Red pulled her hair back into a ponytail as she reviewed the day’s specials. It had been another sleepless night, but she was beginning to get used to that. With the way things had been going, she knew sleep was a thing of the past, and there was no way of knowing when this would end.
She hadn’t heard from Silly Wizard since their meeting at O’Donnel’s. That in itself could mean several things, but none of them were good. She had made several attempts at contacting him, but those had failed: this worried her even more.
She’d tried to contact her uncle, but again there had been no answer. She knew he and ‘Yala were still in danger, but she wasn’t sure how much. She shook her head as she looked out at the pre-lunchtime crowd. At least the day promised to be hectic enough to keep her mind off of all the trouble that had been brewing. She watched as the hostess seated the first customers in her section and took a deep breath: it was showtime.
As she moved towards the table, she promised herself that she would call ‘Yala and see if she’d heard anything from either ‘Wiz or her uncle. When she reached the table, she realized it was the two men who had been following ‘Wiz the last time she’d seen him.
“Well gentlemen,” she greeted them with a smile. “Would you like to hear the day’s specials?”
The first man looked up and she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand as he studied her with quiet intensity. “We’ll just have two orders of ‘Flautas’,” he answered with a smile.
Red forced herself to relax as she took their order and collected the menus. Flautas were a house specialty that never appeared on the menu. As far as she knew, the only time these two had been here was the day ‘Wiz had visited her: the day she’d taken food over to Voodoo. She forced herself to remain calm, but resolved to keep tabs on the two men.
It was the beginning of the lunch rush: within twenty minutes, she had too many customers to keep track of the two men. Within another half an hour, she realized they weren’t interested in leaving. They were both watching her intently and by the end of lunchtime she was worried.
At one forty-five, they got up, had a long conversation with the hostess and then returned to their seats. Red tried to ignore it, but she knew something was up. She decided to take a break and try to figure things out.
Red slipped into the manager’s office and accessed the security video. She waited until the two men were in view and then stopped the cameras. She copied the images to file and then copied those to disk. She’d run them through NCIC, INTERPOL and the local authorities later on. As she unfroze the camera she caught a glimpse of Dana, the hostess, coming towards the back room.
She quickly exited the office and slipped into the break room. She let out an exaggerated sigh as she propped her feet up on the bench in front of her. Something told her things had gotten a lot worse. As she began massaging her feet, Dana joined her.
Red watched her expectantly as the hostess studied her for a moment. “Red,” she stated quietly. “You know I don’t like butting in on your personal life, but honey... you got to slow down!”
Red looked up at her and grinned. “Sorry,” she sighed. “I only seem to have two gears: full throttle, or full stop.”
Dana laughed. “Girl, you are just asking for a major coronary.”
Red nodded and let out a snort: if she only knew. “Yeah,” she sighed. “But look at all the tips I’m earning,” she sighed as she pulled her pockets inside out. “And not getting,” she added as she looked at the lint.
“You on tonight?”
“Only till seven,” Red answered with a sigh, “then I’m going home and going to bed.”
“Just remember,” Dana warned. “No fraternizing on the job. Tony’s already lost two waitresses for soliciting.”
Red studied her in surprise. “Come again?”
Dana looked at her for a minute then shook her head. “Those two cops...”
Dana sighed surprised by Red’s inability to piece things together. “The cops at table three. You know they’ve been asking about you since you went on break. Whatever you’re doing in your spare time, you keep it out of here, okay?”
Red nodded as she thought about the output from the security cameras. ‘So, they’re claiming to be cops,’ she thought to herself. ‘I’ll have to check out that angle.’
Red was not amused. She’d managed to wrangle a break out of Tony, but that was the only good thing that had happened all afternoon. She uploaded copies of the security feeds to a dummy account and then accessed NCIC.
As the system began its automated search, she uploaded an additional copy of the images to a blind account she shared with ‘Wiz. When she pulled up the account log, she found that she was the only one to have accessed the account in over a week. That meant she was going to have to call ‘Yala: if anybody knew where ‘Wiz was, it would be ‘Yala.
On a hunch, she moved towards his account. There were so many tracer routines lurking around she gave up. There would be time enough to take care of those later. Right now she had too many other things to deal with.
She was pulled from her musings as an alarm sounded. She turned her attention back to the automatic systems only to find warning flags being passed through the system at an increasingly insane rate. She tried to trace them, but even as she did, she found a tracer routine burning its way down the line to her.
With a frustrated growl, Red gathered as much information as she could and then collapsed the connection in on itself. As her head cleared, Red reviewed the information she was able to obtain.
She let out a low whistle and shook her head: contacting ‘Wiz had just become a major priority.
Ferron watched intently as the woman left the building. “Do you think she can do it?”
“Who?” Duke asked distractedly.
“The redhead,” he reminded his boss. “The woman who runs the net from the laundry room.”
Duke nodded: she was a promising one. He hoped she would survive long enough to help them, but things were far from ready yet. “Keep an eye on her, she may need our help before this is over.”
“Do you think that is wise?” Ferron was not used to the Duke taking an interest in the ‘low-dwellers.’
“Failing to do so would be unwise,” Duke answered as he studied his friend. “She must survive if she is to help us.”
Ferron nodded. The plan had developed slowly but Duke had proven a master when it came to long range planning. He had formed a corporation, bought a useless piece of property and provided a safe environment for the ‘low-dwellers’ to conduct their shadowy dealings, all for the purpose of finding those who would prove useful in their struggle. He prayed she would be the one: they were running out of time.
Tracker growled as he paced the confines of the rec room. Whisper watched him impassively as his agitation grew. There had been no word from Silly Wizard; Tatonka and the D’s were still missing; the only good news was the fact that WEJ was out of critical condition and in no immediate danger.
“I just don’t get it,” Tracker muttered to himself.
“Try going the other way,” Whisper suggested helpfully.
That earned him a glare from the decker. “If you aren’t going to help...”
Whisper nodded and held his hands up in surrender. “I’ll see if I can find anything my way,” he offered.
Tracker shook his head. he’d reviewed Whisper’s medical reports and knew as well as anyone that Whisper was on the fast track to burning himself out if he kept going at his current rate. “Appreciate the offer,” he muttered. “But we can’t afford to have you out of commission right now.”
Whisper nodded as Tracker began another circuit of the room. It was going to be a long day.
Tatonka studied SunDog as she slept in his arms. The neighborhood watch, as Phil had introduced them, had drifted back to their homes hours ago, leaving only them, the D’s and Phil. Even now he could tell Phil and Big D were patrolling the house, watching for any sign of trouble.
He leaned down and kissed her forehead then finally allowed himself to relax. They would question the ‘visitors’ later. For now, they were safe and Jen was in his arms. The rest would fall into place later; for now, he would hold onto what they had.
The day had passed slowly for Tracker. By 1600, when he hadn’t heard from anyone, he knew it was time to go looking.
“Tracker,” Whisper asked. “Are you sure about this?”
Tracker shrugged. “Can’t be any worse than things have been here,” he answered.
“Let me go with you,” Whisper offered quietly.
“No,” Tracker signed. “You are on restricted duty.”
Whisper nodded unhappily. He did not like being reminded about how vulnerable he currently was. The Doctors had told him, in no uncertain terms: no strenuous activity and no magic until they said otherwise.
“Look, I’m going to O’Donnel’s. I’m going to go take a look around, and I’m going to try and get a line on Wiz’s protege,” Tracker assured him. “Nothing more.”
Whisper gave him a sidelong glance, as if to say, ‘that may be your plan...’
Tracker nodded in agreement; it was obvious from the look in his eyes. He was going.
Tracker signaled the waitress for another beer as he surveyed his surroundings. O’Donnel’s was not his first choice as a place for relaxation, but he knew that Silly Wizard liked to hang out here with his fiancee. It was a long shot, but he knew of no other way to get in touch with her or any of Wiz's friends outside of base. As he surveyed the crowd the waitress, a reasonably attractive red-head, brought him another drink.
"Are you ready to order sir?" she asked tentatively.
"Not quite yet," he answered casually, then smiled at her. "Sorry."
"No problem," she answered with a smile of her own. She studied him for a minute, then added, "Just don't be surprised when I turn into a gentleman with purple hair."
Tracker looked up at her uncomprehendingly.
"My shift's ending," she explained with a laugh. "Wayne'll be taking over for me," she added indicating another waiter, who did indeed have purple hair.
Tracker smiled again as she started over to another table.
He scanned the crowd, trying to find a familiar face. He took another pull from the beer mug as he looked through the menu for the fifth time. Tracker had the feeling it was going to be a long night.
*** *** ***
Gypsy slipped into O’Donnel’s and made his way to one of the back booths. He had managed to grab a shower at one of the 'safe houses' and was feeling more like his old self. He smiled at the waitress as she placed a glass of water in front of him.
"How's it going Red," he asked.
"Fine. Tonight’s been kinda slow without the gang, though," she replied casually. "A few new people but that's about it."
He smiled at her again and nodded. "Just give me the usual."
"You got it," she replied with a smile.
Gypsy watched as she walked back to the bar with his order, then glanced at his watch. It was ten till. As he waited he scanned the crowd. He recognized most of the customers; there was still no sign of Zanyala.
"Here you go," Red announced as she placed a drink in front of him. She paused.
"So, I'm to be stuck with Wayne again?" he sighed.
" 'Fraid so," she answered softly, then added "Be careful."
Gypsy watched as she wove her way through the crowd. Red was a fine girl. He knew: he had raised her as his own after her mother had died. It was reassuring knowing she was here where she could watch his back. He looked at his watch again and swore. It was not like Yala to be late.
Tracker watched as O'Donnel's started to fill. He hadn't recognized anybone, but that was not uncommon. Many of the operative were only known by their handles, especially the ‘Jackers.’ Their job was to provide intelligence and back-up support. He shook his head, realized that most of the Spec Ops group had probably never met Silly Wizard. He gritted his teeth.
"Another fine mess, Wiz," he swore under his breath. "Why couldn't you trust me?"
Tracker turned, not realizing he had spoken aloud. He tried to cover his surprise as Wayne waited patiently for his order.
"Uh, I, er . . . A friend recommended the Duck," he answered cryptically.
"I'm sorry sir, we don't serve duck here," Wayne answered in a perplexed tone.
"Uh, just give me a garden salad."
"Very well sir," Wayne answered with a bow and then headed back to the kitchen.
As he watched he noticed two men shouldering their way through the crowd. He concentrated on his drink as they surveyed their surroundings. Years of experience told him these two were trouble waiting to happen.
"Blac!" Gypsy swore as he noticed the two men that were bearing down on him. His eyes searched the bar. There was no sign of Red. He was on his own.
"We need to talk to a friend of yours," the first man stated as they stopped at his booth.
"Jou, vant to talk vith me?" he asked innocently. "Prosze, please," he added indicating that the men should sit down.
He smiled at the men as they exchanged confused looks. "I buy you drink, yes?" he asked thickening his accent.
"Um," the taller of the two men stammered. They had not expected this kind of reaction. Before they could do anything he was signaling the waiter.
"Prosze butelke czerwonego wina," he called to Wayne. "Wine is good, no?" he added to the two men.
Gypsy smiled as Wayne signaled he understood and headed towards the bar.
As Wayne got Gypsy's order he signaled the bartender.
"What you got?" he asked Wayne.
"Tell Red the old man just ordered Red Wine, czerwonego wina, you got that?"
The bartender nodded as Wayne picked up the serving tray and headed towards Gypsy's table. "And tell her that the man at table three asked about the Duck."
"We don't serve duck here," the bartender commented shaking his head.
"Exactly. Just tell her."
With that Wayne brought the wine to Gypsy's table.
The men looked at each other and then sat down. This was not what they had expected at all.
As they watched, Wayne returned with a bottle of red wine and three glasses. He watched the men as he poured the wine. Red would never forgive him if something happened to the old man.
"Dziekuje bardzo," Gypsy thanked him in polish. Then added "Thank you," in the thick accent he had adopted.
"Prosze bardzo," Wayne responded, ‘you're welcome’. He started to leave.
One of the men grabbed his sleeve. "Tell him we need to talk to a friend of his," the man said, indicating that he didn't speak Polish.
Wayne looked at him with an embarrassed expression, then grinned sheepishly.
"I only speak food in polish. Restaurant stuff. You know, wine, food, beer, the bill . . ." he explained.
The man looked at him urgently, "Duck, how do you say duck?"
Wayne looked at him and thought for a moment. "Kaczka, I think," he stated with minimum certainty, then added. "But we don't serve duck here."
"Don't worry about it," the man said, holding in his temper. He was losing control over the situation. Quickly.
As Wayne left the table, they tried another tact.
"Your friend won't be joining you," one of them stated in an icy tone. "Do you understand that, you goddamned Polock."
"If you've hurt one hair on her head," Gypsy hissed. "You will regret the day you were ever born."
"So you do speaka de English," the first one stated. "Come on," he ordered as he pointed a gun at Gypsy.
Tracker watched as the men sat down with an older man. Both then questioned the waiter. He watched as the waiter shrugged and then went back to the bar. The two men were obviously unsure of how to proceed.
He turned his attention to the man and noticed an impish gleam in his eye. He didn't know why, but he suddenly felt sorry for the two men. His amusement didn't last for long as he noticed them pull a gun on the man and signal him to rise. Tracker tensed as they neared his table.
"Guess you no like wina," he heard the man say as they drew closer.
"Just move," they urged. "Look Gypsy we don't want you, just the Duck."
"Go fuck yourself," Tracker heard Gypsy hiss as they passed the table.
That was all he needed to hear. He had already taken a disliking to these two, but they had at least given him a line on the Duck. As the men strode past he stood up, bumping into the first man and knocking him over.
"Sorry mate," he stated cheerfully. He smiled at the man as he offered him a hand up. The man glowered at him for a minute and then accepted the proffered hand.
As Tracker helped the man up he twisted his arm around until he had the man in an arm lock.
"Now, be nice and let the man go," Tracker urged.
"This isn't your fight," the other man hissed at him. "You have no idea what you're getting into."
"Won't be the first time," Tracker countered with a nonchalance he didn't feel.
"I really wouldn't suggest it."
"Thanks for the warning," Tracker stated. "Now let him go."
The man glared at him as he released Gypsy. As Gypsy moved away, Tracker shoved the first man into the second.
"Come on," the man urged. He grabbed him by the shoulders and propelled him through the door. Looking over his shoulder he could see the men already on their feet and running for the door.
"Quickly," The man urged as a car screeched to a halt in front of them. Tracker tried to veer away but before he could react the doors popped open, and a voice called from within.
"Move it you two!"
Tracker looked over his shoulder in time to see the two men taking aim. He needed no further urging. He dove into the back seat, head first.
"Keep your heads down," the driver ordered as the peeled out into traffic.
Tracker heard a series of thuds against the door as they careened into traffic. Whoever those two were, they were playing for keeps.
He hugged the floor as the car took several sharp turns, and then slowed to a more normal pace.
"That should be the worst of it," the driver informed them.
As he rose, he recognized the waitress from O’Donnel’s.
"Damn it Red!" The man yelled as he hit her shoulder with his cap. "Where were you?"
"Filing my nails," she answered in a sarcastic tone. "Where do you think I was? I was getting the car, dammit, and quit hitting me."
"I ordered wine," he stated angrily. "I needed you."
"You ordered in Polish," she countered irately. "You never need my help when you order in Polish!"
"Uh, excuse me," Tracker interjected.
He watched as the two turned and grinned impishly at one another. He could tell this was an old fight, but there was no real anger between the two of them.
"Red, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine," the man said prompting Tracker for a name.
"Tracker," he introduced himself.
"Yes, Tracker, this is my niece Red," Gypsy's face suddenly contorted as he punched the seat. "Dammit Red, what about Yala?"
Tracker watched as Red concentrated on the road before speaking. "They found her Pappa. The police are ruling it an accident."
"No," Gypsy sighed quietly. "Not my Yala."
"Both Yala and Daniel were in the car," she blurted out. "I'm sorry pappa."
Tracker's mind was swimming. 'Yala, Zanyala, Silly Wizard, Daniel . . .' He was startled when Red looked at him in the review mirror.
"I'm sorry," she said. Their eyes met, confirming his fears.