Sex: Yes please. I mean... Sorry everyone, not here. There are smoochies, but no hot and heavy scenes. *runs for cover*
Violence: Indeed there is. It's not 'Hostel' graphic, but it is in there.
Rating: 18. 'Cause there's some cussin', ass kickin' and general mature themes.
Feedback: Send it all on over to firstname.lastname@example.org. C'mon, you know you wanna. :)
General Author's Note: This occurs in the 'Shadow Hunter' universe from my first story 'Death of Innocence'. It's not the sequel to DOI (that story is still sitting on my hard drive midway through editing). This story is a stand alone, though for general knowledge about the Shadow Hunters, it might be an idea to read that one first.
A Day in The Life of Zoe
Shadow Hunters: Supernaturally gifted warriors, ever changing, who fight to prevent the ancient war between humans and demons from spilling into the streets. Chosen by fate, these Thirteen men and women are destined to root out evil at its source and eradicate its minions.
Zoe McNeil is one of many in line for the powers of the Thirteen. Years of training and discipline have forged her as a powerful warrior, a protector of the unknowing innocents of her city. But, combining a day job, a love life, and her fight against the supernatural underworld isn't all it's cracked up to me. With Zoe's future as a potential Shadow Hunter in question and her girlfriend getting closer to discovering the truth, the collision of her two lives seems inevitable. With a young girl missing, and Zoe and her Dhaskalos hot on the trail, that collision may be less than a day away...
September 22nd, 21:00, Political Rally, Calgary, Alberta
Richard Cavanagh smiled down at his daughter tightening his hold on her small hand as they maneuvered through the large crowd. The politician at the podium spoke passionately to the gathered people and he fought the urge to roll his eyes. He wasn't a supporter of the man's party, point of fact he was leaning towards voting for the other candidate. But, there were rides and, later on, fireworks for his daughter so he was willing to put up with having to listen to the guy if it meant putting a smile on her face.
"Can you see Mommy?" Cassie asked her young voice slightly muffled by the mouthful of blue cotton candy she was attempting to chew through. Richard looked around scanning the thick crowd and quickly spotting his wife Jane talking to his sister and his brother-in-law.
"She's with Aunt Patty and Uncle Jack," he said as he reached down and picked her up. He settled her slight weight on his shoulders and began to move through the crowd to get to his wife. "See them?" He asked pointing with one hand toward the small group while they walked.
"Yes!" She screamed kicking her feet excitedly against his shoulders while waving her cotton candy in the air. "Mommy!"
"Easy Cass, you're going to fall," he chastised gently using his hands to grip her legs in case she went toppling backwards. She settled down, no longer kicking, but still calling to the others as they walked. Jane turned as she heard her daughter's greeting and waved back and waited for them to arrive.
"Down you get," Richard said kneeling down so the six year old could hop off his shoulders and get to her mother.
"Hey honey, did your Dad take you on the bumper cars?" Jane asked pulling a piece of the fluffy candy from the stick her daughter held. Cassie nodded her head enthusiastically.
"Yeah we got bumped and then..." Richard turned away from the conversation as his brother-in-law clapped him on the arm.
"Just scored some tickets for the hockey game tomorrow night," Jack said.
"I'm in," Richard said. He had been waiting for months to see a Flames game.
"Great," Jack looked as though he wanted to say more but the thunderous boom of the first set of fireworks drowned out his words. Richard shrugged at his brother-in-law as Cassie shrieked behind him and he turned to her watching as her face lit up at the impressive display. He had to hand it to the politician, he was definitely pulling out all the stops for the rally. Whoever was funding his position in the race definitely had some deep pockets.
"Look Dad, green ones!" Cassie said pointing to the sky. He smiled looking up at them before turning to his wife. She was shifting away from some of the crowd trying to get some room. He didn't blame her, it was beginning to become stifling as more people closed in to watch the display. Richard grunted as someone bumped him roughly from behind and kept moving.
"Asshole," he muttered as the scruffy looking teen headed away.
"Shit," Jack said moments later and Richard turned to him. He raised an eyebrow as Jack patted down his jeans and checked inside his coat pockets his face becoming worried.
"What?" Richard asked.
"My wallet's gone."
"Yeah," Jack looked past Richard into the crowd. "That little punk must have nicked it when he bumped into me." Richard checked his pockets cursing as he realized the teen had grabbed his wallet as well.
"C'mon," Richard said as he headed off in the direction of the teen his brother-in-law close on his heels. He pushed through the crowd coming to the edge of the throng of people and looking around for the boy. "Damn it."
"He's gone," Jack growled slapping the brick wall of a nearby building with his palm. Richard shook his head and made his way back to his wife.
"Hey hon, where'd you go?" Jane asked taking his hand.
"Just got pick-pocketed," he said grating his teeth. "Where's Cassie?" Jane looked at him eyes wide in surprise.
"I thought she went with you," she said her tone indicating she was about to panic. Richard looked around the crowd before crouching to see through the sea of legs.
"Cassie!" He called out hearing no response from his little girl. "Cassie!"
"Oh God," Jane said, taking Richard's arm in a death grip. "Where is she?"
September 22nd, 20:00, Political Rally, Calgary, Alberta
Detective Moore stepped out of the unmarked car brushing the invisible dust from his pants as he surveyed the parking lot where the political rally had taken place. Evidently most of the people had already found their way home. He scanned the sparse crowd catching glimpse of a red striped blue pant leg and headed in the appropriate direction.
As he came closer to the officer he noticed the distraught looking couples and nodded to himself, at least he had the right crime scene. Coming upon the small group he stopped and acknowledged the officer before turning his attention to the couple.
"I'm Detective Moore," he said in greeting. The couple murmured their greetings though one of the women, the mother he supposed, didn't look up from where she had her head buried in her husband's shoulder. Letting out a small sigh he rubbed his nose with his thumb before flagging down another beat cop.
"Why don't you let Constable Devlyn get you a cup of coffee while I get updated alright?" He asked. They nodded in agreement following after Devlyn towards a small food stand. He waited to be certain they were out of earshot before turning to the other officer, the first on the scene.
"What've you got?" He asked pulling a cigarette from the pack in his pocket. He lit the end inhaling deeply as the man began to read from his notebook.
"Pickpocket nailed both buys, they went after him. Mom thought kid was with Dad, Dad thought she was with Mom. By the time they figured out what was going on she was gone."
Flicking his cigarette Moore nodded, similar snatch and grabs had been going on throughout the city. Two kids had gone missing at the Stampede in the summer, it had caused some panic and the bad publicity had severely curtailed the tourist dollars. The mayor had been breathing down the police department's neck to get things resolved quickly. Now that tourist season was over the pressure had eased up and new cases had taken precedence. Besides, the damn grabs were nearly impossible to track. It was never the same pair snatching the kid and whoever was masterminding the kidnappings knew the right places and times to make the grabs.
"Anything else?" Moore asked with a raise of a bushy eyebrow.
"The Aunt said she thought she saw some guy who was eyeing the kid," the officer said his tone indicating he didn't think it was much of lead.
"Average Joe. Brown hair, average height. 'Said she thought she saw a tattoo on the side of his neck."
"Great." Nothing like a needle in a haystack. "Where were they standing?"
"Over there by the popcorn stand," the officer said pointing with his pen. Moore nodded and walked over to the area flicking his cigarette off to the side before crouching down looking for anything out of place. Finding nothing more exciting then a few discarded beer bottles he decided to head to the alley that ran towards the service road in the back of the parking lot.
Pulling his penlight from his coat pocket he swept it across the small alleyway. There was a slight reflection and he swept the light back in the direction to search for what had caught his eye. Moore bent down rolling away a discarded cotton candy stick to reveal a button. He used a pen to pick the button up by the hook shining the light on it to inspect it. He grimaced at the drops of blood that marred the face. What was perhaps more disturbing was the odd symbol that shimmered into view when he turned the button in the light.
"Shit," he muttered. He didn't know what the symbol was but he knew what finding it meant. He wasn't qualified to deal with whoever it was that had picked up the kid. Cursing again softly Moore pocketed the button and made his way out of the alley and over to the two couples.
"Mr. Mrs. Cavanagh, why don't you go on home, we'll contact you as soon as we get any information."
"Find her please," the man pleaded, still holding tightly to his wife. Moore nodded and walked away pulling out his cell phone. Dialing a number that had long since been imbedded in his memory he waited for the man on the other end to pick up. Waiting for the greeting he spoke firmly into the phone.
"We have a problem."
September 23rd, 00:30, Residence of Alexandra Demitir, Calgary, Alberta
"This movie is totally bogus," Zoe said throwing some of her handful of popcorn at the 40 inch TV screen.
"Hey," her girlfriend protested as she grabbed the bowl from Zoe covering it protectively with her arm.
"This is my one cheat snack for the week," Alex complained. "No wasting." Zoe rolled her eyes at her girlfriend.
"I don't know why you're doing that stupid diet," Zoe said. "You look fine."
"I already told you, I want to look good for the reunion."
"You do look good Alex," Zoe said using the remote to turn off the TV and turning to look at the brunette. "I don't know why you're getting so freaked out about it. Most of these people are going to be married with screaming kids and dead end jobs," she argued sitting back in the couch and pulling her girlfriend in to her lap. "You're hot with a career at a successful law firm, you win," Zoe said dropping a kiss at the base of Alex's neck and wrapping her arms around the woman's midsection.
"I wouldn't mind being married with a couple of kids," Alex retorted turning to look at Zoe over her shoulder. Zoe recognized the look, it was the one that said she was about to be baited into a discussion about hers and Alex's future as a couple. After two years of 'on again off again' dating she knew Alex was ready to start getting serious.
Trying to think of a way out of the conversation that wouldn't be too abrupt or obvious, Zoe was disgustingly grateful when her cell phone went off. Alex sighed loudly before pushing up from Zoe and allowing the woman to maneuver off the couch and make a grab for her mobile. Zoe picked up the phone hitting the 'answer' button before heading back to the couch and sitting on her girlfriend's lap facing the woman.
"Hello?" She greeted dropping an apologetic kiss on Alex's forehead. The brunette leaned forward resting her head against Zoe's chest and wrapping her arms around her to make sure Zoe didn't end up on the floor.
"Hell Cat?" Zoe felt her focus shift from her girlfriend to the conversation as her field name came across the line.
"I need you to come over," Zoe's Dhaskalos, Marc, said. Zoe looked down at her girlfriend who was now looking up at her expectantly.
"Uh, sure, I can handle that," Zoe answered using one hand to push a few strands of rich brown hair behind Alex's ear.
"Be quick," Marc ordered.
"Yeah, will do," she said snapping the phone closed.
"Lemme guess..." Alex started.
"Work," they said in unison.
"A critical server went down, and they need someone to take a look at it," Zoe said. She bent down quickly bussing Alex on the lips before disentangling their limbs and getting up from the couch. "I'm going to see if I can't get it up and running," Zoe explained as she walked into the bedroom to change out of Alex's borrowed pyjamas. She hated to lie to the other woman but didn't really know what else to do.
"Should I expect you back tonight?" Alex asked. Zoe could tell simply by the tone of the lawyer's voice that she wasn't pleased. Zoe couldn't blame her, their busy schedules kept them apart a good deal and this was the second time in a month where Zoe had cut out early on one of their 'together' nights.
"Uh, I doubt it hon," Zoe said as she came out of the room settling her glasses on her nose. She pulled her hair back from her face trying to get it into a respectable looking 'do'. Alex rolled her eyes at her standing up and approaching Zoe from behind. The redhead let out a small sigh of contentment as Alex ran her hands through her long tresses to order it somewhat.
"We have breakfast with my parents tomorrow morning," Alex reminded, as she pulled Zoe's hair into a ponytail before turning the redhead around to face her. She brushed off the shoulders of Zoe's pant suit and stepped back.
"I remember," Zoe assured walking to the entryway and slipping into her high heeled boots. Alex followed walking the redhead to the door of the apartment.
"I'll pick you up around quarter to nine ok?" Alex asked. Zoe nodded wrapping her arms around her girlfriend's waist.
"I'm sorry about this," Zoe said honestly looking into her girlfriend's gray eyes. Alex shrugged.
"I've gotten pretty submersed in some of my trials before, you put up with it."
"I'll make it up to you," Zoe promised leaning forward and touching her lips to Alex's. She had intended to pull away quickly but found herself unable to as Alex tightened her hold on her neck and deepened the kiss. Zoe moaned lowering her hands to Alex's shapely rear using her grip to push her girlfriend against the door. She felt Alex wrap one leg around her knee and knew that if she let things progress any further she wouldn't be going anywhere.
Pulling away sharply she gave Alex a lust filled look.
"That wasn't fair," Zoe said closing her eyes and leaning her head against Alex's shoulder. Her girlfriend dropped a kiss on the top of her head before slapping her sharply on the ass.
"All's fair in love and war, get to work," Alex said smirking at her. Zoe laughed kissing Alex on the cheek before opening the door and heading into the hallway.
"Love you too."
September 23rd, 01:15, Operations HQ of Mad Dog and Hell Cat, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe stopped her car in front of a well worn brick building stepping out and clicking on her car alarm as she headed for the entrance. Using her keys she unlocked the door to the warehouse punching in the alarm code to disarm it before entering. She rearmed the system to standby squinting slightly as the motion sensors picked her up and activated the lights.
Off to her far left was an area of hardwood floor and a wall of mirrors where she and Marc practiced kata. Just beyond that section were the punching bags and focus pads and a section for sparring. To Zoe's right was the agility structure, essentially a giant jungle gym that Zoe had to work through while fending off Marc's attacks and whatever booby traps he had managed to rig up. While the structure was solid it was able to be dismantled and reassembled in a variety of ways so the training was always fresh and wouldn't allow Zoe to become complacent. Beyond the agility structure were the weapons racks and worktables. The design was essentially the same for all training houses, ensuring that any Dhaskalos, Shadow Hunter, or potential Thirteen could train in any area.
Heels clicking on the cracked cement floor, Zoe walked past the training area to the back half of the warehouse to the small apartment. She rolled her eyes at the disarray surrounding her, she could see pots resting in the sink of the miniscule kitchen and the bachelor style apartment did little to hide Marc's sloth. Shirts were flung over the sole couch and the sleeping space of the bed had been cut in half simply by the sheer number of books strewn across it.
After six years Zoe still couldn't understand how a man so organized in his work could live like a frat boy. Shaking her head, some mysteries would never be solved, she headed for a large bookcase on the back wall. She pulled aside a copy of the 'Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy' to reveal a second alarm keypad. Zoe keyed in her code and replaced the book hearing the lock disengage. She pulled on the bookcase the hidden hinges allowing her to move it with ease. As it came away from the wall the bookcase revealed a set of stairs that led downwards to the basement area of the warehouse. Their operations room.
Zoe walked down the steps and into the operations room. She leaned against one of the nearest worktables looking over at her Dhaskalos who was immersed in whatever he was doing. She knew he was aware of her presence but also that Marc wouldn't acknowledge her if he was in some kind of groove.
He was seated at his computer worktable, four large flat screen monitors mounted at eye level. Along the right wall was his lab table where microscopes and various other scientific instruments lay. The wall furthest from the steps sported a large garage style door that led into the small machine shop and vehicle maintenance bay. To the left were illuminated racks for the weapons they used on patrol as well as lockers for their patrol clothing. In the center of the room was a large monitor suspended from the ceiling which displayed whatever monitor was active at Marc's computer station.
"Did you get lost?" Her Dhaskalos, asked finally turning to her and raising an eyebrow. Zoe rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.
"I'm fine Marc, thanks for asking, how was your day?" Expecting a sarcastic remark in return, as was their usual banter, she was surprised that he actually looked irritated with her. Obviously whatever she had been called in for was something big. Not Kaldayo demon big, that time the veins at his temple had been popping out. More like, vampire motorcycle gang big, something which she was under the impression they had taken care of in the spring.
"What's wrong?" She asked pushing off the table and unfolding her arms. He rolled his desk chair away from his first console and over to another keyboard bringing up a police report on the hanging screen.
"Cassie Cavanagh, six years old, abducted from a political rally," he said. "One of my sources inside the department just dropped this off." Rolling his chair to a side table he motioned with his head for Zoe to follow him to where he had an experiment set up.
"What's all this?" She asked leaning on his chair and looking over his shoulder.
"This," he said, "is a button found at the scene," he held up the object. Zoe took it from him putting it under the lamp. It looked normal enough, it was a promo button for one of the local politicians. She turned it over in her hand pausing as she realized something was off.
"What's with the shimmer effect?" She asked, she could vaguely make out a ghost image behind the political slogan of the pin. Marc handed her a blacklight killing the desk lamp. Zoe pointed the light at the button sighing at the symbol overlaying the pin in some sort of incandescent tint.
"Looks like a demon glyph, I can't make it out," she said putting the button back on the desk and turning the normal lamp back on. Even after six years of training she couldn't translate any of the demon languages for shit. If it was standard Bacchanian or Noseferus she could usually manage. The further the symbols got from the parent languages the worse off she was.
"I've got it running through the database, I didn't recognize it either," Marc said, he was obviously frustrated. "I think it's a derivative of the Bacchanian, but I can't be sure." Zoe put a hand over her heart and stumbled backwards.
"Dear God, you, who know all, admit to being stumped. Call a doctor I think I'm having heart attack."
"Your sarcasm never fails to amuse," he said in a deadpan tone.
"Tough room tonight," Zoe said. Marc took himself too seriously some times. For a man who was shy of forty he had far too many stress lines. Admittedly this wasn't generally a fun job, but if you didn't take a little fun where you could get it what the hell was the point?
"What's with the rest of this?" Zoe asked motioning to where there were numerous vials of slightly pink tinted water.
"There was blood on the pin. Primary analysis indicated it was non-human. I was hoping to determine the species of demon that took the girl."
"And?" Marc took an ultra-violet light from one of the drawers and shone it on a test tube. The water quickly began to boil before a loud pop cracked through the basement and the test tube shattered. Zoe looked at the remaining test tubes noticing that the tube beside the broken one had dust like flecks settling to the bottom.
"Huh. Given that you made a kaboom with some water and artificial sunlight I'm going to guess the kid was nabbed by some leeches."
"It's what it looks like," Marc said rolling his desk chair back over to his computer station. Only Zoe's quick reflexes kept her from broken toes and ruined boots. Zoe leaned against the desk watching as her Dhaskalos scrolled through various police reports.
"Makes sense," Zoe said absently.
"Makes sense that the girl got taken by leeches. She was grabbed in the middle of a crowd, only a vampire would be able to come topside without too much fanfare," Zoe theorized. There was a beep on one of the computers and Zoe turned to look at the screen. "Got a hit on the glyph. You were right, Bacchanian dialect. Loosely means 'support'."
"Support?" Marc asked rolling to the appropriate screen and visually comparing the scanned glyph to the database to ensure it was a match. Some of the glyphs were close enough to draw up false positives from the computer database. The system was good but some things just couldn't substitute for the old ways.
"This guy must have a demonic following," Zoe said.
"As if politicians aren't dirty enough they have to start throwing themselves in with vampires," Marc said in disgust. He was already in the midst of back dooring his way into the DMV server to get the politician's records.
"Grab me his address, I'll go have a chat with him," Zoe said cracking her knuckles. She hated people who preyed on children and she hated vampires. If she could take out a vampire pandering baby killer it would have to be triple good karma points.
"Not going to help," Marc said eyes not wavering from his work on the computer screen.
"Why's that?" Zoe asked.
"He's out campaigning, his flight doesn't get back into the city until tomorrow morning," the Dhaskalos answered indicating the man's name on the flight manifesto for the early bird puddle jumper from Edmonton to Calgary.
"Alright," Zoe said drawing out the word. "So then why am I here and not in bed with my girlfriend?" There was no way she would be able to track the kid. She was a potential Thirteen not a damned blood hound, she left most of the investigative stuff to Marc, he loved that Dick Tracy crap anyway.
"I need you to go to his house anyway, see if there's any trace of the girl," Marc said rolling over to the printer and pulling a sheaf of paper from the tray. He held it out to her and Zoe took it from his hands looking down at the address. It was a downtown townhouse, awfully pricey for a supposed public servant. She looked up from the paper and at her Dhaskalos.
"And while I'm break and entering you'll be doing what exactly?" She asked.
"If I can isolate exactly where the symbol originated from I might be able to pin it to a specific vampiric group. Narrow things down a little."
"So..." Zoe held up a hand. "I get to go risking life, limb and trespassing charges and you get to sit here at a computer?"
"No," Zoe shrugged, "just wanted to make sure we're clear." Her Dhaskalos rolled his eyes before turning his gaze to her with a look of skepticism.
"You're going in that?" He asked. Zoe looked down at her outfit, she'd had meetings with her IT staff all day and a supper appointment with a client so hadn't had a chance to change out of her work clothes. She was clad in her grey pinstriped suit and high heel boots her Fendi glasses perched delicately on her nose. Pushing said glasses up slightly she twitched her suit jacket back into place.
"You know I have a day job and a girlfriend," she reminded. "Something also known as a 'life'. You should try one sometimes." Marc turned away continuing his search on the politician. Zoe sighed quietly behind him, it was all well and good for him to chide her for not being prepared. He wasn't the one leading a double life, wasn't the one trying to keep on top of a day job, the vampire population and a girlfriend who was apparently beginning to hear the 'tick-tock' of her biological clock.
"He has the townhouse in the city and ranch about an hour out of town," Marc said a few moments later pulling Zoe from her musings. She dismissed her irritation, it wasn't anything she hadn't thought about before and she and Marc had fought about it ad nauseum for the first two years of her training. It had started to get worse of late with her relationship with Alex, she hated lying about her whereabouts but wasn't certain that telling the woman was the best course of action.
Marc had repeatedly insisted that Alex would be able to handle things, that as a criminal lawyer she was already well versed about the darkness of the world. Zoe just didn't know and the stress and the guilt were beginning to gnaw at her and consequently affecting her work. Splitting her attention as she was was going to get her killed so whatever she was going to decide she had to do it in the near future. Shaking off the dark thoughts, after all she did still have her job to do, she folded the paper and tucked it into her jacket pocket.
"Think the Tribunal will pay for the gas mileage on my car?" She asked doing her best to force a smirk.
"Just go," Marc said handing her a second piece of paper. She looked at the address for the ranch, it was on one of the range roads off highway 1. And the loft was in the downtown core, halfway across the damn city. It was going to be a long night.
Zoe gave her Dhaskalos a mock salute and headed back out the way she had come locking all the doors behind her. She slid into the driver seat of her black Honda Civic and turned on the ignition rubbing her hands together as she let the car's engine warm up. She idly wished she had chosen a warmer city when the Tribunal had asked her to relocate.
The Old Order had found her in her last year at the University of Regina. After graduation Zoe had followed a job offer to Cold Lake, Alberta, and Marc had moved with her to set up shop and continue training. The job had been a nightmare and demonic activity nearly non-existent. By the time she had reached the end of her rope at work Zoe had managed to settle into her responsibilities as a potential Shadow Hunter. Marc had suggested that, rather than move without purpose, she relocate to an area where she could find a day job as well as fulfill her duties to the Tribunal.
Zoe had ceded to the request but she and Marc had been at loggerheads for nearly six months trying to decide where to go. Her Dhaskalos had been adamant about moving to one of the larger American cities, like Los Angeles, as more people generally meant more potential for demonic activity. Zoe had been reluctant to leave her country and, after a few brief visits south of the border, she found she couldn't handle the huge numbers of people in the cities nor did she feel at home.
Calgary had been their compromise, more Marc's then hers she supposed. It was one of the larger cities in the country and continually growing. Long nights during the winter months, decent tourist economy and the general 'boom' of the city made it a profitable place for the demon culture to thrive.
Thinking her engine would be warm enough to go without cracking Zoe pulled on her seatbelt and put the car in gear. She let out a breath as she noticed the red glare of the digital clock on her dashboard. Just past two am. With three hours of travel time and at least an hour worth of rooting around at the houses sleep was looking like a forlorn hope.
At 28 years old Zoe's days of going without sleep were fading into the past. She was going to be a bag of shit at the breakfast tomorrow. There was no way to cancel, unless she was dead or in traction. Alex would never let her hear the end of it.
She turned on her radio crinkling her nose at the late night radio talk show and touched her finger to her iPod bringing the screen to life and clicking on to her 'Fight' song playlist.
Linkin' Park's 'Runaway' chorus filled the small car and Zoe began to move her head to heavy beat willing the adrenaline into her veins and settling herself into her aggressive mode. It was her way of prepping battle, Marc tended to meditate or work on the bags, she cranked the angriest music she could find and let the mood of the music take her into the state of mind where all she wanted was a good brawl.
I wanna run away and never say goodbye
I wanna know the truth instead of wondering why
I wanna know the answers no more lies
I wanna shut the door and open up my mind
Opening her stereo up and shifting into fifth Zoe headed for the downtown core.
September 23rd, 0237, 17th Avenue, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe turned off her lights parking her car in a lot across from one of the busy Latin clubs that lined 17th Avenue. Waiting for the music to end, cutting off in the middle of a song was one of her pet peeves, she turned off the ignition and slid out of her seat. She rubbed her hands together as she moved towards the trunk her breath coming out in short cloudy puffs in front of her. Damn but it got cold quick, two weeks ago she had been running around in shorts. Using her keychain to pop her trunk she pulled out the knapsack of gear that she kept stored in case she was ever needed on the streets and couldn't get to the HQ to arm up.
She shucked her suit jacket laying it in the trunk before shimmying into her specially fitted shoulder holster. She shoved a pair of stakes into the holster rather than the usual pistol as well as a vial of holy water. She grabbed her leather gloves from the bag and slipped them on double checking her ponytail to be sure she wouldn't be blinded by some curly locks popping free of their elastic confines. Satisfied, she put her suit jacket back on effectively concealing her weapons. Pulling her lock pick set from the bag she slipped into her inside pocket and took out her wallet throwing it into her trunk with her keys.
She kept a Hide-a-Key tucked on the under side of her car, not only for situations such as this but also for her general assish behavior when she locked her keys in the car. AMA had been making a killing on her until, after the third call, the very nice tow-truck man had suggested the little magnetic box.
In the event that she was captured by the police they wouldn't be able to ID her by the contents of her wallet or by the car. It wouldn't matter much, they would be find out who she was when they got her to the station, her prints were on file with the Calgary PD from an assault charge last year.
But, by then, Marc would have already learned of her arrest, either from his police scanner or numerous sources, and he would get her out before she could be fully processed. Theoretically. The fact that she had an assault charge showed that even the best laid plans didn't always go off without a hitch.
There was a clinking of glass on pavement and Zoe instinctively reached for her stakes turning toward the sound. She shook her head as she caught sight of a drunken group of twenty somethings making their way to their car. Zoe sighed, of all the things she could be doing on a Friday night she was going to be rooting through some politician's house.
Just to be on the safe side she followed after the small group hoping to make sure that one of the group was sober enough to operate the vehicle. One girl, a small Asian woman, seemed to be organizing the other four ushering them into the car and instructing them to get their seatbelts on.
"Excuse me," Zoe said as she approached the woman who was about to get into the car.
"Yeah?" The younger woman asked looking nervous about being approached in what was an extremely poorly lit parking lot. Given the recent spate of muggings across the city Zoe couldn't blame her. She was going to have to take care of that too, the cops certainly didn't seem to be doing their jobs.
"I'm looking for Tequila's, I'm supposed to pick someone up but I'm kind of lost," Zoe said with a shrug. The woman visibly relaxed as Zoe came more fully into view, at 5'5" the redhead was hardly an imposing figure.
"Yeah, you've got to go a couple blocks north towards the CN tower, take a left at 'Around the World in 80 Beers, and just keep heading down, you'll hit it." Zoe smiled, the woman didn't smell or look like she'd had anything to drink. Thankfully.
It wouldn't have been the first time Zoe'd had to pull some drunken moron out of his car and riot cuff him to the undercarriage to make sure he didn't end up killing someone on the road. Her official purview might only be the demon baddies but she was of the mind that she was responsible to help any way she could. That meant keeping the drunken jackoffs from taking out people with a 1 tonne bullet as much as it did thwarting the schemes of an apocalyptic scale.
"Thanks, I appreciate it," Zoe said, watching as the woman nodded and got into her car. She heard a number of catcalls from the occupants of the car as she walked back towards her Honda and rolled her eyes. Men.
Once she was certain the group was gone she turned away from the Honda and headed in the direction of the townhouse rubbing her arms as she walked. She hadn't worn her jacket for tactical reasons but was now thinking she should have at least layered up somehow.
She finally stopped in front of an old brick townhouse and pulled the address from her pocket double checking to be sure she had the right address. As if that wouldn't be the epitome of embarrassing.
Certain that she was, in fact, going to be breaking into the right home, she forewent the front door and headed to the alley. Zoe pulled a garbage can over to the fire escape ladder using the brick wall to steady herself as she climbed on to the top of the can. She reached up her fingers barely coming in to contact with the lowest rung of the ladder.
Crouching slightly Zoe jumped upwards getting a firm grip of the rung. Her feet swung gently above the garbage can as she tried to position herself to pull herself upwards. She groaned as she let go with one hand reaching up for the next rung and quickly hauling her herself up the ladder by her arms. At the fourth rung she kicked her legs upward relieved when her feet hit the bottom rung and she was able to using her lower half to finish getting up the ladder.
There weren't many times Zoe envied her Shadow Hunter peers. Days like this however, when she needed a little pep in her step, were one of those times. After six years as a candidate for the Thirteen the chances of Zoe being Chosen were apparently beginning to decrease. She wasn't certain what would happen if or when whoever it was that was handing out the powers decided she wouldn't be a Shadow Hunter.
Whether Marc would stay in the city or move on, what would happen to the warehouse, what her responsibilities would be. Sweeps, investigations, training, it was all such a big part of her existence, it was hard to imagine what things would be like without it. It was the main reason she was leery of committing to Alex. Her own life was still in flux and bringing another person into the madness especially unknowingly didn't seem like a good idea.
Pushing her contemplative thoughts aside Zoe threw her leg over the railing of the fire escape and dropped onto the balcony. She reached into her jacket crouching down as she pulled out her lock pick set and flipped it open. She made short work of the deadbolt and quietly opened the door and slipped inside. A piercing shriek began to blare through the house and Zoe cursed as she realized she had tripped the motion sensor and triggered the alarm.
"Shit, shit, shit," she swore as she headed for the stairwell. She ran down the stairs heading for the front door her heels clicking loudly against the tile. Sliding to a stop in front of the keypad she opened the console scanning the display. The alarm was counting down, likely the time before the signal would be sent to the security company who would then send dispatch Calgary's finest to responds to the alarm.
Zoe quickly searched her memory for the override code for the man's alarm model, each model had its own code that the company used to reset the alarms in instances where there was a malfunction. Punching the numbers in she was chagrined to realize it was having no effect, the alarm wouldn't shut down.
"Damn it." She had thirty seconds before the call went out to the PD. Given her proximity to the downtown core and the fact that the client was probably a VIP it would be less than two minutes before the cops arrived. Zoe headed straight for the office tossing papers to the floor as she searched for some clue regarding Cassie Cavanagh or the politician's connection to the demon underworld.
Finding nothing in the open she began pulling on all the doors letting out a string of expletives when she discovered them all to be locked. She didn't have time to start picking locks. If it wasn't in the open she wasn't going to find it tonight. And there was nothing. No sign of the girl or his connection to the leeches.
Zoe grabbed the desk lamp and tossed it at a wall in the living room. She grabbed whatever she could fit into her pockets heading into the kitchen to give it a quick toss. She didn't want to chance anyone connecting the dots, no matter how unlikely. When the cops got here it would look like a simple smash and grab and they would hopefully chalk it up to junkies looking for goods to fence for a fix.
There was a flashing of blue and red in the front window and Zoe cursed sprinting for the stairs. She grabbed on to the banister as she skidded past on her boots using the railing as a fulcrum point to whip her body around and up the stairs. She heard the knocking on the downstairs door just as she slipped onto the balcony. She made sure to leave the door open so the investigators wouldn't start asking questions about how the intruder had gotten in.
Zoe ducked down looking through the railings of the fire escape to scan the alleyway. She could see one patrolman moving into the alley and quietly hit her fist on the ground. She couldn't go down, up was her only answer. Thankful for the dark suit and cloudy night Zoe reached up for the roof. She used her arms to pull herself on to the clay shingled roof and crawled over to the side facing away from the street. Lying down and bracing herself for a long stay Zoe waited for an all clear.
September 23rd, 07:00, Operations HQ of Mad Dog and Hell Cat, Calgary, Alberta
Four hours and a number of broken laws later, including the speed limit on a near constant basis, Zoe descended the steps to the operations room.
"Where have you been?" Marc asked turning away from his computer screen to look at her, a cross between worry and agitation coloring his features.
"Don't ask," Zoe said sitting in one of the office chairs and cracking open the bottle of water that she'd grabbed from Marc's sadly ill-stocked fridge. "I didn't find anything on the kid," she said before putting the bottle to her lips and sucking back more then half of the contents. "Goddamn alarm at his townhouse had some sort of protection against the override codes," she said, "I managed to get into the ranch house but there was nothing that I could see that would lead us to the Cassie."
She drained the last of the bottle and absently chucked it behind her letting a small smile grace her lips as she heard the sound of it landing in the waste basket. She looked down at her pant knee grimacing at the tear, no way to repair it. She had gotten caught up on the brick at the politician's house.
After half an hour the police had still been milling around and, nearly frozen, Zoe had decided she didn't want to die a popsicle. So, rather than wait for them to clear out, she had taken a chance and climbed down the lattice at the back of the house. Considering that she could have just as easily plummeted two stories as not, Zoe supposed she should be grateful all she had ended up with was a ruined pair of pants.
"Yes, I caught the alarm on the police scanner, I'm looking into his security records as we speak. As for you, he'll be at his office within the hour, perhaps you could go have that 'chat' with him now," Marc suggested.
"And how, pray tell, am I going to get in to his campaign headquarters? Security won't let me through the door," Zoe said pulling her hair from its ponytail. She leaned over shaking her hair out on the floor leaving a small pile of straw and dust. That was the last time she was going to crawl around a barnyard. Ever.
"Use this," Marc said as he held up a badge listing her as party personnel. Zoe took it from him noticing the photo was hers though the name wasn't. Mildly impressed that he had managed to fake an ID so quickly she scanned through it narrowing her eyes at her listed job description.
"You made me a coffee girl?!" She asked in outrage glaring at her Dhaskalos. She was the team leader of a successful IT business, she was a well trained warrior, hell she was potentially a goddamn chosen one of the gods. And she was serving coffee? Like hell.
"Turn it over," Marc said motioning with his finger for her to flip the badge.
"Oh hey," she said her eyes falling on her fabricated date of birth. "You made me 23! Score." Coffee girl wasn't so bad.
"You'll have to hurry if you want to get there in time to grab the real coffee girl before she makes her way into the office."
"I have to change," Zoe said pulling off her suit jacket, salvageable thankfully. Her dry cleaner would murder her with the bill, but Zoe couldn't win them all.
"Change?" Marc asked.
"When's the last time you saw a 23 year old coffee girl in a four hundred dollar suit?" She asked with a raised eyebrow. There was no response from her Dhaskalos and she nodded. "Yeah that's what I thought." She walked over to her locker grabbing her gym bag and pulling out a worn pair of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt with the University of Regina symbol on the chest.
Stripping and redressing without so much as a thought to the other person in the room she buttoned her jeans and adjusted the hood on her sweatshirt. She pulled out a second elastic pulling red hair into pigtails and throwing her boots back on. Her sneakers were far too tattered to use and she had her doubts that anyone would be thoroughly scrutinizing her footwear.
"How do I look?" She asked turning to face Marc. He looked at her contemplatively before shrugging and returning his attention to his monitors.
"Pretty much the same as you did the first day I met you," he said absently as he clicked away on his computer.
"I could kiss you for that," Zoe said walking over to pick up her badge and clipping it to the pouch of her hoodie. Marc handed her an earpiece which she tucked into her ear canal nodding at the low tone that came from the device indicating it was on and operational. She slipped on the ring that acted as an audio transmitter breathing into it softly and hearing her breath come through the operation room's speakers a split second later.
As she was without the powers of the Thirteen she had to rely more heavily on technology to help get her job done. It was testament to how well funded the Tribunal of the Old Order was that it was able to supply her and Marc with devices that rivaled that of some government agencies.
Many Dhaskalos preferred sticking to the 'old way' of dealing with demonic forces, using only the traditional weapons and modes of conduct. Marc was more forward thinking, he knew that the demons themselves were using the technology and that to adequately fight them one couldn't be stuck in the ways of the past.
"Alright," Zoe said grabbing her keys from her jacket pocket. "I'm out."
September 23rd, 07:45, Campaign Office, Calgary
Zoe smiled holding her ID badge up to the security guard for inspection. He nodded at her and she clipped her badge back on to her shirt.
"Where's Anna?" He asked motioning her forward to have her body scanned with the metal detector.
"Out sick," Zoe said. She had cut it close. The girl had already been out of her car and on her way towards the office when Zoe had been pulling in to the parking lot. She had grabbed the young woman in the parking lot knocking her out with an ether capsule and putting her back in her car. Hopefully the incident wouldn't be too traumatizing.
Finally finished with the scan Zoe walked past the guard and into the hustle and bustle of the office. Considering it was a Saturday the place was packed. Didn't these people have lives? It was quarter to eight for Christ sake. She put her hand to her mouth to yawn.
"Managed to nail him to any groups yet?" She asked quietly before bringing her hand down.
"I've found some loose associations to a gang in Winnipeg, Manitoba but nothing local so far," Marc answered in her ear.
"Work faster, I'd like to have something to use against him as leverage," she said scratching at the side of her neck. She smiled at one of the women handing her an orange juice from the cart with a wink.
"You mean besides the threat of imminent harm?" Marc asked.
"You're the one who keeps telling me to diversify my interrogation techniques," Zoe retorted rolling her cart towards the politician's office. She pulled a coffee and a handful of creamers from the bowl waiting until she was certain he was alone before slipping into the office. She quietly kicked the door closed behind herself listening for the soft 'snick' of the lock engaging. Evidently he heard it as well as he looked up alerted to her presence by the sound.
He gave her a curious smile standing from his seat at his desk.
"Hi," she said approaching him. "Coffee?"
"Please," he motioned to a clear spot on his desk and Zoe placed the hot cup down. A quick flick of her wrist knocked over the cup and she began apologizing as the brown liquid spread towards his paperwork.
"I'm so sorry," she said reaching across the deck to begin cleaning up.
"Quite alright," he said leaning forward as well to grab his papers. Once he was within reach Zoe shot out a hand grabbing the man firmly by his tie and simultaneously pulling a pen from his desk and jabbing it into his neck.
"Don't say a word," she warned pressing the sharp tip of the pen into the delicate skin. "The pen may not be mightier than the sword but right now I assure you it's on par."
"What do you want?" He asked. Zoe was almost surprised by the change she could see in him. He had gone from a cheerful looking business man to looking at her with murderous intent. Definitely a wolf posing as a sheep.
"A girl was nabbed last night, Cassie Cavanagh," Zoe said being certain to keep a tight hold both on the pen and on his tie.
"Whoever grabbed her dropped one of your buttons, one that glows under black light," Zoe said her voice a near growl.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said his tone almost bored.
"Wrong answer," Marc chimed in Zoe's ear.
Zoe used the tie as her anchor and pulled herself onto the man's desk kneeling on one knee and tugging the politician's tie into his mouth effectively gagging him. She used her leg to hold his right hand to the desk and, without a moment's hesitation for the morality of it all, drove the pen in to the back of his hand. His muffled scream around the mouthful of silk tie did little to invoke sympathy from the potential Shadow Hunter.
"The next one will go further South," she warned tugging him forward so she could speak directly in his ear. He settled down at the implied threat and Zoe smiled without humor before pulling the pen out of his hand. "Cassie Cavanagh." She stated again releasing the tie enough for him to be able to speak.
"I don't know," he said. Zoe sighed readying to pull the tie back into place and shove the pen in to place she knew would produce results. "Wait," he said holding up his good hand. "I don't know where the girl is but I might know who took her."
"Considering where this pen is going next," Zoe said wiggling said pen in her hand, "you had damn well better."
"There's a house on the Southwest side. It's a safe house, there's a pair of vampires who stay there. I know their associated with a real estate agent," he offered.
"What kind of real estate are we talking about here?" She asked with a raise of her eyebrow. She wasn't looking for a good price on a co-op, she wanted the girl.
"The normal," he said, "and the kind you're looking for."
"What's the address?" Zoe asked.
"It's in my Rolodex." Zoe relaxed her grip on his tie and sat back on her haunches pointing with the bloodied pen to the Rolodex.
"Get it," she ordered. He flipped through it and pulled a card out handing it to Zoe. She looked down at the card nodding at it. "Thanks," she said slipping it into her back pocket for safekeeping. She grabbed the man's tie tugging him forward and head butting him. He fell back into his chair his eyes rolling back in his head, unconscious.
"Got the address," she said into her hand as she jumped off the desk and tossed the pen to the side careful not to smear blood on her hands. She hated having to resort to such means to get information but it didn't seem like anyone was up front anymore if you weren't willing to break fingers. Shrugging she pulled her hair out of her pigtails and began to muss it trying to get the right look.
"Good," Marc answered. Zoe left the office smearing her lipstick slightly as she unlocked the door to get out and then engaged the lock again to ensure the door wouldn't open from the outside. She bumped into someone who looked to be on his way into the office and stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.
"You, uh, might want to give him a second," she said smiling coyly. She didn't have much practice playing up the 'office whore' routine but she'd seen it done enough times to make a respectable attempt. The man gave her a lecherous grin turning away and walking back to his cubicle. Rolling her eyes in disgust Zoe hurried past the other employees slipping easily out of the building.
"Alright Mad Dog we're in business," she said opening her car door and turning the ignition. She looked down at the clock with a sigh wondering if any of the cafes would be only moderately busy rather than completely packed with people needing their morning caffeine fix. She was a good fighter but damn if she was going to get between some of those people and their 'double latte, no fat', whatever the hell they were. It was tantamount to suicide.
"Hey, where can I get a quick cup of coffee at eight thirty in the morning?" She asked pulling out into traffic. She passed a McDonald's and found her mouth watering. God she was hungry.
"Wait," she said aloud as a feeling of panic zipped up her spine.
"Wait what?" Marc asked. Zoe ran the previous night's conversation with Alex through her mind again. There was something she was supposed to remember. Something that had to do with food.
"Oh my freaking Christ," she flicked on her turning signal cutting abruptly across two lanes of traffic to get to her off ramp. Horns blared as she came close to the bumper of the F-150 behind her while she jumped from her position on the far left to that of the far right.
"Shit, shit, shit," she cursed as slammed her hands on the wheel gunning it toward her apartment.
"What? What?!" Marc asked his voice beginning to sound panicked.
"I've got breakfast with Alex's parents in fifteen minutes." She said tugging hard on the wheel and sliding the small Honda around the turn into her parking lot. The shrill screech of her tires combined with the smell of burning rubber let her know the car wasn't appreciating the workout. She usually did all her stunt driving on the sportbike or in the Mustang. She pulled into her parking space wrenching up on the e-brake and throwing the gear shift into neutral.
"We have a child missing..." her Dhaskalos argued. Zoe nodded, she realized that, but the vampires weren't going anywhere, it wasn't as though they could go for a leisurely morning walk. Besides, he was just as equipped to question the leeches as she was.
"516 Willowdale, Southwest," Zoe said reaching over her gearshift and pulling her glasses from the glove compartment. She took her purse from her seat and fairly threw herself out of the car slamming the door as she ran for the lobby of her building. The sun glinted off a car pulling into the visitors parking lot and Zoe cursed as she realized it was Alex's BMW. She didn't bother checking her watch, her girlfriend was ten minutes early, as always. She wouldn't make it to the door without Alex seeing her and, considering her disheveled state and the fact that she was entering rather than leaving, it was going to give the woman the wrong impression.
"Motherfucker." She headed for the back of the building gazing up at the four story complex. Balconies protruded from each apartment and she could identify her balcony from the bright blue mountain bike leaning against the rail. Sighing, and hoping she wasn't about to break her fool neck, Zoe put her purse in her mouth and climbed the fence that separated the patios of the first floor apartments. She used the added height to pull herself to the balcony over head. She placed one hand in front and one hand behind as she settled herself in to a crouch on the thin rail.
Fairly certain she wouldn't fall at that point she slowly stood holding her arms out to steady herself. She balanced uneasily on her heels as she walked her way to the edge of the rail and made the horizontal jump to the next railing. Two more jumps over, one very near miss, and one jump up and Zoe was wedging open her patio door.
She had barely stepped a booted fit to the carpet when she heard Alex's key in the lock. Zoe sprinted for the bathroom closing the door behind herself and turning on the shower head. Knowing Alex had no qualms about coming into the bathroom while she was showering Zoe decided to be safe and jumped in grimacing as her jeans soaked through.
"Zoe?" Alex asked knocking on the door before walking into the bathroom. "Are you just getting in the shower now?"
"Uh yeah," Zoe said trying to hold her purse out of the spray of the water. Her ring and earpiece weren't exactly waterproof either, she hoped the damn things didn't start shorting out while she still had them on.
"Sorry Sweetheart, I woke up late," she said biting her lip as a small penance for the lie. There was a long pause in the conversation before Alex spoke again.
"Then why's your bed made?" Alex asked. Looking up at her ceiling in disbelief Zoe very nearly stomped her foot in the tub. Damn her for getting involved with a lawyer. It was like being with a detective for God sake.
"I slept on the couch," Zoe lied, once again.
"Oh." Alex made no further comment. "Want me to pick an outfit out for you?" Relieved that the woman was going to let it go for now, Zoe immediately answered.
"That'd be great babe," she said. Zoe heard the door close and let out a breath tossing her purse on to the floor near the toilet. She slid her ring off her finger and took out the earpiece reaching out from behind the curtain to drop them on the tank of the toilet. Her clothes and shoes were next, getting out of the jeans nearly causing her to take a header. Once she was divested she quickly threw her head under the water and rinsed off her body wincing as the hot water hit her scraped knee.
"It's gonna be a great day," she murmured to herself as she turned off the water and reached for a towel.
Ten minutes later found Zoe in her room wrapping her naked body around her girlfriend, her balled up towel under one arm, the other around Alex.
"You smell good," she said kissing Alex's neck. The brunette pulled away with a sigh.
"You should get dressed we're running late," Alex said walking from the room. Zoe sighed, Alex had reason to be pissed but she had hoped they could at least attempt to enjoy breakfast. Zoe brushed her hair from her face and reached for the clothing laid out. She was going to have to decide soon what to do about the whole situation.
She knew she couldn't keep lying, not only because Alex was too smart and was going to catch on, but also because she couldn't take the guilt of it anymore. When they had first begun dating it was different, but now that Alex wanted to get serious, she couldn't in good conscience lie to the poor woman anymore. It was either 'fess up to her late night double life or let Alex go and find someone who could give her the honesty she deserved.
Sighing quietly Zoe finished dressing unballing the towel and throwing the soaked clothes she had hidden inside into the dirty laundry basket. She laid her boots under the bed hoping they weren't completely ruined though given her luck so far she would be buying a new pair shortly. She emptied her purse on the bed grabbing the small messenger bag from her closet throwing her cellphone and wallet in it along with her earpiece and ring.
Zoe walked over to her closet checking the full length mirror that hung from the door to ensure she was presentable. Her 'dress' jeans hung low, but not obscenely so, on her hips hugging legs that had been toned by years of training and patrolling. The pants fell over distressed looking chocolate brown leather boots, her belt a matching brown. Her shirt was an army green long sleeved zip up athletic shirt that Alex had bought her for her birthday which clung tightly to her trim form. Nodding in satisfaction at her 'casually put together' attire, Zoe slung her leather messenger bag over her shoulder and headed into the living room. She looked over at her girlfriend who was in the midst of closing the patio door locking it with a 'click'.
"Radiator's been acting up again, it was boiling in here last night," Zoe offered trying to give her most honest smile to the woman. She really did love Alex, she was just at a loss as to what to do. Her girlfriend merely nodded without comment before reaching a hand out to Zoe.
"You look nice," the lawyer offered. Zoe smiled taking Alex's hand and pulling the woman into a hug.
"I love you," Zoe said kissing the side of Alex's head. She leaned her head against Alex's taking in the scent of the woman as she closed her eyes. In two years she had yet to tire of the way Alex smelled, a combination of her perfume, shampoo and something she had never identified.
"I love you too," Alex said her tone slightly off. Zoe didn't want to ask what was up, she had no right to ask the woman what was going on when she was unwilling to come clean. Even if she did want to help. Keeping her worried sigh an internal one Zoe kissed Alex's neck before pulling away.
"C'mon," she said tugging lightly on Alex's arm, "let's go get some grub."
September 23rd, 12:30, Operations HQ of Mad Dog and Hell Cat, Calgary, Alberta
"Where have you been?" Marc asked three hours later as Zoe descended the steps to the operations room. She took off her messenger bag and flung it on to the desk. She wasn't in the mood for any of Marc's shit right now. Breakfast had gone alright, it had been afterwards that the fireworks had begun.
And of course there had been Alex's father, the man had been giving her odd looks all day. As though he was privy to some secret but wasn't about to let anyone at the table in on it. Alex's mother had been reserved but polite as always but Mr. Dimitir had been giving her the heebie jeebies. It wasn't anything new, it always felt as though he knew something about her that he shouldn't. But the strange looks had become more blatant over the past year to the point where Alex had actually commented on it.
"Sorry, I have other responsibilities you know," Zoe said petulantly. Responsibilities that she was continuing to ignore. Alex had wanted to spend the day together, it was a rare weekend where the lawyer didn't have some trial or other to prep. Zoe's begging off because of some random 'work' project had not gone over well. Alex had appeared to be on the verge of taking a strip off her when she had completely deflated and turned her attention back to the road. Zoe had barely gotten a goodbye out of the woman when Alex had dropped her back at the apartment.
"I gave you the address," Zoe said pulling her thoughts away from her rapidly crumbling love life. She did have a job to do and if she didn't find the kid then all the trouble with Alex would be for naught.
"Yes well, only one of the vampires was at home," Marc said looking up from his computer screen and turning to look a Zoe.
"So where's the kid?" Zoe asked twisting the cap off the water bottle she had grabbed out of Marc's fridge on the way through. She was going to have to go grocery shopping for the man. It was horrible to come back after a rigorous patrol, be absolutely ravenous, and have nothing but stale crackers and brown bananas to eat.
"He didn't know, apparently his partner handed her off to the 'realtor,'" he said making air quotes. "He hasn't seen either him or the girl since last night."
"Where did he think his buddy was shacking up?" Zoe asked rolling her shoulders and cracking her neck. She was certainly feeling every one of her 28 years today. She didn't have many more all nighters in her, not with her schedule. Something was going to give.
"A blood bar on 17th Avenue," Marc answered. Zoe jerked her head up her eyes falling on the large screen where the digital picture of a downtown office came into view.
"What? There's an actual blood bar in the city?" The woman asked pushing off the table where she was leaning and giving the picture a closer look, she had passed by the building countless times. She knew there were a couple of the usual demon joints in town, those were nothing special and, generally speaking, weren't too much trouble. They only doled out animal blood and regular booze.
Blood bars were the choice establishments where the elite vampires went to drink. Only fresh human plasma was kept on tap. Zoe had been waiting the entire six years of her career to blow up one of those places.
"Yes, you should get suited up, we'll be going in together," Marc instructed standing from his chair. He was already decked out in his gear from his visit to the vampire's safe house earlier. Zoe nodded at her Dhaskalos heading for the locker where her sweeps gear was stored. She stripped out of her civilian clothing listening as Marc grabbed his chosen weapons and placed them on the worktable.
Zoe stepped into her leather pants adjusting them at the knee where the Kevlar knee pads had been sewn in. She pulled out her boots, made of dull black leather that reached near the middle of her calf and sported steel toes. There were buckles up the side of her leg to make for a quick release in the event her boots had gotten stuck.
She had switched from the traditional laces when, having been hung by her boots and used as a punching bag, she found she had no knife to cut the laces and slip herself free. It had been Marc coming to the rescue that time and Zoe had discovered why he had chosen the fieldname 'Mad Dog'. He had been vicious, cutting down vampires with a startling ferocity in a near berserker rage. In her injured semi-consciousness Zoe had actually been afraid of the man.
Zoe pulled on a black tank top and threw her long sleeved lycra shirt over it. The temperature was fairly moderate so she could get away with the light clothing. She pulled on her Kevlar vest adjusting the straps to ensure it was tightly cinched to her body but not completely restrictive. She decided to forego her jacket taking her black balaclava from the locker before closing the door.
"What are we doing?" She asked as she walked over to her weapons rack.
"We'll grab the vampire, take him into the sewers and destroy the bar," he said placing his hard shell backpack on the table and turning back to the weapons rack to grab C-4 charges. Zoe let a feral grin cross her lips as she reached for her leg harness. There were two leather straps that wrapped around each thigh and a belt that connected the straps to ensure they didn't slip from her legs.
On her left leg she strapped a quiver of wooden, silver tipped, crossbow bolts. Next to that was a large buck knife, not deadly for vampires but would certainly put a damper on their day. On her right leg she clipped her small crossbow, it was easily operable with a single hand and the weapon was small enough to conceal with her long jacket. She shoved two stakes into the elasticized holsters on her vest, the point of the weapons angled downwards toward her back and resting just above her hips.
She tucked the balaclava in to the front of her vest and walked over to Marc putting on her ring and maneuvering her earpiece into place as she went.
"Ready to go?" Her Dhaskalos asked, as he slipped on his backpack. Zoe nodded heading toward the garage doors.
September 23rd, 13:25, Vampire Blood Bar, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe surveyed the back of the building keeping her body in the shadows of the back alley. A set of stairs led down towards the bar's entrance, well out of the way to ensure no one randomly stumbled upon the place. Marc was already in place in the sewer system, it was Zoe's job to get into the bar and grab the right leech.
Looking around the alley to be certain she was alone, she wasn't exactly dressed in the every day style, Zoe walked down the steps to the blood bar knocking on the door. She twisted her crossbow on her leg releasing the clip and freeing the loaded weapon. As the peephole opened she caught sight of a chunky face and amber eyes. With a smile Zoe held her crossbow up to the opening.
"Hi there, how ya doin'?" She asked before pulling the trigger and letting the arrow fly. She heard a scream of pain and smiled pulling out one of the small C-4 charges from her vest. She pushed the putty on to the door hinge turning on the transmitter before running up the steps. She crouched down next to the building turning her head to the side before speaking in to the mic as she clipped her crossbow back to her leg.
"Good to go Mad Dog, let 'er rip." There was a small pause before the explosion went off. Zoe tucked down and threw her hands over the back of her head as brick and dust and other debris rained down on her. She heard the clang of the metal door dropping to the ground and she was on her feet in an instant making her way back down the steps.
Marc was at the sewer end to make sure none of the leeches escaped into the underground system. Zoe pulled a stake from her vest as she ran and rounded the doorway of the bar. The vampire she had nailed with her crossbow was in the process of removing the bolt from his throat when she reached him. Not slowing she charged at him and drove the stake upward into his chest.
Had she been a Shadow Hunter should have been able to drive the stake through his sternum. Without the powers of the Thirteen she was forced to work smarter and with more precision. She had to get the stake at just the right angle and placement to get it under his ribcage and up into his heart.
She had become quite proficient over the years and the vampire was turned to ash without much trouble. Satisfied she replaced the stake and wiped her hands brushing the ash from her sleeves. She whistled as she opened the second door into the bar revealing a second set of steps. Zoe walked up the stairs to the main level of the bar taking in the well dressed occupants who were sitting in the tastefully spartan modern deco bar.
All eyes turned to Zoe as she hit the top steps putting her back at ground level. She heard one particularly loud growl come from somewhere within the bar and smiled. She had their attention.
"Here's the deal," Zoe said pulling out a remote detonation device holding it up for them all to see. "I have charges on all the windows," she said pointing to the front of the bar. Floor to ceiling one way mirrors acted as the street facing wall. Zoe imagined that since the occupants weren't all KFC they were specially tinted to protect against sunlight.
"I want to talk to one of you, just for a little bit," Zoe said as she absently twirled the remote in her hand. "But if any of you decided to get frisky you'll find yourself victims of a very bad sun tan." She warned. No one in the bar looked pleased but neither did they move toward her. "Good, glad we're all clear."
She sidled up to the bar sitting down next a vampire who seemed to be a little out of place. His suit was nice but nowhere the caliber of the other occupants of the room. He was 'off the rack' while the group behind them at a table were definitely the 'custom cut' type. Obviously a grunt or foot soldier of some kind which made him her guy. Glad that she had managed to locate him with relative ease she looked over at the bartender.
"You got anything that doesn't come with a DNA profile?" She asked. He nodded pulling a bottle of twelve year old Scotch from the shelf. He took out a glass free pouring her a stiff drink before turning away.
"Thanks," she said picking up the glass and swirling the amber liquid absently. Licking her lips she neatly downed half of the drink and looked over at the vampire sitting next to her.
"Okay," she began setting the glass down and nudging it over to the side. "I know why I'm here, you know why I'm here. How about we cut through the bullshit and do this the easy way?" She asked.
"I dunno what you're talking about," he said with a shrug taking a pull from his mug. From the look of the color of the blood it wasn't the good stuff. Probably pig. Without so much as a telltale twitch Zoe grabbed the back of the vampire's head slamming it onto the bar. He struggled against her and she held him down his nose flattening against the bar.
"The little girl you grabbed last night," she stated pushing him down harder. "Tell me where she is."
"I dunno," he answered his words muffled by his position. Zoe sighed tightening her grip on his hair and used it to pull his head up from the bar only to slam it down again.
"Sure you do," Zoe said. "Now I know that somewhere in that pea sized brain of yours is a survival instinct. You'd better start listening to it."
"I dunno, the guy took the kid," the vampire answered holding his arms up in a 'what can you do' manner. Zoe lifted his head from the bar looking at his reddening face.
"What was that?" She asked. "I couldn't hear you on account of your nose being broken." The vampire gave her a confused look canting his head slightly.
"My nose isn't broken." Zoe laughed without humor.
"Silly me," Zoe said before slamming him into the bar again and hearing the distinctive crunch of cartilage giving way. "There, got that sorted now didn't we?" She asked pulling him up. Blood poured freely from his nose and he growled lowly at her his fangs beginning to extend.
"Ah, ah, ah," she held up the remote. "Let's all try and keep calm now." She let go of him picking up a napkin and handing it to him. As he nursed his nose she tapped his mug towards him as she picked up her own glass.
"Now, you were saying?" She asked with a raise of her eyebrow.
"I dropped the kid off at where I was s'posed to. Ain't heard about her since."
"Hmm," Zoe nodded. "That was the drop off, where's the pick up?" She asked taking a sip from her Scotch.
"Yes, you know, where you receive payment for services rendered," Zoe clarified.
"There isn't a pick up." Zoe raised her eyebrows in disbelief before she sighed and reached for his head.
"Okay wait!" He said pulling away from her reach. "The pickup's tonight, I dunno where yet."
"Huh, then I guess that would mean you and I are going to be friends for the rest of the day," Zoe said. She finished off her drink with a final gulp and slid off her bar stool. "Up you go," she said motioning for him to get up as well.
"I ain't going anywhere with you," he said shaking his head and grabbing his drink.
"Well, my crossbow and the threat of imminent sunshine should take care of that argument," Zoe said knocking the mug from his hand and to the floor. She pulled him from his stool guiding him toward the back entrance. "Y'all have a nice day now," she said waving at the crowd before heading towards the back where the sewer connected to the bar.
She pushed the vampire through the door into the sewers pulling out a pair of reinforced hand cuffs and slipping them around one of his wrists.
"What the..." He turned in confusion presenting his other arm and Zoe clicked the cuffs on him.
"Gotcha," she said with a smile. Marc reached out to take the vampire from her and Zoe headed back for the blood bar.
"What are you doing?" Marc asked subduing the struggling vampire with a punch to the gut. The leech fell to his knees and Marc kneed him in his broken nose effectively ending any escape attempts.
"Relax Mad Dog," Zoe said. "It seemed really dreary up there, I'm just going to bring them a little ray of sunshine," she said twirling the bomb remote in her hand. Marc nodded at her with a feral grin.
"Watch yourself." She nodded and headed back into the bar. Once again all eyes turned to her as she ascended the steps.
"You know," she said thoughtfully as she leaned against the stair railing. "I usually like to make a snide or witty remark when I kill you assholes. But I gotta admit, I've been dusting so many of you bloodsuckers lately I'm tapped." She saw the confused looks and a number of leeches began to stand. Some looked ready to fight others looked ready to rush for the door sensing what she was about to do.
"Guess I'll have to settle for an oldie but a goodie." She flicked open the safety switch on the remote. "Asta la vista, baby," she said holding the remote up and pressing down on the detonation button. She dropped to one knee shielding her eyes as the relatively small charges shattered the glass and allowed the unfiltered sunlight in.
Zoe watched with grim satisfaction as the bar patrons began to burst into flames. Some tried to shield themselves with furniture but, with so little cover and so little time, none made it to safety. Zoe walked into the center of the bar toeing at a pile of ash that had been a rather attractively dressed young woman.
"And?" Marc asked over the comms.
"I so should have been the Terminator," Zoe enthused heading over to the charred remains of the bartender.
"You are so fired," she said to the pile of ash as she jumped over the bar. She heard a disgruntled groan from Marc's end.
"That was horrible," he said.
"Oh, c'mon, what kind of hero would I be if I couldn't use clichˇd witticisms?" She asked pulling down the bottle of Scotch. She popped the top taking a healthy swig before breaking the bottle across the bar.
Zoe grabbed several more bottles of alcohol uncapping them and lining them up along the bar. She soaked a set of bar towels in the Scotch on the bar before stuffing the towels into the tops of each. Pulling her lighter from her vest she lit her first bomb aflame. She threw the vodka bottle at the keg area where the blood was kept letting out a little laugh as it promptly exploded and covered the area in flames.
She hopped over the bar lighting two Molotovs tossing one at the alley entrance she had first come in from and the second at the little grotto of couches. Zoe lit the second last, a rather expensive brandy, and as she walked toward the sewer she heaved it up at the ceiling watching as the bottle shattered. The liquor sprayed over the ceiling catching flame and quickly spreading through the bar.
She reached the sewer entrance nodding at her Dhaskalos.
"Having fun?" He asked with a raise of his eyebrows. She laughed at him holding out the lighter and the final Molotov cocktail. As one of her ex-girlfriend's had once said, there was no point if you weren't having fun.
"You have no idea," she said as he took the bottle from her. She exchanged the bottle for custody of the vampire and began walking.
"I never did care much for tequila," he said as he lit the cotton towel. Zoe spared a glance backward watching as her normally serious Dhaskalos shrugged and absently tossed the bottle over his shoulder lighting the entrance aflame.
They didn't really have to go through the motions. They had already set charges that would successfully bring the building crashing in on itself. Zoe just felt a sense of satisfaction knowing she got to burn the place down before they leveled it.
The offices upstairs would be empty on a weekend, so there would be no human casualties. Not that it mattered. The offices were all front companies for whoever owned the blood bar so, human or not, she and Marc were just as well rid of them.
With a satisfied, if slightly hurried step Zoe and her companions headed further into the sewers.
September 23rd, 19:01, 11th Avenue, 12th Street, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe watched from the rooftop of a building as the vampire met up with the real estate agent. She adjusted the lens on her digital camera taking several snaps the image being transferred to her rugged laptop computer via the usb cord and linked to Marc's computer via a satellite connection. She focused on the man's face, Marc would run the photos through the federal and Tribunal database and see if the facial recognition tool could pick up any hits.
She had put a mic down near the dumpster where they were speaking but hadn't picked up anything of use. It wasn't THE realtor himself, more likely a lackey, and either he was out of the loop or there was a high price to be paid for loose lips so was keeping his mouth shut. Zoe watched as the vampire took the money from the lackey tucking it into his pocket.
Their meeting concluded the man left heading around the corner and out of sight. Zoe quickly threw her rappel line over the side of the building and dropped into the alleyway landing neatly on the litter covered pavement. The vampire turned to her scratching at his chest. Marc had inserted a small detonation device into the vampire's chest cavity, the remote for which Zoe held in her hand. It was their insurance that the vampire didn't pull a Houdini on them.
"You gonna get this thing outta me now?" He asked. Zoe canted her head at the vampire before nodding. She swung the rapel line out of the way and moved toward the vampire holding up a pair off handcuffs before tossing them at his chest.
"Put those on, I'm not gonna have you biting me while I pull that det outta your chest," she said. He growled but complied slipping the cuff around one of his wrists.
"Behind your back if you wouldn't mind," she instructed. There was a deep sigh before he cuffed himself. Zoe shoved him toward the dumpster pulling out second pair of cuffs. She looped one bracelet around the chain of the cuffs and the other around the handle of the dumpster.
She ripped open the vampire's shirt and flipped open her switchblade land marking where the det was by the fresh set of stitches. She pushed the blade into his chest blood running along the edges as she reopened the wound. He began to buck against her and she winced as her knife came into contact with something metal and slipped away.
"Stop squirming before I set this thing off and kill us both," she warned. He stilled beneath her and she let out at a sigh of satisfaction as she found the device again. The little bastard's were expensive and it was cheaper to just stake the vampire afterwards rather than to set off the explosive.
She used the tip of her blade to nudge the tiny explosive forward and out of the insertion site. Using a gloved hang Zoe pulled the explosive out and deactivated the device silently breathing a sigh of relief. Painting an alley with her internal organs wasn't her ideal way to go. She deactivated the device and pocketed it in her vest along with the remote.
"You gonna let me go now?" He asked straining against the cuffs. Zoe patted his pockets pulling out the roll of cash that had been his payment.
"Aww man... don't take my money," he protested looking over at her. Zoe smirked as she closed her switchblade and tucked it into her pocket.
"You're not gonna need it," she said pulling her crossbow from the holster on her thigh and loading one of her wooden bolts. His eyes widened as he caught her meaning and he began to strain against the cuffs.
"You said you were gonna let me go," he argued his eyes turning amber as he struggled against his restraints. Zoe shrugged and lifted her arm taking aim at the vampire's exposed chest.
September 23rd, 20:37, Operations HQ of Mad Dog and Hell Cat, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe dropped the explosive into a petrie dish beside Marc's workstation. He leaned back in his computer chair creasing his eyebrows at the device before looking up at Zoe.
"No boom," she said with a shrug tossing the remote carelessly on to the desk.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Marc said leaning forward and picking up the remote.
"Relax, it's disarmed," she said pulling the digital camera from her combat vest. She had already sent the lackey's pictures to Marc via the satellite uplink on her laptop.
"Any hits on our sleazebag?" She asked putting the camera back in its drawer and peeling off her vest.
"No, you couldn't pick up a trail?" Marc asked rolling back over to his computer station. Zoe shook her head as she munched on a banana. It was well past ripe but it had been all that was in the kitchen upstairs and she couldn't very well walk into a take out place dressed as she had been. Finding her stomach wasn't agreeing with the fruit she tossed it into the waste bin.
"By the time I was done dealing with the leech he was gone. I didn't want to risk spooking him by following too closely. Didn't seem like he knew sweet FA anyway."
"Well, it looks like we may be in luck," Marc said as the computer beeped. "He's a registered realtor, works for one of the larger firms in the city."
"Where'd the program get the hit?" Zoe asked.
"His company website," Marc said absently as he began clicking on various links at blinding speed. "The real estate firm was started by a man named Eric Epstein," he said reading from the brief biography. His monitor's contents came up on the large screen and Zoe began to read.
"You gotta be kidding me," Zoe said reading the cheesy 'family guy' schtick that was Epstein's promo. "Twenty bucks says the kid in the photo isn't even his."
"You're on," Marc said with a nod. "You think he's the one masterminding the grab?"
"Well if the man at the top isn't the one in charge I'm guessing he knows what's going on and getting a cut. Either way it warrants a conversation."
"His records indicate that he has a mansion in the Northeast. There's also a private security company on the property," Marc said.
"What the hell does a realtor need private security for?" Zoe asked pushing away from the table.
"Have you seen the prices of houses lately? It is criminal," Marc commented.
Zoe rolled her eyes and walked over to the weapons case pulling her takedown longbow out as well as a quiver full of titanium silver tipped arrows. They burned like a bitch when they met vampire flesh. She threw in a few traditional wooden arrows in case humans weren't the only watchdogs on the property. She unclipped her crossbow from her thigh putting it on its shelf and hanging up the harness. Zoe wanted to take out the guards from a distance and that required more than her crossbow if she wanted to shoot with any accuracy. She put the bow into its leather case to be assembled once she made it to the mansion.
She strapped a small pistol to her ankle dropping her pant leg over to conceal it. She didn't care for guns, generally speaking they weren't stealthy or practical in her line of work. Putting a bullet through a vampire's chest mostly just pissed them off. But Zoe had used the pistol on more than one occasion and, like the wise man said, it was better to have and not need than too need and not have.
"Taking the bike?" Marc asked. Zoe nodded walking over to pick up her vest and settling it back on her shoulders. She couldn't risk taking her car and having witnesses make out her license plates. The plates on the bike were fake, throwaways that they could produce themselves in the small machine shop they had to repair their weapons. The bike would be easier to hide than the Mustang.
"Make sure to keep your face covered, he'll have surveillance," Marc advised. Zoe nodded opening the side pocket on her vest to show her ski mask to her Dhaskalos.
"Are you sure you'll be able to keep them from making any outcalls?" Zoe asked. She didn't want the guards doing something asinine like calling the cops or the cavalry down on her ass. Marc almost looked insulted at the question.
"Of course. I'll knock out the cell towers and patch the landline calls through to here," he said. Pulling up the appropriate screen as further proof that he was capable. Zoe knew he was, she just didn't want to take any chances when there was a kid involved. When it was it was a life other than her own that she was risking she wanted to make sure all the 'i's were dotted and 't's crossed.
"'Kay then, I'm off." Zoe walked to the far wall and pushed the button to open the door to the underground garage. As the metal door unlocked and pulled upwards it revealed a sleek black Ducati. Rather, it had been sleek before she'd had an unfortunate encounter with a parked car a few months ago and scratched the hell out of the paint and dented the body.
She had been following after a vampire street gang, chasing them along McCleod Trail and exiting into the downtown. She had nearly been upon the leader when some asshole had run a red light. It had been a question of T-Boning a Ford 350 or swerving, throwing the bike on its side and hoping for the best.
Thankfully, between her durable leather patrol gear and her quick reflexes in ditching the bike she had managed to avoid a serious case of road rash. The asshole in the truck hadn't even stopped and Zoe had effectively been taken out of the chase. She hadn't been quite that angry in a long while. And her poor bike had slid right into a Hummer and its stainless steel running boards. Shaking her head at the memory Zoe tugged on her helmet and clipped her longbow case on to the bike.
She thumbed on the mic and speaker within the helmet and turned to look at her Dhaskalos through the garage door.
"Read me Mad Dog?" Zoe asked her voice muffled by her helmet. She swung her leg onto the bike and settled into her seat. She reached over turning the key and revving the powerful engine to life.
"Five by five Hellcat," Zoe saw the door that led to the outside open and gunned the engine driving up the short ramp and turning out into the alley.
"Remember to keep it under a hundred," the Dhaskalos warned. Zoe rolled her eyes, one time the cops had pulled her over for speeding, one time (which had admittedly led to an impromptu police chase) and Marc was never going to let her live it down.
"Everyone's a critic."
September 23rd, 21:14, Residence of Eric Epstein, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe killed the engine and her lights rolling the bike down the road and in to the ditch off the side of the dirt road. Pushing the bike into the forested area near the road she leaned it up against a tree pulling branches over to conceal it from the view of anyone who might pass by. Ditching her helmet she tugged on her balaclava adjusting the mask to ensure her vision and breathing were clear.
She pulled her takedown bow from her bike unzipping the case to reveal the dull black of the weapon. She assembled the bow with expert speed ensuring the tension of the bow string was correct. She grabbed her leather quiver full of arrows throwing it over her shoulder and heading toward the mansion.
"Mad Dog kill the phones," she said bringing her hand up to her mouth to be sure her message was heard.
"Phones are down, guards will still have radios," Marc advised.
"Roger that, any luck hacking into the surveillance feed?" Zoe asked crouching low and running through the ditch as her approach to the mansion.
"Negative. It's an independent system. I can't piggyback onto any of the signals," Zoe could hear the frustration in her Dhaskalos' voice, he hated not being able to do something.
"Damn," she muttered, "alright, going radio silent." They couldn't risk their signal being intercepted. She would break silence only if she was in desperate need of help. She ran toward the brick walls that surrounded the mansion. The guy was obviously hiding something if he had a security system that was privately maintained on the grounds. No regular realtor required that kind of surveillance.
There probably weren't many dead zones in regard to the camera's scan area which meant hiding was useless, Zoe was going to have to be fast.
She slipped her longbow over her shoulder and backed away from the wall. Taking a breath she sprinted forward jumping at the last moment and using her momentum to run up the wall. She stretched reaching for the top barely getting a grip before she lost her forward force and her lower body dropped.
"Shit, shit, shit," she kicked her legs trying to find some sort of edge to use to push herself up. Her fingers couldn't take the weight for long and Zoe cursed as she let go and dropped back to the grass.
"Okay, fine," she mumbled as she headed for the corner of the wall and towards where the front gate was. A security guard was lazing about in his booth and with a few quick steps she was in his space and knocking him out with a well placed elbow.
"Nothing quite like the direct approach," she said to herself quietly pushing the button to open the gate and walking on to the grounds.
Zoe unslung her bow and, knocking a wooden arrow, sprinted for the house keeping low and trying to move in the shadows. She met her first guard on the front step. A bulky man in an expensive suit sporting a machine gun. Zoe let the arrow fly burying it in his chest and dropping him instantly. She headed up the stairs watching as the deep crimson spread across his chest staining his well made clothing as he bled out on the marble step.
"Huh, human," she said reflectively. Not that it mattered, he was willingly helping some guy sell off kids, as far as she was concerned he was just a vampire with a heart beat.
Zoe knocked another arrow and rounded the large stone patio. A second guard was staring off to the far end of the grounds and Zoe let a feral grin come to the fore as she silently approached him. Easy pickings. She let out a little whistle waiting for him to turn in her direction before releasing the arrow. The projectile landed deep in his throat sending a spray of blood across the patio.
He let out a strangled gurgle and dropped to the stone his gun clattering noisily to the ground. Zoe kicked the gun over the edge and into the bushes brushing past the pooling blood without much thought. It was hardly the first time Zoe had been forced to kill a human. She didn't like doing it but if it was a choice between her and him she certainly wasn't above being selfish.
She knocked her third arrow holding it in place with one hand as she reached over to open the patio door. The glass door slid to the side and she slipped in scanning the area for personnel or cameras. The tell tale red light blipping in the corner near the ceiling alerted her to a camera's location and she looked down the length of her arrow taking a deep breath and holding it before letting the arrow fly.
There was a satisfying sound of shattering glass and metal and Zoe allowed herself a small smile as she moved from the large reception room and into the foyer.
Zoe heard the footsteps approaching from behind and she pulled out an arrow turning and dropping to one knee as she simultaneously brought the bow up to the target. She was startled not to meet a guard but a teenaged girl, one she recognized from the website.
"Dad!!" The girl screamed turning away from Zoe and heading to a set of stairs.
Guess I owe Marc a twenty.
"Fuck," Zoe cursed as she shot to her feet and ran after the fleeing girl quickly catching up. She slung her bow and wrapped one hand around the girl's midsection and another over her mouth. She picked the slight girl up searching for somewhere to stash her.
A second set of footsteps descended the stairs and Zoe cursed as she realized her options had suddenly become seriously limited. Looking to her side she threw her body into the door on her left crashing through and to the ground. She slipped the cuffs from her vest clamping them around the girl's wrists and hauling her to her feet.
Zoe pulled her pistol from her ankle harness, she wouldn't be able to shoot her bow and keep control of the girl. As a guard appeared in the doorway Zoe clamped a hand over the girl's eyes before firing a shot into the man's chest. The girl let out a frightened scream and Zoe grimaced, this was a complication she hadn't been anticipating.
"I'm not going to hurt you," she said trying to lower the tone of her voice to disguise it. The girl screamed again kicking her legs and trying to jerk from Zoe's grip. She really couldn't blame the kid.
Zoe felt bad for having to do it but she couldn't afford to have the girl screaming her head off. She pulled an ether capsule from her vest cracking it in her gloved hand and holding it over the girl's nose and mouth. The teen struggled for a moment before slumping in Zoe's arms.
Shaking her head at herself Zoe pulled the girl to a desk chair and sat her down. She holstered her gun and headed back into the hallway pulling off her bow. With the screaming and crashing of doors if there was anyone left in the house they certainly knew she was there now. No matter, Zoe was there to find the kid and she wasn't leaving until she had.
She headed into what she assumed was an office and put her bow in one of the chairs and began scanning the room. She began checking by pulling open drawers looking for any reference to the Cavanagh girl. Finding nothing she growled and overturned the desk in frustration.
"Fuck this shit," she grabbed her bow knocking one of the titanium arrows and headed up the stairs. She'd rip the asshole out of bed and force him to talk and give up the girl. As Zoe walked upward a man rounded the top of the stairs belting a robe.
"Who are you?" Rather than answer she let the arrow go landing it deep in the meat of his thigh. He screamed and dropped to the ground clutching his leg. Zoe ran up the stone stairs slinging her bow over her shoulder as she went.
"For all intents and purposes, I am God," she said dropping a heavy boot on to his chest and stepping down, hard. He gasped, his hands moving from his leg to her ankle trying to push her off him. She grinned behind her mask reaching down and untying the belt of his robe. She looped the satiny material tightly around his neck, stepped off his chest and began walking down the hallway dragging Epstein's struggling body behind her.
She paused in her walk only for a second to kick open the door to his bedroom. She continued to haul him inside green eyes widening at the attractive woman who was midway through dressing.
If her attire was anything to go by she was either the maid or a professional. Zoe unconsciously let her eyes wander across the toned form of the woman. Evidently privy to Zoe's appreciative gaze the woman canted her head in an almost challenging way. Recovering herself Zoe tightened her hold on the robe belt and brought the man into the center of the room.
"Get out," Zoe ordered the woman pointing to the bedroom door. She nodded as she calmly buttoned her shirt and pulled her coat from the chair near the nightstand. The woman didn't look particularly ruffled, in fact, it looked as though she was nearly smiling as she passed by Zoe's black clad form. Definitely a professional.
"Wait," Zoe said as the woman reached the door. The warrior cleared her throat fighting the urge to shift in place. "He pay yet?" She asked pulling up on the belt to indicate she meant Epstein. The woman shook her head and leaned against the doorway. Damned if Zoe was going to let him get away with stiffing the woman.
"Where's the safe?" She asked looking down at Epstein. The veins along his temples had begun to stand out in a stark purple contrasting with his reddening face. He didn't answer her and Zoe reached down and twisted the arrow in his thigh.
"The fireplace," he groaned. Zoe walked to the fireplace dragging the man behind her.
"Open it." He did as instructed and Zoe bent down pulling out two banded stacks of bills. She didn't know what the woman's rate was but she imagined that would cover it. Zoe dropped him and put a boot on his neck to keep him still. She threw the money to the woman.
"I'll thank you not to mention anything you see on the way out," Zoe said indicating the downstairs with her head. The woman nodded again and took her leave heading out the doorway and down the stairs her heels clicking loudly against the stone.
"Where's my daughter?" Epstein asked from his place on the floor.
"She's fine," Zoe assured. "I won't hurt her. I just want the girl."
"I want to see my daughter before I'll tell you anything." Zoe shook her head bending over and taking grip of the arrow and pushing it further into his leg. He screamed from deep in his throat trying to twist away from her.
"This is not a negotiation," Zoe growled bringing her face to within inches of his. "Tell me where the Cavanagh kid is or I'll sledge your throat and burn this fucking place to the ground," she threatened.
"Downstairs," he sputtered. Zoe pulled the arrow from his thigh slipping it back into her quiver. She loosed the belt from his neck and wrapped it around Epstein's thigh above the wound which was steadily pumping blood. It looked as though she had managed to hit his femoral artery. She tugged on the belt cinching it into place and slowing the flow of blood. She needed him cognizant for a few minutes more.
"Up," she ordered pulling him by the front of his robe to his feet. He limped along behind her as she led him back to the doorway.
"Show me." He sighed but nodded following docilely through the hallway. He slowed to a stop in front of a set of heavy oak double doors. Behind the doors was an elevator and Zoe pushed him forward through the opening doors. Epstein punched in code before hitting the button for the basement.
The muffled ping of the elevator indicated they had reached bottom and Zoe maintained a steady grip on Epstein's shoulder as she pushed him out into the room. It was as she scanned the well lit basement that Zoe realized the realtor was in deeper than she had suspected. It felt as though she had been kicked in the solar plexus as she scanned the large room where various photography and video stations were set up. This place was a pedophile's fantasy.
It was obvious, simply by the sheer number of pictures, that Cassie wasn't a one time snatch and grab. Epstein was running an organized operation. Dozens of pictures were plastered on the walls portraying children of varying ages. One standup whiteboard had a cluster of stills of the girl she was looking for: Cassie Cavanagh.
There were pictures of Cassie at the park, one outside a house and another in the school playground. They hadn't just grabbed the kid because she was convenient, they had been stalking her and waiting for the moment to nab her.
"You son of bitch," she grabbed onto Epstein's collar pulling him backwards his head connecting solidly with the brick wall. She pushed him forward and to the ground putting a swift kick into his ribs. Unslinging her bow she trained it on him as she checked the whiteboard more closely. There was a date and address for a drop off for the girl, Zoe checked her watch, it wasn't until tomorrow.
"Where is she?" Epstein didn't respond and Zoe pulled back her bow ready to put an arrow in his nuts when she heard a muffled groan off to her left. She shifted her hearing concentrating on searching for the sound again.
"Cassie Cavanagh?" She asked projecting her voice around the room. There was another muffled groan and Zoe turned kneeling on Epstein's chest as she looked for the source of the sound. Seeing a sturdy wooden door she stood and approached it keeping an eye on Epstein as she walked. If she were lucky he would give her a reason to kill him rather than turn him and his sleazy operation over to the cops.
Zoe lifted the bar that held the door closed and pulled revealing a darkened room with a dirty mattress. The smell of urine invaded her nose and she squinted into the darkness to make out the contents of the room On top of the mattress sat a small form hunched over and sobbing.
"Cassie?" A small nod. "Come here Sweetheart, I'm going to take you home okay?" The girl didn't move and Zoe sighed. "Don't move or I'll put one in your kneecap," she warned Epstein before she stepped in the room. She knelt next to the girl slinging her bow and slowly reaching out one hand. "It's okay Cassie, your Mom and Dad sent me, we're going to get out of here okay?"
There was a small sniffle and a nod before the girl slid off the mattress and ran into Zoe's arms. She held tight as the little blonde dug her head into Zoe's shoulder her small hand curled tightly around Zoe's forearm.
"Alright kiddo, up we go." Zoe stood bringing the girl and her bow with her and walked out of the room. As she walked by the realtor she swung her leg out her boot connecting solidly with his head.
Zoe had made it into the elevator, Cassie in hand, when she looked back feeling disgust settle in her stomach as she took in all the pictures. Any one of the kids could just as easily have been her nieces or nephew. She couldn't risk that the police wouldn't do their jobs properly, that this piece of trash would somehow get off. She needed leverage to ensure things went the way they should.
"Cassie, we have to stay for just a few more minutes okay?"
"I wanna go home!" The girl cried digging her nails into Zoe's arm. She grimaced at the pinch tugging the small hand away gently.
"I know Sweetie, I promise we will, I just need you to sit right here for a second," Zoe said putting the girl on a desk. She began searching the room her eyes falling on a small book that was on a desk near one of the camera stations. She opened the book letting a feral grin play across her lips. It appeared to be a contact list, photographers, actors, clients.
"That'll do. Alright kiddo we're on our way," she said tucking the book into her vest as she turned to face the girl. She saw a look of near panic in the young eyes before the girl looked off to her left. Zoe looked in the same direction her mind barely registering the gun in the realtor's hand before she heard the snap of the bullet firing. She felt the impact of the bullet and cry of pain was pulled from her throat.
Zoe had been shot before but it had been different. That time, the bullet had hit her vest knocking the wind from her lungs, the momentum of the tiny projectile turning her to the side and throwing her to the floor. She had moved through the dull pain getting to her feet and sorting out the shooter. Then she had gone home, the pain nearly driving her to tears as she nursed three broken ribs.
This wasn't the same dull pain. This was white hot fury searing through her skin, burning and tearing the muscle of her shoulder as it went. She was instantly nauseous and nearly blind and reacted purely on instinct clutching her shoulder and ducking to the side. Red lights were flashing in her eyes and she grit her teeth trying to concentrate on the simplest of tasks: breathing.
In and out.
Once she had the minor things under control she could compartmentalize, block out the pain, and get back to work. The task was purely instinctive now, born from years of training and fieldwork. While in her mind it seemed that it took pain filled minutes to bring herself in check it was in fact nearly instantaneous. By the time the crack of the second bullet pierced the air Zoe was already rolling to the side grabbing Cassie from the table with her injured arm and reaching for a sheaf of papers on the desk with her good arm.
She flung the paper in Epstein's direction the fluttering objects blocking his view. Zoe pushed Cassie toward the elevator letting out a yelp as a third bullet whipped by her and hit the panel for the elevator sending out sparks.
"Fucking damn it," Zoe cursed as she pulled Cassie to the side being sure to keep her Kevlar covered midsection between the child and the realtor's wild shots. She caught sight of wooden stairwell and made a dash for it. They made it to the steps and continued upwards. When they reached the door Zoe moved for it letting out a choice expletive to discover it was locked.
Somewhere in the back of her mind she felt guilty for using such poor language in front of the kid. She pulled her pistol from its holster firing at the locking mechanism and body slamming the door to open it. Zoe dropped to the ground as her shoulder exploded in pain. She had thought with her vest that the bullet had just winged her but now she realized given the odd angle of the shot it had gone straight in from the side.
There was another shot from the bottom of the stairs and Zoe pulled Cassie down to keep her out of the line of fire. Mustering her strength Zoe turned on her back and used her foot to kick the door closed. It wouldn't hold Epstein but with his leg wound it would buy her a second to catch her breath.
"What the fu..." Zoe looked up at the sound of the deep baritone voice her eyes falling on a guard with his weapon drawn. Not thinking twice she pulled the trigger of her pistol dropping him. The crack of wood reminded Zoe about Epstein, it seemed he had tried to fire though the door. She pushed herself to her feet, the muzzle of her gun scraping along the floor as she tried to move. As the door swung open it hit Zoe's hand knocking the gun from her grip and sending it skittering across the floor.
Cursing Zoe turned to the realtor and swung a roundhouse kick at his injured thigh delivering a solid strike. He went down to one knee and Zoe hook punched him in the temple.
"Cassie run!" She commanded grunting as a guard she had missed tackled her from the side. She threw him off grabbing a vase from a nearby stand and breaking it across his head. He went down and Zoe sent up a quick 'thank you' to whoever was watching out for her, she didn't have much juice left, she had to get the kid and get out.
Zoe took off after Cassie who had made a dash for the hallway.
Multiple shots rang out in quick succession and Zoe realized not only was Epstein still in commission but was getting closer to landing a hit. Zoe did a quick mental tally as she came within steps of Cassie. Epstein had one bullet left if he was working a nine round clip.
A preternatural awareness seemed to surround Zoe in that moment of realization. It was as though time had slowed to half speed and all Zoe heard around her was her own muted boot steps on the hard stone floor. The sharp click of a trigger overshadowed everything and Zoe reached out for Cassie feeling as though she was moving in slow motion. Her fingertips brushed across the girl's collar and she closed her fist grabbing the shirt and pulling Cassie to the ground.
As the girl hit the floor Zoe dropped to her knees behind Cassie wrapping her arms around her and tucking the child into her chest and putting her hand on her head. She felt the ruffle of wind near her ear as the bullet whipped past, the shot ringing out as it shattered a vase at the end of the hall. Pushing Cassie flat to the ground Zoe turned to face the realtor who pulled the trigger once more seemingly surprised that he was out of ammunition.
Zoe unslung her bow and pulled out an arrow wanting to scream as she drew back on the string. The flash of pain that ripped through her body was nearly enough to cause her to drop her bow and the shot she got off was less than accurate. The titanium arrow landed in Epstein's stomach, rather than his chest as she had planned, but it did the job none-the-less. He dropped to the ground his gun clattering beside him his lifeless eyes staring at Zoe from across the hall.
"Good fucking riddance," she managed to spit out. She let her bow fall to the floor and bent forward allowing her good arm to support her as she fought the urge to throw up. Zoe could feel where the warm blood trickled from her shoulder down the guiding creases of her tensed muscles to her hand where it spilled over and began to pool on the floor. Pain she could handle, in vast amounts if need be, but there was no combating her body's need for blood. She had to slow it down.
"Are you okay?" A small voice asked before a light hand was put on her shoulder. Zoe smiled beneath her mask looking up into the concerned face of the child. Zoe nodded, worried that if she tried to speak her nausea would get the best of her. She twisted her body to the side getting into a seated position and reaching for the pack of gauze resting in one of the pockets of her combat vest. She tore the package open with her teeth using her good hand to get the gauze over the wound and cinching it tight. It was too tight to keep on for long but it was better than bleeding to death.
Taking a moment to collect herself Zoe pushed herself up with grunt slinging her bow over one shoulder and taking the Cassie's hand. She used her good arm to pull the tiny girl up to her waist waiting for Cassie to wrap her legs around her midsection before relinquishing her grip.
"We going to my Mommy and Daddy now?" Cassie asked laying her head against Zoe's shoulder.
"Just need to get one more thing Sweetie," Zoe said. She headed into the room where Epstein's daughter was still sitting and knelt down in front of the chair. She slumped the unconscious girl over her bad shoulder and used the chair as a brace to stand up. She didn't want the kid to wake up and have to wade through a sea of dead bodies. The whole thing would be traumatizing enough for her as it was.
"Close your eyes okay Cass?" The girl nodded ducking her head into Zoe's shoulder and wrapping her arms around her neck. Ignoring the pain in her shoulder Zoe stumbled to the front door finagling the door open and getting onto the front patio.
By the time Zoe had stumbled to the front gate she was on the verge of passing out and in fact her mind had blanked for a good ten yards. She just needed to get the pressure off her shoulder and she would be fine. Or so she told herself as she let the teenager slide from her shoulder to the ground. The pain was still there but the near blinding feeling of it had subsided as she was able to relax her muscles. She closed the gate to keep Epstein's kid from going back in before the police arrived and continued walking shifting Zoe's weight to better settle her.
"Mad Dog, this is Hell Cat," she said her voice sounding hoarse to her ears.
"Mad Dog here, sit rep."
"I've got the package," Zoe advised letting out a quiet curse as her boot got twisted in a root nearly causing her to take a header into the ditch. She let out another curse when she realized it wasn't just her boot but rather her empty holster which had gotten caught. She had left her pistol in the house. Damn it all anyway. It didn't matter, her prints wouldn't be on it because of her glove, nor was the pistol registered, and getting a replacement would take less than a day. She just hated leaving her shit behind.
"I'll inform the detective and set up a meet," Marc said pulling Zoe from her self-recrimination.
"Roger that, make it fast, I'm injured," Zoe said as she made her way through the ditch and into the forest where she had hidden her bike. She put Cassie down and began pulling the branches away sparing a small smile at the child who decided to lend a hand. The bike was quickly cleaned and Zoe backed it down the slight decline through the ditch and the incline up the other side.
Thus settled, Zoe unslung her bow loosening the screws that held it together and folding it to fit into its case. She stowed the weapon and strapped it to the side of her Ducati pulling the helmet from her handlebars before swinging her leg over the machine and sitting down. She pulled Zoe up in front of her tugging the helmet down on the small blonde head.
"Hell Cat, I've got the meet, fifteen minutes at the McLeod Mall, North parking lot."
"You sound tired, can you make it?" Marc asked, his voice concerned.
"I'll make it," Zoe said into the ring on her hand. With a weary sigh she turned the engine over and kicked the bike into gear. "Hang on kiddo, next stop, Mom and Dad."
September 23rd, 22:04, Mall Parking Lot, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe rolled to a stop and killed the engine. She groaned as she picked Cassie up and put her on the ground. Unsnapping the helmet she pulled it from the small head and set it on her lap.
"Go on kid, get on home," she said nudging the girl with a gentle hand on her shoulder. She was surprised by the strong arms that wrapped around her leg and looked down curiously at the child. She stroked the blonde head tugging up on her mask enough to reveal a smile to Cassie. The girl smiled back before releasing her grip and racing toward her parents and the detective. The trio was a good hundred meters away at the farthest end of the parking lot. Marc trusted their police contact but the less the cop knew the better for everyone involved.
Zoe watched as Cassie's father reached down grabbing the girl and pulling her to his chest. Even at a distance she could see the big man crying as his wife grabbed on to his arm kissing Cassie over and over again.
Zoe took a breath tilting her head slightly to look up at the full moon as a feeling of pride washed over her. She had managed to give the kid and her parents a happy ending, it was depressingly rare in her line of work. Zoe knew that the powers that be had touched her in Epstein's house, if only for a moment. There was no other way to explain how she had sensed the last shot, a shot that Zoe somehow knew would have landed beneath the protection of her vest and disabled her.
The throbbing of her arm brought her from her musings and Zoe looked away from the moon and back across the parking lot. The cop, a weathered looking detective, nodded at her from across the parking lot. She ducked her head in acknowledgement pulling her helmet over her masked face.
"Mad Dog, the package is delivered, I'm coming home," Zoe said thumbing on the mic in her helmet.
"Roger that Hell Cat, I'll leave the light on." With a final look at the happy family Zoe gunned the engine and sped out of the parking lot.
September 23rd, 22:45, Operations HQ of Mad Dog and Hell Cat, Calgary, Alberta
"Ow," Zoe said glaring at her Dhaskalos as he poked her with a needle.
"Don't be a baby, it's just a little needle," he said dropping his weapon of choice on to the medical tray.
"I hate needles," Zoe said pulling a face, the damn thing looked like a harpoon. Marc rolled his eyes, adjusting his latex gloves.
"Local should kick in pretty quick," he said bending over to more closely inspect her shoulder. "I'll get that bullet out for you in a few minutes." Zoe nodded lifting up her chin so Mark could move the flap on her vest and get to the zipper. He unzipped the vest and, with some pained finagling, they managed to get Zoe out of the vest. He threw the vest on to the worktable and rolled back to Zoe ripping the arm from her shirt to better expose the wound.
Zoe rotated her good arm wincing at the tightness in her muscles. Her 'good' shoulder was going to be black and blue from where she had broken down the door. She had also landed hard on her left hip a couple of times and it was warm and sore to the touch. Definitely going to swell. She was going to have a hard time explaining things to Alex.
"What's this?" Marc asked pulling the black book from her waistband.
"Client list, contacts, it's the fucken' pedophile Yellow Pages," Zoe said using her teeth and one arm to tear the rest of her shirt off. She had to get some ice on her bruises if she wanted to have any chance of keeping the swelling down.
"The realtor's?" Zoe nodded. "What do you want to do with it?" Marc asked settling himself in his chair and reaching out for her arm.
"We could give it to the police," she hazarded watching Marc clean the wound with an almost morbid curiosity. Giving the book to the cops wasn't really the best course of action, no doubt someone would pay well to disappear the book and anyone who saw it. And the police weren't free from corruption.
"That what you really want to do?" Marc asked picking up the forceps and taking hold of her arm. She winced as she felt a sharp pinch as Marc began to search for the bullet. "Sorry," he said as he felt her twitch, "damn thing is in there deep."
"I dunno," Zoe said in answer to Marc's question. She looked down at her hands in contemplation. They were the hands that had welcomed two nieces and a nephew into the world, the hands that had held her father when her mother had passed three years ago, had brought a fair number of women to pleasure.
But, more than that, they were also the hands of a warrior. A woman who had been trained and had the means and the power to do good. And a responsibility to those she loved to make the world a safer place. In the face of that responsibility she knew there was only one thing she could do.
Zoe looked up and over at her Dhaskalos, the man who had been her mentor and companion for the last six years. A man she trusted to be the voice in the back of her head.
"Some of the kids they took could still be alive, they deserve to have someone find them. And the ones who died, they and their families deserve justice."
Marc nodded letting out a grunt as he pulled the bullet from her flesh he dropped the slug into a bowl and dropped the tweezers and forceps into the sanitizer. Zoe reached over picking up the piece of metal and holding it up to the light.
"I'm going to hunt'em down," Zoe said her voice clear and strong.
It would mean giving up a lot: her job, Alex, and it would put her firmly on the other side of the law. If she was caught she doubted that even the Tribunal's protection would keep her from a lengthy prison stay. But it would mean the Cassies of the world would get a shot at a real childhood. That was a risk she was willing to take.
September 24th, 00:22, Residence of Zoe McNeil, Calgary, Alberta
Zoe opened the door to her apartment taking a deep breath of the comforting smells. It had taken four years, countless trips to IKEA, and her sister's decorating prowess to make the place feel like home. It would figure that, just as she was getting really comfortable, she would leave.
Opening her fridge she was surprised to see a plate of spaghetti plastic wrapped and ready to be microwaved. It was then that Zoe shifted her focus listening for movement somewhere in the apartment. Hearing the faint snorting of her girlfriend, something Alex denied vehemently, Zoe headed into the living room, catching sight of the lanky brunette sprawled across the couch.
Zoe pulled her arm from her sling tossing the contraption under the couch grimacing at the pain. She would wait until her arm was healed then head out after the first set of names in the book.
Sighing Zoe knelt on the floor in front of the couch leaning over to put a kiss on Alex's forehead. Dark lashes fluttered momentarily before sleepy gray eyes focused on her.
"Hey, where've you been?" Alex asked stretching forward and placing a soft kiss on Zoe's lips. "You hungry? I made supper." Zoe smiled sliding down to kiss Alex's neck and pulling the women into a one armed hug.
"Just tired," Zoe admitted leaning into Alex. She took a deep breath of the woman's scent allowing the comforting scent to relax her.
"You sound exhausted baby, c'mon let's get you into bed," Alex suggested pulling away and running her hands up Zoe's arms. Zoe flinched as girlfriend's hands hit the bruise on one shoulder and the bandage on the other.
The brunette pulled her hands away looking at Zoe quizzically.
"What happened?" Alex asked already in the middle of unbuttoning Zoe's shirt. Zoe surrendered to the inevitable. It wouldn't matter anyway, she wasn't going to leave without telling the truth, even if Alex didn't believe her. Zoe shrugged out of her shirt revealing the mottled black and blue that was her torso and the bandage that had started to seep through.
"Oh my god, Zoe..?" Alex ran her hands across Zoe's ribs her cool fingers and soft touch bringing momentary relief to the swollen areas.
"I'm alright," Zoe answered taking Alex's hands in her own. "Really, it looks worse than it is."
"I don't understand, did you get into a fight?"
"Sort of," Zoe answered with a sigh pushing up from her kneeling position and situating herself on the couch. "Look, I've got something to tell you and I need you to just listen for a second." Alex pursed her lips sitting back against the arm of the couch and facing Zoe.
"I don't know how to say this without it coming off completely insane so I'm just going to say it."
"Alright," Zoe took a deep breath looking Alex directly in the eye.
"I'm a member of a secret organization that hunts vampires and demons and I'm in line to potentially receive powers from the gods and become one of Thirteen people in the world who are fated to fight evil," Zoe said the words coming from her mouth in a nearly unintelligible rush.
"That's not funny," Alex said her steady gaze meeting Zoe's.
"I'm not joking," Zoe said trying to convey her sincerity with her eyes.
"You're in line to be a Shadow Hunter?" Alex asked her tone bordering on incredulous. Zoe's eyes widened both at the disbelieving tone and the question itself, Alex didn't think she was capable of being a badass?
"I never said Shadow Hunter," Zoe accused her eyes narrowing.
"You didn't have to," Alex said with an eye roll. "My family's law firm has been affiliated with them since before we emigrated from Romania. Who the hell do you think keeps your collective asses out of the slammer? You people aren't exactly subtle," Alex said reaching forward to poke Zoe in the chest.
"You've got to be kidding me," Zoe shook her head. This was ludicrous, she knew the Tribunal had dozens of law firms on retainer all over the world. She certainly hadn't expected her criminal lawyer girlfriend to be her defense counsel. "Wait," Zoe held up a hand, "you've been my lawyer for six years and you didn't tell me?"
"I didn't know!" Alex practically yelled. "We work the cases but only the higher ups ever learn the identities of the operatives, it's safer for everyone that way. My dad's the one at the reigns in case you hadn't noticed." Zoe felt a light go one somewhere in the back of her mind, that certainly explained all the weird looks.
"Huh," Zoe shook her head. Unreal. No wonder Marc had been subtly pushing her to tell Alex about her double life. Little fink had to have known that her family's firm was a Tribunal agency. A thought occurred to her and she canted her head at her girlfriend.
"You got me off an assault charge last year," she stated adjusting her foot on the couch to better settle herself. She had a feeling this wasn't going to be a short conversation.
Alex raised an eyebrow at her quizzically and Zoe realized she would have to clarify. She had slugged a bartender while looking for information. Unfortunately, she had done it in front of an off duty cop and been summarily hauled off to the station.
"Bartender got beat down, sometime last March, in that dive pub, The Cecil or the Royal or some stupidity."
"Yeah, I remember that case, some moron got into a fight right in front of a police..." Alex trailed off as realization dawned. Enlightenment was quickly followed by a questioning glance.
"How'd you manage to do forty hours of community service without me noticing?" Zoe shrugged.
"You were buried in that homicide case for a month," Zoe said in answer pulling her shirt back on. She struggled with the buttons and Alex leaned forward brushing her hands away to do the task herself.
"Huh." Alex brushed her knuckles across Zoe's cheek and the injured woman leaned into her girlfriend's touch. "Is this what all your sneaking around is about?" The woman asked softly, Zoe nodded. Alex smiled slightly before pulling on Zoe's shirt. Getting the idea she moved forward laying down with Alex closing her eyes as strong arms encircled her. Zoe shifted to better settle herself simply relaxing in Alex's presence for the first time in what felt like forever.
There was no more worrying about letting an idle comment slip, talking in her sleep, or having to lie to cover her whereabouts. No more weeks of avoidance to make sure Alex never saw the vivid bruises, broken bones or fresh scars. Zoe felt a sense of peace that had eluded her for years.
It was so tempting, now that Alex was in the know, to just forget about all else. She and Marc could settle in, truly settle, to protecting the city and cleaning out the scum. No more having to worry about leaving a job half done and needing someone to come in and finish what they had started. Zoe and Alex could move forward maybe settle down themselves, if the lawyer could live with the idea of being with a potential Hunter.
"Now what?" Alex asked running a hand through Zoe's hair. Zoe could almost feel it, what it would be like to live a normal life, or as close to it as she could ever hope for. It would be so simple, and yet, Zoe knew she couldn't do it. Couldn't leave the search for the kids to someone else.
"I... I have something I need to do," Zoe said tightening her grip on the woman beneath her. "And I don't know when I'll come back or," Zoe paused torn between being honest or hanging on to the hope that the job wouldn't be forever, "if I'll come back."
She felt Alex sigh and the hand in her hair stopped for a split second before continuing on its path across her temple and the nape of her neck.
"It's going to be dangerous?" Alex asked, Zoe nodded against her. "And illegal." Another nod.
"Extremely so," Zoe conceded.
"Then you'll need a lawyer," Alex said, Zoe could feel her shrug against the couch.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that I'm coming with you."
"No Alex, you can't, what I'm going to be doing it's..." A hand came over Zoe's mouth effectively silencing her.
"Sssh, if you don't tell me what you're doing when someone asks I won't have to perjure myself in front of a judge," Alex said removing her hand.
"It's my family's firm, it's not going anywhere. And, I can work with other Tribunal firms wherever we are," Alex said. "I don't want to lose you Zoe, not after we finally get ourselves on solid footing." Zoe felt a kiss on the top of her head and smiled.
It wasn't going to be easy, whether Alex was there or not. But maybe, if she had Marc to guide her and Alex to walk with her, she could do what she had to and not lose everything of herself. Not succumb to the darkness that was part and parcel of fighting against the underworld. Zoe could have a chance.
"So what do you say?" Alex asked.
"I hope you're up for a road trip," Zoe said, "'cause' the next stop is L.A." Somewhere warm during winter for once. A little ocean, a little ass kicking, and her two best friends at her side. After all, if she wasn't having fun, what was the point?
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