her teased had anybody been in the room with her.

Bry’s bedroom.

She was in Bry’s bed.

Alone.

She’d overslept clearly by the light filtering through the windows. Not surprising actually as she’d been up all night wracked with an overly creative libido and imagination. At least this Australian vacation had meant no more crack of dawn workouts, but honestly, the energy that was sizzling through her right now needed an outlet. With a muttered curse at Andersens everywhere she launched herself into a series of stretches, kicks, crunches and push-ups designed to loosen her up and keep her in the taut shape she’d been molded into.  The motions were like a poetic weaponization of Tai Chi and she found herself unable to center her mind as instead she remembered Bryce’s assertion that Amelia could take her. “Ohh yeah?!” Henri growled at the poster of a mountain range that hung before her. “That fluffy arsed house wife hasn’t been trained by an Andersen! Much less three of them!” She flipped off the poster and then blushed at herself as she folded her free hand over the rude gesture and curled both hands into her chest. She shot her gaze around the room to make sure no one had seen her before realizing how silly she was being.

She huffed over to her suitcase and took out her carefully folded and sealed clothes. Her toiletry bag tucked under her free arm. Henri couldn’t resist a quick glance around to make sure she was still alone before she threw one last glare back at her imaginary Amelia foe. “I’d kick your booty,” she said to the mountains. Pulling the door closed behind her and scampering down the hall for a shower.

 

***

 

Whitley stretched languidly against the undeniably male body next to her in bed. He was clearly awake as one hand stroked down her side and curled in arm around her drawing her in tighter. She was usually pretty clever at slipping out before that happened, but this was the second time she’d actually awakened to Jeremy. And as he’d proven the last time, this was not really such a bad thing.

“Isn’t this where you tell me in your ‘tone’ that you’re not really a morning person and that you don’t care for morning sex?” He rumbled into the crook of her neck and shoulder before taking a nibbling bite there that had her squirming.

“I’m not a morning person…” She asserted even as she threw a leg over his hips and rolled him on top of her, “but I do stand corrected on the other issue.”

“Nope.” He argued. Bracing on his elbows above her, his shaggy hair curling about his face.

“No?” Surprise edged her sleepy features.

“You’re not standing.” He grinned.

She was rolling her eyes even as he kissed her laugh away.

 

***

 

Henri hopped out of the shower, dried herself off and then dutifully dried off and recollected all of her toiletries back into their individual little pockets and pouches. Then she carefully dried off the shower walls before hanging the towel in rigid folds guaranteed to let it dry out the quickest.  Dressed in a skirt and a blouse, she slid her feet into her Mary Janes and blow dried her hair into submission. A dab of lip gloss, a swipe of mascara and her glasses firmly affixed upon her nose, she headed back to Bry’s room to put her toiletry bag and pajamas away. The entire process had only taken her 25 minutes. She avoided looking at the mountain poster again. It was silly to associate it with Amelia and she was above such petty things after all. She just did not understand how such an uncouth and uncivilized woman could dare think she could talk to Bryce like that, and throw things at him?! “Goodness.” She huffed with an angry glance at that poster she’d just convinced herself not to look at.  “You’re lucky you’re the mother of Brett’s child, because otherwise…” Well, otherwise she really wouldn’t do anything. In fact, if she wasn’t Olivia’s mother, Henri probably wouldn’t have any reason to actually dislike her so that line of thinking was rather pointless, she reasoned. “Well, let’s just say if you think you’re keeping Brett from his daughter you’ve got another think coming lady, my mother AND brother are damn good lawyers and they’ll show you. And Shawna, Shawna will whoop you into next Tuesday.” She lifted her chin angrily at the poster.

The glow of her cell phone caught her attention and her pugnacious expression melted away as she realized it was a message from Jacob. Pulled from her ranting at the symbol of Amelia (an empty mountain range, pretty sure there was some kind of metaphor right there that would make a great insult if she could just think about it long enough…well it was a very pretty mountain range, but it, was mysterious and …and…hmmm…) Her phone beeped in her hand again and she drew herself back to the present, she’d think of a good insult later. Guiltily she sent him an apologetic message explaining how she’d fallen out last night and was unable to call him like they’d planned. She blushed as she realized she couldn’t tell him the truth. In reality she couldn’t bring herself to talk to Jacob when she was lying in Bry’s bed thinking about him. Open relationship or not, that just seemed deceptive.

“And not all women are deceivers, Ah MEAL yuh.”

She gathered up her purse and flounced past the poster, closing the door gently behind her.

 

***

 

“Looks like it is all clear.” He announced after pulling his head back into the bedroom. She sat propped up on the pillows, her dark hair spilling all about her shoulders. A sheet lazily draped over her nudity as she waited to hear if the shower was open. He had slid on his jeans but nothing else as he assessed the hallway for her walk of shame. Not that she was feeling particularly shameful.

He padded back toward her and leaned in to give her a final kiss. He’d said he was going to “see to things” before a shower and would just slip out the back, letting everyone think he’d slept in the barn last night, so that her night in his bed would not be suspect. She thought it was sweet that he cared about her reputation, her hands tracing down over his shoulders and his naked chest as the kiss deepened.

Her nails lingered on the scar along his ribs and just like last time he shied away, twining her fingers in his and bringing it to his lips. It was a subconscious gesture that he didn’t even realize he was doing, of this she was sure. But his need to avoid had drawn her in like a cat. Curiosity always her downfall. Before the Alliance she would have most likely had simply slipped inside Jeremy’s mind and sought the answers.

Instead, she drew her fingers free and returned them to the ridged flesh and held his gaze, “Don’t want to talk about it, I take it?”

His brow furrowed in surprise at this direction and just when she thought he might respond with some deception or even exhibit some irritation, his expression simply became more serious, and his tone resigned, “Knife fight.”

She could feel the honesty in the answer and the calm acceptance of his past deeds. But she also felt the weight of his regret. His smile remained, but as she looked from him to the scar and back again, it had thinned and his breathing held momentarily as he seemed to be gearing up to tell her something he’d rather not share but still would if she asked.

“A dancing knife fighter?” She teased, keeping it light, “So, the circus is where Ms. Andersen found you, then? Hmm?” She tickled her fingers up over his ribs, letting him know that she was not going to pursue it and take them into the darkness.

His appreciation was obvious, the tension melting as his smile returned with warmth.

“Oh most definitely.” He chuckled. “It was right after, or was it before,” he pretended to be confused, “my burlesque days?”

She snort laughed.

It wasn’t a noise she was used to making really and the noise surprised her as much as it did him.

“Did you just snort?!”

Her laugh only got louder as she tried to roll free from him and the bed.

“Oh no you don’t, I definitely have to hear the lovely lady Ferriero make that noise again.” He wrestled her back and she struggled against him, choking on her laughter to the point her lashes grew wet.

Their mock fighting became tickling and then the tickling became something else. And before too long, Whitley Ferriero missed her opportunity to shower again.

****

“Good morning Mrs. Andersen.” Henri chirped as she entered the kitchen, placing her purse on a stand nearby. “Bryce!” She said with some surprise at the sight of the youngest Andersen brother on the team. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him at the breakfast table before anyone, except maybe Shawna, of course.

“Well good mornin’ dear, does somethin’ seem the matter?” Mrs. Andersen was warm stately grace as she made a plate for Henri filled with enough portions to feed her for the week.

“Oh no, I’m just not used to seeing Bryce at the breakfast table first.”

At that he grinned at her, boyishly, and it was wondrous to see him so at ease. After his disappearance and coma, he’d come back hardened and troubled, but here at his mother’s hearth he seemed almost whole again. Henri felt a weight in her throat and resisted the urge to throw herself at him and hug him tight. Bryce Andersen was her absolute bestest friend and anybody who couldn’t see the purity in him was a damn fool.

“Well, that might be now, m’dear, but Bryce was always the first one at my breakfast table.” Mrs. Andersen explained as she nudged out a chair for her.

“Your boys certainly can eat.” Henri agreed as she took the offered chair.

“Yeah, Brett was usually the last at the table but somehow the first one finished.” Bryce said around a bite of food that Henri pretended not to notice.

Of course, while she was willing to give him a break on his lack of manners she was left utterly open mouthed at the sight of Bry arriving in the kitchen in what could only be called his pajamas. Her mouth went dry at the sight of his worn tank top clinging tightly to his chest and leaving absolutely nothing to the imagination. The sweats he wore hung low on his hips and his feet were bare. She wasn’t used to seeing him without his customary hoodies and concealing clothes.

“Good morning.” He exchanged pleasantries before his gaze lit on Henri and he asked, “Somethin wrong?”

“Well yes.” She managed.

He gave her a quizzical look as his mother passed him a plate of food to rival Bryce’s.

“You’re in your pajamas.” She choked out.

His quizzical look turned more confused as he nodded affirmation and Bryce glanced between the two of them, “He is.”

“You don’t wear your pajamas to breakfast!” Henri gasped, her tone a little more censorious because of the flushed heat that had beset her. She’d spent half the damn night tossing and turning thinking about that chest. She didn’t need to have it flaunted right in front of her.

“Yes you do.” Both Andersen’s argued.

“No you most certainly do not. It is rude.”

“What do you mean you don’t wear your pajamas to breakfast, what do you wear then?” Bryan seemed to be legitimately puzzled by her assertion.

“You get dressed for the day.” She stated the obviousness of the answer with a librarian’s tone of disapproval.

“Well seein as to how I like to sleep without a stitch on, but I gave up my bedroom, I’d think you’d be happy I put on the pajamas in the first place.” Bryan muttered.

Henri had no response. She was too busy sputtering as her musings from last night came thundering back to her compelled by a naked Bry and his bedroom.

“Can you get this nonsense?” Bryce and Bryan shared a look and a shake of their head when Foster walked in the front door carrying a newspaper. “You’d think wearin’ pajamas to the kitchen was a sin.”

“We didn’t eat breakfast in the kitchen, we ate it in the solarium.” Henri managed.

“What the hell’s a solarium?” Bryce asked as Foster greeted Mrs. Andersen.

“Somethin’ rich people eat breakfast in clearly.” Bryan answered.

“It’s not only rich people who don’t wear pajamas to breakfast—“ Henri began.

“Right, Henri, what’s the name of your driver again?” Bryan asked, the question weighted with the edge of proof being delivered.

The sharp turn in the conversation had Henri tilting her head quizzically, “When I lived at home with my parents or my driver now?”

Bryce snorted into his eggs and Bryan rolled his eyes, “See, you’re so rich you don’t even know your ‘driver’s’ name.”

“I most certainly do too!” Henri drew herself up indignantly, “I still send Christmas cards to my childhood driver, for the record, his name is Charles and he is quite happily retired and—“

Bryce crowed with delight, “I was so going to guess Charles! It had to be Charles!”

Whitley chose that moment to enter the room, flushed and sparkling with a contented energy; she didn’t have the usual brittle sense of tiredness that came after 14 hour shifts saving lives at the Paragon Center balanced against saving lives with the Alliance as Brujeria. This Australian vacation had brought a mischievous hint of girlishness to her smile, “Charles who?”

Foster interjected, “They’re giving Henri a hard time for having a driver.”

“Well, who had a driver growing up?” Bryan argued.

“I did.” Foster remarked as he declined a plate of breakfast and sat down at the table, newspaper folded beneath his palm.

Bryan asked, chuckling, “Of course you did, and what was his name?

Foster nonchalantly replied, “How should I know? He wasn’t allowed to talk to me.”

Bryan seemed at a loss for a moment but Bryce broke the quiet by swinging his head incredulously toward Whitley, “seriously?”

She arched a brow as she quietly added, “What? I had drivers too.” A pause at Bryce’s widening eyes, “Armed drivers. And I didn’t speak to any of them. They were there to keep my father’s rivals from kidnapping, torturing, raping or murdering me.”

That note seemed to have ended the conversation for the Andersen’s and the pregnant pause would have gone on indefinitely if Henri hadn’t chosen to ask, “Who was your driver?”

“An 11 year old Brett.” Bryan deadpanned.

Whitley laughed even as Henri took a minute to mull that over, “I’m not sure what the driver’s license requirements are in Australia but that does seem to me to be—“

Mrs. Andersen re-entered with another tray of food, her smile genuine and pleasant at the sight of Whitley. Their morning exchanges were authentic and warm and Whitley couldn’t help but feel a sense of connection with this woman. Perhaps it was the relation to the Andersen’s, but it was also due to the way Jeremy spoke about her, as if she were an angel who had come into his life at a critical moment and offered him salvation. Salvation from what, they hadn’t discussed, but his devotion to this woman was undeniable and Whitley found herself dropping her façade of ‘whatever the situation called for’ and instead being herself around her.

With a slightly knowing and approving smile, Hannah Andersen handed Whitley two plates after their morning pleasantries, “It doesn’t take Jeremy long to finish up the morning chores. He’ll be along shortly, go easy on the bacon, he prefers the vegetables.”

Whitley’s lashes flared wide and she felt her cheeks flush slightly in a way that hadn’t happened in too many years to count. She felt a flutter in her belly and her heart tripped for a moment as if she were a schoolgirl caught making out behind the bleachers or mooning after her crush. Not about to let anybody else catch that exchange she hurriedly tried to switch gears, “Where’s Brett and Shawna this morning?”

“Sleepin’ in m’dear, and then Brett was plannin’ on showin’ his Sheila around to his memory haunts.”

“So there’s time for me to go by the bike track then.” Bryce began having overheard his mother. At this point, Foster once again cleared his throat in that way that politely demanded attention.

“I really think you should all take a look at this.” He flattened out the newspaper on the table before him and they all leaned in to see what had caught his attention.

Whitley caught just a piece of the headline:

New Details in the Museum Massacre.

 

Missing Pieces

Close up of apple with missing bite in heart shape, studio shot

Missing Pieces: Part One – the Night Before.

Setting: Andersen Homestead.

“Foster already left?” Henri blinked owlishly from behind her glasses as one fist stretched up toward the ceiling and the other tucked into her chest before her body curled tightly in on itself like a kitten.

Bryan’s chuckle had her lashes fluttering sleepily as she tried to focus on what he was saying, “you can sleep… my room…”

Yes, his room, his bed, his… His arms were coming around her when she bolted upright and clocked him on the chin with the top of her head. They both gave exclamations of surprise, her’s a bit more pained.

He pulled back to look at her, his Australian accent thickening, “What the hell, Henri?”

“I’m not. I can’t.” Her glasses were askew and she tried to right them even as she scrambled back over the edge of the chair and nearly fell on her ass before he grabbed her forearm, “I can’t sleep with you!” She pointed her free hand at him in an accusatory fashion.

“I never said that. I said ye could have m’room. I’ll sleep on the pullout downstairs.” He had narrowed his eyes at her accusatory tone and without a word of warning, used his grip on her arm to twist her about and into his arms, headed for the stairs.

She gasped and swallowed a shriek as the dining room moved by her in a quickness that made her thankful that anybody still at the table didn’t seem to even notice them. Granted, she wasn’t really paying any attention to anybody else because Bry was carrying her to his room. Literally. Taking her to his bed. She groaned and rolled her eyes up to examine the set of his chin. “You know I can walk.”

“Y’know it’s not like we haven’t shared a bed before.” As soon as the words left his mouth she could tell he regretted them. She arched up a bit to study his face with the intensity usually reserved for an ancient script. “Are you upset with me Bryan Andersen?”

“No.” His answer was curt and his motions sharp as they began to ascend past the pictures along the stairwell of the Andersen family. It was odd seeing these warrior men as young boys, the occasional school picture displaying even a missing tooth in a proud grin or a confident smirk at a catch, a bike, or some family event.

“Oh.” Henri worried at her bottom lip as she tried to think of the best way to explain her reaction. His gaze followed her movement, lingering on her mouth, and then shot back up straight ahead. In mere moments they were outside his bedroom door and he was setting her down before she had time to think through an appropriate response, so in true fashion she went with an honest stream of consciousness, “Because I know we’ve slept together. In fact, I think about it all the time. I’m thinking about it right now.” She added a bit breathlessly as she looked up at him; her feet now on the carpet.

His grip on her arm tightened and his face went hard and stoic, but she rambled on, “It’s not that I’m hiding from that. Or that I’m embarrassed by it, or that I don’t want to do it again. Because I really do want to do it again.” Her laugh was slightly uneven and husky, “And again, and again, –“

“Henri.” Bry’s voice sounded strange in the dark hallway and his grip hadn’t let up.

“Oh right. No, what I’m trying to say is that, I can’t. — Do that. — With you. — Here. You know?” She looked up at him expectantly, eyes wide and innocent. “Right? Because that wouldn’t be respectful of your mother and the things you do to me are about as far from respectable as—“

He made a strangled choking noise and spun her about with a suddenness that stopped her from speaking. His other hand found the door knob and he quite unceremoniously opened it and shoved her through the doorway.

She stumbled forward, the warmth of his grip suddenly missing. “Um, okay, I think you get it then.” She said more to herself than to him even as she heard the door closing, “Goodnight Bry. Sweet Drea—“

“Don’ even say it,” was all she heard before the firm click of the door behind her. While she didn’t hear him walk off, she figured that was the norm, when did you ever hear Bryan Andersen’s steps if he didn’t want you to? Hugging herself and rubbing warmth back into her arm she stared around his room with something akin to fascination.

 

***

 

“Bryan, esta bien?” Whitley’s accented voice poured down the dark hall like warm liquor. And beside her Jeremy jerked. He hadn’t seemed to have even noticed the shadowy figure leaning with his forehead against a door.

Bryan Andersen’s body went rigid for a moment of repressed violence and Whitley found herself having to tamp down the instinctive urge to cast. Not only was the response unnecessary against Bryan, but it would probably have proven to be futile at this close of a range. Keeping her tone light and soothing, she moved between him and her companion as he took a deep breath in, “Aye I’m good Whit. G’night.” He nodded sharply in their direction as he moved to pass them.

He had to have been deep in thought to have not heard their approach and Whitley stared after his retreating back as she considered the best response; not even realizing her hand was outstretched toward him.

“Do y’need to go after him?”  A warm calloused hand squeezed her fingers as Jeremy tugged her back to the here and now.

“What?”  She stared into his kind eyes. “No, no it is, um, no es gran cosa.”

“Yeah, somehow I don’t think so.” Jeremy denied her argument as he spun her about in the hall. Teasingly he dipped her before spinning her toward the direction Bryan had departed in. “Should I let you go then?”

She couldn’t resist the smile his silly gesture drew, “No, no I’ve got other plans tonight.”

“Is that so?” His grin was infectious as his eyebrows danced suggestively.

“Si, I’m certain.” Whitley found herself laughing, a warm genuine sound of amusement. He spun her back into his arms with surprising skill. “Don’t tell me you know how to tango?”

“Sweetheart, I know all the dances.”

“Is that so?” She tipped her head back as he led her in a two-step down the hall. A surprisingly rhythmic and elegant execution of movement that actually had her considering the authenticity of his claim.

A spin, and they were waltzing, her wrist held at the perfected angle, his strong farmer’s hand at the small of her back. She felt light on her feet as he whisked her around the corner, a tight spiral twirl, with their bodies expertly aligned.

She knew her eyes betrayed her surprise as he danced them to his door. “How does a handyman dance so well?”

“Isn’t it the job of a handy man to be handy?” He smiled down at her as he opened the door to his bedroom. They hadn’t talked about spending another night together. In fact, she most likely would have gone back to the hotel if they hadn’t stayed up past everyone talking about the pyramids of all things. She’d sent him to pick up a bottle of wine when the crew had started talking about Venn Diagrams and the situation with Anubis right in front of him. When he’d returned she had cleaned up most of the evidence of the brainstorming session but somehow she’d overlooked the scribbled Egyptian glyphs and the name Anubis that Bryce had carved into metal tray the bread had been sitting on. This had become a conversation starter about Egypt and the pyramids and next thing she knew they were the only ones still there.

“Well-traveled, and a ballroom dancer? Trained, even?” She looked at him with a mock suspicion, “You’re quite a puzzle.”

“Aye.” He grinned as he picked her up and carried her past the door, “And you’re welcome to play with all of my pieces.”

She groaned at his horrible innuendo even as she kissed him. Getting to know Jeremy had become a welcome distraction and a surprisingly intriguing one.