Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fiction: The Problem with Barbara

So this is something I threw together earlier. Wanted to just put together some mini-fiction in the continuity of my WoD games. Most of these characters have shown up in one or another of my various fictions and games.

Speaking of which, a while back I wrote a handful of vignettes that run alongside alongside the events of the write-up of the 'season finale' for my Vampire game. I just got around to uploading that to DA for ease of access and it can be found here.

And now, below the jump, you'll find my most recent bit of WoD fiction: "The Problem with Barbara."

"My life was easier when I was a fraud," Richard said as he sipped his drink. "I came from money, used it for a one-man Scooby-Doo act, and now I know about... everything else out there. I mean, originally it was just dealing with ghosts for me. But dealing with the movements of entire vampire organizations is..." He trailed off, the right words beyond him, and ran a hand over his closed laptop.

"Mmm." Mike fidgeted with the spoon in his soup bowl, thick-rimmed glasses apparently focused on the world outside.

"Are you paying attention?" Richard asked.

"Just thinking. Wondering where everyone is."

Richard followed Mike's gaze out the window. It was warm out, summer just over the horizon, but for now clouds promising some needed rain capped the sky. People were out and about but with the college students going home for the summer the foot traffic on the streets was visibly deflating. Somewhere, at the other end of High Street, he'd been told there was a bar run by werewolves. He considered checking it out while he was in town.

That thought brought to mind the rumors about Mike. About his increasing tendency to stop and listen to things other people couldn't hear. About the scalpel that he never seemed to carry but always seemed to have. About the circumstances of his near-death experience some years back.

"How's Evie doing?" Mike asked, out of the blue, still watching the street.

"She's doing okay. She says she's finally settled in after a couple of years. I check in with her every now and again, she's getting along with her roommates. Being a barista agrees with her."

"You just 'check in?'" Mike raised an eyebrow at him, finally looking away from the window, giving Richard that look of his that might have been a smirk.

"Yes." The word itself was punctuation. A complete thought, not to be expanded.

Downstairs, a couple of people came in and Mike waved at them from the upper level. The black woman in her 30's with short hair and a muscular build took her sunglasses off and waved back.  She wore a t-shirt advertising one of the local bars (not one Richard recognized, he just knew it was neither 'the vampire one' nor 'the werewolf one') and a pair of jeans, and she had a folder full of papers under one arm. Behind her, clearly just happy to be out of the heat, followed a lighter-skinned man a decade younger with an untucked college sports jersey and matching shorts. He wore a fanny pack on his hip and looked around the room with familiar body language. In a moment he identified exits and the nearest access to fire or sharp implements.

Another hunter. Not Network Zero like Richard himself was, but one of the more militant ones. Richard couldn't tell which.

A couple of minutes later, with an iced tea and a soda respectively, the two of them came upstairs and approached the table.

"Richard Marcus, this is Jackie Smith," Mike said as everyone shook hands. "Detective, this is Richard."

"This is DJ, from Fairmont," Jackie said, indicating her companion. "Deej, this is Richard Marcus, author of "The Highway Styx," and Mike 'The Man at Midnight' Prescott."

"Pleased to meet you, this is big, you guys have reputations." DJ sat down. Jackie slowly walked around the table once, running a finger along its edge and glancing out the windows. As far as anyone could guess, she was gauging their privacy or lack thereof.

"Pleasure's mine, DJ," Mike said. "So I was talking to the detective and she said you have some information for us."

Jackie covered her mouth and made a sound like she was belching part of the alphabet, and sheepishly patted her chest and cleared her throat. "Pardon me." She sat down.

"Still not sure how she found me, but I've got some stuff from people who know people," DJ said, unconcerned with what Jackie had done. The detective set down the folder and opened it and DJ grabbed a handful of papers. "So these vampires have been moving in and out all up and down I-79, from Charleston to Morgantown. Mostly staying out of the cities themselves. Leaving Fairmont and Clarksburg alone. But then, they know better."

Mike and Richard both winced when DJ just dropped the word 'vampire,' but the off-duty detective gestured to indicate they shouldn't worry about it.

"But past Fairmont, they're getting local help. You've got folks with law enforcement and DHS ties helping them smuggle things and vampires in and out. Back along the highway, we think they're setting up safe houses and resource caches." DJ indicated maps and photographs, talking like a soldier briefing his CO.

"Which is where Barb McCoy fits in," Jackie said.

"Barbara fucking McCoy," Mike muttered under his breath with obvious venom.

"Her off-the-books DHS watchpost gives her a lot of room to move in Morgantown. A lot more than when she was tied to Freyja Consulting. And it gives her the legitimacy that her NSA badge doesn't."

A pregnant pause settled over the table when Jackie dropped that particular acronym.

"Well, from my own connections in Pittsburgh," Richard spoke up after a moment. "I'm about 99% certain that she's not helping the vampires there."

"But they're all benefitting, if she's covering for them," DJ said, frowning and looking out at the street like he could see something useful there.

"Some more than others. She's covering for them. She's not beholden to the group," Mike said.

"She didn't help anyone come in from Pittsburgh, I mean," Richard clarified. He dug out a USB drive and passed it over.

"Are they reliant on her? Would it hurt them to get rid of her?" DJ asked. Without realizing he was doing so, he kept drawing and redrawing a little half-circle shape in the condensation left by his drink on the table.

"Probably more reliant than they think they are. She's got a lot of enemies but she's very good at this. She doesn't have clear routines or patterns. She never goes anywhere alone or unarmed," Jackie presented some maps with notes sketched out on them as well as some surveillance photos. In more than a few photos, the subject pointed at the camera.

"Probably why Molson hasn't put a bullet through her yet," Mike observed. "That might change, after Billy. That's not sitting well with the Woodburn Compact."

"I think Billy Bricks has been secretly working for her for as long as either of them's been in the city, maybe longer. I'd be surprised if having to do what she did to cover it up was easy on her," the detective chimed in.

"So he got what was coming to him, if he was tied to her and she's helping them," DJ said with a hard edge.

"Regardless of who he was working for, Billy deserved better than what happened." Mike glared at him. "He still busted his ass to keep the city safe more times than I can count. Things aren't that simple."

DJ rolled his eyes but held his tongue.

"I think she's mostly working with the vampires out of Charleston with this guy as her local contact." Jackie dug a drawing out of her folder of a relatively nondescript man, someone who'd easily blend into crowds. A doodle off to the side illustrated a ring that bore some sort of heraldry.

"That's Derrick, he's the leader of the locals," Mike said with a nod. "One of his guys trashed the radio station a few months back."

"How'd you get out of that?" DJ asked, looking suspiciously at Mike.

Mike returned his suspicious look with a challenging glare.

"With great effort and personal injury."

After a few seconds of glaring, Jackie reached out and clapped her hands between the two of them, startling them. "Stop it. I will turn this car around."

They both made a begrudging effort to relax.

"Maybe we should wrap this up before someone gets too curious about what's going on and realizes what we're talking about," Richard suggested.

"We probably should wrap it up, but we're safe for the moment," Jackie said. "Nobody's paying attention."

"How do you know they aren't?"

"Because they aren't." Her surety left an edge to that statement that did not comfort Richard in the slightest.

"Anyhow, so what we've got here is an understanding of where Barb's helping with what and which vampires?" Mike asked.

"Pretty much," Jackie said as she dug through the stack of papers and passed Mike some copies of what they had.

"Somebody needs to just sweep this town clean," DJ said.

"There's more going on than just vampires," Mike said. "Barbara's screwed with a lot more than that."

"Your priorities are screwed."

"I'd be a little more likely to agree if a bunch of hunters hadn't provoked the vampires in Fairmont into sieging the city some years back." Mike's voice rose a bit. "Which is why you're here, right? Until then, you never noticed."

DJ grabbed the back of his chair and stood up.

Jackie also stood up and grabbed DJ's shoulder, turning him to face her.

"Go back to the car," she said, putting a tone of pure authority into her voice. "I'll be there in a moment."

DJ hesitated but grabbed his drink and stomped out. She sighed once he was gone and turned to Mike and Richard.

"Mike, if you hear anything else, let me know, and if I hear anything I'll do the same. We need this to be delicate and careful. Surgical precision. Richard, pleased to meet you."

"Pleased to meet you too," Richard replied as she turned to leave.

Mike opened his mouth to say something when she was gone, only to be startled when someone bumped into their table.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" the college girl said, staggering back. "I didn't see you there!" She looked around, confused like she wasn't where she thought she was, and wandered off.

Richard glanced around. As sure as Jackie had been that nobody was paying attention, he was pretty sure that now people were definitely noticing the two of them at the table. He tried very hard not to think about why that changed.

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