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Cinder continued to chop, slice and dice various things for his sauce as he thought over what Braeden had told him. If he was right, and the kids were being taken by a vampire, it must be an older more powerful one. It had a great deal of resources and an extensive network especially if the same guy was tied to the Vipers gang, Eastmorland teachers, and others throughout the city.
Since the driver was so pale, chances were good the guy was a thrall, a human who had given himself to a Vampire for feeding. The constant draining of blood didn't kill but sure would explain the paleness. Also, to be on the streets seeking out his master's preferred food and pleasure, the pale man had to be a trusted thrall. This meant the guy almost certainly spent a great deal of time in the dark, only going out to secure what his master craved. The master was the real problem and would have to be found and dealt with... What had Braeden called him? As the name came to him the frown only deepened on Cinder's face. Opaque Master... Such a name sounded old and eerily formal. Younger vampires would never allow their thralls to openly give out their formal names.
The other thing bothering Cinder was Drake's report of a boy who went to his school the year prior being in the back after the guy had dropped off the badly weakened child. The only reason the guy would drive under a tree while the kid got into the back under something would be if sunlight was the problem. This meant the kid had been turned. A Half-life, a child vampire who had not been allowed to grow up, was normally shunned, even by other vampires. At the same time, the vampire who made the Half-life stood to lose a great deal of respect from other vampires and was setting himself to be abandoned or at least shunned by others.
However, the size and scope of the network did not suggest this was the work of an outcast or poorly seen Vampire. Instead, it was extensive, well organized and even allowed to exist with rumors circulating through the streets about it. This meant it was not only tolerated but it also had serious support of the greater Vampire community. The only explanation, at least in Cinder's mind, was this had to be a pretty old Vampire with a long term reputation, which if true, was something Cinder could not take on alone.
As much as Cinder hated it, he could not ignore his gut on this. However, it was not something he could go to the Sept Elder with until he had some kind of proof, and there was no chance he was going to endanger the likes of Todd and his very young war pack either, although protocol said he should. He shook his head, tossed in the last of the onions and garlic into his sauce, and lowered the heat to let it simmer for a bit.
Backing away from the stove, Cinder put up his hands to his mouth and exhaled making an odd whistling sound for a couple of seconds. With a resigned sigh, he did the thing he absolutely hated to do the most. He picked up his phone to ask for help. Even as he input the number he wondered if bringing in a human to help him on this was such a good idea, but was not sure what other choice he had unless he went to Todd, and there was zero chance of him endangering the boy or his fledgling pack on some older Vampire.
It took only two rings for the man on the other end to answer, "Rainer."
"Hey Jeff, it's Than; sounds like your day was shit."
"Cinder, today was your fault."
"Mine? Uh huh, I have had my hands way to full to fuck with your day buddy."
"Yeah, well, we had nine DOA's dropped off at various hospitals and one live guy at McCune all since last night. Witnesses say it was a pair of young kids doing the dropping off each time, but no one could give me shit for a description. The last one was a woman in her mid forties, it was totally freaky. She had like eighty small holes in her, and the coroner says cause of death is blood loss. But I saw the body, all the holes had burn marks in them. Even worse, we have one living guy who just keeps talking about a big dog with fire and a tree feeding on him. He isn't expected to make it. They're all homeless and there is no way to tell how long they have been missing. This has the marking of your Unseen all over it."
Cinder gave a short grunt. "Huh, well I take back what I said; I guess it is kind of my fault then."
"Damn straight it's your fault. All the others assigned want to write this off as the delusions of a dying man and chalk the rest of to a hell of a fire we had down in Viper territory last night since all the DOAs have burn marks and that was the only major fire. We think the Vipers did it to hide a murder, we found a crack-bitch with her guts punctured, but the fire left her too burned to easily ID. We have a lead. It points to one of the Viper leaders, a guy with the street name of Slice... The problem is we haven't found all of him. We have his hand and arm up to the elbow only, and the Vipers are too afraid to talk about it. One of my younger contacts in the gang says scuttlebutt on the streets is it was a lone guy who took Slice down and they are staying clear of the area cause this Slice was one bad dude. He has a hell of a rap sheet, but we've never been able to make anything stick. The fucker is so dammed slippery; he managed to leave his hand and arm behind and still elude us."
Exhaustion oozed out of Detective Rainer's voice. "So... to sum this all up for you, we have ten dead, one more on the way to his grave and us missing a chunk of what is probably a twelfth all in one night. The FBI says we need to close this or they will move in and I don't want to sign off like every other brown nosed ass wipe on the force does. Can you add any insight?"
"Yeah, sign off and move on. It's done and dealt with."
"Drop it, Jeff, you really don't want to go down this particular road this time."
"No more dead showing up looking like Swiss cheese?"
"I didn't end it, but I know, without question it's done. Just make sure to give the bodies a good burial, preferably on hallowed ground. They need to find some peace."
"If I sign off they'll be cremated in the next couple of days."
"There are worse outcomes for them."
"You aren't going to tell me more, are you?"
"Not directly. The only thing I can't tell you is what happened to the larger missing part of you Viper punk. I have no clue where he is."
"Well fuck!" the detective all but screamed. "Fine, Cinder, I'll close it as all fire related and leave it cracked open on the off chance we find Slice." Jeff let out a huge breath, "At least I am not totally shutting the books down on this. So what the hell are you calling me for, Anyway?"
"Want to know if you want dinner."
"And? Why whatever do you mean, Jeff?" Cinder snickered.
"Ah, shit. Do I need to bring my gun with the silver bullets you gave me?"
"No, not tonight, but I gave you those to protect your ass; you should always have them on you. This evening I just want you to enjoy a meal, meet someone, and help me tidy up a few things. I'd also like you to run me a report on crime on and around Coyote Drive and bring it with you. I'm cooking spaghetti..."
"Crap," Rainer stated with a must softer sigh, "your home made sauce?"
"No other way to make it Jeff."
"This must be a hell of a favor... OK, fine. When is it going to be ready and how dangerous is the... it is a person I am meeting this time, right?"
Cinder couldn't help but laugh. "Yes he is a person; no totally weird shit tonight. Hell your rookie ass knows more about the unseen than this person does. You'll meet him, you and I will talk, I might show you a few things and you'll get a good meal. No poking around the old mines, no chasing ghost lights, you won't even have to leave my house with me. Promise."
"Eight years as a detective and I'm a rookie..." Jeff Rainer grumbled knowing when it came to the Unseen, Cinder was telling the truth and he was the only one who was willing to show him more. "Alright, see you in an hour or so."
Cinder let out a long breath, adjusted the heat on the oven, and peaked in on Drake.
Looking up from the two toy boats and the army men he had been trying get to stand on the bigger boat, a flash of nervousness flashed though Drake's eyes.
Even from the door Cinder could hear the boy's heart rate speed up and see the boy's upper body tighten up. "Drake, I was just making sure you were actually going to use some soap and get clean. We have a guest coming over and I want to make sure he sees a boy and not dirt."
Drake looked down, "Will I have to do stuff for him?"
Cinder put his hands behind his back before clenching his fists so the tyke couldn't see them. "No, he is like me and Bray. He would never harm a child."
Cinder stepped in and sat on the toilet seat, "Drake, I know it'll take some time, but you need to find away to feel safe here. At some point you need to stop expecting bad things every time I do something or say something."
Drake glanced up then looked away. "I don't know how."
"Buddy, tonight when Jeff comes over, would you be willing to tell him some of the things you have been through?"
"The bad things."
Drake cocked his head to the side as he thought about it, "Me don't know too many good things except when mom got the big money for Eddie and Krystal. Then she spent it all and we got tossed out again."
"Can you tell him about your brother and sister?"
"Uh huh, but me don't know where they went."
"Just talk to Jeff when he gets here and answer his questions. If he asks you something you don't want to talk about, tell him."
"And he won't hit me?"
Cinder's shoulders slumped, "Drake..." Cinder stopped himself from saying what he really wanted to. Somehow, some way, he would have to break this kid out of the mold of expecting bad at every turn or Cinder would go nuts. "Drake, you are under my protection. I would not bring someone over here to talk with you if I even suspected they would do you harm. Now have fun in the bath, but use the soap and shampoo, then come see me so I can put the lice medicine in your hair and comb it. I cannot have any boy of mine having lice."
"OK uncle Cinder."
Cinder looked at the clothing on the floor and thought back to what the child had been wearing the night before. He figured if he didn't say something there were even odds of the boy simply putting the clothing he had just come out of back on. "You need to get in a clean set of clothing too, Drake. I know Bray bought you two sets of each size, so you'll probably want to wear the other sweats of the same size. Those," He pointed to the dirt coated garments, "get picked up and dropped in front of the washer."
Cinder spent the next hour cleaning up the house, finally having to tell Drake to get out of the tub. As he went into the bathroom to tidy it out, he glanced at the thin layer of brown at the bottom and the toy boats and soldiers lined up along the back side. "Shit, I'm going to have to build some kind of toy thing in here too... Just great."
He scratched his chin as he cleaned up the tub, wondering how one three foot, ten inch tall, fifty two pound child could get this much dirt into the bottom of a formally spotless tub. At the same time he wondered about living space. He didn't have a bedroom for the boy. Braeden would be fairly straight forward. He could go buy everything he needed to build a new shed and move his workroom over since his current workroom had running water, a shower, a toilet, was insulated and would easily transform into a small studio apartment. He wondered about the need to run a 220 volt line over for a stove and dryer, but figured a microwave and mini fridge would be fine for now.
Drake was a bigger problem. He couldn't live in the living room indefinitely. The only options Cinder could think of were not great. The first was to put up yet another outbuilding and give Drake his own little apartment. As nice of an idea as it was, if didn't seem right to do to an eight year old, even for Cinder. The second was to convert the attic. It would give the boy lots of room, but it would take a huge amount of work. He would have to make a floor to cover the open insulation, put up drywall, install more light and run a few more wires for electrical pugs. This would also mean installing a bigger circuit breaker and the drop down wooden step ladder would need to be replaced with steps or something more permanent and safe. All of it was manageable, but finding the time when he still had to worry about teaching Braeden to fix his older car, getting the garden planted, working, and still tracking leads on his long missing friend, plus this new Vampire problem was a stretch even for him.
There was the third option, Cinder realized after a few minutes, which was letting Drake stay in the building with Braeden, but even as caring as Bray was, the temptation of having a boy so close all night was not something Cinder was comfortable with. By the time Jeff knocked on the door, Cinder was almost happy to have the company of another adult, cause to be honest Cinder was not the greatest when it came to talking, worse when it came to a kid, especially an abused, highly cautious boy who was easily freighted. Cinder was just too crude to deal with children properly and he knew it.
Jeff looked up as the door was opened and quickly stuck out a four pack of Guinness in his right hand. His left clutched a thin folder. "Damn, that smells good! You sure know how to get a guy to drop plans."
"Yeah, well if you would learn how to cook..." Cinder fired back with a laugh while taking the beer.
Jeff took a single step inside and spotted Drake. A great deal of surprise crossed his features as he glanced over to the boy with a warm smile. "Who's this, Cinder?"
"Jeff, this is one of the reasons I wanted you to come over tonight. This is Drake." Cinder motioned for Drake to come over. "He is going to be living with me."
The second Drake came over Jeff detected the child's unease. The boy's stance, his eyes, the way he held his body, the way he looked away as soon as Jeff made eye contact all told the experienced detective he was dealing with a very frightened and almost certainly abused youngster.
Jeff didn't turn to Cinder to look for explanations, those would have to wait. Instead he kept his eyes focused on the boy and didn't' move any closer. "Hi Drake. My name is Jeff Rainer. You can call me Jeff or Mr. Rainer, which ever you are more comfortable with."
Drake instinctively moved closer to Cinder surprising both Jeff and Cinder. "Hi Mr. Rainer." Drake managed to say softly without making any eye contact.
Cinder, glanced down with a tad bit annoyance in his voice. "Come on Drake, speak up and go shake his hand. I already told you, he is not someone to be afraid of."
"But he's got a gun, Uncle Cinder."
"So do I Drake."
Jeff was really surprised the child had noticed he was carrying since it was not in plain sight. It was actually pretty well concealed under his jacket. He purposefully wore bigger jackets to hide his firearm and break up the outline of his shoulder rigging. At the same time he couldn't help but inwardly cringe at Cinder's comments. The guy was a wolverine, even around a clearly frightened child.
"I am a police detective, Drake. I have to carry a gun, but I am here because Cinder invited me. He said he wanted me to meet you."
"Me see the badge." Drake pointed to the almost invisible outline of Jeff's shield in his coat pocket.
"Wow, you're good son." Jeff stated with a mixture of astonishment and unease at how the boy sounded about knowing he was a cop. He glanced over, noting there was several unopened boxes of legos under the cot off to the side in the living room. Rising an eyebrow at Cinder, but giving no other non-verbal cues as to his bewilderment, he kept his voice very friendly. "How long till we eat?"
"About an hour. You were available a great deal faster than normal. I hadn't even put it on to simmer until I called." Cinder stated, no longer paying any attention to the kid who clearly wanted to use him as some kind of safe zone.
"Cinder, you wouldn't mind giving Drake a quick hug before the two of us go explore some new toys it looks like you just bought him." He nodded in the direction of the cot.
Jeff then focused right back on Drake as Cinder gave the boy a pat on the shoulder and all but shoved the poor kid over toward him. As much as he wanted to give Cinder a disapproving glare or shake of the head he forced himself not to, nor did he reach out toward Drake. "Can you show me what Uncle Cinder bought for you while he finishes dinner?"
Seeing the boy look fearfully back at Cinder, Jeff used this to fire off a rather disapproving slight shake of his head at Cinder. "Uncle Cinder will be in the kitchen and be able to see you or at least hear you the whole time and I don't bite. OK?"
"What?" Cinder mouthed back without verbalizing anything.
Jeff took a breath, rolled his eyes and smiled down at Drake again. Noting the boy, although not making eye contact, was intently studying him. "So, it looks like you have a bunch of legos you haven't even opened. Do you want to go build a couple of them?"
Drake's head leaned to the left as he looked over Jeff suspiciously. "Me got to play with legos at school once, but one a the older kids took 'em."
"Well, how mean of him." Jeff stated without any judgment of Drake, "Are you kind of afraid of opening them because you don't really know what to do with them?"
Drake nodded as he edged around the man to move toward the packages without getting any closer. A bit of fear played across his face as he noticed Cinder had moved back into the kitchen where he could not see him. To this end, Drake quickly pulled out a trio of boxes and moved to where he could see Cinder in the kitchen before he sat on the floor.
Jeff watched the boy for a few seconds before he moved over and looked down. "Can I sit down here so we can build together?"
Drake glanced up, seeing Cinder and nodded. "Do I have to sit on your lap?"
"No, but if you really want to, you can."
Drake shook his head hard and quickly sat down and started to pull off the cellophane from around the boxes.
Jeff took it all in stride. All the signs of abuse were there, but the boy clearly looked to Cinder as a protector. Figuring this was a good sign; he pulled out the directions and handed them over to Drake. He could tell the boy struggled to read the writing, but was easily able to follow the pictures. He didn't have to help at all to build the first toy. "Wow, for someone who doesn't know how to use legos you did amazingly well!"
Drake managed hint of a smile but his face quickly returned to a mask of almost no emotion. "The pictures make it easy. But me can't read most-a the words on this stuff. I'm dumb."
"No, you aren't Drake. You just followed a fifty page booklet and didn't need any help to build this spaceship, you are very intelligent. Besides most of this other stuff is advertising for other lego toys. It doesn't even matter."
"Me can't read good. Other kids make fun of it in reading groups at my new school."
"Me just started at Kelsey."
Cinder spoke up from the kitchen, "It sounds like he spent a great deal of time at Eastmorland, Jeff. I don't' like what he told me about it either."
Drake shook his head, "Me don't want to go back there!"
"I already told you, Drake, you will never have to. Stop worrying about it."
Jeff fired off a sharp look at Cinder as he spoke loudly enough to be easily heard over the clanking of pots and pans, "Highest juvenile crime rate and the lowest test scores in the whole city. It also boasts the highest number of runaways for a grade school and the highest number of kids on the free lunch program for the city. Juvenile detectives might as well live there. Just last week, one of the fourth grade teachers was stabbed by a ten year old girl on the playground."
"Must-a been Mrs. Allen. She prob'ly deserved it." Drake muttered.
Detective Rainer heard the words, but they took a moment to process. He slowly turned back to focus on the child, while doing everything in his power to keep his voice calm and free of anger. "Drake, it was a Mrs. Allen, but no one deserves to get stabbed."
After several moments of silence, Cinder came out and looked down at Drake. "Boy, don't just bite your lip. Tell him why you would say such a thing. I already told you Jeff is a good guy and you can talk to him."
Drake gulped and stated poking at the lego spaceship he had just built. "Mrs. Allen gets the stuff mom likes to poke in her arms. Me had to take her money and bring it back a couple a times." Seeing Detective Rainer's face go a bit pale, Drake figured he better explain some so he didn't get taken to jail. "Mom's last boy friend would lock me in a closet all night if I didn't do it. He liked to do it too."
Cinder let out a light snarling sound, "Damn, is there anything good about Eastmorland at all?"
"The nice lunch lady." Drake responded without hesitation.
"OK, right. The lady who would feed you afterschool, so there is someone worth a shit there." Cinder grunted in disgust and leaned against the wall watching Rainer's reaction. He liked what he saw.
Detective Rainer just stared and had to wipe a tear out of his right eye. "Cinder will never let anyone do those things to you."
Drake glanced up, nodded, and looked away again. "Are you gunna let me stay here?"
"Why would I take you away?" Jeff asked cautiously.
"Cause teachers at Eastmorland say if we go to cops they take us to jail and stuff!"
"Not this cop." The fact he didn't defend the entire police force was not lost on either Cinder or Drake and much to his credit, Jeff noticed both their looks and simply nodded to both of them.
This time Drake let out a bit more of a real smile as he sighed and calmed down. Even Cinder understood one of the boy's fears of Jeff had been this overriding fear. "Drake you are going to have to trust me, buddy. I would not bring anyone over who would take you away unless you wanted me to."
As both men watched Drake do his wild back and forth shaking of his head thing, Cinder glanced over to Jeff. "His words lead directly into one of the things I was hoping you could give me an assist on. I have some signed paperwork from the mom, but I'd sure like something in a record somewhere saying I was legal with this."
"Done." Jeff responded instantly. "Get me his full name and I'll make it all nice and legal."
"Great." Cinder looked a bit relived at hearing this. "Hey guys, let's eat then Drake can tell you more, Jeff, lots more. Drake, go wash your hands and get your toys off the side of the tub, they should be dry by now."
Jeff felt a bit of his heart breaking as he moved toward the Kitchen table. He glanced over his shoulder to make sure Drake was not listening in. "Something tells me I am going to have to go after a couple of slime-balls after we are done here."
"Depends on how deep you want to dig, Jeff. The boy is a sharp one and knows how to pay attention to things. He has ton of information inside his brain. He hasn't even told you about his brother and sister yet or maybe brothers and sister. I wasn't able to get much, but what I do know is enough for me to want to chew nails and spit them at people. Getting more out of him on them is something I'll let you deal with, because after a few minutes of talking to him I get way too frustrated. He's like a talking puzzle, giving pieces to eight puzzles all at the same time, some of them linked, some of them not. But it has taken about all I can handle to pull out what I got now."
"Alright, I probably don't want to ask, but how did you end up with him?"
Cinder let out a bit of a breath. "The only thing I am going to ever tell you is, I stopped from happening to him what did happen to his brother and sister. Don't ask how. This is one of those things you will just have to accept and move on. One way or another I am not letting anyone take him. For the first time in his life he has a safe place to live and I intend to keep him directly under my protection."
Conversation changed as Drake came back and eyed the food with the look of a tiger circling wounded prey. They ate without serious discussion. Almost like an unspoken line of communication existed between Cinder and Jeff, the two didn't mention anything to spoil a good meal. Instead the two men talked about cars, computers and Jeff brought Drake in to talk about what the boy liked to do.
This turned out to be very insightful to Cinder, as Jeff was able to pull out dozens of small things Cinder had never bothered to think about. First, the boy did know how to ride a bike and until mom sold it, bike riding was one of his favorite things to do. Second, he loved to play outside. As he talked of playing soccer on the playground of school, exploring the streets in the dead of night, or going swimming when the public pools had their free days the summer before, all fear vanished. With his natural defenses lowered, he pretty much talked the rest of the meal, only stopping once to nervously ask if he could have a second glass of milk.
Cinder had no idea a child could talk so much. He was basically grateful to see Drake stop eating and finally ask if he could go to the bathroom. He let out long sigh of relief.
Jeff snickered, "If you are going to be a dad, you best learn to deal with it."
"Uncle, not dad, nope, no way." Cinder stated as if the title he was using made any difference. "Still, you were great. I now know what I need to buy him to keep him more or less happy."
"It isn't just buying him toys, Cinder." Jeff reminded him. You'll need to drop down to his level and do stuff with him." Seeing a bit of a blank look he rolled his eyes. "He is quite something, though."
"You don't know the half of it." Cinder glanced and looked over as Drake reappeared. "Jeff do you mind setting up the Play Station so I can do some dishes." His voice took on a commanding tone as he added, "I am sure Drake would love to help you."
Drake stopped, looked over the two adults and took a second to see if he could spot any kind of a trap. Seeing nothing suspicious, he finally nodded. "What's a Play Station?"
"It's a computer like thing you hook up to the TV so you can play games." Jeff responded while looking down at the boy, "You don't know what one is, really?"
This time Drake slowly shook his head. "Some-a the kids at Kelsey talk about it and a X-box thingy. Me thought it was a game, but... they'd tease me for askin' so me just pretended to know."
Jeff dug the machine out of the box and spotted the cables in another bag off to the side. As he started to read the instructions he glanced down, trying to do his best to make small talk. "Can you tell me the name of mommy's last boyfriend?"
Drake frowned deeply. "I'm not a baby."
"I never said you were, Drake."
"Only a baby has a mommy, though."
"Ahh," Jeff nodded in understanding, "You are so right. I asked the question totally wrong. You are very brave to point out my mistake and I will not let it happen again. So can you tell me the name of your mom's last boyfriend?"
"Hank, but some guys from his gang would call him Brute." Drake looked over to Cinder who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. "He's the one who took Eddie."
"Eddie?" Jeff turned to look at Cinder, "Who's Eddie?"
"His brother, Jeff. His mom rented all them for dug money, but started selling them off when she really stared to string out."
"What! When?" Jeff nearly dropped the brand new unit.
Drake looked down and mumbled, "Day before Christmas. One a Brute's guys said Eddie'd make someone a good present and laughed. He put one of mom's needles in his arm. He had spit coming out of his mouth when he carried him out."
"So your brother has been gone three and a half months?"
Drakes lips scrunched up as he gazed the ceiling and though it over before shrugging "Uh huh. Brute gave mom some of the money and me some and told me to get them some of the smoking rocks. School was out so there was no lunches so me keeped two a the twenties for me cause mom didn't get no food when she got the stuff to put into the needles and smoked at the same time. It ran out before school started again though, then we moved cause the social worker started checking on why Eddie didn't come back to school. Hank told 'em he run away and started to pull a gun so I said so too."
Detective Rainer looked a bit pale, but managed to keep his inner horror mostly out of his voice. "You did the right thing. You probably saved the life of the social worker."
"And mom." Drake added, "Cause she was really ... um... bad... all stumbly and stuff, and the social worker would a tried to take me again and Hank could still get money for me." He looked down and spoke softly. "His boss at the car parts making place likes me a lot. Hank said it helped him keep his job sometimes. He pulled a gun on mom lots a times when we didn't do what he wanted."
"And he sold your sister?"
Drake shrugged. "Don't know Mr. Rainman. Maybe. Mom brought him over three days later."
Jeff almost corrected the boy on his last name but let it slide knowing to take the boy off his current line of thought may mean the end of any useful information. "Three days after she sold your sister?"
"Guess so." Drake stated with very little emotion, if anything he almost sounded at ease talking about his sister being sold. "Mom got really mad at Krystal and dragged her out by her hair just before Halloween when she didn't dress up like mom wanted. Mom come home with a weird looking costume it said something I couldn't read and Mrs. Maid on the top. Krystal threw it out the window. Mom came back with lots a money and told us Krystal was not commin' back."
"You don't seem too sad about it."
"No, as in you are not sad?"
"Uh uh." Drake kind of shrugged with shaking his head slightly, "Krystal always took the extra food, so Eddie and me eat better after she went away. It was not good without Eddie though, cause mom and Hank only had me to get money for."
Jeff finished hooking up the cables and started testing the unit. Satisfied it was at least installed correctly he reached out and gently patted the boy on the back. As soon as he felt Drake tighten up, he stopped and backed off half a step. "Well, it is a good thing you are with Uncle Cinder now, because you don't have to worry about anything bad happening here."
This got a tiny grin so Jeff tried to fish for a bit more information. "Did you have any other brothers or sisters?
"Lenny and Bobby," Drake nodded, "but Tango took them when he left."
"Tango? Is he a gang member too?"
"Uh huh, but he was nice. We all got mad at mom when he left."
Seeing the boy nod and yawn, Jeff glanced over to the cot, "Looks like you are about done for the day. Maybe you should go to bed and let Uncle Cinder and me talk."
Drake looked over at the game console with some disappointment but was not about to argue, especially hearing the man was going to talk to Cinder and thus would not hurt him. "I'll be a good boy and go to bed now."
Jeff made sure Drake was comfortable and even handed the boy the new lego toy to sleep with before shutting off the living room lights and moving back into the kitchen.
"Did you finally get chatter box to shut up and go to bed?"
"Yeah, and I think he was asleep before his head hit the pillow. You weren't kidding; the boy is a walking crime scene. Do you want to go out back so he can't over hear?"
Cinder tossed the kitchen towel on the sink and walked out the back door. He took a deep sniff of the air, found nothing troublesome, and moved so Rainer could join him. "So I made a photo copy of the paperwork I got from the bitch. His last name is Onyx and you now know more than I did before you came over."
"And if I find his brothers and sisters?"
Cinder's eyes narrowed, "Don't even expect me to take them. This one is on me and if you need help getting them out of wherever they are, you can call me, but I ain't taking them in no matter what type of puppy dog eyes you give me."
"I can always get them into the system if I can find them. I don't know of any gang members with those names, but I can run it by our gangs squad."
"Hell, as good as you were with Drake, you should think about keeping them."
"Sorry, not in my line of work. Do you happen to know how old the others are or were?"
"Nope. You can go wake him up and ask him."
"I don't' think so. He is probably going to have nightmares as it is after having to tell me even half of what he just did. Since he talked about social services I should be able to pick up more information from them. If not I'll swing by another time and ask. They won't be easy to find after this much time has passed though."
"I know, but at least I have put it in the hands of someone to try." Cinder sighed. "The worst part is, you haven't heard it all, Jeff. There are lots more in him. I have heard bits and pieces of other things, much of it at Eastmorland, but it extends outward from there. Do what you can, what you want, and if you need more from him, feel free to swing by, but he stays out of the reports. Call him an informant if you want, but his name, his description, and his whereabouts all need to stay off the books. The only thing I need is something somewhere saying the mother died and I now have legal possession of one Drake Onyx."
"The word is custody, and you are his legal guardian. I'll handle it."
Cinder's eyes hardened. "I may be his guardian, but there will be nothing legal about it if someone tries to take him or harm him again."
Jeff couldn't' help but snicker. "I think I can live with those stipulations." He then pulled out the folder he brought with him. "Now, I did some checking on crime in and around Coyote Drive and came up with a large dark hole."
Cinder took the folder and glanced at the three single sided pieces of paper listing crimes and reports of criminal activity. All three had date ranges and half a dozen to a dozen entries, but they were all clustered in and around the same addresses. "What is this?"
"It's all I got buddy. Everything from the river south to the interstate is a black hole. According to this, we haven't even given a speeding ticket along the whole stretch from 1967, which is as far back as the computer records go, all the way to today. I went down into archives which go back to the 1920's and got the exact same result.
"I found one record about this address." Reiner handed over a slip of paper. "But as soon as I clicked on it, the computer screen went blank and I couldn't make it come up again. You're damned lucky I have a good memory or you wouldn't even have this. So what the hell is this about?"
"Sorry, not this time." Cinder stated firmly then looked right at Rainer, "Listen, Jeff, if you can find out more from the office, great. But do not go snooping around out there. This is unseen business and you have to let me deal with this my way. If you think a War Worm is bad... this may be way worse."
"Does it have anything to do with Drake?"
"Not directly. He saw something and told me about it. He really doesn't know what he really saw, but it was enough for me to put out some feelers. The more I put out, though, the less I liked it, so I called you to get some confirmation. Believe it or not," Cinder smacked the folder lightly, "I think you just did."
"Sounds like the same way we met a few years ago. There I was looking all stupid as the woman was nearly eaten by a giant worm, not knowing what the hell I was really seeing and there you were blades all dripping with gore, ready to clean up the mess with those swords of yours. This damned world has never looked the same ever since."
"And it never will again." Cinder snorted. "I don't mind if you want to drop this altogether at this point. You got me enough to move forward."
"I can't just let it go Cinder, but I'll do what you ask and confine my investigation on Coyote Drive to a desk. Drake's missing siblings, is a whole different story, though."
"Deal, but stay safe and watch your back. You may be treading on some very interesting surfaces if you look into this any further."
"I'll take it easy, but you look as tired as your new boy, so you should hit the sack. I'll call you if I find anything."
Cinder escorted Jeff to the door and crashed, only to be snapped out of a deep slumber as he heard the garage door go up. He shook off the grogginess and made sure it was Braeden. Noting it was three AM he managed a grin. "How's it run?"
"Awesome!" Braeden responded with a yawn, "but I'm wiped."
"Drake took the cot so you can have the couch. This'll only be for another week or so. Keep him safe, I'll be back."
Braeden shook his head as if he had misheard, "Huh? It's three in the morning? Where are you going?"
"To pad my war chest and take care of a toy problem."
"You're weird, man."
"And you're a weird kid. Say, if I am not back get Drake some breakfast and show him how to play the Play Station."
"You got a Play Station?" Braeden's head swiveled and he suddenly looked a great deal more awake.
"Bed, Breakfast for Drake, then teach him. I didn't buy it for you. Since you have a job and I'm taking care of everything else, if you want one, buy it yourself. Now did you eat?"
Braeden shook his head. "Not hungry."
"Bullshit." There is spaghetti sauce in the fridge and some dry spaghetti over the stove. Eat before you go to bed. You will never be worth a shit in combat training if you don't eat better. I'll see you later, but you need to get enough sleep to drive Drake around and get him new clothing safely."
Braeden nodded and watched Cinder leave. "Wow, I have got to find out how he can stay so focused."
It took only twenty minutes for Cinder to arrive at his target and another five to scout the area. The street was silent in the pre-dawn Sunday morning. Even the gang-bangers had called it a night. However, in the middle of the block one house still had lights on and a pair of low-rider trucks parked out front by the curb. While those on both sides peacefully slept blissfully unaware, the two drivers kept watch as car after car pulled in with the weeks take from their drug business.
By this time in the morning however, there was only a heavy set Asian looking guy standing out front, his hands heavily burdened with two bags of cash. The door opened and a greasy looking Hispanic stepped out, the muzzle of an Uzi poking out from under his black trench coat. "Masio, yer late again. What the fuck, man?"
The heave set guy didn't sound concerned. "DUI checkpoint coming off the highway. Had to drive past, nothin' more."
"Yeah, well this is the second time in the last three you're the last. The boss says your Northside Knights have to fork over an extra five percent next week to make up for us having to wait."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" The Asian asked while puffing out his chest. "Look at this cash. We get you more out of Springfield then all the jerk-offs in this whole shithole town brings in put together."
Cinder slipped a cheap ski mask over his head and moved forward; taking full advantage of the fact the two guards inside the low-riders had turned their eyes off the street and onto the argument. He reached in though the window of the closest truck, slapped his hand over the mouth of the guard, and slammed brass knuckles into the guy's nose, breaking it and knocking him cold. It took only another couple of seconds to secure the guy using a few industrial strength zip ties.
He glanced up noting the argument had died down and the Asian now had an Uzi pointed at his groin. Cinder grinned as he silently moved over to the second guard. Cinder wrinkled his nose as he realized the guy was not only half baked from Meth, his breath also stank of alcohol. It had to be at least a .3 blood alcohol level, Cinder judged as he duplicated the move. This time, however, hit the guy a pair of times since there was no telling what Meth could do. Then, as with the last guy, he used zip ties to secure the man's hands to the steering wheel.
Satisfied both guards were out for a considerable amount of time, Cinder bolted the short distance from the side of the truck to the side of the house. Even though he moved at a near dead run, this footfalls were virtually silent. As he arrived, he noticed all the windows had bars. This was a change from his scouting a few weeks earlier and he cursed himself for not doing a drive-by to double check before hitting the place, but Drake had gotten in the way and there was nothing he could do about it now. Unfortunately, he was committed, having taken out the outer guards already.
With a near silent, "Well Shit!" he bolted toward the door, slammed the face of the Asian into the doorframe with enough force to crack the wood, while knocking him cold. Before the guy's eyes even rolled up in his head, Cinder's other hand shot underneath the door guard's coat and his fingers went behind the trigger to prevent the stunned thug from ripping off a single burst from the automatic weapon.
The guy pulled back on the trigger a pair of times before his mouth opened to scream for help. By then it was already too late, as he felt an elbow crash into his Adam's apple. Not being able to do more than make soft croaking sounds, and his weapon being made inoperable, he did nothing but watch as the brass knuckles slammed directly between the eyes."
Cinder glanced around as he lowered the thug to the ground and punched him in the nose a second time, not because it was needed, but because having his fingers pinched behind the trigger of the Uzi had been more painful than he would ever admit. Before anyone could take notice he dragged the Asian in and shoved the door guard's face into the Asian man's crotch before zip-tying the hands of both. This was not done to be mean, but to be a momentary distraction should anyone come around a corner and see it. The extra split second could mean the difference between being shot and taking someone out and Cinder had spent the last several years making sure he took every advantage he could find. Finally, he yanked the heavy bags of cash in and shut the door, locking the key only dead bolt and taking the key with him. There would be no escape for anyone. All who dealt this crap would have to pay.
He moved on, slowly letting his sensitive hearing and nose search for threats outside of his line of sight. He only found one more on the top floor, an older teenage girl. She was so high on Meth she was barely conscious and she had been hooked for a while. Scars on her face told of weeks of picking at imaginary blemishes which, in turn, created real ones to pick at. It was disgusting. Still, he couldn't risk her coming out of her near coma. To this end, he called forth his totem power, reached out, and sent a strong electrical pulse into her, rendering her immobile for several minutes.
Cinder paused, and refocused, allowing this unique totem power to recharge before moving to the stairs. At this point he was fairly pleased. Five humans down, no deaths. This was the way he wanted it, but the leaders, they were a different matter; they were the real elements of darkness feeding kids and parents drugs and ruining lives. The leaders, well, they needed to be expunged.
He hurried to the stairs and crept down. The sound of the cash counting machines making a steady humming sound as they neatly counted and bundled wads of loose cash was coming from the right. Off to the other side the sound of pure lust driven sex could be heard though the walls. Finally the sounds of someone taking a leak could just be made out though the others sounds, mostly because whoever was doing so hadn't even bothered to close the door.
His brain quickly prioritized the targets. The cash counting room would have the accountant, a leader and the guards, mister piss-with-the-door-open would almost certainly be one of those and the sex machine could be no one else but the head man. The head man could wait and the accountant had to be taken alive if possible. Part of hitting this place was cash driven, after all.
Cinder pulled off the brass knuckles and readied his blades for easier access as he crept past the cash room and up to the door where the man was washing his hands. "Bingo." Knowing no punk guard would wash his hands and no leader would stay out of the cash counting room longer than he had to, this had to be the accountant. The guy had left the door open to hear the sounds of the bills as the machines continued to count them at a blistering pace.
Cinder called forth another shock, reached in and grabbed the guy's mouth. The guy twitched and jerked for a full second before going slack in Cinder's arms. He lowered the man to the floor and used a zip tie to secure his hand behind his back and his feet together. Finally he yanked off one of the man's Tistoni shoes, realizing as he did so the single shoe was probably worth more than what many people made in a year, since a pair of them retailed at over thirty eight grand. Shaking his head in disgust, he pulled off the man's sock and shoved it in his mouth.
Satisfied one of his secondary targets was secure; he slinked back to the counting room and peaked in. There were two guards, both with Berettas at their sides, a totally tattooed, very large man with a machete on his left side and a .357 on his right, and three cash feeders. The cash feeders were teens of various ages, the younger one possibly late pre teen. None of the three were armed and only wore boxers, probably to make it next to impossible to pilfer a loose bill. Cinder scowled as he noticed the resemblance of the youngest boy to the man he had just left on the bathroom floor.
He took a step back and purposefully dropped his hunting knife. The moment it hit the floor, the big man stopped whatever he had been doing, stepped up to the door and looked down the hall. Cinder grinned with some relief, since this was the only guy who looked like he could give him problems. His Katana's flashed out of their sheaths with blinding speed.
The last thing he saw was twin blades, one slashing up, the other down. He fell back, as his intestines hit the ground with a splattering sound in front of him.
Cinder went into full combat mode as he leapt over the fallen behemoth and into the room. His left blade found the gun hand of the guard on the left removing it before the hand made it to the holster. A moment later his right blade blazed downward and sliced the holster off the other guy's belt before his hand could get to it. With the two disarmed, it only took a couple of seconds to kick the handless guy's nuts so hard the man was unable to scream while the second one quickly held up his hand and backed away, a very large wet spot appearing in the front of his jeans.
Cinder dropped a handful of plastic zip ties and pointed to the youngest kid with his right blade while keeping his left blade lowered at the gut of the still standing guard. "Boy, if you want to live, strip and shove your boxers in handless fuck-wad's mouth, then put one of those around the stump and keep pulling it tight till the blood stops. He waited to make sure the young teen was not in too much shock to follow his instructions. The boy wasted no time doing what he was told, however. Even though his hands were shaking like they had vibrators attached to them, he was able to cram his underwear into the man's mouth and then grab one of the plastic ties and pull. The stickiness of the blood pumping out of the wound made it difficult, but he kept pulling and the zip strip slowly clicked tighter until the blood flow slowed.
"Good, now put one higher on the arm and really crank it down. Don't stop till there is no more blood coming out."
Cinder then pointed to the next youngest while nodding toward the still standing guard, "And you, boxers in his mouth and get his hands secured behind his back and then do his feet. Once both his hands and feet are done nice and tight use a couple more to put his hands and feet together behind his back.
Cinder paused to stare at the man. "You resist at all, I'll start removing body parts."
The guard didn't even try to say anything, readily opening his mouth to accept the undergarment and turned with his hands behind his back so the teen had easy access.
"Smart man." Cinder stated then glanced over at the oldest teen "keep feeding money into the bill counters till I tell you to stop."
He oldest teen did as he was told, but glared.
Cinder glanced at the youngest one again. "Grab the guns and the blades; toss them in the far corner. Secure your buddy the same way he did the guard then do the same to this idiot." Cinder kicked the handless man hard in the face. Once you have them done, put one of the plastic ties around your own feet, then your hands, they can stay in front of you so you can use your teeth to make the strip nice and tight. Got it?"
The kid, tears coming out of his eyes, nodded and went to work.
Satisfied the kid was too scared not to obey, he moved up on the oldest teen. "You got a problem boy?"
"I ain't no boy; I'm six-fucking-teen. And my grandfather is going to rip you a new one."
"Is he the one making the bed move?"
"And you think he is going to rip me a new one?"
"Fine, then call for him."
"Fuck you! I ain't setting him up!"
Cinder swung, bringing the flat of the blade in his left hand down over the kid's shoulders. The punk screamed in pain and bumped into the cash counting table hard causing a second yelp. "Thanks for your help." Before the young man could do more than spit on Cinder's shoes, the blade whistled though the air a second time. This strike landed right across the back of the teen's calves. Again a loud bellow echoed through the lower part of the house. "Thanks again."
The moment Cinder heard movement of someone scrambling, he used the hilt of the blade in his right hand to break out the kid's front teeth and render him unconscious. He then wiped the blood off his blades on the punk's boxers and sheathed them as he snarled. "Mouthy little shit; we'll see what happens to his ass with no teeth when I drop him off in the middle of Viper territory." He then moved to the door. "Boys, if you want to live through this, you will lay still and keep your mouths shut."
Less than ten seconds later, an older man screamed a whole string of obesities upon seeing the massive thug dead on in the entryway to the cash room. Wearing only a bathrobe, He jumped over the man, a sawed off shotgun in his hands "What the hell happened Joey?"
Cinder didn't hesitate. He grabbed the weapon, pulled it up till it was under the man's chin, pushed him till he was just out of the room, and pulled the trigger. Chucks of the skull and grey matter shot upwards like a huge geyser. The ceiling ended up with enough blood to where it started dripping back down, basically making it to where it was raining blood. Cinder shook his head and spit out a bit of blood, "Damn ten gauges."
He had to wait for his ears to stop ringing before he was able to verify the house was now virtually silent, save for the panicked breathing coming from the captives in the cash room and a whimpering coming from the area he guessed the man had come from. He stepped back inside the cash room. "OK, who the hell was he screwing?"
The middle teen, horror flashing in his eyes and tears rolling down his cheeks managed to gasp out, "My younger sister or brother. He don't do my older sister no more."
"Shit!" Cinder growled as he moved back into the hall and grabbed his smaller blade. "I don't have time for this. OK who the hell else is down here?"
"Just my dad." The youngest boy sobbed. Don't kill us... he's just the money guy... he don't carry no gun or nothing!"
"You're old man's already down. And stop your damned blubbering, "I didn't kill him."
Cinder moved up to the middle teen, hunting knife in hand. "If I cut you free, you going to give me any problems?"
The kid's eyes went wide at the sight of the blade being held so close to his nude body. "No, I'm not crazy!"
"Good, cause I kind of am." He sliced the zip strips and yanked the boy to his feet. "Where is the rest of your clothing."
"The old guy... he burned them in the fire place when we first got here so we wouldn't run away. He just gives me boxers to wear for this and a track suit to wear when he wants me to serve drinks for his other king pin buddies."
"Is your older sister the one with the fucked up face?"
The teen nodded in disgust while his voice dripped with resentment. "She brought us here to live after dad lost his job and we went homeless. Dad didn't come back to the car one night so she took advantage of being in charge and drove us here cause she gets all the drugs she wants and he gets us."
Cinder used all his senses and found no sign of deception. "OK, make you a deal. You get your other brother and sister and the three of you help me get the cash out of here along with the money man, his brat, and Mr. Six-fucking-teen and I'll leave you ten grand and the key to the front door. There's a pair of low-riders out front. Put the driver of the longer one in the bed of the smaller one and pull the longer one into the garage.
"Once you have the cover of the garage to work with, put the kid, his old man, and toothless wonder over there in the back and the cash in the back seat. Just make sure you find a tarp or something to cover all three with and make sure they can't move or cry out. What you do from there ain't my prob, but I best not see you dealing or pimping out your brother or sister."
"Good, go get your younger siblings, find you all something to wear, and be careful of the blood in the hall. As much as I left out there, it'll be slippery."
He then moved up to the basically unharmed guard, pulled out his wallet and flipped through it. "Looks like you have a wife and kids and your address is uptown. So, do you want to live and me to forget what your address is?"
The man nodded, clearly wanting to make a smart assed comment but was too intelligent to do so. "What do you want? Name it!"
He grabbed the guy and took him out of ear shot.
Those still alive and conscious in the house heard an "Are you serious?" followed by a "And I get to just walk away if I do it?"
A few seconds later the man came back and hefted the handless guy's body over his head muttering something about the guy being insane, a toy store, and werewolf dolls.