I wanted nothing more than to have the biggest sleep of all time, but things had a way of taking me past the breaking point, then hammering away the remaining shards.
I was so tired that I could barely remember my name. It started with… a letter of the alphabet, I knew that much. More than one syllable, for sure. But, why was I thinking there was more than one word to it?
Stop, you’re letting yourself drift. Just a little more.
What was a little more, after there was nothing left? Past the bottom of the barrel?
I left the supermarket, bags in tow. Not much I needed, just stuff I could use to cover myself up. That, and more water.
I arrived back at the taxi, parked in wait. I got inside, sitting behind the driver’s seat, head down.
“Where to now, boss?” the driver asked.
Prying open a bottle while I tried to remember. Wasn’t even an hour ago, but it already seemed like someone else’s distant past. A story someone had told me, rather than experiencing it for myself.
I sipped, and some clarity came back to me. Refreshing.
“East Stephenville, Irving Street. There’s a warehouse, there, but you can drop me off a block ahead, or whatever.”
I took a breath. “And…”
“That should be it.”
The driver accepted that. She had better, this was probably her most profitable night in years.
She put the vehicle into drive, then proceeded to take us out of the parking lot.
Time to get my thoughts in order, time to rest, however brief.
I was instructed to make my way over to that warehouse, the order coming from James Gomez, apparently. Why there, though? Was Thomas really being held there? Did it really have to come full circle, like this? I wanted nothing more than to be done with this, but I was just as afraid to see what I’d find, when I got there.
What would I even find there? Thomas, or just his body? The other two? What did D’Angelo mean, by listing their names and telling me who Solace was? Nothing was piecing together, no sense was being made.
Only one way to figure it out.
While thinking, or at least trying, I started to fumble around with the things I had bought, shuffling them around, moving them. I had to make a stop before I moved to my final destination to get them. Second-rate, compared to what I had before, but that was a loss I begrudgingly had to take.
I liked that costume, it was cool. It was still new. I didn’t even get to wear it enough times to really settle into it, to make it feel like a second skin. And now some criminal was knocked out, wearing those threads. I wondered how long that facade would last.
I did have my pants though, I had that going for me. Oh, and my gloves.
Not much, but still.
After I finished moving things around, I set everything beside me. My new backpack. Single strap.
“Are you going to kill me?”
I shifted my head, rubbing my forehead against the back of the driver’s seat. I frowned.
The driver spoke. She hadn’t said anything when we were on route to the club, or to the supermarket.
She spoke, asking something… odd.
It threw me off.
I made a sound. “Huh?”
“After I drop you off… are you going to kill me? Because I’m a loose end? Because I think I know who you are.”
I made a noise. Somewhere between a groan and a grunt, but the emotion behind it was clear. Ticked off.
She had me figured out?
My eyes stayed down.
“Who do you think I am?” I asked, lapsing into that habit of lowering the pitch of my voice, even though I had no mask on.
It probably wouldn’t have taken much for her to piece it together. If she hadn’t by now, I might have actually been worried.
“Am I right?” she asked.
If I held back my tongue, my silence would say more than words could.
“The Bluemoon was arrested back at the club. He set a fire to the place, but got stuck inside. There are plenty of eye-witnesses to attest to that.”
Probably. I hadn’t stuck around to see what they did with the decoy, whether or not it had been reported, already.
“As for me,” I continued, “I’m no one.”
The taxi stopped at a light. Nothing heard but the rumbling of the engine, a lone siren far off, somewhere.
She took that as an opportunity to speak again, more coldly than I would have expected.
“So, are you still going to? Kill me, that is?”
She doesn’t believe me?
I started, “I’m not-”
“Hey, if you say you’re not, then you’re not, I’m not up to fighting you on that. But you’re still a shady motherfucker. Excuse the language.”
Shady? Wasn’t she the shady one, for even asking in such a calm manner?
“So, I wanted to ask again, is this my last ride, or no?”
Images flashed. Thoughts formed. I let them linger in my mind.
A moment passed, then I had the realization that it did. I spent too long staying silent.
“Did you see my face?” I asked, then I realized again that I shouldn’t have asked that particular question. It insinuated things, made implications. Set conditions, even if they weren’t actually there.
I am too tired.
“You’ve had your head down every second you’ve been in my taxi,” the driver said. “Of course I haven’t.”
“Then, there you go,” I said. “I’m not going to… kill you.”
I heard a heavy breath get let out. The light must have changed, because the taxi started up again, going forward.
“It was never a consideration,” I had to hastily add, “I don’t do that.”
I wanted to leave it at that. No use in trying to explain myself to a stranger.
Maybe talking would do me some good, keep me alert.
“Why would you even ask that?” I questioned.
The driver turned the wheel, then straightened it.
“A lot of people come by to sit in that back row, a lot of places they want to go. Not all of them have the most kind-hearted intentions when they get to their destinations. And not all of them aren’t so kind as to let an end stay loose, so to speak.”
“Have you been threatened before?”
“I’ve been lucky,” she said. Talking around the question, it seemed. “Some of my co-workers haven’t. I just thought my number was up.”
I had to go for another sip of water. Then, one more.
“Don’t worry about me,” I said, after I nearly finished the whole bottle. “I’m not as… ill-intentioned.”
“That’s a relief,” she said, but she certainly didn’t sound relieved.
A low grumble. I clutched my stomach, closing my eyes. A grim reminder.
Intense irritability, anxiety, the restlessness. Everything would be eleven.
I had to keep talking, to put my focus elsewhere.
“Is it so bad that you had to even ask me?”
“Bad? I don’t have much of a reference point, I’ve lived here all my life. I can tell you it’s always been like this.”
“It’s a matter of getting used to,” she said. “If you think about it, there are people in other parts of the world, living in way worse conditions. I’m lucky I can make a living driving other people around.”
“Even if some of them aren’t so kind-hearted?” I ventured.
There was a moment where she didn’t answer right away. Maybe a gesture, though I couldn’t see it.
“Kind-hearted or not, they have money to pay.”
I reacted, but I couldn’t even get a read on myself.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Uh, it’s Claire.” She took another turn, then decelerated.
“And here we are,” Claire said, “A block away, or whatever, just like you asked.”
I was much faster to get out of the taxi, this time. I took everything with me, my new bag strapped across my back, new clothes in my hands. I had left the payment for the entire ride on the console beside her seat.
The door shut.
“Thank you, Claire,” I said. I did a half-turn away from the vehicle, to better obscure my face. It was dark, here, but anything helped.
“By the by, you don’t have to worry about me, too,” Claire said, “I won’t tell anyone about… this.”
A smile almost formed across my lips. It nearly creeped me out.
“Of course not, Claire, you have nothing to say to anyone about any of this. I’m a ghost. Better off forgotten. I have money to pay, right? It should be easy.”
Morality wasn’t black or white. It was green.
“But, Claire, I’ll remember you. I know your name, I know the number stamped on the outside of your taxi. For any reason, any at all, I can find you.”
I stopped there, not offering any more. I figured that was enough.
“Alright,” Claire said, “Have a good rest of your night.”
She drove off, leaving me to stand alone. Nothing here but the sound of crickets.
It had been dark my whole time out, but here? This was a different kind of dark. A sort of absence.
No one on the streets, and the lights were out in the buildings. Streetlights flickered, cracks webbed across the pavement and cement. A place neglected, as if people collectively decided that this neighborhood wasn’t worth it. This place wasn’t even that unique in that regard, spots like this were patched across the whole city. I saw them in my run around and time as Blank Face, my eyes were already open to them, but they had been opened wider, since.
Like a disease that ravaged a body, shutting down parts, limbs, organs, until the entire system was taken over.
Taken over by the gangs.
And what was I, in all of this? The antivirus? Then, what was Solace, a developed resistance?
Dammit, I ended up setting myself up, too.
No one here meant there was no one to see me. I slipped on my mask. A ski mask, something considerably less conspicuous than my previous choices. There was a slight musty smell to it as it went over my nose. I fitted on a pair of goggles to better cover my eyes. A subtle tinge in my vision, but nothing that would hinder me. I could see in the dark just fine.
Next came the grey hoodie. A little baggy, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. I supposed I couldn’t escape the hooded look, after all.
The last piece was my gloves, the only other carry-over from my old costume.
Pieced together off the cuff, but this new costume would have to do. It had to.
I tightened the strap crossing my chest one more time, as I started to see the police cars. I was approaching the warehouse.
It looked exactly as I had left it, not too long ago. It didn’t stir any pleasant memories in me, just panic, the frenzy of it all. I almost saw my old self running out of the warehouse, frantic, trying to save Maria and Eduardo.
I blinked. The image changed. A cop, running from the building, meeting with another cop at their car. From a distance, I could see them exchange a few words, before heading into the car. It pulled out of the lot, and I tensed. I was told to come here, but I wasn’t sure how welcomed I’d be when I arrived.
The car sped the other way, no lights, no siren. I remained tense.
There were only two other cars parked out front, not much in the way of a force. No other cops outside. Were the rest in there? Did I have to be wary about them, too?
Well, I wasn’t about to go through the front door. That wasn’t what on-the-run vigilantes do.
I stayed low, circling around the perimeter. I traced the old path I took to get in there, going along the side of the building, looking for the window I entered through the first time.
I moved faster this time, more comfortably, despite the growing aches. I hopped up to reach the height of the window, and snuck in, climbing up the metal racks. Again.
But I actually remembered to bring gloves, this time.
Again, I kept a steady and consistent pace, while still trying to keep myself hidden. Less hesitation in my steps, this time. I moved with purpose.
I made it to the central hallway.
Like last time, I wasn’t alone. There were others here. Cops, and a woman, sitting, with hands behind her back. Two others were on the ground, hands cuffed.
A single metal folding chair, atop sheets of newspapers, laid out. Blood dripped from the seat, down the legs, soaking the paper.
I squinted, my pulse quickening.
I immediately went down, my landing echoing in the space.
My hands were up before the police could turn and react and pull out their guns.
“It’s me,” I said, “It’s Blank Face, I mean, the Bluemoon.”
You have to believe me.
“Um, I can try and do a flip if you want me to,” I added.
“That’s not necessary.”
A man stepped away from a group of cops, towards me. The reason why I was here.
“Speak of the devil,” he said. “Though, dressed differently than I remember.”
“James Gomez,” I said, putting my hands down. “Can’t say I’m not surprised.”
“I can say the same thing, myself,” Gomez said. “We just picked up whispers of your arrest at the Panorama, which was why I gave the order to move in. No point in waiting for someone who might not show up.”
“It was a distraction, but, who knows how long it’ll hold, if at all.” I set to rest my hands at my sides. “How did you find this place? How did you find me?”
Gomez lowered his head, and his voice, a fraction. “After word spread about you and Sumeet, the men back at base jumped at the chance to get a piece of you. For my part, I stayed behind, and I was able to trace the signal you were talking about. Hadn’t seen that floor in months.”
“I’ve been out here, nearly getting myself killed to get that info, when all I could’ve done was wait for you to take an elevator. I’m so touched you found it within yourself to actually help me,” I said.
He nodded. “Happy to hear it. As for getting that info to you, you pretty much signaled where you were and what you were doing.”
“The fire at the club,” I said.
“Exactly. I wasn’t sure if you’d manage to make it, but I thought you deserved to know. After that I tried to gather up as many men I could trust as possible. Not as many as I would’ve liked. Or hoped. But we’ll have to make do.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers,” I said.
“You get the idea.” Gomez turned, but he kept going, “Follow me.”
I followed, catching the glances of the other officers. It felt odd, for once they weren’t trying to get at me.
They still stared, though, like I was a circus animal. I met the eyes of a certain cop, and he looked the other way. But something told me he went right back to gawking as I passed.
“Back to work, people,” Gomez said, addressing his men. He seemed to notice, too. “We need everything stored and catalogued, make sure it matches with what we have back home!”
I didn’t express my gratitude out loud. I changed the subject, instead.
“You said you were able to follow the signal, meaning that it came from here?”
“It did, but I’ll tell you right now, Thomas isn’t here.”
My heart dropped.
My mind immediately went to the chair here in the main corridor.
I avoided bringing it up, asking about it. I was afraid I’d be right.
“What is here, then?” I asked instead.
“We’re in the process of that, right now.”
We stopped in front of the woman. She moved her head, I couldn’t get a good look at her face.
Gomez made a gesture, and a nearby cop moved to action, putting a hand under her armpit and forcing her to her feet. Rough.
“Meet Linda Day,” Gomez said, “Business tycoon, CEO of a sizable moving company, breast cancer charity sponsor.”
I looked at her. She had the appearance of someone who was attractive when they were in high school or college, but time, and whatever stress they subjected themselves to, took their toll on the body. Lines etched across her cheeks and forehead, and she still looked relatively young. Excess weight hung off her neck, I could imagine the flab that was underneath her sleeves and waistband.
However, she wasn’t exactly dressed like someone who was abducted from her home in the middle of the night. She had on a nice looking black coat, brown dress pants. She had on makeup.
More importantly, she’s alive.
“You clean up nicely for a hostage,” I commented. I turned to Gomez. “What is this?”
Gomez folded his arms. “I’ll give you the long and short of it. We searched the place, and came across these three, tending to some leftover equipment. Wasn’t hard, they didn’t see us coming, so they didn’t put up much of a fight.”
“Nice, so you’re competent when you want to be, that’s good to know.”
Gomez didn’t comment on that.
But, another word, a certain word stuck out to me.
“Anyways, ‘we?’” I asked.
Gomez audibly huffed. “Yeah. Apparently, she’s a part of what I like to now call the ‘Solace Conspiracy.’ She’s been helping out in preparing for Solace’s next move.”
I felt life and color leave my body. My main objective was to find – if not save – Thomas, but I had Edgar Brown and Linda Day in mind, too. I hadn’t… expected this to be a possibility.
“What’s she doing here?” I asked. I shook my head, and faced Linda, instead. “What are you doing here?”
She lifted her face, looking back at me. She grimaced. “Doing what we can to get you out of the picture.”
It brought back to mind what D’Angelo had told me about who Solace supposedly was. He listed off the names of the hostages. Thomas as well.
Is this what he meant?
Shocked wasn’t the right word. Something stronger was needed. I was almost impressed that things could go this wrong, this incorrect.
Their deaths were faked?
“It’s the same with Edgar Brown,” Gomez said, “Day tells us that he’s been participating in setting up other plans that Solace has. We don’t know the extent of it, though, if he’s a key player or just another pawn.”
“Where’s he? Did you find him here?”
“Right now she says he’s staying in a motel a few miles away from here. She was poised to sleep in the room beside his. Just had some men go see if she’s telling the truth.”
My jaw would have hit the floor, if it was physically possible.
You’re shitting me.
I had been running myself ragged to find where these people had been taken, only to discover that two of them had a part in this, a role to play. They were at the party, they were invited by Kristin, they were acquainted with the Thompsons.
Hands on shoulders. A flip. Linda Day was thrown up the height of the metal racks before crashing back down.
“Blank Face! Everyone back away!”
Gomez shouted out orders. I heard activity from the other cops.
I bent down, and picked her up again. I pushed her up against the rack, pressing so the metal pinched her back.
She wriggled, but she couldn’t worm away from me. I had her.
But I was too mad to form words in my head, to spit them in her face. Questions. Things were blurring. Giving in to something more basic.
A hand on my shoulder.
I twisted my head.
“Put her down, Blank Face. We have time to get information, to figure out what we need to do. No one knows we’re here, and no one knows you’re here. As it stands, we have an upper hand. Let her go.”
“What about Thomas, is he involved? Was he a part of this all along?”
Have I been lied to this whole time?
Gomez, slowly, shook his head. “I know the guy, and… something tells me you know him, too. This isn’t like him, I don’t think he’d agree to play ball, or even want to mastermind this. Something else is going on here. You’ll… just have to trust me on this.”
I thought, considered, and I knew he was right. Didn’t make sense for Thomas to be involved with Solace, it didn’t add up.
My grip loosened a bit. Just a bit.
I heard him out, and I understood, but I still had to find it within me to take the proper action.
It took everything I had to let her go. Linda fell back to the ground, slumping over.
“Come with me,” Gomez said to me. “Get Day on her feet, have her follow,” he said to someone else.
Gomez took me down a corridor, towards a set of large wooden boxes. The tops were pried off, crowbars at the base of them. A familiar sight.
“What’s this?” I asked, but the answer was provided as we got closer. I didn’t like the answer.
Guns. A whole lot of them. Stacked and lined up neatly together. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, stuff I didn’t know the exact names of, stuff in smaller boxes that led me to use my imagination.
And that was only the first box.
Others were taken out from the bottom shelf and opened by the cops. They were going back and forth, looking inside and tapping on tablets and devices, shouting out numbers, arbitrary to me.
I’d seen these boxes before.
“Oh my god,” I said, though breathless. “Please tell me this isn’t…”
“It is,” Gomez said, matter-of-factly. “These are the same weapons The Chariot had smuggled in months ago. You prevented these from getting around and being used, if I remember correctly.”
One of my first nights out as Blank Face. Thomas said I had prevented a gang war from breaking out by having these weapons be turned in.
But now, they’re back. Just like Benny.
“I thought these things were taken care of,” I asked, “What are they still doing here?”
“They were taken care of, contraband found by us gets confiscated and is stored in our facilities. It should have been impossible for these to get on the streets.”
“Yet here we are,” I said. “You’re telling me all these weapons circled back here?”
That nothing I do matters in the long run?
“Not all of them,” someone else said. Another cop. He came up to Gomez to hand him a paper. “This looks like a lot, but this isn’t even half of what got taken out from inventory. We just checked, sir.”
“Thanks, Campbell,” Gomez said.
“But, sir, there is some bad news. Some things aren’t accounted for. Of the missing weapons, the ones found here only account for about a fourth.”
“Meaning this isn’t their only base, just a stopping point,” Gomez concluded. “The weapons are elsewhere. Thank you, again.”
Gomez dismissed him with a nod.
“Great, just fantastic,” I said, “Just one gun is too much. Now all these things are back, out here to be used.”
Another complication in this sick game.
“Try to find some silver lining, or you’ll be blinded by too much negativity. We’ve taken back these weapons, I’ll just have to do a better job of making sure these stay where they belong.”
“You better,” I said, fighting back the irritation that nothing I did had any lasting impact. The impatience that I needed to be doing more, yet we were still standing here, talking.
“If you really think you can trust these men, we’ll have to leave this as is,” I said. “I want to find Thomas. Where is he, what did they do to him?”
Gomez nodded in agreement, he had to ignore my slight against the police. We both turned to look back at Linda Day. She stood, though hunched, propped up by another police officer.
“Here’s the part where you talk some more,” Gomez said to her, “And make it fast. I don’t have the power to control my friend, here.”
Friend? Some odd hours ago you refused to actively help me.
I said nothing.
“What’s the plan? Where’s Thomas?” Gomez asked.
Linda brought her eyes up, glaring at us from behind strands of hair that fell into her face.
“First thing in the morning, the mayor will be making a speech in front of city hall, about Solace and the Bluemoon. He’s been heavily criticized for his silence on the issue. With Thomas Thompson gone, his hand has been forced to say something. They’ll be his first public comments about the matter, many will be there.”
“And then?” Gomez asked.
“A riot, the biggest one yet, they’ll take over and spread more fear about the Bluemoon. And the one to lead the charge… will be Thomas Thompson.”
A cold sweat swept over me. The mention of his name in this scheme.
I tried to say something, ask a question of my own, but I found myself speechless.
Gomez, for his part, was much more collected. “People are afraid enough, why orchestrate a riot that big?”
“I don’t know, believe me, that’s just what I overheard.”
“From the group that took me, they all had masks, I didn’t see their faces.”
I yelled out the question, losing myself for a moment. The words carried across the entire warehouse. I saw people stop what they were doing. Brief.
“He was here, but they took him, I swear I don’t know where. When they explained it to him, he refused, so Styx strapped him to a chair and…”
Linda stopped there.
A chair, the chair I passed earlier. Styx. Whatever it was, it was better left unsaid.
Thomas sat in that chair.
I lunged at the woman.
We both went down, and I pushed her into the ground. I shook her, wild.
“You bitch, you let that happen to him! You threw him away!”
Sounds coming from her were nearing shrieks, reaching higher pitches when she probably realized she would not be getting away. Her hands were behind her, bound. She was mine to hurt.
Mine to consume.
I, myself, was much less loud. I shook her, then threw her back down. Her hair flew everywhere across her face.
I released my grip, and I raised my hands, aiming for her throat next-
I felt hands wrap around my hands, my arms. Trying to hold me back?
The attempt was unexpected, my arms continuing downward without regard for who was holding them. Two people fell beside me, falling flat. Cops.
Mechanical clicks. Orders barked. I realized where I was, what I was doing.
I took a breath.
Raising my hands, I slowly returned to my feet. Linda stayed on her back, crying in between gasps.
I’m so tired. Of this, of everything.
“Sorry,” I said, not really meaning it, but I needed to calm the others down. “Didn’t mean to go that far.”
“Guns down, everyone.”
Gomez stood ahead of me, waving his hands. “Last thing we want is a shootout with all this stuff here.”
The men complied, not questioning him. Their hard stares remained, though some returned to what they were doing.
Gomez turned to me again, but he didn’t lower his head or his voice. “I understand that you’ve had a long night, and you’re young, so I’ll let that slide. But, do something like that again, and I’m not stopping my men. You’re still wanted.”
I nodded, putting my hands to my side. The emotions didn’t go away, just pushed to the side, locked up.
Everything’s been flipped on its head. Turned upside down.
Gomez rolled his shoulders back, and addressed his men one more time. “Everyone, listen up! We know the situation, so we know that we’re on our own. This has to stay between us, or we lose our advantage. We get what we can out of Linda Day, and then we plan accordingly. By the time the sun rises today, this will all be over.”