Posts Tagged With: Nano

Cassie Book Protector Chapter 2

“Goodness. Is that a walking bookworm?”

“No,” Cassie gasped, trying to lift the bag high enough to reach the counter. The stool she like to stash by the new book counter was gone. Probably someone had taken it to reach the world record books. Either that or the after school kids were onto obstacle courses again. They weren’t allowed to use the bookcases as a course, but that didn’t mean they weren’t trying.

“Hmm. You look like a pile of books with legs. Was there some sort of teleporter accident?” Ms. Thomas stepped into her office and pulled the bag out of Cassie’s hands. The librarian heaved the bag up onto the counter. Cassie frowned. One of these days she’d be tall enough to do this on her own.

Ms. Thomas smiled crookedly. “My eyes got bigger than my book bag.”

“What do you mean?” Cassie asked, confused. “You’d have to be a giantess to have your eyes be that big.”

“I wanted more than I could have,” Ms. Thomas explained. “I was greedy to share all of these with school all at once.” The librarian wrestled the thick receipt packet out of the bag, the yellow and pink pages crumpled.

Cassie pulled a peppermint stick out of the jar on the counter. Sucking on the red and white candy she looked at the stacks of books piled all over the small room. “You read half of everything, don’t you?” she asked, walking over to the coloring supplies piled up on the table crammed into the office. She wondered what the box of scrap paper, magazines and tinfoil was for. One one side of the box there were flattened cereal boxes. Curious, Cassie started wiggling one of the boxes free. It had a shape traced on it that looked a lot like a cookie.

“Hardly,” the librarian answered, laughing. “Not even half of a half of a half of a half of everything that’s out there for kids. That’s still quite a bit. No one can read half of everything today, not even the superhero librarians.” Her brown hair was sticking out of her ponytail and her glasses were smudged by fingerprints. The bell hadn’t even rung yet. Maybe Ms. Thomas slept at school.

The bell buzzed out in the hall. Sighing, Cassie started to trudge out toward the classrooms. She loved that the library was in the center of the school and didn’t have any walls locking it away, but it did make hiding in the library for the rest of the day tricky. The library didn’t have animals like Unknown Realms, but it did have some cozy spots to read. That sounded much better than tests.

“Where are you going?”

“Class,” Cassie said. “Where else? I don’t want Mr. Finn calling for me on the school radio again.”

Ms. Thomas looked at her funny. “It’s Tuesday.”

“So?”

“Your class comes to the library for morning meeting for kindergarten reading buddies.”

“Oh, right,” Cassie said, feeling stupid. Helping set that up was one of her jobs. Where was her brain that morning? “What can I do?”

That’s how she came to be dumping past issues of National Geographic Kids on the library tables along with Ranger Rick, American Girl and Zoobooks. The dates on the magazines were older than she was. Cassie supposed that was why she was allowed to pile scissors on top of them. Ms. Thomas had a thing about scissors near pages. It made her talk really fast, which was funny when the class didn’t want to go back to the classroom yet, but it wasn’t so good to do when Mr. Finn was in a hurry to have the class get back to the room for the science experiments he liked cooking up while the class was out of the room. Something always ended up smelling like burnt popcorn, but some of the experiments were pretty cool all the same.

The librarian was passing out the cereal boxes when the rest of the fourth grade class trickled into the library. “What’s with all the junk?” Sebastian asked. The blond boy leaned over one of the tables, twisting a pipe cleaner around and around until he had what looked like a tornado in his hand.

“This junk is a disguise. You have to make the best one you can out of it.”

“I’m supposed to wear this?” he asked.

“Not at all,” Ms. Thomas said. She was trying to look stern but the corners of her mouth wouldn’t stay down. “Unless you want to practice being a mummy these supplies are for gingerbread men.”

When the kindergartners arrived it was like a paper tornado landed. Somehow paper scraps erupted before Ms. Thomas finished reading the Gingerbread Man to the combined class. Cassie and her kindergarten buddy BJ left their glue man drying in hopes that the colored scraps of paper they used to make camouflage reappear. They curled up next to a large stuffed giraffe to read BJ’s favorite book.

“Pigeon sick,” BJ said on their second read through. Most of the other groups were still rolling balls of dried glue off their fingers while BJ and Cassie raced through their books. Cassie couldn’t skip a single word without the kid letter her know.

“What do you mean? Pigeon doesn’t get sick in any of these.”

“Pigeon sick,” the little boy said. He pointed to the blue bird on the cover of the book. The bird was staring at her the way it always did. It had the same fake calm on its face that the inside of the book would show was an act. It had the same little beak, the same blue. Wait. Cassie looked again. It wasn’t the same blue. One side of the bird was lighter than normal. Had someone tried to erase the bird?

BJ pried open the book and looked at the pictures. “Not sick inside,” he said.

Cassie waited for the boy to tell her the book’s story before she held the cover close to her eye. There weren’t any eraser bits stuck to the book. It wasn’t stick and it didn’t have bumpy edges. There wasn’t paint or marker on it. The picture was just wrong. It was all very curious and not like Curious George at all. Cassie folded her arms. Poor Pigeon never got to do anything it wanted, not even keeping the right color. She could almost feel sorry for the bird.

BJ had her read another two books before it was time for both classes to head back to their rooms. BJ gave her a stick hug bye while Cassie pinned their still slightly oozing gingerbread glue man to the bulletin board. Ms. Thomas had a book open in her hands. The librarian looked surprised, no, upset. Cassie didn’t know when she’d seen the librarian look so pinched. She hoped she hadn’t done something wrong. It wasn’t until she was at her desk in the classroom that Cassie wondered if she should have shown Ms. Thomas what had happened to Pigeon.

Cassie wasn’t sitting in her desk for more than a minute before a pencil eraser was poking her in the back. She turned around fast. “Don’t do that,” she hissed.

“Chill,” her best friend Nora said. “I just wanted to know if you knew what had Ms. Thomas all in a tizzy. She about took my head off when I made that cookie dude into a mummy. You’d have thought I painted one of the books white instead.”

“Not a clue,” Cassie said.

“Can I help feed the bookstore critters after school?” Nora asked.

“You don’t have to babysit?”

“Nope. Mom’s helping on a field trip. Only one not on the trip is Kevin. He’s happy as long as he sees Simon.”

Cassie sighed. Nora’s first grade brother was exhausting. He didn’t stop moving, not even when he was asleep. He did like the animals though Cassie didn’t think Simon had forgiven the boy for the toy apron yet. She sighed again. This made Nora poke her, which turned to laughter.

“Is there something you’d like to tell us, Ms. Cassie?” Mr. Finn asked.

“Nope,” Cassie answered. “Maybe one of the others would like a turn?”

Sassing the teacher was never a good idea Cassie reminded herself as she spent the first part of recess cleaning up the mess her classmates made of the floor during snack and straightening out where all the word work supplies were supposed to go. The sticky plastic sticks bent into graffiti under the desks was a new one. The words were pretty funny, but Cassie feared for her classmates’ spelling. She clumped all the sticks together into a bundle and stuffed them in the corner of the supply drawer. Four hours until she could leave for the day.

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Cassie Book Protector

“I wish you could talk,” Cassie said to Simon, her nose pressed up on the thick glass of his aquarium. The pudgy lizard lounged on his branch under the warm glow of a heat lamp. The heat felt good that cold morning. Cassie had walked over to Simon’s bookstore, the Unknown Realms in the dark before school. She was supposed to wait for her mom before doing so, but she didn’t want to wait another minute before visiting all her favorite animals that lived there. Slipping into the story early was easy. Her mom kept the extra key in the cookie jar shaped like a parrot which never ever had any cookies inside it.

She waited for Simon to do something, but the lizard didn’t pay her any attention. She straightened the sign in front of his aquarium, the one she’d made back in third grade that she had labeled Simon the Wise in wobbly purple letters. Cassie ducked around the counter to the pantry behind it. The rotating door creaked open when the nine-year-old pushed it to move past the dry cat food and gerbil pellets to get to box of crickets.

Cassie wouldn’t open a box of bugs for anybody other than Simon. “I hope you know your food makes me all wriggly inside,” she said as she lifted the aquarium lid up. She tipped in a few grasshoppers before slamming the box shut again.

Simon darted forward, his earlier stillness forgotten. He chomped down the first insect before running after another. Cassie laughed. “I knew you weren’t really napping, you big liar. I’ve a question for you later, but first I better help feed your friends. I don’t want them snacking on my homework again! The teachers never believe me when that happens.”

The grasshoppers in the box jumped. Cassie hurried to return them to their proper place. She didn’t even get the pantry open before something smacked into her leg hard. Before the creature could headbutt her again, Cassie leaned over and scooped up the calico cat. “Jemima, you have less manners than your kitten,” Cassie whispered in the cat’s ear only to have the mother cat lick her on the nose. Cassie set her down after a hug. Jemima pushed her head into Cassie’s leg like the cat was some sort of furry bulldozer. “I’m going to feed you. Didn’t Aunt Liz give you anything to eat last night? Or did Pancake steal it all while you were bathing?”

As if on cue, Pancake made a move for the girl’s shoelaces. Cassie stepped back, cat food bag in hand. She tried to get her laces free but Pancake chomped down and tugged at the same time that his mother pushed. They weren’t big enough to force Cassie to move, but they did make balancing a bit uncomfortable. She didn’t want to step on them after all. “What is with you two?” she asked. They didn’t stop trying to herd her even after she fed them. Adults would talk about herding cats when they were cranky, but Cassie didn’t think this is what they met.

It wasn’t just the cats trying to move her. When Cassie tried to turn into the chapter book corner after putting food in the cat bowls, Rhubarb the Rabbit loped next to her and refused to get out of the way. Then the chickens were following her. One even tried pecking at her sock which was pretty bold with Pancake right there. The overgrown kitten sometimes forgot that birds were his friends the way the shark in Nemo sometimes forgot fish were not food. It was almost as if the animals were trying to tell her something.

Cassie tugged on one of her dark pigtails. “Ok, fess up. Is this a movie? Please tell me you aren’t going to sing and dance. Aunt Liz doesn’t like it when you perform.”

Jemima flicked the tip of her tail and stalked off toward the picture books. The other animals slunk off that way as well, all except for Pancake. He rolled over and stretched, his clawless paws stretching wide. Cassie stepped over him. She looked up at the clock on the wall with the snake wrapped around it. Twenty minutes until she had to go to school. Any later than that and she’d be late.

Sighing, the girl started back to get her backpack from where she left it by Simon. She slid it onto her shoulder. Was Simon’s aquarium open a bit? Cassie frowned. It was crooked and open by at least an inch on one side. Making sure it was secure, the girl wondered how it got loose. She’d had it closed before, hadn’t she?

Loud clucks and squawks erupted from the opposite end of the store. Cassie checked Simon again before going to see what was wrong. The lizard lay on his log with his eyes closed in a post-breakfast nap. Cassie did tap the glass this time and there was no reaction. The chickens were getting louder and louder.

“Don’t make me break out the water,” Cassie called, grabbing the squirt bottle just in case. It was for when Pancake got too carried away in his book climbing but maybe it would work on chickens too.

When she got to the picture books, the chickens were circling around something in a tizzy. They scattered when Cassie stepped forward. She didn’t need the water after all, which was a bit disappointing. She loved the animals but water was kind of fun too. With the chickens out of the way, Cassie could see a picture book lying cover down on the floor. Jemima sat next to it, her ears back. The cat swatted the book with one paw.

“Hey now, you know Aunt Liz doesn’t like it when you use books for toys.” Cassie picked up the book and turned it over. A big chicken butt was pointed at her. “You birds got upset about this?” The girl shook her head. “It’s funny. Nothing to get mad about.”

Bells rang as the store door opened. “Cassie,” her mother said, frustrated. “You’re not supposed to walk in the dark by yourself.”

Cassie slid the picture book back onto the shelf without opening it. “We wouldn’t have finished the chores then before school. The animals were hungry, Mom.”

“Aunt Liz can feed them without your help once without a disaster. If they were hungry enough she’d hear them upstairs,” her mom said, crossing her arms.

“You like it when I’m responsible at home,” Cassie said. “This is being responsible here. It was only two blocks.”

Cassie’s mom rolled her eyes. “Then you’ll like this. Time to be responsible going to school.”

The girl shook her head. “The animals are upset about something.”

That got her hair ruffled. “Of course they are. They won’t have you to spoil them for a whole eight hours.” Cassie’s mom pushed her out the door, but there was time for one last look around the store. The animals that had the run of the store were still by the picture books. They didn’t often hang in groups like that. Cassie searched out Simon and was surprised to see his eyes were following her.

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Teaser Tuesday: Magical Crime Unit Chapter 4

Chapter Four

The police barricade was halfway up Ast Street. Greta dropped back into a walk. Her heels were killing her. She’d probably bled on the back of her shoes, maybe even through the shoes. Stupid blisters didn’t matter now, but she wasn’t going to live this down with Ruby, who’d yelled at her for years about footwear.

Hans was in trouble. That cleared her head. Years of trying to keep him out of trouble took care of that. She limped to go around the barricade. An officer stepped into her path to stop her. She straightened up and managed to look him in the eyes. She knew this man.

“Sorry, ma’am,” he said, not really looking at her in that stunned sort of way that people got when they saw something they didn’t think existed. “Area’s restricted. The sewer backed up. Burst pipe and water everywhere.”

He’s mixing up cover stories. Wonderful. “Dayton, look at me.” She could be patient for ten seconds. He blinked, focused, and recognized her.”

“Greta, I didn’t realize—“

“Save the apology, Dayton. What’s going on? My brother’s up there.”

He winced. “It’s that store again, the one it always is. I can’t see why it’s still running.”

“I didn’t ask your opinion on retailers. What’s the status of things? Report.” She was going to hit him or do something quite drastic with a shoe if he kept stalling. No, those would waste time. She’d run.

“We got a bit of a thorn forest growing.”

“Only kindergarteners are scared of those. Talk.” She was easing herself around him, inch by slothfully annoying inch. “A burst of Farmer’s Helper that failed quality control will do that or one of those frightfully over prices Lair-Be-Growin kits. What else?”

“When it started growing, nobody was coming out anymore. Whole building sort of stopped, Greta. Phone calls in dropped signals like something big was there.”

“Stopped? Like they were sleeping?”

“No. We put spotters on the roof next door like you guys always tell us to. They could see the people . They were awake. At least, they saw them blinking.”

“Not a spindle situation then,” Greta muttered. “Do the spotters still see people in there? No toads, frogs or unfortunate guinea pigs?”

“Don’t rightly know,” Dayton said with a shrug. He was looking past Greta, scowling fiercely. Probably some snoopy kids were getting brave.

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“Lost the spotters, ma’am. They left position almost a half hour ago and went into the building. Didn’t come out, ma’am. Your crew didn’t either.”

“Where’s Pribbenow? He called this in.”

“He was a block closer than here. Phones are going wonky, Greta. Radio too. No idea if he’s still there—“ Dayton broke off and took two steps away from Greta. “Hey kids,” he yelled. “Off that bumper. I see you. Nobody passes this point.” He glanced sidelong at Greta. “Nobody without purple hair and a badge that is.”

“Hey, have you seen anybody else from MCU come through? New guy, purple shirt, hair in his face? Possibly carrying equipment?”

“Didn’t see him. Heard him on the radio though. He came through from the eastern blockade. They were directing him to Pribbenow’s spot.”

Greta wanted to scream. That wouldn’t help a bit. She went for cheerful instead. “Keep that brain going, Dayton. We’ll pull through. We always do.”

He looked at her balefully, then stood aside so she could pass. Greta ran. She heard feet behind her, knew the kids were trying to make a break for it past Dayton. They were going to learn the hard way that was a bad move. Dayton played street rugby.

She ran to the next set of orange and white barricades. The lights weren’t blinking. Interesting. One her way there, she passed a few more officers. None of them challenged her but she made sure to flash the badge at them in case. They were trying to rig antennae or something. Sirens wailed in the distance, then fell silent. The city had a policy of going in quiet when magic got involved; it just took a long time for individual cars to learn there was magic involved because of the stupidity of the scanner censoring. The brambles around the current, temporary home of Quests R Us were about as high as a fire hydrant at the moment. It was a slower growing variety, which was both good and bad. Good in that it was scalable; bad in that these brambles would be harder to hack through. The building was dark against the bright sky, though something blue flickered inside the windows. At least it wasn’t a dragon. Greta had never seen one or even been on the attack site of one, but it was a back of the mind fear.

She had to get to the building. Hans was in there. Anne as well. If she could get inside, everything would be right. They could out maneuver whatever it was that had run things awry. She only had to run another block, but she better conserve her strength. She slowed down.

“Greta!” a voice yelled in her ear moments before a pair of hands grabbed her wrist. Her balance pulled askew, momentum still carrying her. She fell to the ground taking her assailant down with the assistance of gravity rather than any intent on her part. Her back burned from where it slid across the sidewalk. Limbs tangled together. The other person grunted. Greta saw a hint of bright purple cloth.

“Marcus,” she growled. “What in the name of wolves are you doing?”

“Preventing your mistake,” he said, rolling up onto his knees. Rising the rest of the way, he extended a hand to her. She ignored it and clambered to her feet, though she did use his shoulder to catch her balance.

“My mistake?’

“You were going to run all the way in alone and unequipped for the danger. That’s a mistake, right?”

She shook her head. “We can’t wait around.”

“That’s the magical interference talking, not you,” Marcus said.

“What? No. Time is of the essence.” He’d taken her wrist again. She tried to shake him loose, but he had a good grip.

“I’d listen to him,” another voice called over. Ferdinand Pribbenow waved from where he stood next to another one of the barricades. “Half of us stationed here were almost drawn into the building before he came along and stopped us. Took some doing; we were bound determined to go in. Thing is we didn’t even remember getting close.” Greta stared. Was the man handcuffed to the barricade?

“It’s, uh, taken a little longer to get things up and running,” Marcus explained. They kept having to get convinced all over again that they shouldn’t just run over there. It was easier to cuff the ones more likely to run.”

“Smart for a newbie,” Pribbenow said. “It’s our newbies that are in there. They went first. My nephew included.”

“They were doing their job.” She twisted and got her wrist free. Marcus dove and caught her by the ankle. Greta kicked, and got him in the shoulder. He didn’t release her. Somebody had taught him well. Why was he fighting her?

“You’ll be helpless in there,” Marcus said. “Trapped. Caught like a kid in a gingerbread house.”

That stopped her cold. Greta couldn’t abide being helpless. She thought of that toasty place reeking of melting frosting and spun sugar. The tiny pen she had to sleep in and feeding Hans through the bars. She closed her eyes. She had to help her brother but not stupidly, not like that. She bit her tongue hard, tasting blood, taking control again. “We cannot sit here idle.”

“Nor will we,” Marcus assured her. “A few more seconds and I’ll have everything recalibrated, provided nothing got broken.” He said nothing about the possibility of her having broken anything. She wanted to be mad at him for what he made her remember even at the same time she recognized its effectiveness.

“I thought you said you fixed the MRFs,” Greta snapped. She pulled herself free and this time Marcus didn’t make a grab at her. Guess he thought her fired up enough to stay put.

“I did,” he said. “However, they were calibrated too strongly. I had to adjust once I saw the situation.”

“Don’t we want them strong, boy?” Pribbenow asked.

“Not like this,” Marcus said. “The feedback onto the store itself could cause an implosion. I don’t think the PD budget would cover a five block debris field.”

“I don’t know. This looks like a pretty big thing. Slapping it on the finger won’t stop it.” Pribbenow nodded his head at the light now starting to pool outside the building’s windows.

“I have to disagree, sir,” Marcus said. “There’s a magnification factor because it is picking up on ambient magic around it. That and there are probably two or three of them in there. The existence of multiple fowl is creating a warp. That’s why everything stopped and the electronics are going wonky, the unshielded electronics that is.”

“Did you say fowl?” Greta asked.

“The culprits for this accident appear to be geese. I only saw one of them, but I cannot have caused this all on its own.”

“You saw one? How? Did one come out of the building?” She loomed closer to him, eager for information and churning with growing suspicions.

He wouldn’t look at her. “I was in the revolving door. I assessed the situation. A copper goose waddled into the lobby. That’s when Officer Pribbenow and his men showed up. I got busy with them and couldn’t see where the goose went after that. I know it stayed inside, sir, uh, ma’am.”

“I told you not to go in. What do you think you were doing?” Greta demanded.

“Reconnaissance. I never went into the building. I never left the doorway. Therefore, I followed your orders.” He tinkered with a small metal cylinder in his hands. It was attached to an arm band that a runner might use.

“That’s rubbish and you know it,” Greta said. “What if you had gotten stuck in there with all our equipment?”

“But I didn’t.” There was a hint of pride there, a smile he couldn’t quite douse. She would knock that smile right off except then her brother would still be stuck inside that building and the whole of Bremen PD might end up in there too. There was no way she wanted to spend possible eons with all of them.

“How did you manage to get out?” Greta asked, both angry and curious.

Marcus pointed at a carbineer dangling from his belt loop. “The newest MRF self-calibrates. It detected the various threats and adjusted. It was enough to cover my person, but the relay web it is supposed to create with the other units failed to initialize because their sensors were overwhelmed. My mistake will be resolved shortly.”

“What do you think the geese are doing to everyone in there?” Greta asked as she watched Marcus pocket a screwdriver so tiny it had existence challenges.

“Probably looking for food?”

“They eat people!” That was a voice Greta didn’t know, probably another young one from Pribbenow’s group. He did seem to end up with the rawest officers.

“No,” Marcus said. “The geese are probably looking for things they would normally eat. Not humans.”

“Then why the light show? Why does everyone want inside?”

“Catch,” Marcus said, tossing the device at her. He walked over and gave another one to Pribbenow. “I think the geese really don’t care one way or another about the people inside that building. You know the golden goose, right? Where everyone gets stuck? I think these geese are sticky to, just not in the same way. We got to restrict their field.” He moved on to an older man in Pribbenow’s unit. Greta thought the man’s name was Fletcher and she noticed he was not handcuffed to anything. It was good to have a man with his head on straight about.

“Check your units,” Marcus said. “Everyone have a green light?”

Greta looked at her display as she tightened the arm band. It was lit green. “All good,” she said.

Marcus made some adjustments. “You should have a second green light now.”

Everyone did. “Good. Now if for any reason one of those lights goes amber, let me know. Your MRF will squawk when that happens. Let me know immediately. If it goes red, let me know yesterday. Now, Officer Henkel, what is your plan?”

He was ceding control back to her. Interesting. “We need to stick together at first while the relay builds,” Greta said. She flicked her eyes toward Marcus and he barely nodded. Good, she remembered that much from that in-service two years ago. “We go in through the entrance, together. As the web gets stronger, we can spread out. If this is some sort of orchestrated crime, they’ll be watching the front revolving door where you were earlier. Any sign of watchers when you were there?”

“Negative,” Marcus said, as he unlocked Pribbenow’s handcuffs. The older man rubbed at his wrist. Greta noticed it was red; he must have kept trying to get away as well.

“I didn’t see any one suspicious,” Pribbenow said. “I wasn’t at my most observant at the time.”

“There’s a back way in,” Fletcher said. “I used to be a delivery boy years ago and had to drop packages here.”

“Then that’s where we’ll start from. Let’s move.”

“A third light will turn green when the web is at full strength,” Marcus said.

“The rest of you remain here. We’ll get a call to you when the web’s going and we have a handle on what kind of situation we’re facing. Until then, stay here. Wait. Count to 500 and then start moving the barricade closer ten paces for each 500 you count. Then you’ll be closer when we need you but you won’t get too close too fast. Keep those handcuffs ready.”

There was some grumbling at this, but it wasn’t too bad. These guys either knew MCU well enough to expect weird or were too new at this to question what she was saying because they’d seen too little. Greta waved a signal to her small strike force and they began to advance, Greta taking point. Pribbenow was back and to her left, giving directions. Normally she would have let the grizzled veteran lead, but she wasn’t trusting the MRFs too much at this point. Marcus she put in back in case he had to get any of them out of the way.

She faced an agonizing moment of decision when she saw a small group of people headed toward the front door. They were carrying cameras and ids—journalists. Getting them out of the way would mean getting very close to the front door. She knew they should get them, they were civilians. The PD was supposed to protect and serve. But, as MCU, she knew that sometimes protecting had to look like not protecting until everything was done. Pribbenow started to veer off, to help the journalists. Greta ordered him to return.

“You’re going to leave them?” Fletcher asked incredulous. “They’re going to get stuck.”

“As we might very well do if we go in too early and too obviously,” Greta said. “Marcus saw a goose. That doesn’t mean there’s no one in there meaning harm. So far no one’s been hurt that we know of.”

“We haven’t had any news from the inside at all,” Fletcher protested. “We’ve only heard what the spotters saw early on and had a peek in the windows.”

“Take us to your entrance,” Greta urged him. “Then we’ll rescue the people.”

“She’s right,” Marcus said. “We need to contain first, then extract.”

“I don’t like it,” Fletcher said. “They’re almost kids, them. They had intern tags.”

Pribbenow, “We don’t have to like it. You know that. If you wanted a job where you liked things you’d still be testing ice cream flavors like you did during the strike.”

“Hey,” Fletcher said, directing Greta to take them under an overhang and away from the hapless press. “There’s no need to get nasty.”

Greta motioned for them all to shut up. The last thing she needed was a recounting of every odd thing that had ever occurred to any officer in the history of the force since her birth. No thanks. They needed to concentrate on the task at hand. There were too many windows on this side of the building, too many vantage points on their approach. Her brain was screaming at her to get under cover but there wasn’t any to be had. Not that she thought riot shields would help the situation, but there was something comforting in having anything, even a piece of poster board, between her and a menace. Coming around a corner, Greta heard a sound, a crunching that squeezed her heart tight. She dropped into a crouch, minimizing her profile. The men behind her did the same. Greta surveyed the surroundings. There was a faint whizzing sound; she hoped that was Marcus getting stats off some infernal gizmo.

The service entrance was in sight now, ahead and to the left at about ten o’clock. It was a slab of concrete, not a fancy loading dock like the newer stores. Right at its drop off was part of the bramble forest. The crunching sound was it edging its way upwards, thorns and vines expanding with an inexorable strength. Greta sized up the odds of making it over it in a leap without getting cut up. Her vertical wasn’t as good as it could be. Fletcher could make it, Pribbenow was a possibility. She had no idea about Marcus. This could be problematic. The regular officers could hack away at it with their truncheons, but that’d be slow and would scatter the brambles further. That could make getting out hazardous as there was no estimating how long they’d be inside dealing with suspicious geese. She was scoping out the rainspouts to see if any of them were within range when she heard a faint click and a projectile whizzed past her head.

Greta flung herself down against the pavement. The scrape from her earlier collision with Marcus stung sharply. A motion caught her eye. A small blinking ball rolled into the brambles. The projectile had come from behind her? Greta half rose to glare accusingly at Marcus. He shrugged and gestured for her to look forward. “Next time warn me before you starting wielding technology like some guy with a club,” she hissed.

A beeping came from within the brambles and the lights intensified in speed and brightness. There was a sharp pop and a rush that turned into a high pitched whine. One of the vines began to shake and another. Thorns dropped to the ground, then a vine. A minute passed. Then the brambles stilled and the device went dark and silent.

Pribbenow whistled. Fletcher muttered something under his breath that might have been some kind of prayer. Greta started to get up. “Wait,” Marcus said. “It’s not ready yet. They’re still all in our path.”

“We could kick them out of the way now,” she said. The techie stepped up beside her, fiddling with a remote. He jammed a few symbols and then hit a large gray button. Mist arose from where the little sphere lay among the cut branches. Before she could ask why he playing gardener, a little spark leapt from the device. There was a whoosh of flame. “Or not.”

Marcus lobbed another device in, this one larger. When it hit the apex of his throw, vents clicked open and began dispersing foam upon the fire below. Wherever the foam touched, the fire went still. When the steam dissipated, there was a clean path in to the loading dock. The remaining brambles at the edges were twitching as if they wanted to pick up and run far far away. Greta couldn’t blame them.

“Don’t use all your tricks on the first obstacle, kid” Pribbenow said, recovering first.

“It’s bad for the budget,” Fletcher said, a little shaky.

“It’s bad for surviving,” Pribbenow said, firmly.

“I wanted to see if they worked,” Marcus said.

“You’d not tested them?”

“Not since the trial version right before I finished training. It’s not like I run into a magic bramble forest every day.”

“Those were personal supplies?” Greta started the group walking again.

“Yes. I always carry a stash of supplies. You never know when they’ll come in handy.”

“Keep it out of the report when you write up. The part where they are yours. Some people get funny about that.” By people she meant city officials rather than the commissioner but she was not going to explain that right now.

“People get almost as worried about gadgets as they do magic,” Pribbenow said.

“Wonderful,” Marcus said, kicking some foam covered branches out of the way as he retrieved what was left of his devices. The foam dispenser had taken quite the dent on its nose. The little sphere looked charred and a bit oozy around the edges. They disappeared inside one of the satchels Marcus was carrying after he wrapped them up in some linen cloth. “At least I will know why people will be nervous.”

Greta hit him on the shoulder. “Don’t be like that. We’ve no need for morose. Keep thinking.”

“Don’t hit the techie,” Marcus said. “Do you have any idea what would happen if I dropped all these bags at once?”

“Something loud,” she hazarded, already hoisting herself up onto the landing dock.

“Ok, yeah, probably something loud. Not even I know what will happen if all this gets mixed together because I didn’t make your emergency kit. But it wouldn’t be good. Don’t hit the techie.”

“Later, Marcus. You can tell me how your kit would be better later.” She didn’t look to see if he scrambled up behind her. Fletcher and Pribbernow were up on the loading dock platform now. She stepped forward, pulling out the small aerosol she favored. With her other hand she drew a small, hefty blade. It was best to be prepared.

The door was solid, no window, not even a peep hole. She laid her head against it, but all she could hear was an echo of the air circulation system that emptied out not far away. She was considering the merits of peering under the door when Marcus put a hand on her shoulder. “All clear,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“That’s my job,” he said, waving a handheld tablet in front of her. “I collect the data, carry the explosives and do all sorts of dirty work.”

She put her hand on the door handle and started to pull. Pribbenow stuck his foot in front of the door, blocking it. “You know, Greta, I’d feel better if I was the one opening the door and you were the one ready to take out any beasties or baddies.”

The gesture proved unnecessary chivalry when they entered Quests R Us and found themselves in a quiet corridor. There was nothing dramatic about it though shifting blue light did make the entire building seem to move and pulse. The overall effect was a bit dizzying, like swimming through a cube of gelatin.

Their footsteps echoed, sending a shiver up her spine. There wasn’t even the thrum that sometimes came from a group of people breathing at the same time. Greta glanced down at her MRF unit. The third green light had lit. At her signal, the group spread further apart. Within their formation, light grew brighter. Electric lights above them worked better when they were near, indicating a reduction in the atmospheric magic.

Greta found herself almost face to beak with a large goose. It gleamed copper light a new penny. It honked and then waddled back the way it came.

“Marcus,” Greta said, when she could breathe again, “You didn’t tell me the geese were larger than some ponies.”

“The one I saw earlier was quite small,” he said.

“You didn’t tell me it weighed more than you,” she said.

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Teaser Tuesday: Magical Crime Unit Chapter 3

She hadn’t gone more than three blocks before she wished that someone else was accompanying her. It wasn’t that the neighborhood was unsafe or that she was some wilting flower that couldn’t live without constant accompaniment. She wasn’t scared of the regular PD either. All but the newest there knew she wasn’t to be trifled with and the veterans warned the newbies, which was as it should be. There wasn’t a sudden chill breeze standing her hair on end nor was there the sound of footsteps tailing her on the final part of her work. Nothing about this journey made sense. It shouldn’t be necessary. Someone could have read the letter over the phone or emailed the text of it. If it had to be seen in person, the letter could have been carried down to MCU by a courier or if it was something important, Ruby could have brought it down herself to the meeting tomorrow.

That meant the letter was involved in some level of drama. Greta didn’t know if it was the contents or the sender of the letter that was drama llama. It better not be something of Ivan’s. She’d rather deal with that Boots poser or that mad woman who went about pricking everyone with a spindle. Bremen had it lucky compared to some places, but it did attract its own peculiar version of panhandlers. If she were lucky, maybe it’d be some delusional girl writing proposals to Hans. Those had to be carefully screened because any number of them were using princess enhancements. That never ended well, but at least no one needed replacement of vital bodily fluids after all. No, her gut told her this wouldn’t be lucky at all.

Greta refused to go up the big, fancy steps to the main entrance from the square. Instead, she slipped into the HQ side entrance. The door was labeled delivery, but she figured delivering herself counted. The city hall staff at the front never cared for her anyway; she didn’t smile enough. She skipped the lobby all together and headed straight to the real PD. She nodded at two rookies from the class she’d spoken to that summer. The smaller of the two, an Albert, waved back with a big toothy grin until his partner elbowed him. A few of the officers walking in the corridors nodded back to her. Only old Melchert glared at her. She was slipping. Either that or the attrition and retirement rates were finally working out favorably.

“Hey there, Annika,” Greta said, putting both hands down on the main secretary’s desk. The thirty-year-old woman looked up, annoyed at the interruption. Her stylish black frame glasses contrasted with her bright hair. “I like the pink. It looks good.”

“Hands off the desk. You know that, Henkel,” Annika scolded.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to muss the files. What’ll make it up to you?”

“What’s your brother doing later?” The secretary made a show of studying her nails.

Greta laughed. “You don’t want him, trust me. Hans is a mess.”

“I like cleaning up messes,” Annika said coyly. “It’s a hobby.”

“Truce, truce! Let me know where Ruby’s at and I’ll get out of your way. I’ll even leave you chocolate. I’ll get some office supplies! Those markers you like.”

Annika pouted. “If you insist. You had to switch to purple? We could have been pink twins. Then this place would have to listen to us.”

“Ruby?” Greta reminded her.

“The unofficial break room.”

“How do you know she’s in the paper closet? You didn’t even pretend to look at a calendar this time.”

Annika primped her pink curls. “Skills, darling. I don’t question your gritty work, so don’t insult mine. Hurry on up, she has a meeting with the commissioner in nine minutes and seven seconds.”

“You need a hobby—no, you need a drink,” Greta said as she hurried down the hall.

“Don’t forget the chocolate,” the secretary yelled out as the phones began ringing. The lilt vanished from Annika’s voice as she started taking down details and transferring the calls.

Greta marched passed rows of offices. She cracked open a door and slid inside, passing rows of toilet paper, gallons of hand sanitizer, and a mountain of tissue boxes. The next door led into a somewhat wider room filled with reams and reams of paper. The third door went into a room bare of everything except a worn out sofa, two overstuffed chairs and some crates for foot rests. Greta had never figured out how the furniture had gotten into the room. Maybe this stripped down little place had been built around when the floor was under construction. At any rate, it was a sanctuary, the one place the phones couldn’t reach, the paperwork didn’t pile and the public didn’t berate. MCU Liaison Director Ruby Syme lay sprawled across the sofa, her black heeled shoes kicked against the wall. Rather than her usual business attire, she wore a shimmering sleeveless blue dress that seemed quite incongruous with the chipped cream paint on the cement block walls. Her long white hair was pulled back up into a coronet and a small gecko was perched on her toes. She was also asleep.

To be sure, Greta stomped through her next few steps. There was no response. She coughed. Still there was nothing from the director. “Ruby? Ruby?” she hissed. While it was relatively certain this room was not bugged, one could not be certain of the continuation of such affairs. “Liaison Director, wake up before I am forced to take drastic measures to acquire your attention.”

There wasn’t even a snore. Well, she knew how to counteract that. With adept practice, Greta secured the gecko. She the leaned forward as if to balance the little lizard on Ruby’s nose. “That is the oldest trick off the books,” Ruby said with her eyes still closed. “It’s not going to make me scream, probationary Agent Henkel.”

“I didn’t need a scream, Ruby, only your attention pulled away from your little charade of sleep. What’s with the costume? It’s not Old Hallow’s Eve.”

“Annika didn’t tell you? She was laughing over it for hours.” Ruby sat up. She fiddled with some stray tendrils that had escaped her coronet before leaning forward to massage her calves.

“She mentioned you had a meeting with the commissioner very soon.”

“She’s toying with you if she called it a meeting. I have to attend the Glasshill Firm’s fundraising dinner because they are announcing their generous supportive donation to the Bremen Police Department Magical Crime Unit. I’m the pet representative and an unregistered weapon.” Ruby had to pause for a mouthful. “Excuse me,” she said after a pair of twin toads hopped from her mouth as if it was a diving board.

“Too bad they weren’t poison dart frogs. Then they would’ve matched your dress. A snake could have doubled as a scarf or a belt.”

“Your help is irreplaceable,” Ruby said dryly.

Rather than push further, Greta went for the direct approach. “My brother sent me to get a letter from you. Something that couldn’t wait for a runner, ma’am.”

“My request that someone from MCU come for the letter had nothing to do with waiting, as Hans knew from our conversation. It is a matter of trust. I cannot have all of law enforcement knowing of this, young Greta. It is a matter of some importance. I did want to it not wait until tomorrow and there is this ridiculous function that kept me from coming myself.”

“What is it?”

“Left heel,” Ruby said, pointing impatiently. “Let’s not speak of it aloud, even here.”

The insistence of secrecy here was strange. Greta nibbled on the inside of her lip. Hans had to moan about things being slow earlier. Now they were going to get whammied. She retrieved both of the black shoes, dropped the right one on Ruby’s lap, and examined the bottom of the left shoe. Wrapping the heel with the palm of her hand, she twisted. The material groaned but nothing opened.

“No, no, no,” Ruby said, a small stone clinking against her teeth with each word. Greta hardly looked at them once she saw the hint of blue. Sapphires weren’t here thing. “You don’t twist that. Find the switch and it’ll pop open. It’s child play, really. I expect you to know how to do these things. Your brother wouldn’t have any problem with it.”

Greta scowled, probing the toe and sole of the shoe for a camouflaged switch. Grazing against what she’d taken for a worn patch, she pressed down and felt a small click. The heel popped back and would have jabbed her right in the cornea, but she flinched back. She tipped the shoe upside down and a curled slip of paper fell out into her palm. Snapping the heel into its proper position, she dropped it on the sofa. “If Hans would do better, you should have had him come up here instead of letting him delegate.”

Ruby looked up after she finished fastening on the first shoe. “Examine that scrap and you’ll know why it couldn’t be him. He’s a great agent, but sometimes he can be entirely too noisy.”

Deciding it would be poor timing to remind Ruby that she was hardly a model of silence herself, Greta unrolled the scrap and squinted at it. This couldn’t be the original as there was no way the director would manhandle evidence in such a fashion. The real letter was probably locked up in a vault somewhere. Greta wondered if that vault would be concealed in a shoe box. This had to be a scan. It was a handwritten note, the cursive shaky. It wasn’t the just learning to write sort of shaky either. It was more like how writing got with infirmity. That seemed odd. Normally letters that came into PD that were threatening were made of cut out magazine letters or were printed from the printers at the public library since that one news story mentioned that printouts could be traced to the individual idiosyncrasies of specific printers. Of course, those same people didn’t stop to think their computer usage at the library was tracked.

She skipped to the bottom of the note to get the signature. The first name was hard to read, but the last name was unmistakable—Lang. Then it was all too clear what the first name had to be. Isabel Lang. “Oh, pixie sticks,” Greta cursed, sitting down hard. The Langs, any of them, were trouble. Urs had been a good man on patrol, a friend. His disappearance had rocked the entire corps. Then his father, the judge—it had not been a good time to be on the force. The rest of the family had been nothing but thorns, though Greta had to admit it was circumstances more than personalities. Hans had known them all, and it made everything all the worse. Isabel. Isabel Lang. It had to be her. Greta felt a headache coming on. “You know he’s going to go postal. I’ll have to lock the kitchen.”

“Read the letter now. It gets messier.”

Messier than explosions? Not that real pyrotechnics had been involved during the last clash, but it had been a near thing. Brain matter had certainly fried. Queasy, but not wanting to show it, Greta mouthed off before studying the letter. “I am the queen of messes. There is no mess that can vanquish me. It wouldn’t dare do more than quiver.”

Ruby said nothing as she stood, the gecko now residing on her shoulder. She straightened the sofa pillows and moved toward the door. Greta read on. Isabel wanted to meet with MCU. There was something of an evidentiary nature she wanted to share related to a case. The ending of the letter was all weird, something about being unable to leave her father’s house undetected so could MCU come to her rather than the other way around. Isabel mentioned a door that would be unlocked and not noticeable from the vehicles parked on the front lawn. Why would a judge’s house have cars strewn all over the yard with people in them?

“What’s with the cars?” Greta asked, subdued. Hans couldn’t go to that house, not without a lot of warning and some serious relaxation first. Besides, he and Anne were tangled up on Ast street business. Even if they could have waited, Anne would be all wrong for a Lang confrontation. They didn’t need a researcher there until they were finally ready to close in. Marcus was going to have to do. Maybe she shouldn’t have picked today to dye her hair purple. She was going to stick out; she wasn’t meant to be ninja.

“Check your news feeds,” Ruby said, voice short. “It’s all over them. The timing of this is disastrous. My money acquiring duties do not wait. Good luck, Agent Henkel. Do remember to ask first, destroy later. It does make cleaning up after you so much easier.

Greta’s phone rang then. She looked at the screen, but she didn’t know the number. “Greta Henkel, MCU.” She sounded daft when she pretended politeness.

“We have problems,” a male voice said. It took her a moment to place the caller as Marcus.

She was clearly going to have to go over when it was and wasn’t appropriate to interrupt her with the newbie, regardless of the fact she had been moments away from calling him to insist that he accompany her to the Lang residence. “Look. This better not be about the copier jamming. It always jams. That’s what happens when you accept equipment in lieu of payment from freelance cases.”

“I would not call about something so simple as an imp-possessed piece of office equipment,” Marcus snapped.

“Is it the scanner?”

“Yes and no.”

“What does that mean?”

“Let me finish more than three words and you will know,” he countered.

She took a deep breath. Someone had to learn how to control his temper. “What?”

“I was leaving the MCU before Hans said to because the Magical Resistance Fields were easy to put back into functionality ahead of schedule. The attic scanner went off while I was on the stairs. More than one Quest entity is loose. That transmission came in the clear, not like the one that sent Agent Henkel and Anne there.”

“Who was speaking?” Greta

“Same officer as before. Not your brother.”

“Can you get there?”

“I’m two blocks away. I can use a satellite.”

“Yes, yes, of course you can.” She didn’t need his wounded ego on top of everything else, though she knew she’d driven him to it. Greta needed duct tape rather than a mouth. “Don’t go in without me. Please tell me you packed supplies. Munitions. Something more than a power source.”

“Of course. In addition to the tricks of my trade, I grabbed the emergency kit.”

At least he was thinking on his feet. “See anything yet?”

“Brambles.”

Sprites, freaking sprites. Landscape alterations were bad business. “Don’t go in without me. I’m on my way. Henkel out.” She ran. She didn’t care who saw her frazzled. Her big brother needed her. The Langs would have to wait.

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Nanowrimo excerpt: Chapter Two of MCU

Chapter Two

“What are you doing?” Anne asked Greta when she walked past the staircase.

“You’re asking me what now too? Is it anti-Greta day?”

Anne smiled. “If so, it did not make our official MCU calendar. Must I remind you of the proper channels?’ The other woman had fastened a rain coat over her dress, bound her hair and donned a floppy yellow rain hat that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else.

“Please don’t impersonate our fearless leader.”

“You think I’m doing a Ruby impression? I would not even dare to presume—“

“I’m waiting for Hans to call me down or for yelling to break loose so I can barge in on his meeting with Marcus. Ok? No need to get all weird on me.”

“I wasn’t being weird. I was being me. I’m not the one half-standing on my head on a staircase while listening for signs of a struggle.”

Greta rolled her eyes and righted herself back onto her feet. “He’s being insufferable. What’s new with the Andersen case?”

“Mouse traps.”
“The court has submitted mouse traps into the evidence log? Why? There was a shortage at the time because of a recall based on shoddy workmanship. The crime wasn’t the traps. The crime was the mice eating up the evidence backlog and causing emotional duress.”

“No. This had nothing to do with the ongoing court case. I had to help set out new mouse traps on our floor and by the kitchen.”

“My brother cannot sleep and we all end up playing secret agent with a pack of noses. Wonderful.”

“Greta.” Anne paused, thinking. Greta got up. She didn’t want to be told she was acting unreasonably. She knew it. She didn’t need a reminder of what was polite, or worse, what was nice. Someone had to call Hans on it when he got carried away. It happened often enough that Greta wondered if he needed vaccinations to build up his immune system; that could counter the allergic reactions he now had to mice, magic, and oven timers. Though she had never found a pharmaceutical company interested in developing such a vaccine.

A large thud sounded from down below. “Do you hear that?” Greta asked. “I’ve got back up. You wait here, Anne.”

With that, she jumped down the stairs, two at a time. Greta knew she was being headstrong and stupid, but she had to do something with all this pent up energy. Anne said something up the stairs behind her, but Greta chose not to hear. She needed some action. If that meant busting in on her brother’s personnel meeting with Marcus, then so be it.

She tripped on the bottom stairs, caught herself, and landed on both feet. This was not quiet. She’d never claimed to be a ninja. A chair slid across the bare concrete floor, and the door opened.

“Has the world ended at last?” Hans asked. He didn’t even do a double take.

“I thought I heard the scanner. Has a call come in?” Her voice was too light. Brownies. She never could do innocent.

“You heard no such thing. You’re just afraid I’ll run out the new tech before you get a chance to terrorize him.”

“I wouldn’t terrorize him,” she protested. “You’re the one that does that.” She raised her voice so Marcus would here. Subtlety was for those cursed ninjas. Greta preferred pirates.

There was a cough from the room behind Hans. Marcus was trying not to laugh. Greta didn’t like that. She didn’t want him to think her silly. Silly wasn’t a word anyone used to describe her. Ever. Those who did might find themselves not quite whole. Even if she knew she was behaving like some newbie out of training who didn’t know when to stop, where to go, or which was up.

“Come on in,” Hans said. “You’re just going to be insufferable if I don’t.”

“Why, thank you brother,” Greta said, letting herself smile. “Now where were we? Were you telling him about our dungeon policy?”

“Dungeon policy? You have such a thing?” Marcus asked.

“Of course not,” Hans countered. “That’s Greta and her drama again.”

Greta glared. Hans smirked, but he did decide to amend his words. “What I mean is Greta likes to keep people off balance. It helps her do her job. Now Marcus, you were telling me about your previous experience. You worked for Hamlin, you say.”

“Yes, yes, I worked a time at Hamlin.”

“Were you involved with the Anderson case?”

“No, no, that was after my time there. You do realize, of course, that the Anderson case was only a mimicry, a copycat crime. I worked the big case before it,” Marcus said with a hint of pride. That case, the Luther case, involved, oh, a thousand rats. Quite problematic to clean up. For some reason Hamlin always attracts these criminal masterminds who think they can take over the world with rodents. They never quite account for the unpredictability factor or the power of an air tight room.”

“A thousand,” Hans repeated, something in the edge of his voice. Greta hoped he wasn’t going to go postal.

Marcus continued on. “Yes, a thousand. And the Luther case wasn’t even the biggest of them all, though the worst was long before any of our grandparents’ were born.”

“Where did you work before Hamlin?” Great interjected before Hans could ask how many rats were involved in the previous cases.

“Oh, here and there. Your brother and I already discussed that, but if you must know one of the places I worked was the Dells.”

“The farms in the Dells?” she asked.

“Yes, nice quiet community.” Marcus looked wistful.

“Why would they need a techie?”

“Never underestimate the power of mischief, especially fey mischief. You cannot imagine what they can do with a simple solitary cheese,” Marcus said.

“Ah, you’re suspicious. Hans will love you. You’ll fit right in with the unit.”

“Greta,” Hans said, angry.

Marcus cut in before a full-fledged fight could begin. “What kind of budget do you have here? What kind of equipment can I requisition?”

“Surely, Agent Syme went over that with you,” Hans said.

“I prefer the unofficial version to the official. Everyone always makes things sound nice in an interview, sound plush.”

“You told me not twenty minutes ago that we had more computerized equipment than your entire training program,” Greta said, skeptical. “Why are you already wondering what you can spend?”

“A man can dream, can he not? There’s something I saw once this last year at the Technoference that would be absolutely perfect for a busy magical crime unit. This is a busy unit, right?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Under usual operating procedures, yes” Hans answered. “We have experienced a slow down these past few weeks.”

“So you’re only working one case.”

“No,” Hans said. “We’re working on five. Normally we’re hopping around on eight to ten, sometimes twenty.”

“Five cases is slow? I like this place.” Marcus grinned, showing his teeth. Nothing pointed; Greta liked that in a team member.

Hans glowered. “It would be a better place if there were no such cases.

“But then we’d all be out of a job,” said Greta, “and you’re not fit for anything requiring human decency.”

Hans got a strange look on his face. It was actual reflection and not the penetrating laser impression she’d caught him practicing in the mirror. “Probably not,” he agreed. The moment passed and Hans returned to being all business. “Now, Marcus, have you arranged personal quarters.”

“I’m residing at a long-stay hotel at the moment.”

“You are welcome to remain here. Some of us do.”

“By some he means him,” Greta cut in. “Can’t get enough work so he lives here. Not quite sure that’s recommended. Old houses, creepy noises, bumps in the night. Can unsettle a person’s thinking.”

From the glare she got from Hans she knew she was going to have to pay for that comment later. She looked forward to it. If he was pushed far enough, he’d concede to wrestling. The trick was working him up to it so things would hit peak after everyone else was occupied elsewhere. Any sort of audience would make his brain restart. “It’s cheaper staying here with what rent goes for these days. Not all of us want to share basement apartments with a band and its unholy schedule. Moving costs being what they are, I wanted to make sure Marcus knew his options.”

“I thank you. My room is paid through the end of the week already, but I will consider the merits and drawbacks of staying here. Perhaps we could go over what a tentative residence contract would entail later.” Marcus laid a multi-tool on the table between him and Hans. Greta leaned in. There was more to the device than the usual knife blades, lock picks and files on the device. That was Midas-touched steel. Ridiculously expensive material so whatever the multi-tool did, it did it well. Greta whistled.

“Impatient to be started?” Hans asked. “I guess everyone is keen their first day. Remember the phouka on Third Street that had escaped that illegal zoo?”

Oh man. Did she ever. Hans had solved the case. She had taken a piggy back ride that could have very well been her last half-drunk move. At least the creature had been in human form and not a horse. She couldn’t stay in the saddle sober let alone after partying because of her commission. “Yeah, I remember the shiner you walked home with.” He better not say what she’d done.

“Zoos exhibit magical creatures here in Bremen?” Marcus asked. His voice was gruff.

The phone on Han’s desk rang, the receiver clanging against its cradle. “Henkel here.” The scanner started jabbering away about a 10-91BM or was it BV. There was a big, stinking importance between noisy and vicious. Let it be noisy.

“Greta, scanner notes,” Hans barked, covering the receiver for a moment. “Start over again, Anne. What letter are you talking about?”

She abandoned the doorway she’d been leaning against as she dashed toward the scanner. She slammed open the drawer of the file cabinet under the cabinet, yanked out a steno pad and started writing. No time to process, just to write. The problem with magic code traffic on the scanner is that it was all too quickly silenced. Upper echelon, aka breath wasters, hated the public to get nervous. If any of them were listening in, as too many had the time to do, they’d put a call into PD HQ and the signal would get silenced. Bremen would fund the MCU but that was the price of too much silence. Greta’s pen scrawled across the paper, getting the code within the code. Bless Pribbenow. He knew how to get his calls to last a bit longer. The 10-91 got separated out after the very first time it was said. One real word for every five he said.

It was a M. Not a V. Noisy magical creature. Probably not a siren or Pribbenow wouldn’t be calling it in. Zweig street. The old school house. Creature contained but not restrained. Pribbenow started describing the location again. Greta frowned. It wasn’t at the old school house. It was an old building, but it couldn’t be on Zweig Street. Zweig was a cover for something else. Zweigh meant twig. Greta translated in her head. Ast. Pribbenow was talking about Ast Street. It was an old building on Ast Street with a leaky roof. She wasn’t going to go dump water on every roof and check for leaks. She chewed on her cheek, waiting for more information. She knew better than to grab the microphone and ask questions. Wait. There. Something about an exchange. Sales. Merchants. What sort of merchants? There was a potter’s place on that street and a weaver’s emporium. The chocolate banana stand also called Ast home. Wait. There it was. Heroes. The scanner went dead. Pribbenow had been cut off.

“Gum drops,” Greta said viciously, throwing down the pad of paper. She realized Hans had slammed home the phone and yelled licorice at the same time.

“Two emergencies present themselves and you are hungry?” Marcus asked, bewildered.

“First, these are not emergencies. If they were, we would not be sitting here.” Hans said, jumping up to grab a bag from a hook on his door. He slid his feet out of his work shoes and yanked on some running shoes.

“You are not sitting,” Marcus said. He covered his face with his hands when he realized he’d said that aloud.
“Second,” Greta said, dashing in to the rescue, “we don’t mean food in the edible sense. Some people swear. We…” It sounded foolish even to her.

“I understand,” Marcus said, waving her off. “I’m the same way with the word rust.”

“What was Pribbenow on about?” Hans asked at the same time Greta asked him to spill about the call. Her brother gestured impatiently at her.

“Somebody’s purchase from Quests R’ Us is loose on Ast Street. It’s inside the building still but is evading restraint. Then the call got silenced.”

Hans’s jaw tightened. “Of course it did. Can’t have us given the details to keep the public from panicking because they might’ve hacked the frequency or the codes. How I hate that store, always causing problems. Its continued existence is like stepping on a needle with a bare heel.”

“What was yours?” Greta asked when he wasn’t forthcoming with the information.

“It was Anne. Agent Syme called to report that a letter arrived for MCU up at HQ.”

“A little lousy letter has you all worked up?” Greta asked.

“Not now,” he answered, all warning.

“Why did Anne call you to tell you of this letter?” Marcus asked. “Bureaucracy is not your game so I do not understand the unneeded step? You eat time with it.

Hans froze. He exchanged a pained glance with Greta. “Sensitive calls from HQ are not permitted to come into a private residence. That extends to my basement.”

“But why?”

“You have to earn the answer to that. The price for that one is one field experience and I call what counts. Greta, you’re going to HQ.”

Of all the misbegotten luck. “No, I’m not. You need me on the Quest mess. Send Marcus up to Ruby. He knows the way there.”

“Anne and I will handle Quest R. Us. They were running a special on musical weaponry this week. Hopefully that is all it is.”

“The weaponry isn’t mobile,” Greta snapped. “It won’t be only a gargling gnome or singing sidekick, either. Pribbenow knows how to handle those on his own. You need me.”

“I need you up at HQ. Shut up, trust me, and go.”

“I don’t like it.” Greta crossed her arms. She wished she had her sidearm. Not that she’d use it on Hans, but it made her more assertive.

“I’m not punishing you,” Hans said. She saw his arms twitch, like he was going to throw them up. She guessed it was something important after all. “Agent Syme needs to talk to you. You aren’t only a courier.”

“Two of you isn’t much. You need cover or there won’t be an MCU.”

“The sooner you get to HQ, the sooner you can play your favorite role—backup.”

“What am I to be doing during this excitement?” Marcus asked. “Do I accompany you or Greta?”

“Neither. I want you here. Sending someone unfamiliar with our procedures and specific terminology is begging for a casualty. Knowledge keeps you safe and a lack of it makes you dead. I am not being theatrical. Magic is a deadly crime.”

Marcus nodded, but it seemed stiff. “What then will you have me do?”

Hans handed Marcus a sheet of paper. “Go rearrange the attic supplies so they are in your working order. While you are doing that, familiarize yourself with the MRFs we have available. Go to that address if fifty minutes with the best two MRF units that are functional.”

“Magical Reduction Fields, got it. At least it isn’t paperwork.”

“That will be your next time,” Greta said. “You haven’t been trained on it yet, so envy your paperwork free life while you’ve got it.”

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Magical Crime Unit: Chapter One

I finished the first chapter of this year’s Nano novel. Meet the members of the Magical Crime Unit.

#
“What did you do? We’ve a new member of the unit starting and you’ve turned your hair purple?”

Greta rolled her eyes, keeping her feet up on her desk and her back slouched against the chair. Her older brother played cop too much for a real investigator. “There’s no law against purple. In fact, it’s even in Bremen’s official seal.”

“Nobody’s going to take you seriously looking like that. Think about how that’s going to represent us. Where’s your sense of honor?” Hans demanded, making his curl of blond hair bob over his forehead. As usual he looked more like an advertisement than a live person. He wore a tailored green vest yanked tight over a white dress shirt.

“Honesty over honor, brother. That’s what any newbie needs. Facts. Not your cause. Not the headlines. Facts. That’s what keeps people alive.”

“Why must you make everything so difficult?”

“That’s why you keep me on the pay roll.” Greta winked.

“I don’t do the—“ He broke off, glowering at her. A rapping from the floor above echoed across the silence. “Greta, I swear—“

“I have the most brilliant ideas. I know. Come, that must be the new techie now.” She ran up the steps two at a time, her brown duster jacket flapping about her boots.

“Did you at least finish the paperwork I asked you to take care of? The review of Ivan’s final dossier?”

“Now you’re babbling. That’s been on your desk for twenty minutes. I know you’ve read it.” Honestly. One would think her brother needed rescuing every day with how he carried on. When he got like this it was so tempting to do something bold and stupid, like dyeing his hair orange. Hans was one of the best magical crime investigators anywhere, but there were times when he was worse than a mother goose. He’d been worse the last two months. They all had.

“Please do your best not to traumatize our newest coworker in the first five minutes,” Hans said as Greta cleared the staircase. At least he had the sense not to deny the babbling or engage her in an argument. He tried to step past her, but she lowered her shoulder and shoved.

“I can’t help it that they showed up the same day the cow exploded all over our crime scene. Besides, this one’s already got past Ruby. That’s more than any of the others.” She closed her hand on the door knob, ready to pull back with all her strength. The warped door needed replacing. Given the current budget crunch, the wait could be years. Until then, it remained a better exercise than benchpressing the volumes of local ordinances governing magic.

“Please step away from the door before you wrench it off its hinges. That would be a most uncivilized welcome for us to offer,” a soft voice said from the hallway behind them. “Greta, Hans, put away the sibling rivalry and allow me to handle this.”

“I know how to open a door, Anne.” She rolled her eyes at the other woman, one of three in their small unit. Anne looked ready for a party, not like the dusky woman had spent all morning buried in documents up to her elbows. Some things were never fair.

“I have no doubts on that matter, Greta dear. It’s your restraint that needs some duct tape.” Anne slid past Greta, ignoring the noises of protest coming from Hans. Her long black curls hung free over her backless green sundress. She opened the door in a smooth motion and then artlessly flicked open the latch on the screen door.

A dark young man with black hair falling jaggedly across his brow stood there. He was dressed in a bright purple shirt and gray slacks. He carried a pair of shoes that flashed more than reflectors. He looked at Anne, Greta and Hans in turn, head tilted. Greta hoped he wasn’t part dog, not that she thought Ruby would approve someone like that. “Is this the Bremen Police Department Magical Crime Unit?”

He wasn’t from around here. That much was clear. Nobody used their whole name. Greta was still trying to figure out the shoe thing. He didn’t have any blisters that she could see, so why carry them around? Luckily, Anne remembered her manners.

“Welcome to the MCU. Please, come in. I’m Anne, field investigator and researcher. Allow me to introduce you to Hans, our team leader, and Greta.”

“I’m known as Marcus Shaw. I would have been here earlier, but a flaw in my research led me astray.”

“What you mean is no one told you to look for MCU in a house,” Greta said. She hadn’t decided if he was being pretentious in his language or if that was how he translated his thoughts into words. If it was pretension, she’d have him out of there before the afternoon grew a beard. Arrogant and her didn’t mix.

“The website indicated your unit was based in police headquarters. The secretary on duty there made it sound like a most formidable compound with Barbie wire.”

Greta choked. “It’s called barbed wire,” Hans said, impatient.

“My point is that I ought be more prompt in my arriving. I am most sorry.” Marcus bowed to Hans.

“It will not be a problem in the future.” Hans was working on his in charge voice. It was too bad that sounded like a bad old-fashioned movie threat voice. “Arriving timely—“

“Everyone gets lost. It doesn’t matter. We can’t fire everyone because the city has fits of stupid,” Greta cut in.

Anne peered outside. “Let us move this conversation inside. The rain will be upon us shortly and dripping paperwork would be most inconvenient as would be an office of stuffy noses.”

Hans and Greta shuffled over so Marcus could come in. He stopped on the threshold, examining the security gate just inside the doorway. “That is an impressive home system. Do you often experience intrusions?”

“No, we don’t. I intend to keep it that way,” Hans answered.

“Such a design would catch many a weapon.”

“It’s not a metal detector,” the blond said. “You can come through and Greta will give you the tour.”

“Hans,” Greta scolded.

“Not all weapons are metallic in composition. Some are plastic. Others are bone. Still others are magic. I recognize this design. It was quite effective and popular ten years ago. The power sources now tend to fail and are not easy to replace. Did yours spark, pop or smoke before ceasing operations?”

“How’d you know that? Are you magic?” Greta rolled her eyes as Hans took the defensive tack. He had to get over the whole magic phobia one of these days, right?

“It is my business to know such things. Gadgetry is my specialty. My previous two…employers have had such devices. The first ignored the warning signs when the device began to malfunction; my second was wiser. The power cores were built to erroneous specifications.”

“When Greta is done showing you your laboratory and the rest of MCU, she’ll bring you by my office and we’ll get you started on a small case as a probationary run.” Hans’s tone was ambivalent, but he wasn’t giving the new guy death glares anymore. He still lost points on overstating his brother advantage.

“I look forward to the challenge.”

“I’ve had to fill in the technology role recently,” Anne said. “Call me later and I can review what I’ve been doing.”

“Thank you for the kindness.” Marcus bowed again. Greta sort of wondered if he’d been hit on the head over at PD. She wouldn’t put it past the secretary if he had interrupted her, though he didn’t seem the sort.

“Anne, if I could speak to you a few moments about the Andersen case.”

“Of course, Hans. Let me get my files and we can assess things in the briefing room.”

Anne headed down the corridor while Hans briskly ascended the staircase. Greta watched her brother. He was worried about something and it was not Marcus, though he was being a bear enough about that. She’d ask him about it later; she had some new question tricks to try. Now there was more urgent business.

“You like climbing, right?” she asked the new tech.

“Let me guess,” Marcus said dryly. “I’m in the basement.”

“Nope, you’ve got to do better than that. You’re in the attic.”

“I am?” Marcus asked in surprise. No. Not surprise. Thrilled. “Techies and people others don’t want around are always in the basement.”

“What’s so amusing? Did I say something wrong?”

“Funny. You want the word funny. Amusing is for strangulating social functions.”

Marcus’s eyebrows scrunched together. He thought her weird. He kept it out of his voice. “What’s so funny about my words?”

“Hans is in the basement.”

She didn’t hear any footsteps behind her as she climbed the stairs. Casting a glance backward over her shoulder, she saw Marcus standing at the landing, one hand on the rail. He was trying to keep his face calm. His jaw tightened. She assumed he was trying not to laugh. There weren’t enough tells to be sure. Somebody had schooled the new techie on divorcing his face from his heart. She was used to that in field agents and secretaries. Not so much with the lab rats, even when there weren’t any chemicals electrifying their brains. “Sorry,” he said. “Your brother was not my target.”

“Don’t be,” Greta said. “Sorry, that is. I would object on principle if you offloaded rounds, darts, arrows or pigeons into Hans.”

“Pigeons? You confuse me.”

“Then I’m doing my job.” She reached the landing. She pointed at the corridor leading away from the staircase. “That is Anne and my’s floor. You’ll get a better look later. I-Your place first.” Fried toads, why had she almost said Ivan’s name aloud. She didn’t even like the guy and now she was almost babbling about him when they’d all decided it was better not to. Drama was so very irksome.

“I would like to see your job description.” Polite again. This was going to take work. Though there was a bit of tug. He wanted to smile.

Greta snorted. “Job descriptions are the best fiction in PD. Even better than chronic charms confessors.”

“I’ve found charms confessors to be rather repetitive in their claims. Is not the nobility more guilty of fictional habits?”

“Not here. Bremen doesn’t have any nobles.” She looked at him. “That’s pretty common knowledge. Are we going to need to plant you on a grapevine? Or put you up in the middle of market like a shaggy scarecrow?”

He ignored that. “You mean outside of visitors and the ones that move here when they can’t hack it at home.”

“Well, yes. The visiting sort is all sorts of trouble. Here, they all whine. That’s why the charm confessors sell more tv spots here. They get novels as well. Sometimes a pasta box.”

“I think you mean cereal box,” Marcus said.

“I’ll prove it when you get stuck helping with grocery runs.” She yanked off the large carbineer from her belt and spun the keys around until she got the large tarnished silver skeleton key. She forced it into a formidable padlock and jammed it counter clockwise. The lock popped. The black key went into the smallest lock. She did the combination lock and then slid the smallest lock into a diary lock she had souped up when board of meetings at PD. The coroner hadn’t been happy with the materials she’d swiped in the process. Who knew guys who worked with dead people were so picky about their blades? Then there were the two string knots. A child could take them out, but redundancy was important in all of Hans’s directives. She opened the door and peeked inside, using her body to shield most of the opening.

“Don’t tell me there is a dragon in there.”

“Ok, I won’t.” She sounded boring, the best way to make someone sweat. She was good at making people’s pores cry.

Marcus coughed. He was clearly disappointed in her. How did he know there wasn’t a dragon in there that fast? It was most vexing that he hadn’t played at all. She flung the door open the rest of the way, rather harder than was necessary. It made a great boom as it hit the wall. Four seconds later her phone rang. She looked at the caller id. Her brother. Of course. Well, if he was going to complain about noise like some old grandfather, she wasn’t answering.

“Your caged lair,” she said to Marcus, pointing at the room beyond.

“The door is made of wood. There was string tied to the door. All too flammable for dragon confinement, even if you had a field generator or Teflon or Plexiglas in place.”

She said nothing, only crossed her arms and waited pointedly for him to enter the attic. Marcus met her gaze. He was ignoring her attitude. That was earning and costing him points at the same time. No matter the balance, she was not going to move first. Marcus didn’t make it a staring battle of wills. He went into the room like he was only taking his time. If he’d shrugged his shoulders or slinked, that would have been it. She’d have written him off as another computer geek lab rat. This was different. Instinct told her so. Hans said instinct was foolish, something to be mastered. Whatever. It kept her sharp.

It was instinct that told her that the attic was too quiet. There should have been some reaction to the mess in there unless Anne had worked a miracle and Greta was not in the know about it. She went through the door, climbed the narrow set of ten stairs and around the corner of the landing. Marcus was standing in the middle of the dimly lit first room. One of the two lightbulbs had burned out.

“Sorry about the light. We’re not much of a welcoming committee are we? We make you stay on the roof in the dark.”

“This is neither the roof nor the dark. You gave me a place. For that, I am in your debt.”

“Wait until after you figure out what we’ve got for you to work with.”
“This is more than adequate.”

She frowned. No one could have assessed the contents of the room that fast. “You just got up here. You’re in the middle of the room. What do you know about adequate?”

“The scans on the wall behind you indicate that there’s access to the third best portable resonator on the market, which happens to be the most reliable and offers scalable images so transferring the images won’t bring down the entire city network. The bins to my left have more tools in them than my technical training program, and that is without even considering the cameras scattered about. You’ve a more compact magicthrometer that I’ve ever seen. It’s easily mistakable for simple penlight. That flat screen on the wall likely has touch screen capabilities. The number of computers in this room alone is obscene. Is the more scientific lab in the second room? I hope you have a hood. Analysis of magical compounds gets rancid more times than not. At this point, the only thing I’m doubting is your database subscriptions as I know there have been city budget cuts and those things are prohibitive without a university going in on the price.”

Greta coughed. Maybe she’d been too quick to underestimate his observational prowess. “You aren’t concerned by the lack of magical equipment?”

The noise of metal upon metal answered her. Marcus was going through the bin, muttering to himself as he looked at each piece. Greta was up on slang but she didn’t know all the words he was using. She’d have to grill him later—you never knew what words would throw off a witness when asking questions. Most of the PD technical specialists didn’t get to ask questions—it was a perk of the MCU that she got to do so. Her crime scenes made people nervous. All the more fun for her. She repeated her question, after stomping this time.

He held up what looked like a copper whisk welded to a flashlight handle, his purple sleeves falling down to his elbows. “You’ve a wraith diffuser field generator on inventory and you complain of magical equipment? A training wheel version is all I have seen and that was only because I attend the Conference on Magical Technoference every solar year.”

Apparently the key to unleashing Marcus’s inner geekbabble was to present him with a glorified spoon. There better be an off switch. “Not that sort of magic gadget. Does it bother you that none of these use magic for juice?”

“Please tell me this is some sort of test. I’m working with the infamous Hans and Greta. If I thought magic was going to have any place in my job other than behind bars, I fail at research more than college students running sleep debt to rival some palace treasuries.”

“Hey, I don’t have a problem with magic. That’s not how I roll. It’s all on, Hans.”

He didn’t believe her. He didn’t call her a liar, but she knew. It was something in his eyes. “Power sources don’t matter as much as you think you do. It’s all about getting the data and then making it speak. Electronics, magnetic, thaumaturgy, simple machines, toothpicks can all get the results you seek. Leaving out one group leaves three others still at my fingerprints.”

Greta snerked.

“Your test I pass then?” He smiled then. It was not unpleasant. He rubbed the dust from his knees where he had knelt before the tool bins.

“Hans will let you live.” Greta looked at her watch. “I think. You better head down to the basement.”

“Anne had offered assistance,” Marcus said, looking around the room. “I hate to leave this all out of order.”

“It’ll wait. My brother’s impatient today. Don’t make him more so. I mean, doing that is fun for me, but could be trouble for you.”

“I wish that didn’t make sense. Do I follow the stairs all the way down or is there a secret passage?”

“Get going down. Oh, and Marcus?”

“Yes?”

Was he already halfway down the stairs? Gremlins, he was fast. “Put your shoes on. Even if you have blisters larger than brownies, put the shoes on.”

“Shoes?” The dark young man looked down to see that he was still holding a pair of laces in his right hand. “Oh, right. Footwear. These dress shoes don’t fit. I thought a show my first day would be good, but then the hike from city hall.”

“No shoes, no shiny tech toys of doom.”

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Nano Ideas: In Search of Silly

Last year, my Nano turned out darker than I anticipated toward the end. I’m not complaining about the development as it stretched my comfort zone as a writer. It also taught me a lot about how Jeremiah, Elsa and Matthew react to different stresses in their lives. It is the whole timing of writing that darker section that was not fun. When the line between real life and fictional life blurs, I prefer not to be in the middle.

This year I want to find something more lighthearted to use as my Nano. That rules out the Jeremiah Was a Werewolf sequel that I have planned. One of my favorite things that shows up in my writing again and again is the theme of transformation. Sometimes this is relegated to internal transformation, such as in EGtSV. Many times, it ends up being a physical transformation as well. Many of my stories that are in the process of being written or that are sitting in line in my idea file relate to transformation. I would like to do something a little bit different this November if possible. This rules out By Water Bound, which is a quasisteampunk story involving magick and its surprising effects on life in a small town. It also rules out Otter, which is a sort of modern day fairy tale. It also rules out Swallow, which is a book based on the song She’s Like a Swallow, the story the Snow Queen and steampunk.

Ideally, I would write a sequel to EGtSV. Other than some ideas on who would narrate a future story with those characters, I have no idea what would happen. I’m not going to force it, so this is only a dim possibility. A friend would like a sequel to Stickpin and Waddle, my investigative hedgehog and platypus story. This does have a bit more to it than the EGtSV sequel. It would likely involve a kidnapping or two. I know who would be in trouble and who would be attempting rescue. (I am starting to wonder at the number of stories that want kidnappings now. I think I should cut back on the crime shows). Maybe I am still intimidated by the idea of writing a sequel, but I think I will forgo taking one on this November.

That leaves me with a collection of odd ideas that have accumulated over the last several years. The list is as follows:

917 Ways to Kill a Plant – I wanted a robot for my birthday. All Auntie gave me was a plant and this book. They can’t shoot lasers or play sirens.

This story would consist of the many different ways he tries to kill the plant.

Tension Takeovers – World where stress brings on desire to rule the world. Headaches, lack of pain killers, POOF want world domination.

My guess is that this is satire.

Blake Davies and the Rocket Shot – Science child geek builds a rocket in his back yard. A rocket that gets set off by accident by his hyper hockey obsessed neighbor.

The Toastinator – Kid with superpower of roasting marshmallows has to take matters into his own hands.

The most surprising thing to find in the idea files was a two paragraph story starter. I have no idea where this was going at all, but it seems like it’d be a silly adventure/investigation story.

Special Agent Stephanie Patrick Ork checked her belt’s magazine. Satisfied with its contents even after she reloaded her ammunition, she closed it with a loud snap. Her long, brown hair swished in time with the march of her military boots. She’d fastened her flak jacket too tightly, but she didn’t take the time to fix it. Stifling protection and shallow breathing was infinitely preferable to an unprotected moment in the high security compound.

Her partner, Phillip Logan Atypus, fell in beside her as she left the fortified aid station. He pulled his face shield into place over his pinched and weary features. Phillip had forgone the use of the shield carried by the other operatives scattered along the corridors. With his linebacker’s build, he preferred to be seen rather than hidden. It’d taken Stephanie weeks to convince him to wear the flak jacket. While such bravado should garner him censure, so far the risks had only netted feathers for his cap.

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