The music was loud enough to be heard from even outside the building. Dulled, muted, but audible. It was a steady beat, the bass hammering into my chest.
I was across the street, atop another building, watching over an auto-repair shop as loud music and whirring equipment sounded into the night. Being on the Southside, the buildings here were sparse, not as tall as the ones downtown, so I had to make do with where I perched and hid. There was a run-down, forgotten office building that was a safe distance away. I picked there to do my stakeout.
Vehicles of all types were parked in the wide parking lot of the repair shop. Truck, car, vans, mopeds, but the most common ones were motorcycles. I watched as workers labored over the motorcycles, everything from tweaking the nuts and bolts to even refueling. Somewhere in between that process, drugs were being loaded in. Somehow. I didn’t quite get it.
Hleuco had given me a short rundown, but anyone who had lived in Stephenville for longer than a year would have some knowledge of Styx’s Gang.
Stephenville’s biggest native gang, one of the few left. They had been around, established, from even before the city’s attempted economic and manufacturing boom. Even back then, they were never the most powerful, or the most influential, but they were mobile, and mostly used the city as a hub. As the different cartels started coming in, they brought with them their conflicts. Scuffles here and there took place, apparently, but Styx’s Gang was able to alleviate some of that pressure by agreeing to move weight for all of the different gangs. All at a slight spike in price, but it was a damn steal in exchange for a full-blown gang war.
And I was about to throw a wrench into that particular cog.
Through Hleuco’s own connections, he’d found out about a large shipment of something that Styx’s Gang supervised the transport of. The original plan was to stop them in the middle of that transport, but we missed that window of opportunity when we were talking on the roof of the factory. If we wanted to continue to pursue that shipment, a change of plans was in order.
In short, I was anxious. Not from the height I was at, but rather what I was about to do. What Hleuco had planned for the night. He told me the new plan on the way, and I thought he was insane.
He seemed to have picked up on that.
“Did you know that it takes five years for a coffee tree to reach its full maturity, and they can live up to a hundred years old?”
“Spectacular,” I said, flatly.
“Also, that the name ‘Wendy’ was made up for the book Peter Pan?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, rather irritably. Unintended, and while I understood why he was being like this, he didn’t have to be so obvious about it. He was coming off as patronizing, the opposite effect of what he was trying to accomplish. “Aren’t we behind as it is?”
“We are, certainly, which is why we have to adjust accordingly. Although, our tardiness might have made things easier for us, in the end. The only downside is we have to wait a little bit more. My apologies if I try to lighten the mood, to kill some time.”
With him buzzing off in my ear, I couldn’t use body language or any visual cue to display my mild displeasure at his consideration for my nerves. I had to speak my mind.
“I get it, I get it,” I said, “You don’t have to go that far, though. It’s going to throw me off once it’s time to go.”
“Fair. Then, to switch to something else, how was getting up there? Can you move around in your new costume okay?”
I recalled how I got up here, maneuvering my way up this building. Moving about was fine, easier than ever. I was getting the hang of getting up to the roofs, traversing over the tops of buildings, knowing how much strength to put into my legs for certain distances, how to land. I was beginning to develop my own personal ‘parkour,’ achievable only through my own strength and abilities.
“I can.” That was all I had to say.
“Good to know. Get ready to move when you have to. Otherwise, just sit and wait.”
“Roger that.” I stayed put.
A moment passed, quiet, aside from the music coming out from the building ahead. Hleuco let the conversation go, leaving me to my thoughts. A dangerous thing to let happen. I straightened my shoulders, and I thought about the slight, but noticeable weight added to them.
Clothes made the man, or girl, or vampire, or hero. My old threads made up Blank Face, or The Bluemoon, to the public at large. Clothes were an important part of one’s image, defining how one was viewed by others, and even how one viewed themselves.
With this outfit, it was different, I felt different. If I was still supposed to be Blank Face, I certainly felt like a different one.
The parka was heavier than my old windbreaker. Not that it weighed me down, just that it was made of a thicker, more durable material. The inside was lined with fleece, which provided me with a warmth I didn’t realize I needed. It was November now, and the weather was getting cooler with every passing week. It wouldn’t ever snow here, but the windbreaker would no longer suffice in the coming months.
Assuming this gig lasts that long.
It was still blue, as well. A darker blue, easily mistaken for black in the nighttime.
The most striking feature of the parka, though, was the word policía emblazoned across the back, capitalized in gold. A little on the nose, I thought, but it certainly wasn’t generic.
However, it was the mask that most deviated from my original look. Stylized as an old-school gas mask, white in color. A single canister protruded out from the left side of the filter that covered my mouth. The lenses were circular, much like Hleuco’s mask, giving me a much less human look and feel.
Definitely more durable than a cheap plastic mask you could get anywhere.
Certainly better than my old outfit, and in every conceivable way. Extra pockets in my parka, a tighter fit on my mask, Thomas had thought of everything when he gave me this costume. I could only be grateful.
Yet, why did I feel like I was in another person’s skin?
“Hleuco.” I found myself saying his name.
“Have you been hearing me fine, though?” I asked, testing the earpiece. “Does the mask… um, mask my voice too much?”
“A little,” Hleuco admitted, “But not so much that it’s an issue. I took that into consideration, as well. Anything to better hide your identity, the better.”
He had even put that into consideration, into the details of my new costume.
“Where did you even get this stuff, anyways?” I asked. “I was gonna ask earlier, but there were other things to go over.”
“Items from my private collection, from when I was younger, with fewer ties that kept me down.”
“Oh, neat,” I said, not sure what else to comment. Overdue belated birthday gifts from a family friend, I decided to chalked it up as.
“But, there are more important matters at hand. I need you to keep me in the loop. Otherwise, I can’t provide what little help I have.”
“Right.” I checked again. Still nothing. Workers were still working. Barring the late hour, as far as any normal person would be concerned, it was a normal repair shop. I told him that.
“All clear,” I said, “Though I guess in this case, it’s not the best thing in the world.”
“Patience, is all I can tell you. Unless you’d like for me to provide more fascinating bits of trivia?”
“I’d like to unsubscribe from useless Hleuco trivia, please,” I said, shutting him down.
I leaned ahead, peering through my lens.
“Movement,” I said to Hleuco. I looked on.
Three men were exiting out of the garage of the auto-repair shop, each wearing very heavy jackets. They each took to their own motorcycle, starting it. It was faint, but the rumble of the engines added to the noised raised by the shop.
“Three guys,” I reported, “Each with their own motorcycle. That’s them right? The Ferrymen?”
“Right. They do the basic rounds, delivering goods to whoever needs or wants them. They may be the lower ranks of the gang, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t uninformed. They’ll know what we’re looking for. It’s just a matter of getting that information out of them.”
“Isn’t that a whole lot of stupid, though? That just gives people like us the opportunity to do what we’re about to do.”
“I didn’t say they know everything. They just know the city better than anyone else. The layout. Where to go and how. And before us, who stood to challenge them? They’ve provided a service, a means to diffuse. If we aren’t careful, it’s possible for everything to blow up in our faces.”
The inherent risk in poking this particular beehive wasn’t lost on me. I was aware. It still weighed on my entire being, though.
This was the exact thing I wanted to avoid at first, I thought, Going after gangs.
“Actually, I think I want to subscribe to useless Hleuco facts,” I said.
“It will be fine. It is but a sign of their arrogance, that they move around so freely and openly with little resistance or opposition. Remember, we’ve only just begun, so there’s no need to take it too far, so fast. Our tactics are still the same. Hit and run. Disrupt, rather than dismantle. We’re just targeting where we hit this time, rather than taking what comes to us.”
If he was up here, being the one to get his hands dirty, maybe he wouldn’t sound so calm about this.
The motorcyclists were pulling out of the shop, getting onto the road. They immediately split up. One went down one way, the other two went in the direction of the building I was on.
“I’m moving,” I said into the earpiece. I turned, crossing the length of the roof.
There was another reason why I had picked this building to spy on them. According to Hleuco, and what he already knew about the area, the parking lot behind this building was a spot where druggies would congregate, waiting to get a score from a passing Ferryman. It was the closest spot for this base, and the most out of the way.
But I couldn’t wrap my head around it. If it was this easy to find a drug deal, why haven’t the police done anything about it? What was stopping them? Money? Power? Fear? It became more apparent every time I stepped out as Blank Face, just how ruined this city actually was.
I made it across the roof, the gravel shifting under my feet as I moved. I watched below.
A few had already gathered. The homeless, the downtrodden, the bored. They were waiting around in a circle, under the orange glow of a lamp post. They were in a parking lot, but no vehicles were present.
No one saw me waiting above.
In the time it took me to move to the other side, the two motorcyclists were turning the corner, coming up to the parking lot. The ragtag group faced them when they heard the motorcycles approach.
I itched in wait.
“They’re here,” I said out loud, positive no one would hear me. “I have a feeling it’ll be messy again. I’ll let you know when I ready.”
“Got it,” Hleuco confirmed, “Before you go, remember the rules. No-“
“Yes, I’ve heard it enough times, already. I’ll be good.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being thorough. Alright, go. I’m not too far. Just give me the signal. Out.”
I breathed out, slow. Though I had done this before, didn’t make it any easier to do it again. These were still people. Eggshells, really.
The gang members stepped off of their motorcycles. Looking at them from a closer point of view, I saw that they were black Harleys. Even the Ferrymen themselves were the spitting image of a bar-tumbling biker, leather jackets and all.
They didn’t walk to the others. Instead, they let the ones with the demand come to them. The ones with the supply got to determine the circumstances.
And I was to stop them.
I waited no longer. Putting my arms on top of the metal railing that lined the edge of the roof, I vaulted over.
“Going in,” I said as I dropped.
A three-story fall. I prepared to cushion my descent.
It worked. Kind of. I leaned in as soon as I touched ground to roll forward, but I tripped, flopping onto my side instead of somersaulting. At least I had descended into the dark, where that lamp post couldn’t expose me. No one was close enough to hear my flub, either. Especially with the motorcycles still going.
I hiccuped in trying to suppress a cough.
Haven’t completely developed that personal parkour just yet.
“What? Something wrong?” Hleuco’s voice was raised, curious.
“No, not that,” I said. “Just remind me to take the stairs next time.”
I sprung back up on my feet, shaking it off. I pressed on.
The glow of the lamp post soon came over me. I was crossing the parking lot, towards the addicts and their dealers.
They didn’t see me at first. Not immediately. Even as I walked, my pace brisk.
The first person to see me was a girl, the first to purchase her score from one of the bikers. As I got closer, I saw her face shift from confusion, realization – despite my new clothes – then fear.
“Run!” she yelled, pointing. “The Bluemoon!”
The others faced the way she was pointing, and they were much faster to react.
I focused not on the homeless, the downtrodden, or the bored. They weren’t priorities, it was the two bikers. The two Ferrymen.
They were immediately trying to get back on their bikes. I had stop them.
I broke into a run, lunging forward as I got closer.
I tackled the first biker off of his bike. His leg caught the side of his bike, toppling it over with him.
In that time, the other biker was already making a getaway.
I can be fast, but not that fast.
If I didn’t make a move, he’d escape, alerting the others from Styx’s Gang, and this night would go even more down the drain.
I jumped back onto my feet, scanning the area for anything I could use to stop him.
A brick, a few paces away. Was I confident in my aim? My throwing arm?
Better than nothing, I supposed.
I ran after the biker, trying to catch up. Trying, because he was already almost out of the parking lot. I bent down as I ran, scooping up the brick.
I maintained my speed, running as fast as I could. My mind racing just as quickly, I watched for any clue, any indication which way he’d turn onto the road.
His shoulders budged, leaning right. I compensated.
I held my arm back and up, and fired.
The brick flew from my hand in a straight line, connecting with his side. I heard him scream in a sudden agony. He folded, falling off his bike and onto the road. His bike skidded away from his body as he went limp.
Pure luck. That was the only way I managed that shot. But did I throw too hard?
I stood there, massaging my arm. I needed a breath. The shouting of the other destitutes faded away. I could live with them getting away.
“Hleuco,” I said out loud, “Come.”
“Be there in a few.”
After I caught a second wind, I returned to the other biker, his leg still pinned down by his bike. I only needed one of them.
“Hi,” I said, as I bent down, over him. “You look like you need help.”
He was heavyset, bearded, a bandana across his forehead.
Yeah, the spitting image of a biker dude.
“The… Bluemoon?” he breathed. He made a face. The motorcycle was heavier than it looked, and it already looked heavy. He was stuck, wholly dependent on my mercy.
Something about that…
I spoke. “Oh, that’s right, you like the new fit? Trying to go for a new look, since, you know, everyone’s an asshole. And yeah, I guess I am The Bluemoon, but that name sucks. If you get to make it out of this, tell everyone I go by ‘Blank Face.’”
“Blank… Face,” he repeated, “What… do you want? You here to fuck with us again?”
What he was referring to, I had no idea, but I ignored him. No time to get into that, now. I simply parroted what Hleuco wanted me to say. To the best of my memory. I improvised. “A shipment just came in recently. A big one. I think you know what I’m talking about.”
He scrunched his eyes. “I don’t.”
I groaned. Standing back up, I set my foot atop the motorcycle. I pressed down.
“I think you know what I’m talking about,” I repeated, my voice raised, but still level. I had to be heard over his wailing.
“I don’t know! I can’t say!”
“Why can’t you say?” I intoned, “Because you don’t want to betray your family?”
“I don’t- agh!”
He wasn’t giving me anything.
Dammit, I’m not good at this at all.
Before I could continue, a light came upon me. A van stopped right behind me. I twisted to see, my foot still on the bike.
Hleuco stepped out of the van. I pressed my ear to temporarily turn off the earpiece.
“Is he a good catch?” he asked. “I saw the other Ferryman on the street, back there.”
“He’ll be fine, or, he won’t be an issue, is what I mean to say.”
“Alright,” he said, taking it as that. He clasped his hands together. “Did we get what we need out of him?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. I don’t know if he even knows anything.”
“Oh, he’d know. You just haven’t tried hard enough. But, we can continue this elsewhere. We’re out in the open. Can you lift the bike?”
“With one hand,” I said, pretty sure about it.
“Perfect. Come, let’s bring him in.”
For a second, I paused. Hesitated. The biker’s squirms filled the fleeting, empty moment.
I didn’t even ask a question. I just phrased a word funny.
Hleuco, however, seemed to understand the underlying meaning. “Kidnapping? No, he was going out for a ride, wasn’t he? He’s just accompanying us for ride.”
“Blank Face, he’s probably got enough drugs to last him some sort of substantial sentence in prison. We get what we need out of him, through whatever means comfortably set within our moral and ethical sensibilities, and we can leave him to be picked up by the proper authorities.”
I put a hand on my hip. I thought about it. “Sure. My moral and ethical sensibilities have been pretty loose lately, anyways.”
Hleuco raised his hand, making a gesture. “We’ll deal with it as it comes. Now, let’s move it along.”
Without another word said, I got to work in lifting up the motorcycle, while Hleuco reached for the biker’s arms.
I slammed the door of the van shut. I removed my right glove, rubbing my hand on the side of my new parka, drying my hand from any excess sweat.
The window of the door I just closed rolled down.
“Are you alright, Blank Face?” Hleuco asked, from the driver’s side of the van.
“I’m alright,” I said, reassuring him, and myself. “Let’s go. If we can find the shipment fast enough, we can be done here, right?”
“Then, let’s do it.”
“I’ll wrap around the best I can, but I can’t get in and bring the van, so you sneaking in is the best bet.”
“Remember, the number is 2-1-1.”
“2-1-1,” I repeated back to him.
“Good luck,” he said, and he drove off.
After pressing my ear, turning the earpiece back on, I put back on my glove, and ran towards the fence. I cleared it easy.
I found myself in a trailer yard, on King District, where semi-truck trailers were parked, waiting to be loaded with freight. However, if John Todd, 34, from Clifton, Virginia’s information was correct, one of these trailers still had its cargo.
Trailer 2-1-1, to be exact.
Getting in through normal means was impossible. There was a fence around the lot, and a gate at the entrance. The place was privately owned, meaning, if we didn’t have official business here, we weren’t getting in.
I spat in the face of that.
The hour had turned ungodly, so the place shouldn’t be guarded too heavily, if at all. It was good that I was almost done with being Blank Face for the night. All I had to do was find the trailer, find out what was inside, and alert the appropriate people to its existence.
Disrupt, rather than dismantle.
I snapped my fingers.
I still needed to feed. How was I supposed to fit that in now? I’d have to figure that out, soon.
I proceeded, checking the backs of every trailer, where the numbers were printed.
1-9-5, 1-9-6, 1-9—–. I ran until the numbers became a blur, ignoring anything that didn’t have the first slot carrying the general shape of ‘2.’
2-0-1. I slowed, walking until I got to the correct number.
“2-1-1,” I said, out loud, to myself.
“You found it,” Hleuco said, his distinct buzzing returning into my ear.
“I did, but,” I inspected the back of the trailer further. “The latch is chained, locked. I might not be able to open it.”
“Have you tried?”
“I have not.”
“Then do it.”
I resisted the urge to be snarky. Not now, we were almost finished.
I checked the chain again, holding it in my hand. It was wrapped around the latch and handle used to open the door. Wasn’t heavy, or thick. It might break if I pulled at it hard enough.
I put both hands on the chain, tugging at it, pulling back. Not much give.
I tried again, putting more force into it. I caught the sound of metal clanging. An echo.
Once more, not much give.
I put one last burst of effort into it. I pulled, and put both my feet on the door of the trailer itself, getting off the ground. I gritted my teeth. Tiny, angered hisses escaped from my lips in an effort to break the chain. It was like forcing a sword out of a stone.
Metal clanged again. An echo. I felt it getting looser.
One more full pull, I pressed my feet against the trailer, and yanked my whole body straight.
I dislocated my shoulder.
I crumpled, falling down, holding my left shoulder.
My breath hitched again.
“Blank Face, update.”
“Nothing, it’s nothing,” I seethed. “Just pulled something.”
“Do you need assistance? I’ll find a way to get over there and get you out.”
“No… need,” I protested, “I’ll be fine, it’s… one of my powers. Besides,” I rolled onto my back, and felt my left hand’s grip on metal, “I broke the chain.”
“With your bare hands? Fascinating.”
“Yes, now please, no more questions. Focusing on getting myself… together again.”
I didn’t hear another word from Hleuco. I had to put effort into moving my hand, dropping the broken chain.
I got up into a sitting position. I patted down my left shoulder, my eye twitching every time I did so.
Couldn’t move it, and my healing wasn’t doing anything about it.
It hurt, and it hurt like hell, but I wasn’t shocked or scared at the feeling, rather I almost felt inconvenienced. I had to either relocate it myself, or get Hleuco to do it, and let my healing work from there.
Now I really have to hurry.
I took my time in getting to my feet. Slowly, surely. I didn’t know whether to continue hugging my shoulder or to let it hang for now. But a foot forward, then another, was more important.
I moved along.
Right hand outstretched, I felt for the latch and handle. It was difficult, trying to work it with one hand, but I managed, and I swung the door open.
I looked inside.
My heart dropped.
“Yes, did you find it? Is it in there?”
“Yeah, but, the shipment isn’t drugs, or weapons. It’s people.”