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[font "Sitka Small" Green eyes went back and forth between Ms. Leon and Agent “Hoffman” as they discussed the evidence they uncovered. Jake was ultimately lost in their conversation since he hadn’t looked at their portions of the evidence mound. He suddenly began to reminisce that one sport, what was it called? Ping Pong. Jake was mostly unfamiliar with the activity, but he had seen some agents play it in one of the break rooms back at the dorms. This conversation felt just like that.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Medical grade drugs, maybe…?”]] Morgan asked. The ball of questions hit over to Adam’s side.]
[font "Sitka Small" “I like to think that drug dealers are a bit more covert than [i this].” Adam retaliated. “It has to be legitimate,” he continued to explain, “who’s to say it’s any different here?” The ball quickly returned to the sender.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Who’s to say it isn’t?”]] Morgan retorted. Jake’s eyebrows raised as he glanced at Adam for a response. She wouldn’t let him counter as she pulled up her phone and began typing away. Jake counted that as one point in favor for Ms. Leon. He kept the smirk to himself as he stood to look over Morgan’s shoulder at her searches.]
[font "Sitka Small" The brief online research went about as well as going through a mirror maze blindfolded. Each tap on a name or phone or even address gave Jake the sensation of hitting his heads against a wall. His spirits dropped further and further as the group ran about in circles in this digital chase. If he ever doubted the abilities of this enemy, Jake certainly wasn’t going to underestimate them now. How long had this operation been running? This group, this organization, This syndicate, whatever it was. Whoever they are, they had seemingly unlimited resources. [i Like an agency.] Jake pondered. His face hardened like stone at the thought.]
[font "Sitka Small" After Agent Hoffman and his silent partner left Ms. Leon at her office, Adam and Jake rode back to headquarters. The ride was mostly quiet for the first several minutes before Jake spoke up. He reflected on what they discovered so far. Ms. Leon believed that something was being moved with the money transfers and shipping numbers. Jake recalled that crate of broken vials from the warehouse. Medical grade drugs didn’t seem that far off now. Maybe not drugs so much as chemicals? The green stain on the glass flashed in his mind. Perhaps there was enough of a sample to track. He and Adam would have to get the vial analyzed. Finally some clues were left behind besides burnt bodies. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Enough to keep Jake’s ever present optimism going.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “What do you think Veles means? Do you think that’s the name behind all of this?”]] Jake asked as he glanced over to the man silent behind the wheel. Adam had that familiar thousand yard stare. He was clearly deep in thought about something. [b [#008800 “Adam?”]]
[font "Sitka Small" “She is something else...”]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “What?”]] Jake’s eyebrows pulled together and his head whipped to Adam's direction. [b [#008800 “What does that have-”]] Wait. Of course. That blockhead wasn’t listening at all. For the past fifteen minutes, Jake had been basically talking to thin air about important espionage business, while Adam had been day-dreaming about the attractive brunette woman they had just met. Why did Jake ever think this conversation was going to be productive? How foolish he was.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Yeah she is. She’s a journalist, educated and clever. Clearly a vast difference from your usual victims.”]] Jake grumbled as he stared out the window. No point in talking about the information they just discovered. Adam was focused on other “priorities”. That was Agent Cordova, alright. Always focused on the damsels rather than the distress. Meanwhile, his partner was left to protect both.]
[font "Sitka Small" Pinching the bridge of his nose, Jake sighed. [b [#008800 “Good to know I’m talking to myself now. Shouldn’t bother mentioning she’s a [i journalist], an asset. Would probably sell you out for a story if she knew who you were.]] he pointed out. Jake removed his sunglasses briefly and rubbed the weariness out of his eyes before placing them back on his face. [b [#008800 “I don’t recommend it, but since when has that ever stopped you.”]] He mumbled aloud. Ms. Leon was a valuable asset to their efforts so far. She would have access to sources both Jake and Adam were restricted from currently. Hopefully, Adam wouldn’t do anything rash that would compromise this useful temporary friendship.]
[font "Sitka Small" Once the car parked at the lot next to the dorms, Jake placed a hand on Adam’s shoulder before the man could get out of the car. His face was stern, which Adam knew was when Jake needed to say something important.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “There’s something else about that warehouse I didn’t say in front of Ms. Leon.”]] Jake began. His odd cat-like eyes displayed an unusual anxiety before he continued. [b [#008800 “Someone was watching us. On the rooftop across the street. I didn’t see who it was, but I knew they were watching us the whole time. When I got outside, they were gone.”]] Jake explained as he sat forward in his seat. He didn’t think Adam would find it important, but he didn’t feel what Jake felt. Like a puppet on a stage, cognizant of the audience watching it. It was unnerving, and Jake didn’t get flustered easily. Adam did his best to reassure him, but the anxiety was still there. Still lingering. The glowing embers still ignited from the dream he had last night.]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam didn’t like it when Jake was this serious. Jake could see his usual antics becoming more and more apparent as a mechanism to distract them both. Jake caught a glimpse of the plastic bag poking out of Adam’s jacket knowing that the broken vial with the green stain was inside. Sometimes the distractions worked. Sometimes.]
“What did we find?” Adam repeated, intent on not letting Jake’s [i awful] lying jeopardize their cover with Morgan. “The question is, what didn’t we find.” He set one of the file cabinet drawers on the desk, covering the surface in a light layer of soot, filling the room with the scent of smoke. It wasn’t acrid by any means, but Morgan covered her mouth and coughed - having spent so long in it, she wondered if it would stick to her clothes, to the conference room desk and chairs, rousing suspicions. A small price to pay, she thought, if their find were as good as it seemed.
Adam tabbed through a few pages at the top, and Morgan followed suit, in another drawer on the floor. Columns and rows filled with dollar amounts typical of the dealings of a large company - more money than she would ever see in her lifetime. She looked to Agent Hoffman for some support, some indication that she had been right when she discovered the stash of evidence back at the warehouse. These were financial records, detailing each and every transaction over the company’s most recent fiscal year before the fire.
“These are the records…” Adam muttered. Morgan’s eyes lit up, but there was something unsettling about that pensive and brooding stare that the federal agent was giving the papers in his hands. Morgan looked down at the ones in her own grasp… And then she saw it. “These show where the money was going, but not [i what] was going.”
[#712793 [b “Of course.”]] Morgan responded flatly. Why would it be easy? It was never easy. By all appearances, this was the smoking gun. But it was starting to look less and less like anything other than a very good lead. They still had the names of each company that had done any dealings with the mysterious warehouse, which in turn was listed under a single name in all capital letters: VELES.
[#712793 [b “It’s clear whatever they were dealing in was expensive. Medical grade drugs, maybe…?”]] Morgan bowed her head, thinking hard.
“I like to think that drug dealers are a bit more covert than [i this].” Adam laid the papers in his hand on the desk. “It has to be legitimate. There were people in the neighborhoods of the laundromat and the convenience store that remember them being in business before the fires. Who’s to say it’s any different here?”
[#712793 [b “Who’s to say it [i isn’t]?”]]] Morgan had to try hard to keep from sneering. They could sit here and speculate all night. But it wasn’t going to solve their mystery.
She slipped her cell phone from her pocket, and after unlocking the screen with a long and complicated string of numbers, she began a cursory search of some of the names of the corporations in the paperwork that had once been in Agent Hoffman’s hands. Every business leaves a trail, and in the digital age, even something as innocuous as a bad review online could prove useful. But each search turned up nothing they could use in the moment. No recent lawsuits, scarcely any physical addresses associated with the company names, few phone numbers, websites… It was absurd.
Adam couldn’t help but to watch over her shoulder, leaning over in his chair to get a glance of her results. His expression slowly turned from wide-eyed and curious to brooding. “What the hell…?”
[#712793 [b “My thoughts exactly...”]] Morgan’s lips formed into a thin line. There was [i nothing]. [#712793 [b “Some of these addresses and phone numbers aren’t even for companies in America… Whoever’s behind this…”]] Is sophisticated. Sophisticated enough to cover their tracks like [i this].
“There’s only so much we can do for now. Let’s stop here, today.” Adam responded with a sigh. Morgan was ready to argue her point to continue on, but Agent Hoffman, apparently, hadn’t finished speaking. “We’ll need the rest. It’s going to get busy from here on out.”
There was little other conversation to be had. Adam helped Morgan carry the files to her personal office for safekeeping. There was little hope of trudging into HQ with four file cabinets of smoky paperwork without being questioned. A more permanent solution would need to be reached over the course of the next week, while they were hunting down information about these mysterious companies. It was quickly after that she saw the two agents to their car, watching apprehensively as they drove off. Wondering if they might be hiding anything from her. Wondering if she were in with the right people.
The drive to HQ seemed much longer than it actually was. If only because Adam could not remove the image of Morgan’s face from his mind. There was something about her - and not simply her body, as it had been with so many other women. He’d been around intelligent women before, obviously. He worked with plenty. None like Morgan. If Jake had been speaking to him for the duration of their drive, he hadn’t noticed. “She is something else...” It was a mutter that Adam hadn’t meant to let slip. But he was otherwise so distracted that any attempts to play it cool had casually flown out of the window of his car.
[font "Sitka Small" Jake’s ears picked up Adam’s call from further into the building. Jake’s emerald eyes still stared at the top of the building across the way, hoping the figure would reappear. There were answers. Somewhere out there, there were answers to the questions he had held for so long. The person on the roof could have been the one to hold those answers. Could have been. But his partner needed him, so he must go. Hesitantly, Jake retreated back into the dilapidated building. The lies were buried here. Perhaps, here he can find a clue to help him. Help them. Through the sunglasses, Jake peered at Adam and Ms. Leon. Maybe the lies that were burnt here would reveal something. Something of importance.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake reentered the burnt building at the call of his partner. Adam motioned for Jake to move some shelves for Morgan to pass through. Piece of cake. Jake wasn’t as physically strong as Adam, but he could move shelves all day with his other abilities. The idea to catapult the shelves to the other side of the warehouse was a tempting offer, but that would be going against protocol. So, Jake hefted the shelves with Adam using only his arms and legs. It wasn’t most fun way, but it was just shelves. He could always go to the simulation room later if the urge to launch heavy things across a large room still lingered.]
[font "Sitka Small" As they carried the drawers out to Adam’s car, Jake heard him mention Morgan sharing the back seats with the evidence. Jake didn’t think anything of it until Morgan jokingly asked if the trunk was already taken. Jake briefly halted in his steps and his lips pressed together. Morgan noticed as well as took note of Adam’s silence. She raised her eyebrows in response. Probably best not to ask, she thought to herself.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake cleared his throat nervously as he tried to change the subject. [b [#008800 “So, uh, where are we taking these exactly?”]] The question was subtly directed at Adam, but Jake turned his head to Morgan to hear her suggestions. He had to make it seem as though they were cooperating with her. If she knew of a place that was safe enough to examine the files, then it would avoid unnecessary complications. Considering he was supposed to be on desk duty, Jake wasn’t too thrilled to be going back to [i his] place just yet.]
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan glanced between Agent Hoffman and this unnamed man. She suddenly felt put on the spot. [b [#712793 “Well, we can head to my office. There’s a conference room we could use that will be private for us to look at these documents.”]] She suggested. Honestly, she was just excited to get the chance to look over the documents at all. These guys could have easily taken whatever she found and prevent her from seeing any of it.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake nodded in approval and shrugged his shoulders at Adam. [b [#008800 “Sounds like a good idea.”]] He stated. He half expected Adam to make a comment, or two, about the situation. He always had to have the last word on everything.]
[font "Sitka Small" During the drive, the image of the silhouette on the roof still persisted. Maybe Jake imagined the person there. Maybe it wasn’t anyone of significance at all? It could have been a civilian just passing the time on the roof. Jake wondered if he should tell Adam what he may or may not have seen. How could he have known someone was there watching? Jake didn’t get a good look at who it was anyway. Perhaps it was best to keep this to himself, he decided.]
[font "Sitka Small" Getting the drawers up to the third-floor conference room wasn’t as issue. Ms. Leon’s co-workers didn’t bat an eye at Adam and Jake appearing while carrying file drawers. It seemed that they were used to Morgan’s ambitious antics by now. She spoke to what Jake assumed was her supervisor that she would need the conference room. He was a mousy-looking man with an impressive beard and small round spectacles. The man merely sighed and held open the door for the three of them to place the drawers down. Jake glanced back at the bearded man before the door was shut and the rest of them had privacy behind the enclosed room.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “That’s Reggie. Don’t mind him. Great boss, very strict though.”]] Morgan explained as she hefted the file drawer on the long wooden table in the center of the room. [b [#712793 “He knows how I get when working a job. We shouldn’t be bothered in here.”]] She breathed heavily and rested her hands on her hips. [i This might take a while], she thought as she peered over all the papers.]
[font "Sitka Small" This part of the job was the worst, Jake mused as he tossed another ruined sheet of paper over his shoulder. Half the documents were illegible or soaked. He couldn’t find anything of use on his end; however, Ms. Leon was much more excited about paperwork than Jake was. She reminded him of the Energized Bunny- constantly moving, constantly going. From what Jake had seen so far, he noticed that she was a lot like Adam in that way. Both were determined and great problem solvers. It was hard to shake Adam from an idea . Jake could feel similar stubbornness in Morgan from the brief encounters he had met her. [i A female version of Adam. Now that’s nightmare fuel.] Jake frowned. The last thing this group needed was another danger-hungry risk-taker.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “You know you would probably see better if you weren’t wearing sunglasses inside.”]] Morgan’s quip broke Jake from his thoughts.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Huh? Oh.”]] Jake nervously touched the eye wear on his face as he glanced over to Adam’s nervous expression. [b [#008800 “Fluorescence lights, they give me headaches.”]] Terrible lie. Jake could see the pained expression on Adam’s face, but Morgan’s eyebrows pulled together as she kept looking at Jake. Come to think of it, she never did catch his name…]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 "So, what did you guys find?"]] Jake quickly asked as he moved over to their section of the table. Morgan glanced down at the paper scattered across the wooden surface giving Jake the opportunity to subtle give Adam a "I don't know" shrug with his shoulders. [i It was the first thing I could think of!] Jake remarked telepathically before gazing down at the paper collage. He wasn't as experienced in undercover work like Adam was. Normal people are intimidating.]
Adam pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned quietly. [i Great, Jake. Just let her know that you can smell a fart from 75 miles away! Then she won’t suspect us!] Morgan, overall, did not seem to let Jake’s revelation bother her, too much, and Adam could only hope that she would simply… forget about it.
Morgan eventually came to a stop in front of a shelf, smaller than the rest, blocking the entrance to what looked to be an office. With Morgan’s flashlight cutting through the darkness, Adam could see that it had been relatively insulated from the blaze. A lonely office chair sat unscathed in the middle of the room. The filing cabinets beside it were scorched but looked relatively intact. Probably locked. A desk and its contents, closest to the fire, took a majority of the damage. So, the fire hadn’t been burning for too long when the firefighters arrived. And that was good news for the group. Adam and Morgan glanced at each other knowingly. “How much do you want to bet—”
[b [#712793 “That cabinet’s important? Hm… $20?”]]
When Adam tried moving the melted hunk of metal to create an opening, it budged slightly, but was far too heavy for him to do on his own. Morgan attempted to help, but the result was much of the same. All the duo had managed to do was create a slight space between the top of the doorframe and the shelf itself. [b [#712793 “Boost me up?”]]
Adam shook his head, pointing at the dark room, “There no way out except the way you came in.” But Morgan’s mind was already made. If Agent Hoffman wasn’t going to give her a boost, she would find her own way in. Shambling atop of the sturdy piece of metal, the agile woman hoisted herself between the gaps in the shelf, landing on her arms on the way down with an audible [i oof].
[b [#712793 “I’m alright.”]] She said, quietly.
“No one was worried.” Adam rolled his eyes, smiling in spite of himself. And though he could not see it, by the subtle movement of her neck, Morgan was rolling hers, too.
Amongst the piles of soot that stained her gloved fingers, the journalist carefully sorted through anything that may have some meaning to the investigation, but her findings were wholly underwhelming. The burnt remnants of a typewriter caught her eye. What was left of the paper sticking from the top, was burned away, save for a partial address in the top right corner.
[b [#712793 “Veles… 4… n-a… e-c-e.”]] Morgan handed the piece of paper to Adam, who quickly deposited it into a sealable evidence bag. If the name had sounded familiar to him, Adam didn’t say anything, so Morgan kept digging. The next object of her attention was the file cabinet. Though the top drawer was locked, a bobby pin and a few seconds of wiggling back and forth to release the pins was enough to get it to bend to her will.
Morgan had very low expectations for the clutter of papers that stared back at her. Each fistful seemed to just be a mix and mash of financial documents spanning back just a couple of years. Invoices, receipts, torn pages of printed bookkeeping records. All original hard copies, she noted, looking through one after another. Most of the money seemed to be moving [i in] to the distribution center, but some of it was moving out – to unnamed accounts based in Panama, Singapore, and Switzerland, to name a few… And then she saw it. Her eyes flew open, and she quickly began shuffling between papers in a frenzy. Reading and rereading.
[b [#712793 “Those morons!”]] Her outburst had caught Adam’s attention. Invigorated, Morgan hastily grabbed the entire top drawer of the file cabinet and began to make her way to Adam. [b [#712793 “We need to take all of these. They left their financial records!”]] At least, she could only surmise, at this point. The true test would be for the investigators that she had thrown her lot in with. If anyone would be able to tell if she had made a break in the case, it would be them. Or, at least Agent Hoffman.
Adam looked at the papers in the drawer at his feet, access partially blocked by the shelf in front of the door, with a flat expression. Shuffling and arranging the papers into a pile wouldn’t take too long. But he didn’t want to risk disturbing too much evidence. There could be traces of hairs, fingerprints exposed by being dusted with soot at risk of being smudged. The smartest thing would be to take the file cabinets in their entirety.
“Hey!” He called to Jake, motioning him over. “I need you to help me with this.” If only for a few seconds, they would push the shelf out of the way to allow Morgan to wedge the drawer out onto their side, where it could be safely carted to the car when they were done. They had spent far too long in this warehouse, and now that they had what they were looking for, the likelihood was very high that something might go wrong.
Morgan did her part by placing all drawers on the floor, to minimize the time spent trying to get these papers to the car. Once the evidence was safely out, it was her turn. Somewhat unashamedly, Adam eyed her from behind as she crawled out of the burnt-out office on her arms and stomach. Obviously, a woman who was unafraid to get her hands dirty.
Adam enlisted Morgan’s help to gather two drawers in his arm, balancing them on his shoulders, and leaving the other two to Jake and Morgan. “You’ll be sharing a backseat with at least one of these things. Hope you don’t mind.”
Morgan laughed, [b [#712793 “What, do you have a high-powered rifle in your trunk that’s too big to move?”]] Adam said nothing. [b [#712793 “…Oh.”]] Right. Stupid question.
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan was forced to cooperate with these gentlemen. Of course, she would have to, since they had the authority to ask for her information. They must have gotten the cases recently. She didn’t mind so much as working with federal authorities. She just hated being left out of the discoveries. She was lucky that Agent Hoffman was willing to let her tag along with them. He could just as easily demand everything she had and left her in the dust. No, he seemed to be willing to work with her, for now anyway. Was it willingness that she detected in his tone? Or was it desperation? She didn’t know this man so both possibilities were technically true.]
[font "Sitka Small" The other man was a stone wall of secrets. He merely just looked between her and the agent, void of anything to read. His glasses made it difficult to even see his eyes, so nothing could be gained from that. His mouth was unwavering and still as well as his dark brows. Agent Hoffman was similarly unreadable until Morgan tried to joke with him. There! There she saw a person underneath that red tape. Better than most officials she worked with. She smiled at them both. Perhaps, a compromise was possible between the two opposing sides of the investigation?]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake stayed silent as Morgan escorted them to a burned down warehouse not far from the Midcity Wash laundry mat. He and Adam both donned on gloves as they arrived on the scene. And a scene it was. The building was large and the outer walls were blackened cinderblocks at this point. The roof had almost completely caved in and the floors were black to match the destroyed décor. Adam held Jake back for a moment.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Think you can hold off on your whole ‘Superman’ dynamic?”]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “What?”]]]
[font "Sitka Small" “Don’t go around lifting shelves off of doors by yourself. No feats of superhuman strength.”]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake sighed and his jawline tightened as he replied, [b [#008800 “I think I can manage that.”]] His words were almost always sarcastic when aimed at Adam. Jake mumbled his displeasure under his breath as Morgan turned to check on them. Jake nodded that they were coming. He understood why Adam was concerned about this topic. Morgan was a civilian and they would have to work closely with her. Normally it was just the two of them when investigating; Adam never minded Jake’s flex of his abilities. But hiding them in front of someone was tricky, especially when he relied on them a lot when combing for evidence. Additionally, Jake didn’t have super strength anyway. And who was Superman?]
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan led them to the inside of the warehouse as best she could. There was plenty of rubble that still lingered on the floor. She cautiously stepped through and revealed with her light the strange graffiti on the burnt wall. That sinister white snake eating its tail was almost camouflaged with the white slanting letters that were almost illegible to read. Jake approached the wall art and sniffed. Similar spray-painted scent mixed with the charred wood and metal. The art was old now, but the letters were fresher. Someone had defiled the ouroboros [i after] the fire. The white snake was scorched, and blackened, but not the letters covering it. They were clean comparatively. There were other graffiti tags on the outside of the warehouse, possibly some street artists trying to plant a gang symbol on here. These strange words covering the ouroboros was inside, unlike the rest.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Someone came back to cover up the symbol. But why?”]] Jake whispered to himself. He needed to find out what the warehouse stored.
He listened to Morgan explain the purpose of this place. She mostly stood and talked to Adam since he was the only one willing to cooperate with her. Jake wasn’t the charismatic people person of the duo anyway. Adam generally interviewed witnesses. Jake’s eyes were locked onto the ground, trying to find anything important. Morgan did notice that Jake wasn’t using a flashlight at all. How could he see through all this junk?]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “The only other person who could have told us what exactly this place was. The manager.”]]]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake picked up on the conversation as he sifted through debris. He couldn’t shake the faint lingering of chemicals? All different kinds that mixed together and almost made him gag. He hated that smell always had. He hated the smell of hospitals and cleaning supplies. It made him incredibly uncomfortable. The further in he traveled, the more he could smell it. He kept the information to himself for now until he and Adam could talk freely. He also caught a shimmering form under a roof beam. Adam’s warning still fresh in his mind, Jake bent down and craned his neck to look at the twinkling item. His gloved hand reached out and picked up a broken glass vial that was sheltered from the flames. His eyebrows furrowed as he looked inside to see multiple vials smashed to pieces underneath a burnt-up crate.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Medical supplies, or maybe chemical supplies.”]] Jake called out to the others. He stood up as the other two approached. He held up the broken glass vial for Morgan and Adam to inspect. [b [#008800 “The scent of chemicals is still heavy in this area. They were distributing chemicals. There are broken vials underneath here.”]] Jake pointed out where he saw the burnt crate.]
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan’s eyebrows raised in shock. Chemicals? She didn't smell any chemicals here. That scent probably would have been washed away with the firefighters' hose.]
[font "Sitka Small" She eyed the vial meticulously. [b [#712793 “There’s a green stain inside this lip too. Whatever it held has evaporated, but there’s a green stain from the substance.”]] She said as she pointed out the mark with a gloved finger.]
[font "Sitka Small" [font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Good eye, Ms. Leon.”]] Jake nodded respectfully. Maybe an extra pair of eyes was a good idea after all?]
[font "Sitka Small" However, the feeling of accomplishment didn’t last long. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. Jake looked around immediately. Something wasn’t right. He could feel it in his bones. He absent-mindedly handed off the broken vial as he continued to make his way to the other side of the warehouse. The roof had collapsed and the city skyline could be seen a little further in. Jake couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched.]
[font "Sitka Small" As he peered through the open roof, he caught as a glimpse of something across the street on the roof of a neighboring building. A dark figure stood there, too far to make out details. Jake rushed outside to get a better view of this silhouette. The debris and room beams slowed his process down. By the time he made it outside, the figure was gone. [i Shit.] He cursed to himself. Whoever was on that roof would be long gone by the time Jake crossed the street. Someone was keeping tabs on their progress. Adam would need to know about this.]
Adam understood the delicate situation that Morgan was rattling around in her head. Though she hadn’t disclosed exactly [i why] she was pursuing this case, Adam need only take an educated guess. The world of investigative journalism was fierce – and especially with the advent of technology. Anyone can search online for information, ask strangers in a forum to aid in the solving of a cold case, or to help track down a missing person. It is no longer only meant for those who are unforgivingly tenacious. Not many people would give the repeated burning buildings and trail of corpses much of a thought. So few details had been released about the cases, as they are all considered active investigations. Working within the scope of her duties, however… did not seem to be in this woman’s nature.
He listened attentively as she talked, placing his badge case in his back pocket. The way she spoke so animatedly, using her hands to make small, vague gestures in the air, before she took out her phone to eagerly share her findings. One image caught Adam’s eye. Particularly because it looked like it had been taken from a distance. The image was of a badly scorched wall, partially covered in heaps of twisted metal shelves. How hot did that fire burn, and for how long, to turn industrial shelving indistinguishable? Of what could be seen, there was a partial head, piercing red eye, and tail of the ouroboros marking. It had very clearly been painstakingly drawn. Adam brought his index finger down to the phone screen, “Where did you find this one?”
Morgan regarded Adam carefully, and she bit the inside of her lip. When his brow furrowed, her eyes lit up – so he believed her. But, could she trust him enough with this information? If he and his friend were truly federal agents, would they merely push her out of the investigation when they had gathered enough evidence? She couldn’t let that happen. She had to ensure that this story would be [i told].
[b [#712793 “Hold on.”]] Morgan’s eyes narrowed. She looked like black coffee tasted, Adam thought. Bitter, sharp. [b [#712793 “If I do this, I want your word. My notes, the evidence collected, are mine alone.”]]
“That depends on the nature of the information.” Adam said. Morgan couldn’t help but frown – he was being very matter of fact with her. The thin line of his mouth hadn’t scarcely lifted since he had started making eye contact with her. Trying so hard to keep his façade. But this Agent Hoffman was an open book. Under the pressure of her stare, Adam let out a resigned sigh. Their methods and their missions were the same. And what information Morgan [i did] have was worlds ahead of Adam and Jake’s paltry efforts, hardly out of infancy. It was unfortunate, but they needed her. “Look, we can only offer compromise.” She didn’t need to know that they had extradited themselves from the scope of the AVG.
Morgan raised her brow, considering Adam’s words for a beat. [b [#712793 “Compromise? You mean, you take everything and leave my body floating in the aquifer just outside of the city?”]] Adam’s face finally cracked. For such a tense moment, Morgan thought it odd, but couldn’t help herself from chuckling at her own joke just from Agent Hoffman’s reaction.
“Look, you have information that we need. And you need a way into active crime scenes without law enforcement interfering.” Morgan shifted her weight uncomfortably. “The location of that ouroboros painting. It’s special, isn’t it?” Morgan said nothing.
“Take us there.”
The distribution warehouse, as Morgan explained, on the northeast side of town looked worse for wear. Of course, it was exponentially more difficult to destroy a building of its size without a wrecking ball. But from the state of the inside, someone more experienced with cleanups was responsible for the shambling mess that the trio was forced to wade through.
At the first moment of convenience, Adam had to take Jake aside, “Think you can hold off on your whole ‘Superman’ dynamic?” Anticipating that Jake would have absolutely no idea what he meant, Adam continued, whispering sharply, “Don’t go around lifting shelves off of doors by yourself. No feats of superhuman strength.” Morgan looked back to see what was keeping her escorts a few lengths behind her, and Adam walked ahead of Jake almost immediately.
Flashlight in hand, Morgan stepped through a broken window with an errant piece of wood partially blocking the entrance. She held it up for the agents to follow in behind her. Then she took her place at the head of the line, quickly navigating them to the mural of the ouroboros on the wall. [b [#712793 “This was a distribution center, but it’s not actually known what it was… distributing.”]] Typically, restaurants and supermarket chains would have their orders for products or ingredients shipped out directly from places like this. Most managers would know where they receive the items that fill the shelves. Most major production companies – the people that own those famous name brands – know where their product is sent to. There was no such information available for this address. At least, none that Morgan could find. [b [#712793 “I couldn’t get anyone in the area to tell me whether or not they were actually receiving shipments from this place. It didn’t supply local restaurants, online retailers, or any supermarket chains…”]]
“Who was found after this place went to shit?” Adam asked, referring to the deceased.
[b [#712793 “The only other person who could have told us what exactly this place was. The manager.”]]
[font "Sitka Small" The once confident smirk on Morgan Leon’s face drifted ever so slightly as Adam and Jake expressed aggressive body language. She was a professional, Jake would give her that. He, too, eyed Morgan’s personage, but not for the same reasons as Adam. Morgan could tell. He noticed her footwear was rugged and durable. Perfect for galivanting in ruined buildings. Her jeans wear thick and worn at the knees. Her hair was up and out of the way of her eyes, she was carrying a flashlight in her raised hand. A notebook was sticking out of her large purse/ personal bag, pen hung on her left ear. Jake could even smell the latex gloves coming from her bag. She was trying to find evidence. She was hunting for something just like them.]
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan was no fool either. Jake could see her inquiring eyes scan the two gentlemen. Adam was a tall, muscular man, young to be a detective, but not green around the gills like other cops she had seen. His clothes were too refined to be local police: a white button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves and fancy jeans. His shoes were dark expensive boots, polished recently. His fingers were well-manicured and his firearm was not a usual model for detectives. He looked like a well-paid FBI agent. The badge he gave her looked real enough. Federal agent Adam Hoffman, huh? She will have to remember that name.]
[font "Sitka Small" Her dark brown eyes drifted over to the other man, a stark contrast to his partner on his left. This man looked slightly older, and far more mysterious. He wore dark-tinted sunglasses that obscured his eyes completely. He wore a beanie hat that covered his ears despite the heat of summer. His hair was more unkempt and his hands were far more rugged and rough-looking than his blond counterpart. She caught a glimpse of the sharp canines in his mouth His clothes were not nearly as nice nor expensive, simple long-sleeve button-down shirt and pants. He wore clothes that were not meant for the heat of the season, but he didn’t appear to be bothered, nor wipe any sweat from his brow. His shoes were tactical and seen some use. No, this man was something to be fearful of. His posture, his mannerisms were not of a federal agent. Curiously, he didn’t draw any weapon, unlike this Agent Hoffman. Perhaps he wasn’t a gunman? He certainly wasn’t a federal agent, unless he was a damn good undercover one.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake could hear her thoughts as she and Adam spoke. She seemed to be exactly who she represented. Morgan Leon, an investigative journalist for a local news station. In-depth research mostly. She was evaluating them as well. Jake peered down at his clothes, suddenly feeling a bit self-conscious about his appearance. Adam [i did] complain about Jake’s clothing style a lot. He assumed it was because Adam was so…[i “particular”].]
[font "Sitka Small" However, Adam did notice one thing. “There’s no lead officer on this scene. So, I don’t believe you have clearance to be here… Do you?”]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Shit…”]] She seethed to herself. Jake raised an eyebrow.]
[font "Sitka Small" [i Nice catch.] Jake thought to Adam as he glanced from the two parties.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Don’t tell me the feds found out about the ouroboros already?”]] Jake darted a glance at Morgan at the mention of the symbol. He felt his pointed ear grow hot, the tell-tale of when someone found out his secrets. Her mind was clear. The same symbol spray was painted in white on a wall, hidden among other graffiti tags. As she recalled it, Jake could see it just as clearly as though he had been there himself. His hands clenched and released a few times. She saw it. Briefly, but she did see it, but where?]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake’s attention on the conversation was lost. He had to find where she saw it.]
[font "Sitka Small" Morgan’s gaze eyed the brunet man strangely as he simply wandered off on his own. Her eyebrows unknitted when she spoke to Agent Hoffman. He was the one to talk to about these matters. She took her press badge back and handed over Agent Hoffman’s badge as well. She felt-relieved. Now that they both were on the same page; she could be more open about her findings. Of course, not give them everything she had. She didn’t exactly trust these strangers with her work. But holding back would be difficult. She had been working on this mystery for months. Everyone at the office thought she had lost her mind and wore tin-foiled hats! Perhaps this federal agent would believe her?]
[right [pic https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/329430962859671553/726530502143770724/Morgan_Leon2.png]]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Well, as you probably know, there have been a lot of unsolved arson cases. The ones, in particular, leave a body, shot execution-style, in the burning mess. There’s a pattern. All these shops just come from out of nowhere and then get burned within a month or two apart? Too coincidental, I thought, so I dug further. Crazy thing is, I’ve seen this symbol at all of them,”]] Morgan explained as she looked through her phone to find one familiar logo, [b [#712793 “the ouroboros had been on every location with an executed body.”]] She held out the phone so that Adam and Jake could see. Jake’s eyes glanced at the phone screen; it was the same symbol he saw in the woman’s mind. The exact same position.]
[font "Sitka Small" [i She knows where that is.] Jake thought to Adam. They needed to get her to tell them a location. Perhaps even multiple locations? This woman was impressive. She single-handedly gained more information than most AVG agents could. [i Very clever.] Jake thought.]
Like a ghost, a strange woman had waltzed her way in right behind the duo. Pointing fingers, asking questions. Without hesitation, Adam drew his gun. “Hands where I can see them.” It was a reflex – something Adam had been trained to do. When someone steps into your six and doesn’t properly announce themselves, or otherwise isn’t supposed to be there, you shoot first, and ask questions later. Adam’s finger lay flat against the trigger guard, but it wouldn’t stay there, if what she was about to pull out of her purse was an invitation to get violent. Adam hated killing beautiful women. It was against his nature. An act of sacrilege. The woman complied with his commands almost immediately; eyes wide at the sight of the firearm aimed directly at her face.
“You first, beautiful. What’s your name?” His words might have been sweet in any other context, but with his gun drawn, he could see the apprehension in the stranger’s face. Slowly, without putting her in reach of the barrel of his weapon, Adam eyed the press badge dangling from her shirt. “Morgan Leon…” Without meaning to, his eyes scanned the rest of her body and his brows raised. If someone had told Adam she’d just been freshly minted in a factory, he’d had been inclined to believe them. Swiftly, he reached over and grabbed the press badge between his index and second finger, dangling it in front of Morgan’s face.
“I’ll be keeping that.” For what it was worth, she seemed harmless enough. Adam slowly lowered his gun, and Morgan never took a step towards he or Jake. That was good. A very good sign. “We’re federal agents, Ms. Leon.” Morgan cocked an eyebrow but said nothing. Adam had figured that would be enough to satisfy her curiosity while keeping he and Jake’s true affiliations under wraps. Reaching into his back pocket, Adam produced a badge case with ‘FBI’ printed in bold white across the front. He moved his fingers, exposing the photo, badge, and badge number to Morgan, and even handed it to her so that she would relax. She took it quickly, checking for any indication that it was poorly made, hastily thrown together, or any sign that it was an obvious forgery. When she found nothing, her expression returned to neutral. Adam finally felt safe enough to holster his weapon.
It didn’t make sense. What good would snooping around in a burned-out laundromat do for an investigative journalist? “Are you here on official business for your blog, or your podcast, or something?” Morgan grimaced at the implication. Adam was waving her press badge around, giving it more attention than a cursory once over. It was, indeed, government issued. Technically, she was allowed to be here. But, “There’s no lead officer on this scene. So, I don’t believe you have clearance to be here… Do you?”
[#712793 [b “…Shit.”]] Morgan’s arms dropped defeatedly to her side, before she placed her hands on her hips. She tapped her foot, trying to find the words to explain herself. But Adam wasn’t prepared for what came out of her mouth next. [#712793 [b “Don’t tell me the feds found out about the ouroboros already?”]]
“…Excuse me?” Adam watched as Morgan’s eyes rolled back into her head. When they came to rest, she was staring directly at him, intently. [i Don’t play stupid,] she wanted to say. His stomach bottomed out and a distinctive fluttering had taken it over. It hadn’t been his attention to avert his gaze, but when he did, Morgan pointed a finger in his direction.
[#712793 [b “Then you do know.”]]
It was something about those eyes. Hot and smoky, impossible to see through, like thick smoke. Adam’s charisma came naturally to him. And he often prided himself in his ability to read a room. To peer into the eyes of any man or woman and whisper what they wanted to hear. Coax them gently into airing their dirty secrets, list their fears, wants, desires. Some women want passionate sex in a public space with a stranger they hardly know. Others want to be swept off their feet, come home to rose petals trailing from their front door to a candlelit table and a gourmet dinner. Isabella was a gold digger. But what did Morgan want? Try as he might to see through the smoke, its darkness taunted him. Coyly calling his name. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced before. It was frightening, and a deep uncertainty filled his chest whenever he tried to meet that penetrating gaze.
Adam inhaled sharply to calm his nerves, if only a little. “The question is, why do you know about it?”
[#712793 [b “Hand me that badge back. And then we’ll talk.”]] She offered Adam his FBI badge back, and he took it, giving her press badge in return.
[font "Sitka Small" Both Adam and Jake returned to the car in silence, which was very unusual for them. They were deep in thought, that ouroboros burning in their mind. The first real connection to their target in months. The first appearance of a mind pulling the strings. The first time Jake was really nervous about this mission. He couldn't shake this unwavering dread nagging in the back of his head. It was like a dream he couldn't quite recall. A bad dream from long ago.]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam's words broke Jake from his mental concentration again. He turned to the blonde man, clearly distracted. Despite the fog cloud hanging over Jake's head, he noticed that Adam was particularly inattentive. There was a certain uneasiness on the man's face.]
[font "Sitka Small" "Nevermind," and, just like that, the subject was dropped. Jake strangely felt his spirits drop slightly at the wave of dismissal. He had hoped he wasn't the only one that felt odd.]
[font "Sitka Small" Sneaking back into the apartment was a new experience. Well, "sneaking" might have not been the word Adam would have used. It was more like avoiding certain confrontations in the future. Jake had seen him do this to some of the women at the office before. Jake never imagine he would be participating in this stealth exercise.]
[font "Sitka Small" Once they were safe in the apartment however, the real grind began. Both men wordlessly broke off onto their own personal laptops and sat for a few hours digging for any information they could get their hands on. News articles, blog sites, Wikipedia entries, anything that was public knowledge. Jake researched about this laundry mat business as much as he could. Adam and Jake both spent a few hours quietly staring at their screens, Adam wrote down notes, Jake memorized what he could. Apparently, the laundry mat also burnt down three months ago.]
[font "Sitka Small" [i We're getting close.] Jake thought as he turned to Adam. He didn't seem to have much luck with the symbol either. He did make a comment about making relations with divorced older women, but he didn’t care to see Jake grimaced expressed. The number of inappropriate comments Adam made could fill a book. If he was able, Jake would write a memoir of the unfortunate coexistence, but that would be revealing too many company secrets. Jake just didn't want to admit his jealousy about Adam's widely accepted charisma.]
[font "Sitka Small" After talking about their discoveries, the two agents retired to their separate corners for the night. Although, rest was a relative term. Jake did not "rest" at all. He often spent his time awake or meditating. Sleep had always alluded him. When he did sleep, he was plagued by nightmares. Flashes of horrible imagines of bright lights, discolored liquid, monsters in light blue robes, and white hands. They reached into his body and tore out his intestines and bones and replaced them with mud. He had woken up screaming a few times before he had been assigned as Adam's partner. Surprisingly, the night terrors happened less and less now.]
[font "Sitka Small" Tonight. Tonight, was different. Jake found himself standing in a room consumed by fire. The flames licked at his heels and arms. He couldn’t breathe. The flames roared all around him. There was nowhere to go. He felt powerless, weak, pathetic. His panicked green eyes looked up to see Adam, his back facing Jake. He was running away from something, maybe towards something? The flame curtain kept Jake at bay. He called out to his partner, but his words were swallowed up by the fire. Then, the fire swallowed him, and Jake woke up in a cold sweat.]
[font "Sitka Small" All morning, Jake was on edge. But that wasn't too unusual. Night terrors were just that, terrors to plague the mind. He was more distracted and absent-minded. It was hard to focus on searching the burnt skeleton of the fake laundry mat. What was the name of it again? Did he even eat breakfast this morning?]
[font "Sitka Small" "I think we hit our cash cow with the convenience store…” Adam spoke causing Jake to jump slightly.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 "What? Oh. A safe?"]] Jake asked as he stepped into the dilapidated back room. There wasn't a symbol in sight this time. No ominous spray paint scent. Just wet burnt wood and metal. And something else... lilac?]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake's ears twitched as he heard footsteps approaching. [b [#008800 "Adam!"]] Jake hissed as he donned his sunglasses. [b [#008800 "We have company."]]]
[right [pic https://media.discordapp.net/attachments/329430962859671553/726530502143770724/Morgan_Leon2.png]]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Strange to see two men standing behind police tape without a uniform on. You don’t look like detectives.”]] A woman’s voice spoke as a figure stepped out into view. She had long dark brown hair tied back and piercing harsh eyes that glanced between Adam and Jake. She wore a nice dress shirt and pants. A press badge was pinned to the fold of her button-down shirt. There was an undeniable intelligence there that was, frankly, very intimidating. Jake glanced at Adam then back at the woman standing by the blackened doorway.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “I don’t [i suppose] you have proper permits?”]] She scoffed.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “What?”]] Jake asked aloud before he realized what he had just done. He did the stupid bad guy question. The question that all dumb bad guys do when they’re caught and can’t think of a proper cover story. He was punishing himself in his head right after the one word slipped from his lips.]
[font "Sitka Small" The woman smirked as she tapped on her press badge. [b [#712793 “Press badge? Detective badge? Are you even cops?”]] She asked as she put one hand inside her purse. Jake held up one hand out of habit. No. He couldn’t use his powers in front of a civilian.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “I wouldn’t,”]] He warned, palm facing outward. If she pulled out a gun, he would disassemble it before her finger could touch the trigger.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#712793 “Or what? Let me guess. If you tell me, you’ll have to kill me?”]] She asked facetiously.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake shrugged and said in a dead-pan voice, [b [#008800 “yes.”]]]
Adam made his way back to the entrance of the basement room. Back through the past, and out of the open floorboards. At any moment, he was scribbling away in his notebooks. Thoughts, speculations, a crude sketch of the symbol they had seen on the wall. There wasn’t yet enough information to jump to any conclusions, but still, there was…something bothering Adam. It wasn’t enough to dampen the mood, but it was enough to spur a question to Jake when they finally made it back to the car.
“…That symbol on the wall…” Just the thought made Adam’s head throb, again. Once he’d put it out of his mind, the aching stopped. “Nevermind.” He would wait for them to gather a little more information before he asked too many unnecessary questions. But it was curious. Jake’s reaction had not gotten past him. Did he experience this same sensation?
Regardless, their curfew was near, and it would behoove them to arrive at HQ before they would be questioned in any capacity.
Luckily, the lobby was nearly inactive. The duo were able to slip back inside without being prodded by Fin, Ava, or even Chief Ironside. Whether they were all too occupied to notice, or simply did not care, Adam did not want to find out. There was work to be done. Preparations to be made for their second night of investigations.
Adam had unilaterally decided to seek out information on the ouroboros symbol that they had witnessed painted on the wall. Hours would pass. All the while Adam scribbled notes. Findings not pertaining to historical representations and meanings, ancient gods of civilizations long since dead, and the occasional fanatical website were far and few between. A search of any local connections only placed Adam on questionable websites asking him to buy tickets to a startup convention.
“There’s not one book club out there that we can investigate…” He spun in his chair, just to momentarily clear his mind. “And here I thought I’d be able to talk some sweet, young divorcee into being my main squeeze.” Adam sighed, but quickly returned to work, not wanting to suffer from his partner’s indignance. It was always the same stare, with those same, cold eyes. [i Don’t you think about anything other than sex?] The answer: only sometimes.
“Anyway… a lot of these associations for this are with alchemy… transmutation, changing the form of something from one thing to another…” Adam waved his hands around in a vague gesture, unsure of what else to say. “Nothing around the city with any relevance to us. Not even so much in the general vicinity of the first two locations.” It was frustrating, to say the least. Feeling like they had come so close to [i something], just to hit a brick wall at the end of the street. It was either time to turn around and start from square one or keep going and hope that something else jumped out at them.
After a night of discussion their newfound findings, and some well-earned rest, their next location beckoned to them with open arms. They walked into the maw of what used to be, as Adam had read online, one of the shadier laundromats in town. Talks of drug deals on the sidewalk, drops placed within its walls and a complicit manager that allowed it all to happen under his watch. A man who was unceremoniously tossed through a window doused in gasoline to start the fire. It was said that he had desperately tried to use patron’s clothes in the dryer to put himself out and that’s how the fire spread. Just some stupid rumor started on the internet. News outlets reported that, once the autopsy was released, that the manager had been shot rather unceremoniously.
And then set on fire with the rest of the building.
The laundromat was in much of the same condition as the building previous. The burned-out shell of what used to be a place of business. Adam’s first course of business was to check what was left of the floor for another secret hatch, but, to no avail. All that stared back at him when he kicked back the remnants of the linoleum was a hard, concrete floor. So much for hidden secrets.
The single room was an underwhelming location in its entirety. “I think we hit our cash cow with the convenience store…” The safe, which had been a clue previous, was broken open. Dark darks surrounded the wall it sat against. Explosives? “What were they eager to get out of here?” Whatever it was, it was all gone, now.
[font "Sitka Small" The smell of mold and mildew permeated the air as the two agents toured the underground hallway. Jake about heaved from the unpleasant aromas that slammed into his hypersensitive nostrils. Covering his nose with his shirt didn’t seem to be doing the trick either. He was rather envious that Adam seemed to wade through this waterlogged tunnel unphased. Even now, Jake could pick up scents from decades ago: the distilled alcohol, the cigarette smoke, the wet steel, and old stagnant water. Their splashing feet made it difficult to hear anything else down there too. Jake had a list of things he wanted to complain about their situation, but at least darkness wasn’t one of them. His large orbs for pupils absorbed the light reflected off the water and Adam’s flashlight, allowing him to see much further in the tunnel. The room ahead was clear as day.]
[font "Sitka Small" There was a table placed against a brick wall, a filing cabinet to the right, steel safe to the left, and a whiteboard hung on another brick wall. Jake glanced around impressed that any of this still remained. This had been the most evidence they had seen from this elusive organization ever since they were assigned this job. It wasn’t much admittedly. The floating soggy papers were a representation of the efforts so far. Even the whiteboard only had remnants of papers, photos, and other valuable pieces that were no longer available. The only hope was whatever rested in the cabinet and safe.]
[font "Sitka Small" Adam tried for the safe at first, with no success. Couldn’t be immediately cracked, so he left it to Jake for brute force. Jake crouched down on the balls of his feet in front of the rusting safe. His green and black eyes traced all around the block fortress looking for weaknesses. None were seen on the [i outside], but perhaps the inside would fare better luck.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake place one ear near the door of the safe and knocked. With the echo reverberating through the locks and mechanism, he could almost see inside. Placing both palms on the door, he began to concentrate. The combination knob began to turn on its own, slowly, methodically. One-click, slow turn to the left, another click, turn to the right, click. Then, the door popped open. Jake afforded himself a smirk to himself.]
[font "Sitka Small" [i Bingo,] he thought as he swung the safe open. The safe was disappointingly bare save for one forgotten sticky-note. It was pink and the adhesive strip on the back had long lost its usefulness. The scribbles on the front were the name of a company and an address. [i Midcity Washroom, between 23rd and Primary street.] Jake read to himself. That was a start. The most progress they had made in months.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake stood to Adam with the note about to tell him what he found, but Adam was distracted by something painted on the wall. White spray paint on the brick wall, over the doorway they had arrived in, a symbol of a large snake eating its own tail. Jake didn’t smell it before, but now the scent was strong. The stake through its head was fresher than the original graffiti. Finally, a symbol of the faceless group. The red eyes seemed to stare down at the two agents, mocking them. Adam looked away, but Jake continued to stare at those painted red eyes, analyzing it. It seemed, familiar somehow. Jake swore he had seen it before. Maybe in a dream? A faded memory? It ate away at his consciousness. [i Don’t I know you?] Jake thought.]
[font "Sitka Small" “That looks like a calling card if I’ve ever seen one,” the sound of Adam’s voice broke Jake’s hold on the graffiti, blinking him back to the present.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “What? Oh-uh yeah. I found this too.”]] Jake held up the pink note between his index and middle finger. [b [#008800 “Name and address to some laundry mat a few miles away. Seems like our next step,”]] Jake spoke as he continued to look at the haunting image on the wall. A shiver ran down his spine.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “You’ll drive, I assume.”]] Jake muttered as he took one last look around the room. This place didn’t seem to hold any more secrets for them to uncover.]
“I’m surprised there were floor plans left of this place to find.” He would have figured that their enemies would have covered their tracks at every turn. The local library, city hall records, microfilm evidence of old newspapers. The errant clipping in their grandmother’s hoard, dating back to the Civil Rights Era. There were few enough people that knew this place for what it was. Not too many people they would have to silence. If the cleanup crew had thought to silence them at all. The sheer amount of debris in the upper level was promising. Generally, these known fronts were swept from top to bottom. Adam took some comfort in knowing that those who were tasked with this location seemed endearingly sloppy. “Honestly, I think it leads to
The firefighters had really done a number on this building. When Adam stood upright again, he landed in ankle deep water that had seeped in from the floor above. No matter. Other than that, the room he was in was relatively untouched. Fire had done little to affect the overall integrity, and the water was an annoyance at best. He thanked his lucky stars that he hadn’t been immediately electrocuted. That probably meant that there was no wiring in this room, modern or otherwise. Just a man and his flashlight, now, to illuminate the darkness.
Adam waded slowly, using his feet to search beneath the darkened water for objects of interest while his eyes scanned the room above. Aside from the dust, the grime, and the distracting smell of mold in the air, there sat a banged up safe. Centered perfectly on the back wall. But Adam was much more interested in the surrounding area for the time being.
“A white board, papers… all these red marks…” He shined his flashlight over the peculiar pieces of information, where none of them quite made any sense. Perhaps this area had been left unscathed by the fire, but what information there was left scattered about on paper was drenched – smudged, or mildew-ridden, definitely unreadable. The area had been festering for nearly four months. Once he had reached one end of the room, Adam returned his attention to the safe he had briefly passed over. Surprisingly enough, it was in impeccable shape. “You think they forgot about this thing?” Such a large oversight. Professionals didn’t light this place up – they made the scrubs do this. It was the only explanation as to why this room, so cleverly hidden and obviously important, had been glossed over by everyone.
He tried the handle first, but the hinges wouldn’t budge. There was much too much ambient noise to try and open it by ear, and so he had no choice but to leave it to Jake. There was no doubt in his mind there might have been a partial combination for them to find, but time was of the essence. They had been under the shroud of darkness for far too long – if they scrambled back to HQ after curfew, they would have some explaining to do. “Hang tight on that safe and let me know what you find.” Adam sauntered back over to the map, trying desperately to decipher the blurred lines of what was once hastily written notes in bright red ink.
“Well, it’s a map of the city, that’s for sure…” But aside from that, not much else was discernible. Adam couldn’t even tell where their current location was, relative to other marks. Again, his notes were hastily scribbled down in a notebook. Maybe they would be able to determine the meaning sometime later. Hopefully, Jake was having better luck with the contents of the safe that Adam had left in his very capable hands.
Just when he had given up, Adam turned to the wall through which he and Jake had entered the basement room and froze. He gulped. Half in admiration, half in awe. “An ouroboros…” He muttered. The eternal symbol. Of life, death, and rebirth. With a singular stake through its head – an obviously recent addition. Apt. Throughout all this building’s incarnations, it only made sense to mark its end and its destruction accordingly. The eye was painted a glaring red, and in fact, staring into it made Adam’s head begin to ache. He had to avert his eyes. But he tried to keep his reaction under wraps. “That looks like a calling card if I’ve ever seen one.”
[font "Sitka Small" The two agents waited until evening to start their groundwork. It wasn’t Jake’s favorite part of the job, but at least there was a sense of freedom about what they were doing. He didn’t have to worry about being monitored by a crew in a van somewhere. No technological restrictions. No call to report in. Nothing like that. It was just him and Adam solving a mystery. It was-kinda fun? Like a heavyweight had been eased from his shoulders. Jake was beginning to understand why Adam wanted to do this in the first place. Not just to solve the puzzle, but to do it [i their] way.]
[font "Sitka Small" Combing through the corpse of this building wasn’t proving fruitful so far. The fire really did destroy most of the evidence. Whatever remained was in another file neither Adam nor Jake had access to. He remembered that the Fire Marshall said that the origins began in the back room where Adam was investigating now. Meanwhile, Jake scanned through the rest. His normally diamond-shaped pupils were now large round orbs that flickered reflective light from Adam’s flashlight. He had no trouble seeing in the dim light, no flashlight required.]
[font "Sitka Small" “Do we know anything about the history of this place?” Adam inquired. Jake quickly glanced back at the blond man in the other dilapidated room. He recalled some snippets of information about this old building.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Used to be a speak-easy in the twenties, then was forcefully shut down by state police. Years later, it was a drug run for cocaine in the fifties and sixties. Lots of bad history. Probably why everyone avoids the place,”]] Jake contemplated aloud. He moved some debris with his foot but uncovered nothing. He waved his hand in the air causing burnt beams and heavy debris to move on out of his way. Certainly, a handy skill for this situation.]
[font "Sitka Small" Jake turned when he heard something shifted behind him. Adam was gone. Slight panic rose in his chest until he heard muffled footsteps coming from beneath. Curiously, Jake moved to the spot where Adam stood a second ago to discover a secret pathway. One eyebrow raised; Jake jumped in after his partner.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Interesting,”]] Jake muttered, [b [#008800 “I don’t remember this being on the floor plans.”]] he knew exactly why it wouldn’t be. The building wasn’t supposed to have secret tunnels at all. [b [#008800 “Down the rabbit hole”]] Jake mumbled as he followed close behind Adam, [b [#008800 “where do you think it leads?”]]]
The surprise on Adam’s face came, and retreated, quickly. He had never expected Jake to humor him so quickly.
The image could hardly count as such, and Adam closed his eyes to concentrate. Committing what he was seeing to memory. What details he could make out were scant. Like he was peering through a frosted glass window. He groaned uncomfortably, attempting to clear the image, to prepare himself for whatever features this faceless man could possibly have. Though the features were largely obscured, one thing was clear: whoever Isabella was afraid of, dressed impeccably. The gig line of his shirt and belt were aligned just so, as was the placement of his round glasses, perched upon a small, pert nose. The tip of his tie tucked neatly into his waistband. Everything aligned to the left – his posture, the part of his hair. Was he left-handed? It could be personal preference, but more often than not, Adam found that details like this were a consequence of an anal-retentive personality. Or otherwise one that tended to glorify its own existence.
It was a confirmation, but not the kind that Adam could say he wanted. Clearly, Isabella had met this man. His image would not have come to her otherwise. But the quality of said image was concerning, to say the least. Long after Jake had released his hand, Adam continued to think, eyes closed. “How do we find someone who obscures themselves, even to his clients, and likely his employees?” Who they were set to investigate now, they were the lowest rung on the criminal ladder. A small price to pay, with little else to go on. There wasn’t much else they could do.
It wouldn’t be long before the nerds tasked with combing through their internet histories would discover their transgressions, unravel their plot, and attempt to put a stop to the agent’s intended course of action. Everything had to be recorded by analog. Adam hastily copied the relevant information down, never bothering to wipe the history in his browser. It wouldn’t have done them any good, anyway.
Adam had convinced Jake enough to trudge through the dilapidated remains locations in question with little enough resistance, but nothing could prepare him for the state of it all. The convenience store was closest, and therefore, it was the first point of interest. Adam marked the occasion in a rudimentary map in his notebook. With their assets frozen, their issued credit cars were useless. Personal funds were always an option, but the odds were against them that such an aspect of their lives was also being monitored by the AVG. Phone data could be easily accessed, analyzed. It was a risk neither agent wanted to take.
They had only talked about it briefly, their options. But their reality was common knowledge. Their energy was better spent wading through the waterlogged remnants of charred file cabinets, blown open safes, and jungle of loose wires cascading from the ceiling.
The remains of a paper long since burned and drenched in water, crumbled in his hands. It was an irritating feeling. As though he were on a wild goose hunt armed only with a metal bottlecap as ammunition. The feeling of hopelessness manifested itself with a deep sigh. Last time he had checked, Jake was combing the area behind him. What had once been the store front, while Adam had spent most of his time inspecting what used to be the manager’s office. It was separated only by a piece of what used to be one-way glass. “Find anything?” Whether by feeling, seeing, hearing – [i anything]. In the second hour of searching, Adam had only discovered partially salvageable papers that held little useful information. Perhaps Jake was having more luck than he.
And, then, he felt it. A loose floorboard. But not due to the structural damage of the building that had come during the fire. No, this was intentional. The wood shimmied naturally, as though it had been built that way. “Hey, Jake.” Adam cautiously pulled at it with his fingertips, taking up other pieces of the floorboard with it. The hollow space stared back at him. “Do we know anything about the history of this building?”
He didn’t wait for a response. The space could only be accessed by a grown man willing to get on his arms and knees, and Adam was just determined enough to find out what secrets the space held. Booby traps and other dangers be damned. It was dark. Yet there was still enough space for him to reach back to grab a flashlight from his belt. The agent continued on, wading through the dirt without stopping. Light was shining in from the floorboards above him and illuminated a sloping path at what would have been the storefront. Unsure if Jake might be following behind him, or perhaps above, Adam called out. “There’s something down here.”
[font "Sitka Small" Oh no. He had the look. [i The] look. The look whenever Adam was determined to solve a problem. Jake had not known Agent Cordova for a long time, but he was beginning to pick up on this man’s facial expressions. The curve of the lips, the squint of the eyes, the rubbing of his chin, all were signs that Adam was planning something. Like a hound that never learned to let go, Adam couldn’t let this mission rest.]
[font "Sitka Small" “I can fix this,” he stated as he began to storm back into the building. Jake couldn’t help but feel his hopes of living to the ripe age of thirty fell through the ground from under him.]
[b [#008800 “What are you planning?”]] Jake asked with a rightfully concerned tone. Adam didn’t reply as he made his way back to Ironside’s office. The brunet quickly followed behind his partner. He was getting increasingly more and more concerned as he watched Adam waltz into Ironside’s office and demand for Isabella to go into witness protection. Jake would have argued about the true value of Isabella’s worth, but it wasn’t his place to speak on such matters. The decision had already been made, whether Jake approved of the idea or not.]
[font "Sitka Small" Content with the results, Adam motioned, “let’s go, Jake” as the two agents returned to their room in the living. Jake could practically hear the wheels turns in the other man’s head. He could swear he saw sparks flying off the sickeningly perfect hair. Jake stuck close by Adam, waiting to be let in on whatever half-cocked plan he was morphing in his head.]
[font "Sitka Small" Then he spoke his half-cocked plan aloud which sent a new wave of uneasy feelings up Jake’s spine. He pinched the bridge of his nose as Adam explained his ploy. On one hand, he applauded Adam’s tenacity. The unyielding conviction was one of the qualities Jake admired and hated at the same time. On the other hand, Adam was set on getting Jake killed, whether it was by thugs and criminals, or by the AVG itself.]
[font "Sitka Small" And yet, despite all of that, Adam was on to something . There were loose ends, dots that didn’t connect. Something was missing. They [i could] theoretically follow through with this. It wasn’t impossible, and they have worked with less. Something still didn’t feel right about it all. Jake wouldn’t be able to rest until he uncovered the secret to this mystery. He knew Adam wouldn’t either. So, as much as Jake wanted to say no, as much as he wanted to put this problem to rest, he met Adam’s equally intense gaze.
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “Before I agree to anything, there’s something I have to show you.”]] Jake answered as he straightened his posture from the bedroom doorway. He approached Adam hesitantly before reaching out his hand. God, he was breaking so many regulations by doing this, but it was for the mission. [b [#008800 “Grab my hand. I have to show you what I saw. What I saw in Isabella’s mind.”]] He explained as he waited for Adam to accept his offer.]
[right [pic https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/329430962859671553/724995118494384208/Mikhail_Vetrov.jpg]]
[font "Sitka Small" Humorous comments aside, Jake closed his eyes as Adam accepted his hand. It had been some time since Jake transferred thoughts to another being. It was part of his telekinetic training, but he wasn’t really allowed to use it unless absolutely necessary. He relied on his old exercises as he slowed his breathing and focused. The image was clear in his mind. It was like a painting displayed in a showroom. The painting was of the blurred image of a man with a blond mustache, small round spectacles, and mousy face. Now Jake imagined that he sent the same painting through a mail chute as though it were a letter. He knew that Adam could see it in his mind’s eye when Jake peeked over at the stern expression next to him. Once he knew Adam could see what he saw, Jake released his hand.]
[font "Sitka Small" [b [#008800 “When Isabella was about to say who she was afraid of, I read her mind. This man was there in her mind, the first thought she came to. She is afraid of this man, whoever he is. I think he’s the key to this shit pile. At least he might know someone in the center to it all,”]] he explained as he folded his arms, [b [#008800 “we need to find him.”]]]
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