Panes of limed wood and flaxen limestone lined the hall outside, their bland blonde matte palliative to the weary eye. Her heels made no sound upon the carpet as she glanced at passing door plates and found herself five rooms short of her destination; though there was nothing startling in the discovery, Lilian slowed and came to a gradual halt in the midst of the passage. In the outer corner of her left eye the wall began to shimmer, the stone trembling, its substance loosened as though lofted forth in dust, birthing a myriad of tiny, phosphor-white motes, like dandelion seeds before a lazy drift of sun-warmed air. They wandered out before her, forming an encircling cascade that was not only silent in itself, but drained the volume from the surrounding world until sound no longer existed. Inhaling the brightly-glowing influence of the idling scintilla, she took a hand from her pocket at its whispered invitation and passed into the fall, the motes treating her flesh as a permeable fiction; closing her fist, she watched them drift on through its shape, unchecked, then pushed her hand into the empty air beyond.
It was struck by fulminant agony, as though a length of steel had swung across her knuckles. She dragged her hand back and clasped it in the spinning eye of pain, lips parting in a silent exclamation. At the end of the corridor a maid’s cart emerged from a utility room as a muted and indefinite shape; Lilian straightened slowly though pain still pealed along her bones, watching the cart trundle toward her from the shadowless distance. A door to her right opened inward, admitting a tall woman in a drab suit to the passage, the eyes in her hard, tanned face coming too quickly upon her own while the wall beside her head began to shimmer, its substance loosened as though lofted forth in dust. Tiny phosphor-white motes drifted in a veil between them; Lilian felt them glowing in her eyes, combusting and dividing, and pushed her pale gaze through the idling scintilla, beyond the stranger's stare and deep into the intent that it protected, finding shapes in black and olive drab lettered with shifting glyphs with hot, portentous scarlet. Satisfied, she allowed the incandescent apparition to dissuade her, and to walk her back toward the elevator where its open doors awaited her return.
Shaw leaned into the clammy ivy at the foot of the wall it had overrun, ignoring its sour bronze smell and clearing a narrow gap in the fallen stone. The street on the other side glowed dirty orange through the foliate vignette, crossed only by the nocturnal insects that favoured the lamp post for the amatory and predacious sorties consuming the last weeks of their lives. Looking back over his shoulder, he searched the windows through the lattice of branches and shoulder-high weeds that sheltered his position, bringing his phone to his ear.
“House and grounds are clear.” he confided. “It’s good.”
Josephine sat in the darkness of the rented suite, watching the woman wheel the maid’s cart alongside the bed and strip her secreted equipment from it, stuffing it into a gym bag, her mood related in the rough, clipped timbre of her actions. O'Connor darkened the doorway.
“She came right to my station, Mercer started her run and then it nose-dived... I don’t know what it was... it felt like I was made.” Josephine related. The operative zipped her bags. “We need to check her out. She’s not standard.”
“Ms Frost is on her way to the house.” he replied. “Traffic’s loose downtown, it’s a fifty minute ride at most, so the second team will pick her up.”
“Inoprophenol won’t drop a lab rat. She’ll fight it.”
"I'm happy with what the Interlaken teams have achieved so far."
Josephine watched his face assume a smirk as they recalled the hahdri massacre photostream; she wondered how he could smile amid the disastrous scope of its dissemination, then remembered his lack of affection for the culprit.
"Have they found Bateman yet?" she inquired.
"They pulled him out of business class at LAX."
The woman behind them looked up from packing her equipment.
"Bateman's gone?" she asked, glancing out the door.
"Interlaken took the bambis out and cut them loose on some lycanthropes upstate... it went bad. They ended up having to toast the whole site. Bateman lost it, posted darknet jpegs and fled with his hard drives."
"Damn... I don't think I even want to know what a bambi fail looks like. Those gross things were his babies."
"I think the change of focus was overdue." O'Connor remarked, consulting his watch. "Wipe this down before you leave."
A downpour swept over the crest of the hill, hissing across the tarmac and beading on Shaw's head, misting the glass of his night vision visor. Distant headlights already shimmered in the water clinging to the roadside growth; he leant out as far as he dared through the vine-swathed crevice, pulling the windscreen into focus. To his amazement, one of the black-clad operatives planted at the foot of the hill broke cover and walked out onto the seal, forcing the taxi to a halt on wet brakes. Shaw pushed along the wall until he drew parallel with the stop.
A burst of muzzle flash threw the thicket of figures closing on the car into cartoon silhouette, the rain swallowing the silenced rounds and the sound of the glass trickling from the driver’s door onto the road. They dragged a smoking body from behind the wheel, leaving it lying on the tarmac while the passenger was surrounded in the rear seat, though Shaw could see nothing of Lilian Frost until the door was pushed slowly outward from within. The figure that rose from it and stood beside the cab explained the desperate expediency of the ambush without uttering a syllable, male instead of female, emerald flash meeting the torch beam directed into its eyes. While it stared into the light, a figure stepped up and fired twice into its neck, then again into its shoulder, shrinking back to the verge to reload as quickly as wet fingers would allow.
The armed party retracted, leaving their victim to grasp the stainless darts and tear them free, gazing blankly through the crimson spatter driven onto his face by the murderous burst of fire. He tossed them away and looked down at the body of the driver; even from the top of the wall Shaw saw the deliberation that persisted in the creature’s stance, the absence of the slow and reassuring tilt that was the first sign of meaningful intoxication. The squad stood, hunched and transfixed, steam rising from their shoulders and their laboured breathing while Shaw climbed down. Beside him the commanding figure snarled an order, prompting the foremost trio to creep forward, rain streaming from their chins. The creature gazed over the wall toward the distant house even as they closed on him, his apathy explicitly fatalistic. As one the squad burst forward and swallowed up the figure, like a fist of swarming insects.
Shaw wiped at his face with his hand as he walked around to the rear of the collection van to perceive the result of their endeavours, a prostrated abstract lying on the churned grass, strapped with closely-coupled bonds of woven alloy to a steel stretcher. The drug gunner stepped forward and fired another three doses into the flesh of its leg; he trained his torch upon the captive's profile, examining the deep golden bale of the gaze that slid toward him before a mesh hood was dragged down over its head. A single command extinguished their torches, sent a pair of men to drag the taxi driver's corpse into the boot of his idling car and signaled the others to hoist their trussed objective from the ground, in pursuit of a swift and wordless dispersal.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce