To Save a Child - the RP

Part 2

After his new teammates had left with his employer, Sticks thought for a moment. "The magic man has some style and probably has a great deal of knowledge. The woman has a good feel for people. Now, if the man can toss spells and the woman can work machines with the same ability, we may do all right." Idly chewing a power bar as he considered his next moves, the teenager glanced at his watch and thought I had better do my part and get to the meeting with officer Woods. He will need some time to uncover anything.

Donning his lowlight glasses he left 3 one nuyen plastic coins on the table as he rose to leave. With a small smile as he remembered his own history as a bus boy he thought "A very early Merry Christmas for somebody."

Leaving the downtown Jazz club, Sticks hopped into a cab. When he gave the cabby the address the ork behind the wheel growled "Dat's da barrens."

"Yes Senor, I know. I live there." Sticks replied.

"Yeah, well dis hack don't go dere afta dark," the driver growled.

"I understand. Can you bring me as close as you can?" Sticks asked politely

"Uh.....yeah.....I guess so" the ork said begrudgingly as he started the cab "But it'll cost ya. Double the meter."

"Very well" the teenager replied as the cab pulled away from the curb. Pulling out the flip phone he dialed a number. "Hoi, Thomas.......who else? Listen, Omae. I may need a ride......Yes, yes I've got cash.......I don't know yet. Wait one." Covering the receiver he asked the driver, "How close will we get to the address I gave you? I have to get another cab to meet me and take me the rest of the way."

"Yer callin anoder hack?!" the ork asked indignantly.

"Well, I do need to meet someone and I left my Panther auto-cannon at home, so I'm not going to walk." Sticks replied. "My friend Thomas drives in the area......."

"Thomas?" The ork interrupted, "Ya mean Tommy Lawler? He's de only sumbitch crazy enough ta run da barrens at night. You know TL?"

"Yes" Sticks replied.

"Tell dat nut dat ya don't need him. Tell him yer riddin wit Bad Bob and uh....hur,hur,hur....tell him ta get a haircut."

Sticks smiled and said into the phone, "Thomas? Never mind. I'm ridding with Bad Bob... yes.....yes, we were just talking about your need for a haircut."

The ensuing stream of profanity was both loud enough and colorful enough to leave both passenger and driver chuckling as they made their way into the night.

Arriving 15 minutes early for his rendezvous, Sticks faded into the shadows as he checked out the area.

*** *** ***

Woods stepped out of his beat-up Ford Americar, glancing about the surroundings with the keen eyes of a street cop. He immediately noticed the trio of Halloweeners heading up the opposite side of the street. One of them, an ork named Hobbs, gave him a nod.

The officer gave him a nod, at least in this area he'd be left alone. Here, friends of Sticks got a free pass. Sucking in the acrid smell of the Barrens like saying hello to an old friend, he fished a cigarette from his pocket. Quickly he decided against lighting it, in favor of maintaining his night vision. Moving towards an old apartment building's stoop, the man waited in silence.

Before Woods could reach the stoop a voice from the shadows whispered "Aqui, Senor, por favor" (Here sir, please). Thinking he recognized the voice, Woods casually sauntered towards the mouth of the darkened ally asking "Donde esta usted?" (Where are you?).

"I'm right here, sir." Sticks answered as he stepped out from the darker shadows along the wall.

"Hey, I appreciate the respect and all, kid, but we're way past that sir crap, ain't we?"

In a moment of reflection Sticks nodded his acknowledgment as he remembered how he first met the Lone Star patrolman. He had been tracing some goods which had been boosted from Harry's fix-it. The electronics were old and of little value but in the neighborhood they were considered treasures. Harry had offered more than their actual value for the recovery, "as a matter of honor"and Sticks had taken the job more for that than the money.

He had discovered that a gang called the Brain Eaters had been behind the robbery and although they recently had been raided by the star, Harry's customer's goods had not been recovered. When Sticks had entered an ally, much like the one in which he was currently standing, he had discovered several Brain Eaters working out on a trussed human punching bag, dressed in a Lone Star uniform. It was only when Woods had groaned that Sticks had realized what he had walked into.

"Get da frag outta here, frag face" the largest of the gang had ordered.

"Yeah, unless you want some a da same, motherfragger" came the sychophantic addendum.

"Of course." Sticks replied, "I would not wish to bother anyone with such a well earned reputation."

"What da frag is dat supposed to mean, slitch" asked the ganger holding the bound policeman from behind.

"Just that I can see that it only takes 6 of you Brain Eaters to beat up a single star, provided he's tied up, of course." Sticks said with mock admiration.

"Hey, we got ourselves a smartass here. Tell me somethin, drek fer brains, can ya think a somebody else fer us ta beat da shit outta? Hmmmm?" the leader asked.

"Why yes. In fact, I have a sporting proposition for you if you aren't yellow. You and I settle this one on one. I win, you give me the cop. You beat me, well, you beat me. Of course you do have about 60 lbs. on me and are probably 8 inches taller, but barehanded, I bet I beat you, unless, of course, you need to tie me up first too."

"Boy, yer mouth just put yer ass in a world of hurt. I'm gonna gouge out yer eyes and piss on yer brains. Let's get it on!"

Rather than dance around his opponent, as a smaller man might be expected to, Sticks waited motionless for the attack. With the encouragement of his fellow gangers, the leader moved in on Sticks. When the smaller man ducked two right jabs, the leader fired a powerful overhand left. Sticks used a Sangga Kruzada (cross block) to catch the wrist between both hands and direct the force of the blow away from his body. Although he followed this up with a kick to the side of the ganger's knee, the leader shifted his leg and only received a glancing blow.

The crowd grew quieter as the realization dawned that this kid was more than he appeared to be. The leader moved in more warily as Sticks continued to hold his ground. When the ganger again tried a right jab, Sticks moved in towards his opponent, blocking with his left hand while striking into the nerve plexus under the arm. The blow sent a stinging numbness through the ganger's arm. Unfortunately, the counter took a little too long and Sticks was tagged with a crushing blow to his side from the ganger's powerful left hand.

As the fighter's disengaged, the ganger shaking the pins and needles sensation out of his left arm and Sticks trying to extinguish the fire in his right side, the intensity of the spectators clued the combatants to the deadly seriousness of the fight. If the leader fell to Sticks, he was a dead man and if Sticks were incapacitated he would pay with his life for carrying the fight this far.

Throwing caution (and honor) to the wind, the leader grabbed a broken bottle out of the ally and started swiping at Stick's face. Ducking under one swipe that put the ganger in the perfect position, Sticks used a move called Trankada ng Katwan Apat which his father described as body lock four. After ducking the swipe, Sticks used Ipit Kamay (c-hand) to grasp the wrist of the hand holding the bottle while dragging the arm down and stepping behind his opponent. When the bottle touched the ground, Sticks grasped and twisted the wrist with his other hand from between his opponent's legs. The ganger was doubled over with a broken bottle he could not release jammed into his own groin, while Sticks brought his hand down on the back of the leader's neck with a chop powerful enough to shatter the vertebrae. The leader fell over dead while Sticks calmly faced the other gangers.

After several tense moments of silence the ganger who was holding the human punching bag stepped forward and tossed his burden at Stick's feet. "Well? What ya waitin for? You won 'em. Take 'em. Ya got 5 minutes before we start huntin."

Slicing the ropes on the badly beaten cop, Sticks told him, "We're not out of this yet. I think some of my ribs are broken and you look like a mess, but we have to go now. Can you do it?"

"Yeah," the cop responded. "I think so. Thanks. My name is Woods."

"I am called Sticks. I think we should hurry."

"Yeah. I don't think those fraggers can count to five, much less tell time."

For most of the next 3 hours the pair had dodged Brain Eater patrols, eventually making their way to the precinct. From that point on the men of the 23rd precinct had never bothered Sticks and Officer Woods had become a friend.

Breaking out of his reverie Sticks explained the situation to the patrolman. He gave all of the particulars he had gathered especially the reports of the Star's strange handling of the case. He then asked, "Mike, do you think you could check on this? I know that Tacoma is a long way from here, but if you know anyone or can think of anyone to ask, I'd appreciate it."

Woods pulled out a pocket secretary and quickly made a few notations. Replacing the gadget, he looked back to Sticks somberly.

"I think I know a Seargent or two in that precinct," he said with a nod. Then he shook his head. "It doesn't sound all that unfamiliar."

Sticks gave him a questioning look.

"The report getting buried." The cop gave a shrug of the shoulders. "Ever so often you'll get an order from the officer in charge that a corper has closed the case. That's if your lucky to get that much information. Could be that someone higher up on the food chain doesn't want to get caught with their pants around there ankles."

Sticks' expression became a bit grimmer than usual. His contact just patted him on the shoudler, "I know it doesn't sound like what you wanted to hear, but can you expect much else from my outfit?" The officer removed his hand then placed both deeply into the pockets of his jacket. He looked up into the sky, feeling the first few drops of rain the night promised. "Sure is a fraggin' shame though."

The officer shook his head again, and prepared to move off into the night. "I'll see what I can do for you kid," he said over his shoulder.

"Mike, be careful. If there is something corporate going on, I'd rather not alert them and I don't want you getting caught in the middle." Sticks said."And thanks."

Woods stopped for a moment and turned briefly. "Don't worry, omae. But I appreciate the concern." And flashing his best, roguish grin, the street cop moved off into the night with the hopes that his Ford Americar would start on the first try.

From within his pocket, Sticks felt the vibration of the cell phone. Moving back into the shadows, he retrieved it and answered with a whisper. "Yes?"

"Kassie." answered the familiar voice. "Where can we meet?" The man's voice sounded hurried.

"I'm at the Windsor now. Can you meet me at Eat's, Mr. Kasolowitz?" Sticks asked.

"Naw, naw. I hate dat place. Service sucks and da food's terrible." Kassie responded.

"Well, if you are someplace safe, I could come to you....."

"Naw. You sit tight. I'll come ta you. I'm not far. Be there in 10." click.

Although Sticks had known "Cash" Kasolowitz AKA Kassie, since he was a child, living in the barrens stunted the development of a trusting nature. Making sure he had several clear avenues of escape, Sticks faded into the shadows of the alley to wait for the informant.

Kasolowitz didn't so much see as he felt Sticks' presence coming up behind him. You didn't get far in his line of work not knowing when someone was breathing down your neck.

Nevertheless, the squatter gave quite a gasp when Sticks tapped him on the shoulder. "Drek, omae," he hissed. "ya nearly made me piss myself."

Sticks merely motioned him towards a dark alley he had secured for the occasion. "What did you find?"

"Here," he handed over an envelope. "Da kid's hot. Had a price on 'is head fer 2 large." The man held up two fingers for emphasis.

Sticks frowned deeply at the envelope.

"Data chip. It'll work wid a pocket rocket so don't worry." He looked like he didn't have anything else, then reconsidered. "Da odd thing 'bout da bounty? All da fraggers dat went for it got turned down...cept for da whus on dat chip."

Kassie rubbed his hands together, mixing the grime and the fresh Seattle mist. "Pay in da usual way?" he asked expectantly.

"Hmmmm? Oh, yes, yes." Sticks said "Of course. I have a credstick. If we can go to a....."

"Don't need ta go nowhere, chummer." Kassie interrupted, "Got a socket fer transfer right here." He said as he drew a data reader and blank cred stick from his pocket. Plugging the blank stick into one socket in the reader he asked "Would, a 200 be ok?" as he held out the battered and dirty piece of electronics.

"If I can buy the reader, I can go as high as 400." Sticks responded.

The feral gleam in the street rat's eye told the teenager that he was in the zone. When Kassie said, "Gee, Sticks, I don't know...." with feigned reluctance, the teenager said, "You're right. It would be wrong of me to buy a tool you need for"

"Wait, wait, wait. Don't be so hasty, kid. I didn't say I wouldn't sell....."

"No, no" Sticks interrupted. "It's taking advantage of you and......"

"I'm telling ya, Sticks, It's ok. I'm willing ta sell ya da damn reader...."

"I wouldn't hear of it, sir. I'll find another reader. How much memory does that one have, by the way? Just for reference."

"100 mp, kid." Kassie responded, "I know that ain't top a da line but for uh...175 nuyen......." Getting no response, Kassie said "All right, 150. Now dat's a good price."

"Wellllll, If you're sure you don't need it....." Sticks said as he took the unit in his hands. He then punched the number pad for a cred transfer from the certified stick to the blank, secretly enjoying the gasp of surprise when Kassie saw the transfer of the full 400 nuyen.

"Hey, thanks Sticks. Uh, I didn't expect....."

"Please, sir. I know that you will have to go out and get another reader and I would feel terribly guilty if helping me ended up costing you money. Please take it."

"Ok. Hey, if you need something else, anything, ya just let me know kid. Yer alright." After watching Kassie slink off into the night, Sticks slipped the chip into the reader.

Sticks slipped the data chip gingerly into his new acquisition. The mini-screen came to life in the darkness of the alley like a flare. Swearing silently to himself, the filipino's hand darted for the brightness control to dim the screen. The little data reader's redundant systems began deciphering the zero's and one's on the chip, translating them into words on the mini-screen. - Post to Flasher/Daemonist positive on delivery...small package pick-up - transit 2ld... Host disconnect The cursor at the end of the text blinked, waiting for any further instructions. Sticks mulled over what the words could mean. Questions raced through his mind, but more were to come when the data reader flashed a new message. Data support malfunction... Request for matrix connect...

"KINTAMA!" (BALLS!) Sticks thought as he stared at the data screen. "The Matrix?! DREK!" The teenager's frustration at the chip's refusal to render up it's secrets nearly prompted him to shatter the reader against the alley wall. "200 nuyen down the dreker! And only to learn what you already knew. You are no matrix dancer, pendejho" Sticks thought as he shook his head. "And why didn't you just take the chip to Jess and let her work with it? What were you trying to do, impress her? Does a pretty woman with a nice smile turn you from a professional into a fool?"

The teenager was so caught up by the black introspection his perceived error had revealed that he stopped paying attention to his surroundings. "You swore an oath to return the child, puta" Sticks thought, "You will never do it if you insist on acting like a boy instead of being a professional. Your job is to find and return the child, not to catch the eye of a teammate".

Muttering darkly do himself, Sticks was completely surprised by the deep voice asking "Talking to yerself, chummer? We can cure dat" Dropping to a crouch while shoving the reader into a jacket pocket, Sticks turned to see a huge form step out of the shadows at the far end of the alley. The Troll was wearing an evil grin as he smacked a baseball bat against the palm of his hand. "Maybe he's stoopid" came an equally deep voice from the other end of the refuse strewn corridor. Sticks turned to see another troll materialize from the shadows. This one was also smacking a Louisville Slugger against his huge upturned hand.

"DREK! The Bash Brothers" Sticks thought. His first instinct was to reach for the PredatorII under his arm, but knowing that the street etiquette for such an escalation would justify the Trolls pulling their Remington Roomsweepers, the teenager hesitated. Calculating the width of the alley and the lack of barriers, Sticks realized that if shooting started there simply was not enough cover for him to avoid the buckshot the trolls would send downrange, so instead of reaching under his arm, he pulled aside the velcro closure at his shoulder and drew his Escrima sticks.

Beginning "Sinwhali", a weaving pattern using both sticks, the teenager stood up straight. This allowed Larry, the smarter of the bash brothers, to realize "Oh, drek, it's Sticks." His hesitation at the teenager's reputation was not shared by brother Darryl who hummed merrily as he began to advance on his victim. Two steps into his approach, the dim bulb of recognition cut through the violent fog of the troll's so called thoughts and he stopped in his tracks. "Hey, uh...I know you" Darryl rumbled as the whirring blur of hardwood surrounding the teenager came closer. "Yer dat little feller dat wuz ....uh....guardin ma an dem at da store. HEY LARRY! C'mere! Dis is da little bitty guy wot put da mouth and dem in da hospital fer talkin bad ta da ladies" Sliding his bat into the "holster" at his hip, the troll held out a huge hand. "Put er dere, pal. My name's Darryl."

Warily, Sticks slowed and then stopped the weaving pattern of the hardwood. Although the troll sounded and looked as though his hostility had disappeared, the teenager was cautious about accepting the proffered hand. "It's ok." the voice behind him rumbled. "I'm Larry and dis is my brudder Darryl....."

"The Bash brothers", Sticks interrupted, "Everybody knows you guys."

The blatant piece of flattery had the desired effect as both giants looked inordinately pleased with their fame. "We hoid a youse too." Larry said generously, "Our ma was in dat store when da mouth wuz breakin bad. We..uh..wanted ta thank ya fer protectin everybody, ya know, not just da..uhm..."

"Breeders?" Darryl supplied helpfully, earning his brother's scowl.

Sticks bowed his head both to acknowledge the praise and to hide his grin at the giants' dialogue. "I apologize if I have trespassed on your turf" Sticks said. "This used to be neutral ground."

"Still is." Larry responded. "But huntins open fer all, ya stand too long lookin like a casualty."

"True." Sticks responded. "I guess that means I'd better be moving. If that's all right..."

"Yeah, dat's ok. Ain't it Larry?"

"Sure. After wot I hoid about youse an dem sticks, I ain't sure I wanna play wit ya anyhow. Cop a walk."

"Later, chummers" Sticks said as he checked the address where he was to meet his teammates.

Sticks refolded the scrap of paper and replaced it in his pocket next to the key that Jess had provided. Preparing to move off into the night, the Escrimador contemplated the chip. Hopefully, Jess will know what to do with the last message on the chip. Touching the little data reader, he resolved to learn a bit more about the device.

Again, something that Jess may pove to be helpfull. Smiling at the thought, Sticks walked into the Seattle mist.

Sticks had not gone far when he "felt" the presence of an observer. It wasn't that the tail made any sound, in fact, it was just the opposite. There seemed to be a moving area of complete silence, cutting off normal barrens sound wherever it moved. Disconcerted by the thought of a magical adversary, Sticks put all thoughts of Jess out of his mind and began examining escape routes as he catfooted up the street. He was about to take off when he heard the distinct "schick-Klak" of a round being chambered in a pump shotgun. Sticks froze and waited for his unseen opponent to make the next move.

After several seconds of waiting he heard a giggle behind him and the clomp of approaching feet from in front of him. He focused on the ork woman who stepped out of the mist directly in front of him. "Ooh, mama can I have him?" a breathy voice asked from behind him before the giggle again sounded.

"Well" the ork woman responded as she shifted the cigar stub from one side of her mouth to the other, "Maybe after the boss is done with him....Heh, heh."

The ork's gravelly chuckle was the perfect counterpart to the slightly unhinged giggle, but the Escrimador was more concerned with the identities of his opponents than he was with their methods of expressing mirth.

"Don't even think about it, sonny Jim." The ork said as the teenager silently prepared to move. "Ya stay quiet and don't twitch, ya maybe get ta have breakfast tomorrow. Ya give me a excuse, I got a jar at home labeled and waitin fer yer private parts." The pouty moan that sounded from the mist behind the Escrimador prompted the ork to add, "You can have his head if you want, baby." The giggling response did nothing for the teenager's confidence.

When Sticks made no move and asked no questions the Ork woman looked at him appraisingly. "So what is it, boy? Ya too scared shitless to ask questions or ya got enough brains ta know I'm lookin fer an excuse to expand my collection a balls?"

The teenager said nothing as he continued to wait."

He's not very big," the breathy voice said. Apparently tired of waiting behind him, the trailer walked casually past him and towards the ork. The woman, a tall shapely elf with long green hair was attired only in a flowing cape. Sticks caught enough glimpses of flesh to realize that the woman was completely naked beneath her long cloak. Her cocked eyebrow and frank appraisal of the teenager indicated that the glimpse Sticks had gained as she had sauntered past were anything but accidental. The more than slightly wild look in her eyes, however, created more of an impression of insanity than sensuality and made the teenager more wary than excited.

When the black Mitsubishi Nightsky purred up to the curb, the ork woman said, "Now, yer gonna climb in, nice and quiet. First sign a trouble, Frankie's gonna freeze yer hoop and then I'm gonna take a long, long time workin on ya wit a pair a pliers and .....well, you get the idea." The smile and faraway look in the ork's eyes was eerily reminiscent of her green hared partner's. The fact that the elf was actually wetting her lips as she nodded nearly had the teenager shuddering. When the elf woman exposed herself again as she brushed past to enter the vehicle first, Sticks did shudder, but noted that the ork had the pump gun braced against her shoulder and aimed directly at him.

Entering the limo, Sticks found himself looking down the barrels of a pair of Colt Manhunters. Frankie was now wearing a fairly sheer black lace bodysuit and smiling as she indicated he should sit. Once the teenager was seated (on his hands), the ork woman entered the vehicle and placed a Ruger Super Warhawk against the escrimador's temple.

"Johnnie, is that strictly necessary?" a feminine voice asked from the far side of the blackened partition.

"He's a male," the ork woman responded as though those three words explained everything.

With a small sigh the voice continued. "Very well. We understand that you've taken some work for a corper named Gillian."

"Who is 'we'?" Sticks asked.

Pulling back a few inches Johnnie slapped the barrel against the teenager's head. "You answer da questions", the ork said as her partner wiggled in her seat, "Ya don't ask."

Relying on the discipline his father had emphasized so often; Sticks channeled away his anger and became very still.

"Johnnie! The voice from the other side of the darkened partition exclaimed. "You are not employed to prolong this job. Provoking the boy so you have an excuse to kill him only means more attention and complications. I'm sure Mr. UhàSticks can be reasonable. If not, we can always play it your way. Until such time as I have given you permission I'd appreciate it if you refrained from escalating tensions."

After several seconds of silence the voice began again. "We understand that you've taken some work from a corper named Gillian. We would like you to inform him, in person, that you are no longer 'on the case'. You have, instead, taken another job for us. This job, which will pay you 10k, requires nothing more than that you cease investigating. Literally money for nothing."

Again there was silence in the limo. The voice finally said "Of course, I can give you to my associates" (Frankie giggled as Johnnie's grin widened) "but as I've mentioned I prefer to try reason first. I do hope you will be reasonable."

"The creds?" Sticks asked.

The disappointment of the hitters was in direct contradiction to the relief in the voice from the other side of the divider. "Ah, so good to deal with reasonable people. Johnnie?" the voice prompted.

With obvious reluctance the ork woman handed over a certified credstick to the teenager.

"And this is mine for telling the corper Gillian that I am off the case." Sticks said as he studied the credstick.

"Absolutely" the voice responded.

The greedy look in the teenager's eye was exactly what one might expect from a child of the barrens suddenly possessed of enormous wealth.

"I'll do it. Deal!" Sticks said. 10 minutes later the Limo stopped in front of Gillian's Tacoma High Rise.

Johnnie preceded Sticks out of the limo while Frankie again kept him covered with her paired blasters. When the teenager was out and the door closed, Johnnie, whose wide body blocked the view from the building, stepped up close to Sticks and quick as a cobra, her hand shot out to grab his crotch. She began applying pressure preliminary to warning against betrayal and was surprised at how exaggerated the teenager's pained reaction was. So surprised, in fact, that she did not anticipate the clawed fingers and thumb that fastened on her trachea with the speed of a mongoose.

"Let go of me or I'll tear out your throat" Sticks whispered.

Tempted as the ork was to make this a test of grip strength, Johnnie's vision was already swimming from the pain caused by the teenager's hand inexorably closing off her windpipe. She knew that if it were a simple choke she could have easily lasted long enough and applied enough pressure of her own to win the contest, but the kid's grip actually was separating her wind pipe from it's moorings in her neck and the pain was excruciating. She opened her hand and stood perfectly still.

Although his hand ceased tightening, Sticks did not release his hold as he ground the heel of his right foot into the ork's left instep. As the pain made the ork's eyes water, Sticks pulled her closer and said "Go away" before delivering a stunning head butt to the bridge of the ork's nose.

The blinding explosion of stars the blow caused lasted long enough for Sticks to enter the building. The pop-up autoturret that Dan activated in the large planter to the door's right was enough to cause the enraged ork to think twice about bringing her disagreement into the building. Cursing a blue streak she reentered the limo which quickly pulled away.

As Sticks cleared the front doors, he felt a large hand close about his jacket and yank him to cover behind another plant. "Stay down," Sticks heard the thick welsh accent command.

Sneaking a peek, he saw the tall ork security man rush out into the street with a pair of Saav Guardians in each hand. The ork stared after the retreating Nightsky, then returned to the lobby. As he passed the doors, he mumbled something under his breath. The turret hidden inside the plant outside, slid back into its housing.

"Close call there, shorty," he said almost conversationally. Dan replaced his pistols into their holsters under his jacket, then stooped to help Sticks to his feet. "Me, I like the cab service." He stabbed a thumb out the front doors. "Limos tend to be more expensive."

After Sticks straightened himself, he saw Dan giving him an appraising look. "Nice bit o' work with those toughs there, my friend. Sticks right?" The Filipino nodded, hackles still raised at his experience. He felt the cred stick still in his closed fist. Something traceable, I hope.

"Well, if you need anything, lad, let me know." He patted Sticks on the shoulder and moved with an athletic grace to the elevators. Pressing the call button, he gave Sticks another glance. "I'll clear you through the security computer to get to Mr. Gillian's penthouse."

Preoccupied with a replay of everything that had happened since he had felt the tail, Sticks nearly let the elevator doors close without responding to Dan. Recognizing the oversight just in time to stop the doors, he caught the ork before he stepped away.

"Your pardon, Senor." He said as he looked up at the tall ork, "First, I must thank you for your help. I was so caught up in the moment that I.... well, it is not an excuse, but I thank you for your protection. I did not seek to put this place in danger."

Dan glanced at the youngster appraisingly, thinking "Well, he seems to have some manners and he's clever enough to reassure me he didn't want to make my job more difficult. Maybe Mr. Gillian's stumbled on to someone who can get the job done." He nodded as he continued looking at the teenager.

"You have offered to help. Can you spare some time to talk to my teammates and I?" Sticks asked. "There are so many questions..." "Yes. I'll talk to your people," Dan said, "but it'll have to be down here. I really don't relish the idea of those... miscreants... in the limo coming back while I'm away from the door."

"I understand completely. We will come down as soon as we are finished upstairs. Thank you again, Senor."

Sticks re-boarded the elevator for the ride to the penthouse.

He came out of the elevator, seeing the now familiar entry hall of the Gillian's penthouse. He ventured into the living room, finding Thomas and Sahara talking on the couch. Sahara looked like she'd been crying recently. Sticks' hackles rose at the site of the Ares Predator II on the coffee table. It looked to be unloaded, the clip chamber empty.

Thomas' eyes followed those of the Escrimador. "We've found out some alarming news, my young friend." His eyes looked tired, the emotion drained from them. "That was the fruits of my anger. Tal and my wife were good enough to stop me from making a mistake."

The couple embraced one more time, before Thomas rose and motioned for Sticks to follow him to the stairs. "Tal followed a watcher spirit back to my office. We now have reason to believe that they may have something to do with this." Thomas pointed upstairs to Darren's room. "Tal and Jess are upstairs in my son's room."

The young Filipino could feel only one emotion, radiating from the older man... pure anger. Sticks thought of maybe mentioning something to the man, but knew that he wasn't in the proper frame of mind. He just nodded and moved up the stair case.

Part 3
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