Walking Conspiracy

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Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Tue Jan 31, 2012 3:48 am

As she got on the bike behind Ace, now that lunch and clothing were checked-off her mental to-do list, Portia’s mind shifted to their next two priorities: take a look at that file, and sleep. Her curiosity was piqued and she meant to get Ace to pull over and look at it as soon as they could be sure no one was watching, but as the bike started down the road, the smooth rumbling of the engine caused the file to drop down to priority number two. It seemed like she remembered being put to sleep by moving vehicles when she was little. It would have been a long time ago. Mom never had her own car, Elizabeth never drove her anywhere, and Portia was smart and paranoid enough not to fall asleep on public transportation. Now though, she felt herself relax. Ace is here, nothing to worry about. Everything started to feel very peaceful. Not numb like she’d felt at Ritchie’s, but warm and fuzzy.

It had been a long time since either of them had slept. How long was it now? Had to be at least a day. Before Ritchie’s was the diner, before that was the suits’ office, her aunt’s house, the newspaper… was that today? Yesterday? The day before? And how many of those nights went by without sleep? She was having trouble keeping track. She was having trouble doing much of anything, and she went on like that for a while before she realized that she was close to falling off the bike.

“Ace!” She shouted over the motor, “I’m falling asleep back here. Let’s pull off!” They kept going for a while longer as Ace looked for a good place to stop, Portia tried extra hard not to doze off. They finally pulled to a stand of trees far enough off the road that they and the bike would be hidden from all but the most observant eyes. Not that there would be many of those here. The whole landscape had a lazy, quiet look to it, although that might just have been Portia’s mental state. She was together enough to get off the bike, take off her helmet and backpack, and make some comment to Ace about picking a nice spot. He may have said something in reply, but she had already curled up on the ground with her pack for a pillow, and like that, she was out.
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years



Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Feb 01, 2012 3:32 am

The road never seemed to end. Vast stretches of smoothed concrete and painted yellow lines went on and on beyond even my vision; once or twice the yellow stripes zipping past my flying wheels distracted me for fleeting moments every now and then before my eyes would snap back into place and focus on the road ahead that I was following. Green signs passed us by indicating that we were not far from Philly; still some distance but a very manageable one and somehow I felt like I was walking into an impending doom, like our goal was close and yet it seemed very daunting. Like Frodo from Lord of the Rings always pressing towards mordor, I felt like Philly was, to quote Samwise, "the one place we're trying to get to and yet it's the one place we don't want to see any closer." Not that Philladelphia was an awful city, but once they reached their destination, I hardly knew where to go from there. Yes, they had the file, but what if it didn't give them enough to make another move? Then what? The unknown was driving him crazy and yet he sort of reveled in the 'cross the bridge when we get there' mentality. One less thing to worry about, he thought.

Portia snapped him away from my thoughts when she called from the back and said that she was falling asleep back there. Not surprisingly, it wasn't hard for me to pick out her voice over the engine and the muffled walls of the helmet; in fact, I almost immediately and instinctively tuned out most everything but her voice when she spoke. I figured, though, that she didnt' have the same ability and so I neglected to verbally respond. Instead I just pulled over and shut the bike down on the side of the road amidst some trees where we wouldn't be obvious to passerbys, but by the time I managed to really conceal the bike, Portia was down and out. Goodness, she needed some rest. I likely did too, but I hardly had a moment to even think about sleeping and honestly it seemed so...far away? Out of reach. Even as the quiet of the wooded area set in and all there was to hear was the chirping of the nearby birds and once there was the hiss of tires rolling speedily on concrete, but those faded. It was quiet. And not that ugly sort of quiet that precedes a firefight and disaster, but that kind of honest, real silence that came before a restful night's sleep. Of those, I only had memories. vague, foggy memories as slippery as wet soap.

Just relax Ace. It's okay.
For once, James Bond was encouraging me to honestly relax. That was a rare moment, and I decided to capitalize on it immediately. With my pack as a pillow, i lay on my back and shut my eyes, allowing the few days of sleeplessness to catch up with me.

Dreamless hours passed until I opened my eyes in almost the exact same position i fell asleep in, though now the light overhead carried a subdued quality. Somewhat lost, I sat up. "How long have I been out...?" I wondered out loud, sitting up and checking the time on Dom's phone. Five thirty. "Portia..." I said. "Portia, wake up. We ought to get moving soon...."
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Wed Feb 01, 2012 6:39 am

Portia...

Yep, that's my name.
Ungh. All she wanted to do was roll over and go back to sleep. She mumbled something and tried to shift herself.

Portia, wake up.

As soon as she moved, she realized how uncomfortable the ground was. Nothing but sticks and rocks, and her face felt like it had picked up the pattern of the weave from her backpack. Ungh.

We ought to get moving soon...

Finally she opened her eyes. Ow. The sun was still in the sky, she hadn't been asleep that long. Just a little bit longer... no, she'd had long enough. She really should get up. Soon. She would get up soon.

Slowly she sat up, and got her bearings again. Everything was where it had been, except that the sun was on the other side of the sky, and the shadows were pointing the other way. As she came to herself, she remembered... the file! She was so excited that she almost jumped --more like twitched-- to her feet and made her way over to the bike. Her not-quite-awake hands had some trouble with the latch, but she finally got the seat up and saw the folder, in all its manila glory. Actually, it looked just like a normal file folder, but her excitement about the contents was hard to contain. Eagerly, but as carefully as she could, she opened it up.

SKYLIGHT to NOVEMBER YANKEE
Requesting surveillance of all residents and visitors to the following address, in connection with case number 44523(C)...

CIRCUS to NOVEMBER YANKEE
Transferring case number 45451(S) to your office, subject has permanently relocated to your area. Client contact information and case data to be sent immediately...


Everything as vague as humanly possible, and what wasn't vague was in code. They must have had some secure way of transferring more sensitive information because these memos alluded to information they didn't contain. There were some business cards, but Portia knew those would probably be useless now, since the office they belonged to was trashed yesterday. I think that was yesterday. Anyway.

Her enthusiasm for the file was starting to dampen, but she held out hope until the last sheet where her patience was finally rewarded. It was a memo, dated the day before this whole mess started. Was that the day before yesterday?

APEX to NOVEMBER YANKEE
Effective immediately, APEX will be taking oversight of case number 45464(N). Any and all information relating to the case is to be forwarded to APEX immediately. An inventory of everything that cannot be copied or transported is to be forwarded as well. The scramble location for the case is now location ALPHA. Any and all new developments will now be reported as they occur to the following phone number, and to APEX, in that order.

The continued absence of Laura Noland and lack of progress in her case will be taken very personally. A higher quality of work will be expected, and anything or anyone holding back this investigation will be immediately removed.


Below the last line, carefully written in ink that looked designed to fade, was a ten-digit phone number.

This was it! This one slip in the vague impartiality of the memo was all that they needed. It certainly explained why, a few days ago, these guys in suits had felt enough pressure to follow a desperate lead to Portia's apartment. Someone was putting the heat on them from above, someone who wanted answers about Laura Noland very badly. Well, Portia and Ace had answers --some of them at least-- and... they could... Some of Portia's excitement gave way to nagging worry. Could they trust these people any more than they could trust Norman? How would someone who took Laura's case "very personally" react to their answers? to Ace?

Are we about to let one monster chase us right into the mouth of another one?
Last edited by El Gordo on Sun Feb 05, 2012 7:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Thu Feb 02, 2012 12:05 am

At first, Portia sort of groaned and looked like she was about ready to roll over and fall asleep again. But then something caught her attention and she sat up quickly, like she'd remembered something and staggered over to the bike to take out the file. It was as if she was a child dreaming about christmas and, now awake, was tearing open the presents. Only in our case, presents entailed sketchy manilla folders that may or may not have covert secrets or dangerous information concerning Laura and the two of us. Presents, top secret files. Totally similar, right? Either way, she was excited and frankly, as she pulled it out and cracked it open, so was I. Nervous, yes, because i didn't know what we'd find in there, but whatever it was, we were sure to find something useful. I came and stood over her shoulder to peer down at the file in her hands, reading words like Charlie Hotel and November Yankee among formal memos about a numbered case, and even without the context it was obvious they were codenames for locations. Norman dealt in codes on occasion, come to think of it, but...well, that was Norman. The last thing I wanted or needed was another Norman on our tail. But a few things stuck out to me; the numbered case was most definitely Laura's case and was very important to someone, but above all, the name APEX stood out. Apex meant 'top', like an apex predator. Not only that, but the other memos were more generic and someththing about the last one was oddly specific.
"Apex," i said. "That's the head of the snake. See how that memo there is an order? I swear that comes from the top. It's got official written all over it...Which means....that's their number. I don't know if it goes straight to the top or whatever, but...I imagine if we played the right cards, it could get us there."
Oh crap. That was their number...that was information i didn't feel like i could leave alone, and yet i almost didn't want to do anything with it. What would happend if we called them? What would they want to know? What would we say? Personally, i wanted to call the number. But I--James Bond--wouldn't allow such a quick decision such as that. I couldn't. It went against my nature and everything i was ever trained to do. I had to think it all over first and weigh the options. The most obvious problem, of course, was figuring out which of the two factions coming after us were more terrifying and which could be more, if at all, trusted. In essence, if i was backed into a corner and forced to make a move, what move would I make? Right off the bat, Norman seemed more frightening. I had no residual instincts about the PI's other than they were to be avoided, while Norman and his company brought with it a host of unpleasant feelings. But I couldn't judge this 'apex' quite yet.

"Well...what do you say? I think...it wouldn't be entirely awful to call the number, see what it gets us and sort of...search them out. We dont know if they could be our worst enemy or our biggest ally, we just don't know. So i suggest we find out. Let's call them...and let's set up some kind of meeting, even if with it's with some low-rung runner or something. We may as well," i said, holding my phone aloft.
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Blackfridayrule
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Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:52 pm

It's funny. There are times when life won't give you direction, and all you want is a sign. Sometimes life gives you no options, and you'd kill for a choice. And right now, Portia thought, we have both, and I'm not sure what to do.

"Right... This number is definitely the best lead we have. Better than just 'Philadelphia' for sure, although we stil have that as a backup plan. So we're not desperate, they're the ones who need us. If we call them we can always just hang up if there's anything we're not comfortable with, and they won't be able to track the phone."

"Exactly. Just one little phone call could do us a whole lot of good, but we can't lose much, either. Except maybe an element of surprise--i doubt they know that we know where to find them after the other day...was that yesterday? Nevermind, doesn't matter. The point is, it's pretty low risk since they can't track the phone. I say it's worth it."

"What do we say, though? 'Hello, how are you?' seems a little casual, but we can't just start off with 'Who is this?' either. Not that I mind being rude to them. At all. But they need to know who we are before they'll take us seriously."

"Yeah, this isn't the time to play the 'anonymous' card, here. If they want us, and we put ourselves on the table, they'll take the bait. Just look at how Jesse responded when I contacted him! They'll see itas an opportunity and jump on it if we start naming names."

"Right, and we're the bait. Us, and what we know about Laura. So who are they more likely to listen to? They know you, they have your picture at least, but not much else, or they would never have thought that you and I had any connection. For all I know, they don't even know your name. Me, though, they've got my number. They already had a ton on me, and they probably went through my apartment after I ran just for good measure. S---, they probably took my computer! I hope they tried to hack it." Fond thoughts of her homebrew security measures brought a smile to her face.

"You've got a point there. If they don't know me...lets try and keep it that way. I have the feeling that if they get a name, they'll start digging in places they don't want to go. For their sake. After all, on paper, I'm dead. how suspicious is that? Besides, even If i did call, they don't know my voice and could doubt that I'm really who I claim to be. You, they know. You're in the forefront of their minds and so they'll get real excited when you call."

"Ok, how about this: 'Hi, this is Portia Knoll. You guys tried to rough me up the last two times I ran into you. I didn't really enjoy it and I don't feel like letting you have a third try. If you do anything funny, I'll hang up and you'll never see me again.' Sound convincing?"

"Something along those lines, yeah, but be more cryptic. Make them scramble. Throw them off a little and piss them off--when you do, it gives you the upper hand. However, you also want to make them feel like it's a blessing that you're even calling them; make it a special occasion that can easily be yanked away from them if anything goes the wrong way. They'll be really careful, then. Keep a general tone of disinterest at everything they say and above all, make it sound like you know exactly what you're doing, like they're just walking into your trap.....don't ask me how I know these things."

Portia shook her head bemusedly. “I’ve stopped wondering where you get this stuff, Ace, I’m just glad you have it." Imagine where we'd be without your instincts, she thought. "So, once we have their attention, what do we do then? Try to set up a meeting? Or make a deal over the phone? Our information for… what? Their protection? Their help? If they’re after Norman, then we’re helping them, but if we tell them too much, they’ll realize that we’re on the run, and we can’t let them think we’re desperate. Or maybe they're so desperate or scared of you that they'll do whatever we want no matter what. We just don't know enough about these guys to know what they'll do, let alone if we can trust them or not. But I guess that's why we're calling, isn't it”

"Really what we're out to do is read them...get a better feel for who and what we're dealing with, here. That's hard to do over the phone...half of the cues one looks for when detecting a lie are irrelevant in a phone conversation. Honestly, if we want a good sense of these people, we may as well meet them in person. I don't think they'd try anything after my last...display in new york. Besides, they wouldn't want to scare us off if we have valuable information, would they? We could meet them somewhere public. We'll string 'em along into thinking we're coming to their side in order to get a little information and gain a better perspective. We don't talk about Norman. Ever. In fact, as far as you know, I'm just some...hired gun, nothing special. I mean, I guess they already know i'm trained to some degree...but they don't need to know much else. The less they know about me, the better, because honestly....i'd almost rather take my chances with Norman than any of them if they knew about...me and my....my..." Ace cut off, not really wanting to say the rest of that sentence out loud. "Anyway, we're not out for protection quite yet, but if it can be managed, some immunity would be nice. Immunity in exchange for a blurry half-truth. Besides, after new york, i don't think they want to incur my wrath again..." Ace presented that as a flat joke, but even as it passed his lips, he didn't like the way it tasted in his mouth. Honestly, that horror hadn't yet fully healed and to joke about it was a poor choice, he decided.

"That's true. You're a pretty big threat."

"Any trained man with a weapon is a threat. Frankly I'll use that to my advantage when I can."

"It helps that this trained man managed to find thier secret office, get in, beat up every guy they could throw at you, and get away without a scratch. You've probably still got them shivering."

"I did suffer an ugly bruise. Avery's a fighter. Still, that's what Norman trained me for. You heard Ritchie say what my job was after my first one...went south. Not that they know that....anyway, let's go ahead and give them a call."

"Alright." Breathe. She carefully put in the number, double checking the digits before finally hitting send. 'Ready or not', she thought to herself. The phone rang. Nervous excitement bubbled in the pit of her stomach. She tried to at least keep her voice calm, even if her body was almost trembling. It was halfway through the second ring and then abruptly:
"Hello." A man's voice, slightly gruff, probably about middle aged.

"This is Portia Knoll." She was remaining calm, but it was hard for her to think under pressure. Her words came out slowly, with what she hoped sounded like control rather than hesitation. "I have information about Laura Noland." She paused, and when no response was imeditately forthcoming, she added, "Information that I didn't have when you tried to beat me up for it, by the way. But since you dragged me into this mess, I've been making the best of it, and doing a better job than your guys from the sound of it. Maybe you should try hiring me instead of trying to break my nose!"Ace lowered his hands as if to say silently, "bring it down a notch." She was losing her controled facade, but she could only hope that the righteous indignation would scare them into being cooperative.

Seconds passed that seemed much longer before she finally heard a sound from the other end. It was a sigh, or something very much like it. "Miss Knoll," said the man finally, "I will be the first to aknowledge that the treatment you recieved was... inapropriate." Portia snorted, and the voice paused before continuing, "Indeed, a gross understatement, to say the least. I would assure you that those responsible have been dealt with, but from what I understand you are already aware of what happened to the New York office. They would have gotten similar treatment once I found out they were torturing an innocent woman, but I must admit your friend’s approach was much more direct."
Ace grumbled, half to himself and half to Portia, "remember that for next time, a--hole." The voice came to a full stop, as if to ask if the issue of Portia’s treatment had been fully addressed. Portia couldn’t think of anything to say, and so the man continued.

“Now then, I can’t help but believe that you have the information —you got this phone number somehow, which means you’re either very good or very lucky— and for the record, I do believe you when you say that you were uninvolved. But you wouldn’t be stupid enough to just take my word for it, would you? So the question becomes ‘how can you trust me’?”

"I can't, and I don't," Portia responded. "But I have something you want, and I expect you to tread carefully as long as that's the case. We don't want a repeat of what happened last time." She left a significant pause to make sure it sounded like a threat before continuing. "So here's the deal: We meet --you or one of your goons, it doesn't matter-- and you have one shot to convince me that you're worth trusting, and that you can give me what my information is worth. If you can't, or if you try anything funny, you'll never get the information, and you'll be lucky to get out with your limbs intact." That might have been a little bit harsh, but it got the point across, and it was all she could think of. She waited breathlessly for the response.

"Fine," said the man, "meet where? You know better than to trust any place I suggest, so, name the place."

Alright, she thought, somewhere public where they can't get the jump on us, somewhere anyone would know. Somewhere in Philly. Her mind went back to a school field trip, and she had it. "Outside of Independance Hall, Philadelphia, in one hour. On the left by the flag pole. Your guys know what I look like. Any questions?"

"No, Miss Knoll, that will be fine. In one hour, then."

"No tricks, if you value your kneecaps." He'd hung up. She wasn't sure if he had heard the last line or ended the call before it. She hated to think of giving him the last word, but she couldn't help thinking that the conversation had gone well. She handed the phone back to Ace. "So, how did that go, did you think?"

"That went well...we didn't give away anything too personal and i think we showed him we're serious. besides, we set up a meeting. did what we set out to do, didn't we?"

"Yeah. Cool. Alright." The conversation had been exillerating, like summiting a mountain, and the acomplishment of it was carrying her along. "So, we have an hour to be in downtown Philly. We're close enough, that should be no problem; what's our plan of attack?"

"Well...heh...I don't know. Um...I guess...well, for one thing, you'll still be the face. I'll be hanging around close by but if I can help it, i'd like to remain somewhat hidden. They'll expect me to be there but If they can't ID me, that'd be great. I'll be watching your back and listening for any....unseen backup they might have. You see what you can get out of them. maybe some immunity in exchange for semi-cooperation. we won't give them the full truth yet, but we'll feed them some tantalizing and vague information, pretend we don't know the whole story and move from there. If anything goes wrong, I'll be there. But first, I need a hat, a newspaper, and some sunglasses. I need something to cover this white streak of mine..." Ace twisted the ghostly-white tuft of hair on his brow between two fingers and, with his other hand, slipped the phone back into his pocket. "C'mon, we can find a dollar store or something with some cheap glasses on the way in."

Portia dug through her bag. "I got these sunglasses at the thift store to cover up my eye, but there's no point in me being hard to recognize when we're actually trying to meet them. Any chance Ritchie gave you a hat? We can get one easily enough if he didn't, and there's newspapers everywhere. Anyway, yeah, we'd better get going. Parking is probably going to be tight."

"We can do tight. The benefits of driving a bike as opposed to a truck or something, eh?" Ace offered a smile that faded quickly--his mind was too cluttered to be jubilant just yet. "Those sunglasses will do...let me see if Ritchie gave me a hat..." Ace unzipped his backpack and rifled through it, hands blindly scanning for anything hat-like. He found something and his fingers clasped around it, pulling it free from the mass of cloth inside the pack. It wasn't a hat, but as he pulled the crimson-red, long sleeved shirt from the pack, a black baseball cap toppled out. Ace didn't really notice. His green gaze was fixed upon the shirt like it was somehow important; was it? He held it aloft, rubbing the fabric in between his thumb and forefingers.

"I remember this," he said. He blinked, remembering cool sand between bare toes, lazy sparks floating into a black sky, Dominic dripping wet and shirtless on the other side of a firepit. Norman was there, Aleah was there, Jesse...Jesse was sick, yes, he wasn't there because he was sick. Ritchie was sitting next to him wearing the same shirt that Ace now held in his hands; they were all sitting on a beach in....California--Long Beach--on a vacation. Just for fun, to get away from New York. "We were on vacation...that seemed so long ago, now....huh...." Ace blinked and stuffed it back in his pack. "Anyway...here's a hat. Shall we get going, then?" he asked, spinning the keys around his finger once.

Portia handed him the sunglasses and zipped up the bag. "It's funny thinking about vacations. Last time I saw Independance Hall... I think it was a school trip back in... maybe fourth grade? Anyway, it's been forever. And now look at us, two tourists off to see the sights of Philadelphia." She put on her helmet and swung herself up onto the bike. "Right behind you, Ace."
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:56 am

"Tourists....ha. Can you call us tourists...? Probably not. But we'll go with that anyway," Ace said, straddling the front of the bike and turning the key in the ignition. After easing the bike out of the wooded area and back onto the road, he shifted into a higher gear and quickly made his way across the state border and into Philly. All the while, he couldn't help but feel like he was walking into purgatory itself and his anxiety began to grow. It wasn't a full panic, not by any means, but it was obvious that he was slightly more tense and aware of everything going on around him. Frankly, he had to be for what they were about to do. If these people decided to bring enough firepower, they could possibly be forced into complete submision, but Ace hoped that it wouldn't come to that, and he certainly wasn't going to voice that concern to Portia. She was the Face, and the Face needed to focus on interacting with the "Customer" as it was often called. The Backdrop--Ace's job--was to take care of everything else, namely security, and Ace was good at that. He could only remember a few specifics from his time in Kuwait, but he knew that he did similar jobs in the states. For who or what, he couldn't remember.
Ace didn't know how to find Independence Hall originally, but the signs led him there with relative ease. Thank goodness the destination was a tourist hotspot. Strategically, he parked several blocks from the old building--if they were looking down at them from somewhere, Ace didn't want them catching sight of the bike. They'd need a new one soon anyway, but not yet.
Leaving the bike, the two pushed through the crowds of camera-weilding tourists towards Independence Hall. On the way, Ace snatched a newspaper from a nearby stand with a hand as smooth as a con-artist. He doubted that was his first time lifting something and he knew it wouldn't be his last.
As they approached the flagpole in front of the hall, Ace said, "Give me your pack, I'll be sitting on that bench there, and if for any reason ever you feel uncomfortable and want an out, snap your fingers twice, I'll bring things to an end. Remember to stay calm, okay? That's important." he clapped a hand on her shoulder. "Good luck." And with that, he slipped away to his station, taking a seat on the bench, passively glancing at the paper in his hands but all the while keeping a careful eye on Portia.
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:42 pm

There it was, Independance Hall, just like she remembered it. Good thing historical landmarks never change, she had been particularly proud of being able to specify "by the flagpole on the left" as a meeting place. It made her sound like she had a plan. Actually, what she had was a vague memory of running in circles around and around this flagpole with a couple other kids bored out of their minds after a two hour bus ride to one of the more boring places she remembered being. Even now when she could appreciate the historical significance of it, there wasn't much to see here. Some old rooms, a broken bell. Then again, she'd never been much for museums. Or field trips. Or going outside, really. Still, that trip had been good for something, it was certainly coming in handy now.

It was just what they'd hoped for, enough people around that no one would try to make a scene or a kidnapping attempt, enough activity that it would be hard for anyone to accidentally overhear much of any conversation. Except, presumably, Ace. He could probably hear everything. He probably saw everything that was going on around her ten times better that she could. She hoped so anyway, it just seemed to come so naturally to him, so much that he'd stopped noticing all the times he would say something, or do something without even thinking about it that betrayed training he couldn't remember and knowledge he shouldn't have. She was faking it well enough, anylizing the meeting place she'd picked just now, for example, thinking about what made a good place to meet someone you couldn't trust. But she was still just faking it. The phone conversation had been... an experience. On the one hand, it had worked out pretty well, on the other hand, the entire time she felt like walking along the edge of a clif, ready to fall at any moment. And this time she had body language and everything else to worry about. For a second she wondered how she looked, then laughed at herself for being concerned about looking nice for these people. She just hoped she looked tough. And if she didn't, the threat of Ace hanging over them was all the toughness she needed. She might not have confidence in herself, but her belief in Ace was unshakable. Worst comes to worst, she thought, we'll just have to run again. And on and on and back and forth. These were her thoughts as she watched the minutes and seconds tick by til their meeting time.

As the time approached, she noticed a stocky middle-aged man making his way deliberately along the sidewalk from the other side of the hall. If the goons she'd met so far had reminded her of 1920s gangsters, this guy looked the part of an Film Noir detective. He had a light brown suit with supenders and a matching fedora over smoldering red hair that matched his bushy moustache, which was the most striking part of his face even at a distance. He was carrying a large briefcase and walking slowly as if he was in no hurry, but he reached her at the flagpole at what Portia figured to be exactly one hour since the phone call. These guys were good at some things, anyway. As soon as he spoke, she recognized the voice as the guy she'd talked to on the phone.

"Miss Knoll," he greeted her, removing his hat. It was a touch of old-school chivalry that added to the sense that this guy had stepped out of a different time. It was a little disarming. "I don't believe I introduced myself, you were so direct on the phone. The name's Rex." Luckily Portia stayed composed enough not to shake his hand, and he soon lowered it with a resigned smile. She was trying to keep her face in an expression of expectant disinterest, but her mind had gone totally blank. She just hoped that the look said ‘is that the best you can do?’ It was amazing how much people would talk just to fill silences.

"Alright, so you still don't know enough to trust me, right? How about I tell you why you're here, and how you got mixed up in all this. I bet you already know some, but let me fill in some details, eh? About two years ago, Laura Noland told me she was onto something big. Conspiracies, off-the-books deals, government complicity, the whole bit. Said this could be the story of her career. I told her to be careful. That was the last time I talked to her.

"For months I didn't see her stories in the paper anymore, figured she must have just been working on this big one. After a while, I got a little concerned, so I tried to look her up. No dice. Got a little suspicious and hired some PI's to figure out what's up. Months go by, and they still got nothing. You want something done right, you gotta do it yourself, eh? So I bought them, and thier whole organization. Or rather I bought the identity of the owner, who's now enjoying his retirement in the Cayman Islands; and as far as everyone else knows, I work at the office across the street.

"Anyway, when I took over I made it clear that I expected a higher quality of work, which they apparently interpreted as 'results, even if we have to make them up.' Before I'd even had a chance to look over thier files, they'd pulled your name out of somewhere and had a field day threatening you and turing over your apparment. By the time I found out about that, they already had holes in thier knee caps, and we had to scramble the entire New York opperation. These clowns are used to dealing with cheating wives, corporate espionage, that kind of thing. But this goes deeper. Laura really must have been onto something, eh?" The look her gave her was more to make sure she was following along rather than asking for her input. The question was rhetorical.

"Anyway, I'm getting to the point. Most of these goons have spent too long thinking they know how to swim because they've only ever been in the shallow end of the pool. Now that we're in the deep end, I've learned that there are very few people I can trust to stay afloat, let alone do a job right. You were being flippant, but when you said on the phone that I ought to 'hire you instead of trying to break your nose', you were right on the money. You are a rare breed, Miss Knoll," he said, looking for the first time directly at Ace. When Portia turned to look, she was surpized to see him talking with a blonde woman she didn't recognize. "along with Miss Calahaghn and our mutual friend here." Seeing Portia's look of concern, he added "Miss Calahaghn was a communications agent at the New York office. Your friend was kind enough to leave her knee caps intact, for which she is profoundly greatful. She is one of the primary reasons I considered both of you trustworthy enough to allow this meeting to take place."
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:31 am

"Let me make you an offer. I want to know what happened to Laura, and I will find and break whoever is responsible. If you help me, you can name your price." He indicated the briefcase he had brought with him, "This case contains the two laptop computers that were taken from your apartment. They haven't been touched." Portia looked askance and slightly disapointed, to which the man said, "You must give them some credit, Miss Knoll. They knew better than to mess with the computer of a professional hacker." He continued, "It also contains cash equivalent to the current balance of your bank account. Someone else besides November Yankee has it under survailance, you've been doubly right to avoid accessing it." He nudged the case towards her with his foot. "Take this as a gesture of trust, no strings attatched, whether you accept my offer or not."

"I hope you don't doubt my sincerity, Miss Knoll. At the very least, you cannot doubt my motivations. You haven't needed to ask why I'm so interested in Laura, I imagine I don't even need to tell you my last name. I think it's the hair that gives me away." He ran his hands through his red hair, which Portia could see now had hints of gray. Rex Noland looked her directly in eye. "So, the question is, can you trust me?"

Portia was taken aback. It had crossed her mind that the Laura-Philadelphia connection might mean that she had family here, but somehow she haddn't considered the possibility... He was giving them a lot of credit for figuring things out where they had just been lucky. It couldn't hold up forever, but for now they just needed to push this for all it was worth.

Rather than answering his question, she looked over at Ace and said flatly, "We'll need to talk. Excuse me." Rex nodded, and motioned for Avery to join him. As they crossed paths, Portia tried to decypher her expression. It was something along the lines of childlike awe, and Portia didn't know what to think of it. She took another look back at Rex, who was now talking to Avery with his back to them, making a show of not paying attention to thier conversation. This was still not a secure place for a private conversation, so instead of saying anything she gave Ace a questioning look and left it it up to him.

********************

It was as if this guy wanted to announce his presence as he aprroached. I didn't have to be listening for radios or more urgent foosteps to find the man meeting us; his clothing alone set him apart. Amid a sea of t-shirts and jeans, there was this man, clad in a suit that jumped straight out of the Godfather--fedora and all. Not only that, but he knew how to carry himself. Strange as it seemed (to me, anyhow), I had an innate sense of where people stood on the 'corporate ladder', so to speak. That was undoubtely due to all the time I spent with Norman--an incredible business man--and all of his associates. It also wasn't too hard to spot his lackey, a man who had arrived independently of our man in question, because he seemed to be one of the few patrons beside a passing officer that was packing some kind of weapon under his jacket and frankly, he seemed about as interested in the tourism as i was in my newspaper. There was no doubt in my mind that, nearby, there were more.
I watched Portia handle the introduction with the now named man called Rex with an icy stare; quietly, I was proud of her. Somehow, though, the name Rex struck a chord in the dark and hazy recesses of my mind, like the long-forgotten memory of the first listen-through of an old song. It was right there...what was it? I heard it somwhere...I heard it...
My memory failed me. This was the story of my life the past several days, of course, but it never ceased to frustrate me when I really needed it, when I tried very hard to remember. It was a bit like straining my eyes to read the back label of a soda can in a pitch-black room (and I do mean really black; I apparently had exceptional night vision thanks to Norman.) Frustrated though I was, I pushed the tantalizing memory away to deal with later--right now I had business to deal with.
Rex expressed his legitimate (and it did seem legitimate) regret for the way things were handled and I considered that to be his formal apology. While it was unhelpful, it was kind of refreshing to have a nice apology rather than a patronizing one.
The plain-clothes-lackey glanced over--to any outsider he'd be only expressing a mild interest, but I knew better. A small child somewhere to the right of me squealed for another cookie, someone standing in front of the building kept fiddling with her cheap digital camera as it, every time it was flicked on, beeped with an annoying three-part chime.
Focus, Ace.
Back to Portia. Back to Rex, to his voice, his words and the cadence at which he spoke them.

Footsteps from behind me stole my attention for just a moment and I nearly blocked them out, dismissed them as white noise like the rest of the racket around me, but then they kept coming closer. To come close was one thing--many people passed by me--but this particular sound, that rhythmic clacking of delicate heels, was much more...direct. Still, the distance closed in; my fists tightened into white balls, ready to be hurled at an approaching foe. Fifteen feet. Twelve. Ten. Eight. Six. I whirled around, one fist at the ready and the other hand poised to make a move for my pistol. The figure was undoubtedly coming for me--she was looking right at me. It was the face that I saw that gave me pause. Blonde hair, those blue eyes...
My heart's pounding, mind whirling. Gun in hand, I force my way into an office, come face to face with a female, take a bottle to the face, put my hands around her warm neck....
Oh s---.
Avery.
For what felt like five minutes I stared up at her through my borrowed shades, mouth agape and heart sunk so low that I swear it was in my lap. No words touched my lips; No words came to mind, even. And as I recalled that terrifying moment between the two of us the day before at least ten times over, she spoke first.

"I know you're not a killer. You could have killed everyone in that office, but you shot to disable, every time, and you didn't do anything to me, even when I hit you in the face with my bottle. You just came to rescue your friend." She looked over at Portia, then back to Ace with sudden urgency. "I didn't know they were doing that to her! I didn't. If I'd known-- I never woulda--" words failed her.

Her honesty was painful. I wanted to immediately apologize for everything I'd done to her, tell her it scared the piss out of me too, tell her I wish it was different. James Bond wouldn't have it, not at all. I had to remain stoic and keep that strong, kind of frightening aura for the sake of future business with these people.
"I believe you. If there's anything I know, it's a lie, and I don't see one here." I hoped that would at least put her at ease to some degree, even if it was just to wipe that look away from her eyes. Somehow, that bruise on my face seemed to throb more than it had five seconds ago. I glanced over at Portia and Rex--all seemed to be going well, so I continued.

While I wanted to say something apologetic, my training prompted me to say something along the lines of, "let's hope I don't have to do something like that again, hm?"
Oops. I really did mean for that to be more...amiable? More like I actually meant it. I tried to at least not frown so much as I said it.
"I'll be honest, I'm wondering why you're here. I can tell by the fact that you aren't carrying your weapon direct on your person and the way you carry yourself that you're not a field agent....and frankly I wonder why you'd want to see my face ever again after what happened. So what do you want?" I asked in honest curiosity.

"You. You didn't hurt me, even though you could have." She glanced at Rex again. "I told him that. After you left, I was the one who had to report to headquarters. I was scared that no one would believe me, but he did. He said he was impressed, and when we scrambled the office, he ordered me here along with the case files. He doesn't trust a lot of people, but he knows you're not whatever they thought you were. You can trust him." Her look was almost pleading. "We can help you."
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:33 am

An almost childlike longing for peace, security, and comfort drew me to Avery's words like a bee to sweet nectar. You can trust him. We can help you. My mind seemed to reach for those words, fingers scrabbling for them and each time finding nothing but bitter air. Yes, she meant what she said, and yes, I could possibly concieve of Rex actually helping us and turning us into allies. That is, as long as we kept what I'd done a secret. If Rex knew, If he found out...this entire tango we were dancing would fall to pieces, and quickly we'd be doing another kind of dance. While i hated to admit it to myself, my training went too deep; I knew from deep within my core that if Rex ever made a move against Portia or I with the intent to kill us, I would respond. I, the trained bodyguard of sorts with the instinct of a guard-dog and the skills of Jason Bourne, would do whatever it took to bring his efforts to a halt. Anything. And that 'anything' sort of scared me, because while I knew that, in a situation like that, it would be inevitable, I still loathed that I could do it, have done it, and could do it with such fluid skill.

For a long time, I gave no response. My eyes were fixed on Portia and Rex as he offered some money and her laptops as a gesture of good-will, and my attention loosely focused on the words spoken between them. Finally I turned my green gaze to Avery, though it took a moment for me to formulate the right words. Initially, I wanted to say, 'there is no help for me...not that you can give me.' but that, I decided, would be just a bit too transparent.
"And what do you suppose we need help with?" Sure, they knew someone else was watching them, they had to. Rex said himself that he was aware that someone was keeping tabs on Portia's bank account. But they had no idea what they were getting into. Even Laura's research couldn't have connected me to Norman, because Norman kept Dominic and I a secret. I, for one, was legally dead and Dominic had been phazed out of paperwork for years. Though he once had a legitimate trail to follow that would connect him to Norman, it had a bulletproof, legal front. Besides, even if Laura was able to deduce that I was somehow connected to a man named Norman Caldwell, the parts of his business that concerned me were hidden so well, not even his own employees knew it existed. There were too many holes. These people couldn't viably know what they were getting into.

"True, you people aren't my only problem, but as far as I'm concerned, it's not something you want to be involved in. In fact, don't. Actively don't. My affairs are not for you and Rex to go tromping about in like some unexplored cave. You don't know what might be lurking at the back of said cave..." I warned, trying not to come off as too abrasive. "But I'll trust him, and you, as far as my instinct will let me. That's not far, but it's--"
My head swiveled to face Rex and Portia, his words triggering the remains of the memory that had been plaguing me before. "I imagine I don't even need to tell you my last name. I think it's the hair that gives me away."
And then it came to me. Somewhere in my mind there was a remnant of a memory of looking at a manilla folder handed to me by Norman, who watched me scan through the masses of papers and pictures of a beautiful woman with vibrant red curls. The words on the pages were all a blur to me, still, save three.
FATHER: REX NOLAND.
This man, this man standing before me in that very moment....was the father of the woman I-- My lips parted slightly to accommodate my sudden need for extra oxygen. I had to compose myself, I had to continue on this conversation like nothing happened, to stay strong, to remember my training.
So much blood...
My stomach twisted and churned--thank goodness I'd had time to digest breakfast. "Uh," i tried my voice, but that was all I could manage at that moment. "Uh, i-it's a...it's a start," i managed to continue. "B-but I want some kind of immunity. From you, Rex...I....I want to know that you and your company won't be a problem for us anymore." I couldn't look at Avery, couldn't look at Portia and Rex, even. I had to lock my gaze emptily on passerbys and pretend that i was doing it on purpose. No wonder he wanted answers. No wonder that firm was under so much pressure. S---, I'd killed his daughter! And here he was, coming to me to seek answers. While he deserved to know, telling him would dissolve any and all leverage we had, and what's more, It'd get me thrown in jail. But wouldn't I want to know if somoene in my family was dead? Granted, I had no family that I could recall, but Dominic was (and i do mean was) close enough. I would want to know, just for closure's sake.
Footsteps. Familiar footsteps coming my way brought my attention back to Portia and Rex, who seemed to have finished their discussion, because she approached me just as Avery was beckoned back to her boss's side.

Portia flashed me a look, this sort of lost expression that wondered where the end of this twisted tunnel would lead. I took off my sunglasses to give her one back, one that was more fearful and confused than anything else. "I can't believe he's....I...." I couldnt' go too far--they might be listening in. "Their intentions don't seem to be...too grim. I mean, I'm not gonna spill my life secrets to any of them but...now that i understand why he's doing this...well he seems a little less ominous. just a little. I think...it'd be at least worth asking what he wants. What do you think?"

"What he wants?" Portia was still processing what had just happened. "Wants to hire us, it sounds like. Hire me at lesat, I assume the offer applied to you. I think he's being upfront with us, it sounds like we could just help as much as we feel like and cut out whenever we want. If you think we can trust him."

"I would go so far to say I'd give them some measure of trust. Some. But we'd have to make it clear that we aren't employees, we're doing them a favor and we can end that when we like, for whatever reason. As long as that's clear....well...what else are we gonna do? You know?"

"Right." Although she didn't want to say it out loud, this was a really good deal. Better then they could have hoped for. But they didn't need to know that. "So if we accept, what do we do now? Just hop in thier car and go home with them, just like that?"

My eyes widened. "S---, no! But we aren't gonna let him know that. Besides, we need a new vehicle anyway....If he suggests we join them at the office, then we go and get the bike and use it just long enough until we can find somewhere to get another bike. As much as i love the sporty bikes, we're realistically gonna want something more comfortable for long distances, because frankly, that's what we do. But we'll get to that. Or...will we? Come to think of it, It's her bike," I said, gesturing loosely to the blonde with Rex. "I bet if we asked, we could get a bike out of the deal if we gave hers back. She probably would like it...though I'm certain that's the last thing on her mind... Whatever, we'll worry aobut that later. Just...for now, we'll just have to meet them there. Make it seem like we simply have business to accomplish first, you know? I'd rather they not start compiling a file on me of all my secrets."

"Ok." Breathe. "Ok. Let's make them a deal. In exchange for our help, they promise to leave us alone in the investigation, let us back out whenever we want, and get us a new bike. Do we want to ask for room and board or do we not want them to know where we live?"

"Honestly, room and board will be nice and I have the feeling it'd be harder to track with them ratehr than in a hotel somewhere. Let's ask for that. We both could use it. By the way, nicely done out there. You held your own, that's an accomplishment considering our situation."

"Yeah. Thanks. As long as all I have to do to hold my own is look serious and not talk, we'll be good." She turned to walk back towards Rex and added "So much for not talking. Here goes." I gave her a reassuring nod that wouldn't read as anything much to anyone watching, but up close and context considered, it would at least convey the message to Portia. We rejoined Rex and Avery by the flagpole. Rex looked calmly expectant, Avery still had that look on her face, both of them waited for Portia to speak.

"Alright. We'll need a place to stay, and some way to eat, and we'll need a new bike, since we'll be giving Avery's back. And anything else we might need later. If you guys don't try to get anything out of us that we don't want to give you, then we have a deal.”

Rex looked at her for a long moment, not like he was weighing her offer, more like he was trying to read her. Whatever he saw he seemed to be happy with it, because he gave a little smile and said, "Very good, Miss Knoll. If you don’t mind, I’d like to start as soon as possible. I can take you myself,” he gestured to a car that had just pulled up and was idling on the curve, “or you can meet us there.” He handed her a business card for Avery Callahagn, identifying her as a ‘security specialist’ for ‘Victory Security’. Rex explained, “The Philadelphia branch has a rent-a-cop company as a front. You can meet us there, or if you’re feeling really secretive, there’s a passage from the offices across the street.”

Portia was actually starting to feel somewhat excited about the possibility of progress, but she wasn’t going to let Rex have his way quite so easily. “We’ll get there ourselves. But we eat before we get down to business.”

“Fine. I’m in the mood for Chinese myself. Do you mind take-out?”

Portia glanced at Ace who seemed to concur, so she said, “Sounds fine. We’ll meet you there in half an hour. Give me my stuff then, I don’t feel like carrying the briefcase on the bike.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say, so she gave a nod and turned to go.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” said Rex. “See you in half an hour.”

********************

We turned and left, walking down the street towards our parked bike. “I would have never expected that,” I said, ‘that’ meaning the whole ordeal and how smoothly it went. In the last few days, I was much more used to things exploding in our faces, leading to fights, forcing us to run and leave whatever sanctuary found and scraped up to go and search for some other form of shelter. This time, we were being bought Chinese. Even if this guy was a total bas----, I’d take the one chance to have a little hot grub, maybe a nice place to sleep, and the vague hope that maybe these people were on our side. One could hope, right?

“I still can’t believe he….Laura….I…geez, and then seeing Avery, she scared the piss you of me, you know? Because last time I saw her I…” I shuddered, once again feeling the presence of the throbbing bruise on my cheek like a brand marking me for my sin.

“I didn’t even think about that! We’re going to have to be really carefull what we tell him. But if it keeps going how it went just now, we’ll be learning a lot more from him then he learns from us.”
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:36 am

"My advice to you…when it comes to…that, maintain that you are completely and totally uninvolved and let me do the speaking. An inconsistent story is a risk we face if we both give information, and that doesn't sound like a great plan, honestly. Still, I don't know what to do about all that. Get there later I suppose. From this point on…we just have to keep our heads on a swivel—I mean, I’ll probably do that instinctually anyway, but you should too. Not that you aren’t, but…just be extra careful. For all we know, we’re walking into the lion’s den. I have no idea what’s going to happen…but I know that they’re not our biggest problem. That’s all I know. Imagine if they could really help us though…what an ally!” I smiled at the thought, trying not to let it get to my head. “Right now, I just want some Chinese,” I said, putting my helmet on and climbing onto the front of the bike.

“Mmm. Chinese does sound good. Are we going to drive around for a while to make them think we’ve got things to do?” She was suddenly very tired, like all the tension she’d been holding in her body had drained away, and left her almost without the strength to stand. “Whatever. You’re driving. I’m just along for the ride.” She hopped on the bike behind him and rested her head on his back.

"No…honestly I'm not gonna worry about it. He never asked about it, so i figure it doesn't matter right now. I just want food and to get this dealt with." I took a look at the address on the card and checked the map on my phone for directions. As I felt Portia's head on my back, it was like an unspoken signal that she was ready to leave, so i revved up the bike and continued down the street.

Here goes.

********************

Portia wasn't paying any attention to where they were going. She kept her eyes closed and her head against Ace's back. She would be composed again when she had to be, when they got there. Now, though, she could be as relaxed as she wanted. The 'condecending and disinterested' act she had kept up with Rex was hard to maintain, and it tired her out, even if it was exhilerating when she pulled it off. Hopefully she would get better with practice and not be worn down by the strain. They had to keep it up for as long as they were working with these people, however long that turned out to be. For now, it was just tonight they needed to think about. There would be time to worry about tomorrow when it came. But Portia wasn't even worried about tonight. All that was in her head was the rumble of the engine beneath them and the feeling of her helmet pressed against Ace's solid form in front of her.

She didn't know how long they drove; when she opened her eyes they were still somewhere that looked like downtown. They were stopped in front of an imposing glass and concrete structure, mostly nondescript except for the subtle logo in gold over the entrance. It was the same logo as the business card Rex had given them: the letter V circled by a leafy wreath. Victory Security. This was it. Portia took a deep breath to steel herself and got off the bike.

The building loomed in the gathering darkness, but now that she was back on her feet and in business mode, she refused to be intimidated. They walked slowly up to the dark glass doors, which turned out to be open. They had good reason to believe that the days of getting kidnapped and manhandled by these guys were over, but that was no reason not to be cautious. She let Ace go in first. Ace seemed to stiffen the moment he passed through the doors, like some invisible force-field turned him into a super-trained agent and not Ace Matheson anymore. Eyes focused and attentive, the dark haired man took note of every door, hallway, security measure, fire alarm, staircase and elevator. He'd avoid elevators like the plague, but if it came down to survival, he'd do anything.

Avery was the only one waiting for them in the entrance area, which reminded Portia of a fancy restaurant, with dark ambiance and sparse but expensive-looking furnishings. The ambiance didn't help Portia's opinion of the place; she was a Burger King person. She was also just realizing how hungry she was. As she came out from behind what looked like a reception desk to greet them, Avery reminded Portia of a little dog her Aunt used to have, who would stare at the door for hours, just waiting for Elizabeth to get home. Portia tried to shake off the association. Avery seemed like a nice enough person, even if she did work with some creeps. Now she was approaching Ace with that same look of reverence Portia had seen earlier, like she was scared to speak in his presence, and Portia couldn’t blame her. Ace was scary when you didn’t know he was on your side, and even when he was… well, he still managed to surprise Portia, sometimes. But now Avery was looking at Portia, with that same look of speechless awe. Elizabeth’s dog would definitely never have done that. She needed more time before she had a clear impression of this woman. Give her the benefit of the doubt for now.

Avery cleared her throat quietly, and finding her voice finally said, “We’re upstairs in his office. This way.”

Ace followed Avery's sight lines towards a shiny elevator and a wave of panic jumped through him like a volt of electricity. Not elevators! There were few things as bad as those wretched moving boxes of death, in his mind, save for a compact european 2-door sedan. Ace cleared his throat subtly and, using his body to shield the gesture, gripped Portia's wrist desperately, though his face was stone-cold and calm.

Portia had been totally focused on maintaining her own composure, but she was quickly pulled out of her focus by Ace's unspoken signal. Something about the elevator. Claustrophobia. Right. "We'll take the stairs," she said simply, hoping that it would sound like they were yanking her chain by not accepting anything they were offered at face value.

Avery looked slightly confused, but seemed unwilling to question it. A few doors and a set of stairs later, they were in an upper hallway less decorated to impress visitors and more like the office in New York. Rex’s office was at the end of the hall. It was decorated like the lobby, with a big leather chair behind a huge wooden desk. The walls were all bookshelves and art. The effect was thrown off by a huge folding-table in the middle of the room, that was strewn with papers and files, and on the near end, a number of Chinese take-out boxes. Leather office chairs were pulled up around them, Rex was sitting in one of them, his shirt sleves rolled up to his elbows, and his mouth full of Chow Mein. Swallowing it down, he stood up and said, “I didn’t know what you’d like, so I ordered everything I like, and I hope you can find something for yourselves. Please,” he said, sitting, “have a seat.”

Ace was starving. He caught the scent of the food from all the way down the hall and it made his stomach turn in longing for it. Already he could feel it rumble as he stepped through the door, finding that Rex had long since forsaken pristine order in his office for the sake of a cacauphony of papers and the ordered food. He wanted to descend upon it like a vulture, but that would break his facade. No, he needed to be composed and businesslike. Slowly and with controlled movements, Ace reached out and grabbed one of the square, white boxes and a set of chopsticks—he didn’t even care what he grabbed. Frankly, and to his dismay, he couldn’t accurately remember whether or not he had any preference between the varieties of dishes. He knew what they were and could guess what they might taste like, but their true flavor and his opinions of them were beyond his recollection. It ended up being almond chicken in a thick, creamy sauce that he grabbed, but as he unwrapped the chopsticks, he realized that he didn’t remember how to use them, either. He stared at them for several long seconds before smoothly placing them back down on the table and opting for a fork. At first, he ate in silence, reveling in the flavor of good, real, hot food that wasn’t a corn-dog or slathered in grease, then he, clearing his mouth, finally spoke. It was the first word he’d spoken to Rex.
“So. Lets begin by acknowledging the fact that any and all attempts at foul play will be responded to in kind. I have little patience for stupid actions, Rex. I trust I don’t need to remind you of what happened in New York?” Ace’s head tilted slightly upward; a subtle, ‘is that clear?’. His eyes focused on Rex’s for a second or two before he returned to the little box of heaven in his hands. Goodness, he missed real food. And this, though it brought back no particular memories, was delightfully good; He’d be pounding it down twice as fast if he wasn’t in some kind of business deal. His training kept him from falling into an uncivilized state of desperation better than he ever imagined something like that ever could. For a moment he wondered, what exactly did Norman (and Ritchie, for that matter) do to him? How on earth could instinct and training override conscious thought? Someday, Ace would find out. Someday, he’d understand what was done to him.
Someday, he’d be free.

Rex was talking. "No, you don't have to remind me of what happened in New York. Bear in mind that as far as I'm concerned, those were not 'my' people. I may own this company on paper, but the only people I can trust to do a decent job are sitting in this room, with a few exceptions. With any luck I may find more, inside this organization or not, but for now we're a wee lot."

“Not your people, but your responsibility nonetheless. Do a better job of keeping your dogs on a leash, Rex."

Rex seemed more amused than hurt. "I've only owned the company a week, but I take your point. I did say it wouldn't happen again."
"I don't care how long you've owned it, that doesn't matter. You have a job to do, and frankly, I have little respect for those who can't do it well enough. He--, if I hadn't have shown up and shot up the place, you may not have such an asset as us to tap into. But that's behind us now, isn't it? Just understand that, in the future, I will hold you personally responsible."
Rex's smile tightened. "It won't happen again," he said flatly, giving Ace a searching stare. "You watch yourself, kid. I may be new to this game, but it's not the first time I've had to pick up a new business from scratch. It turns out I'm not as dumb as I look. I don't lose. Anything. Especially not my daughter." He gave Ace a penetrating look. "You can stay and help me, or you can walk out that door and take your disrespect with you. But if you stand between me and mine, I will break you or die trying."
If there was one thing Ace was taught to do, it was lie with his face. Even though the mention of the word 'daughter' sent his stomach for a loop, he held his face steady, though that was about all he had going for him--whatever emotion he had in his facial expression was gone and replaced with one that was stony and distanced, just like he was trained. "Forgive me for being a little distrusting of your abilities, Rex, but understand our circumstances. Your track record, as much as you vow to redeem it from here on out, is far from stellar and I'll be real transparent with you, here, I'm just not in a place where I can trust the first man who offers me a seat at his table."
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:39 am

"Even if the table has Chinese food on it?" Rex's smile was back.

Ace didn't yet crack a smile, but his gaze softened just a little. "Even if it has Chinese," he confirmed. A part of him wished he could explain exactly where he was coming from so that this man would understand--really understand. But he couldn't. Even if things went all fine and well, Ace knew that to disclose that information would only bring more chaos.
"Now, you obviously didn't want to hire us to take phonecalls and push papers around, so what do you want?"

"I’ll tell you what I have, and you tell me what I’m missing." Rex swept the now-empty take-out boxes off the table into the trashcan, and held it out for the rest of them. Ace was done with his first box and had then proceeded to consume his second, Portia had quietly finished two boxes by herself, and Avery's went in half-eaten. She continued to stare at Ace as Rex continued.

“The last time I talked to Laura was about two years ago. We didn’t really talk much after she moved out. She wanted to change the world; I’ve always taken the world as it is, figured out the rules, and used them to my own advantage. The house always wins, so you if you want to win, you’ve got to own the house. My first business was running horse races; I’ve never placed a bet in my life. Anyway, Laura went out and joined the Peace Corps or something as soon as she was out of high school; we only talked a few times after that. Not that I didn’t care about her, but she had her life and I had mine. That’s probably why I’m still around, eh? Not that I’m easy to find even if someone was looking for me.

“Anyway, she called to tell me about a story she’d stumbled onto; something deep, conspiracy and all that, no details. All I could tell her was be careful, and she was. The last time we can definitively say where she was, she was on a plane from London to New York under a fake name, over a year ago. It took them months to figure out it was her, I could have told them in five minutes. She just used her grandma’s name, Sybil Martin. She gets off that plane and that’s where they lost track of her.” Ace, if it weren't for his steeled facial features, might have cringed. He knew exactly what happened to Laura that night and he knew exactly why they lost track of her. He made sure they would. He spent an hour, at least, making sure things were in perfect order. Emphasis on the perfect. He gestured to the stacks of papers. "Most of it's useless. Once they hit a few blocks, they went off on tangents to keep themselves busy. That's how we got your picture. They wen't back through security tapes at the newspaper and individually ID'd every person who so much walked in front of it. And that was thier best idea. You got flagged because they couldn't ID you, by the way. I'm going to call you 'kid' until you feel like telling me your name. I assume you have your reasons for not telling me."

“So, she was onto something big. Big enough that she disappeared without a trace pursuing it.“ Rex seemed almost lost in thought. He looked from Ace, to Portia and back to Ace. “So now you know everything that I know.” There was a long pause as he continued to stare at the table. “I don’t know what you know, but anything you can tell me will get us farther than this.”

"That's a bit too vague. Specifically, what do you want to know?" Ace asked, not yet ready to just spill out all the information he had. He still wasn't sure what, of his broken knowledge, he would disclose to this man. After all, he still had his own affairs to deal with.
"Something you should note--something important--about me...Some two and a half weeks ago or so, I was in an accident. To be frank, I don't remember many details...Even my own name was a recent discovery. So...I'll do what I can to fill you in, but understand that my memory is spotty."

"Is that so... You should get that looked at. I know -- and I hope you remember-- that you were involved in all of this somehow, and even though she wasn't to start with, she is now. I figure if you're coming to me, you're probably in as much trouble as Laura, maybe more. Something big is out there that's after you, and would be after me too if it knew I was here, and on top of that you don't know if you can trust me. So I can understand your reluctance to tell me anything important, but recognize that whatever you're hoping to acomplish here, I'm probably the best chance you have of getting anything done. That's why you're here, isn't it? And I neither of us can get what we want if we don't know what we're up against, eh? What was she on to; Who's behind it; What exactly they're doing that's worth covering up; How high up this thing goes; Everything.

"But if you're not ready to let that cat out of the bag just yet, then how's this for a specific question: where is Laura? Maybe we can start from what happened, and then move on to why. We've all had our guesses, but tell me straight: Is my daughter alive or dead?"

"Legitimately, I probably ought to see someone about it...there...there's a chance I may have hit my head. Which...I know that's a strange thing to say since i can't remember anything, i mean, of course i hit my head, right? Trust me, it's a little more complicated than that. But anyway, I wonder if I have some kind of..permanent damage up there. I haven't had the chance to get help and--well, alright, if we're going for the honesty policy, here, I, quite simply can't just walk into a clinic somewhere and get checked, for a multitude of reasons. That's for later." Ace finished his second box of Chinese and tossed it in the trashcan.
"Secondly, yes, i'll admit, i have a part to play in all this, the details of which will come in time as I'm ready to bring them to the table, for reasons you'll understand later. I will also admit that you are by far the least of my troubles. The challenges I face--we face, are large enough that I seriously wonder if you even can help us, and I don't mean that as any form of disrespect--i'm being serious. Again, we'll get to that later. But let's put it this way, the more I feel I can trust you, the more information you'll get."
There was a long pause there as Ace practically actively avoided the answer to the last question. He dreaded giving him this information, both for the reasons that it was bad news and that he was afraid he'd get drilled for questions as to how he knew, but at the same time, Ace had an appreciation for recieving straight, hard answers to a tough question. Ritchie did him that favor...Rex deserved the same courtesy, now.
"I'm sorry, Rex," Ace told him in earnest with the most genuine expression he had thus far. "She's dead. The night she disappeared was the night she died. And, despite my broken memory, I know that what she was pursuing was massive. Bigger than I think you understand..." Ace trailed off for a moment, letting his eyes drift before he fixed them back on Rex again.
"What else would you like to know? Specifically, I mean. I feel more comfortable answering more focused questions rather than, 'tell me what you know'."

Rex stared at the table for a moment, then out the window at the far end of the room. "Alright," he said. "Not that it surprises me, but it's good to know. Thank you." Finally drew his eyes away from the window. "So, focused questions. What exactly was it Laura was investigating?"

Ace gave his question long, hard thought, as if he was debating something silently to himself. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it again, taking another few moments of thought before he looked back to Rex. "Understand that what I'm about to tell you is highly dangerous information. There's a reason Laura disappeared without a trace, and know that by hearing this information, you face the same danger."
"Any more danger than I'm already in for having the last name 'Noland' and being curious?" Rex gave an understanding chuckle. "Fine. Bring it on."
Another pause, then, "Laura was investigating a...death. It started when she found a young Floridian man named Ace Matheson after he'd crashed his motorcycle. She called an ambulance, and he later died. Her editor, when he heard about this, asked her to write a quick story on it. But the circumstances and the events following the accident were...suspicious. Enough that she had good reason to believe the man she found on the road that day was never actually dead, despite what all the records said. She started to dig and was certianly on to something...though...I can honestly say I don't know how far she got. I just know she got far enough that someone got too uncomfortable."

"But what happened to her research? If she was being careful, I'm sure she wouldn't have told many people, if she told anyone at all. But she must have been keeping what she found somewhere."
"I don't entirely know what happened, " Ace admitted--mostly, it was the truth. "But let me pose an idea, here. If you were running some kind of secret....i dont know, operation? Deal? Something? You'd want to keep it quiet, obviously. You'd also want to know when people were looking into your business, wouldn't you? You would have set up ways to monitor your assets, your connections, your information."
"Watch the comparisons, kid. I'm not in the habit of killing people just for getting in my way. But I see your point. Keep going."
"Speaking hypothetically, of course. As far as I'm concerned, if these people have the power to make her disappear without a trace in a single night, they've got more than enough power and resources to know when someone goes digging into their affairs. As for where this research went...If I had to guess, I'd say the people responsible for her death made sure to grab what they could and see to it that it never saw the light of day again."
Once again, Ace hesitated to go on, but something seemed to be burning on his mind, though he feared to verbalize it. Ace remembered vaguely how long it took him to sweep the office for Laura's work while Dominic dealt with her house; he'd guess about an hour on that element of the job alone, not counting cleanup and the actual deed itself. As far as he could recall, though, he never scanned the rest of the office building--just her personal space. What if they found other pieces? What if they held information that could help him? Or, alternately, what if they found information that would leave Ace with no other option than to come clean about Norman and about what he'd done?
"I wonder though..." he said, finally deciding it was worth looking into. "There's a possibility that there could be pieces floating around the office. I mean, what are the chances that whoever took the information went through every single page in that building? What if she gave a folder to her editor? I don't know, just an..." Ace trailed off, though 'stopped abruptly' might have been a better description. For two awkwardly long seconds, not a single muscle in his body moved an inch, then, blinking, he continued speaking as though the pause never even happened. "...idea, if you have the time or desire to pursue it."
"I have both, and don't you dare question it." That wasn't a threat, just an affirmation. "I know whatever happened, they did a thorough job covering thier tracks. Kept the boys in New York busy chasing thier tails for months, didn't they? I can't believe they'd leave anything obvious anything obvious, on the other hand, Laura knew better than to leave something important where just anyone could find it. But we don't have just anyone, do we?" Looking around the room, "we have her father, a co-worker and professional hacker, a security expert, and you, whoever you are."
"I have my own gifts and talents to bring to the table...I'm still discovering them, honestly, but I am useful."
"I believe it, kid. If the four of us can't find it, then either they got it all, or she didn't leave anything and we're back to square one. That's one way to get around your amnesia and the dangers of digging ourselves, eh? She's already done the digging for us. Unless there's any other details you want to fill me in on first. What these people want with a not-so-dead man, for example?"
"These people? Well, that's what Laura wanted to know. She must have found some kind of evidence that suggested he was still alive...records or some other form of paperwork...maybe he boarded a plane or...I don't know." In truth, he didn't know how she figured it all out, but there had to be something. I guess the best reason I can think of as to why someone would want the world to believe an individual is dead is it keeps them invisible. Not many people go looking for a dead man when strange things happen. If you asked me, I'd say whoever is responsible wants to do a lot of things under-the-table and likely illegal."
"Now we're in my territory, then. Can't say I've ever done anything illegal per se, but under-the-table is something I know. I told you my first business was horse racing, eh? My next was investing, in mining and oil first, then branching out to other areas. You be amazed how much of legitimate business goes on under the radar." He looked at Ace. "Before you say anything, kid, I realize that we're not just dealing with business as usual here, we're talking about something on a level that neither I, nor this organization that I find myself at the top of, has ever had to deal with before. But I know something about keeping secrets: once a secret's out, it's out for good; and the bigger the secret, the harder it is to contain." He walked around the table and started pulling out files and papers as he talked.

"Here's another direct question, kid. What do you want to come from all of this? Because I'll tell you what I want: I will follow this trail as deep as it goes, and when I find who's ultimately responsible for this, I will expose every last secret they have, bring their lives down around thier ears, and leave them rotting in prison with nothing to do but think about what they've done. I won't even feel bad if I don't get the chance to look them in the eye and ask if it was worth it, but," he said with obvious anticipation, "I wouldn't turn down the opportunity. Like I said, I don't lose. Now, what do you want?" He looked up from his papers, directly at Portia, "You, I imagine, would like your life back. If you can think of a better plan than mine to acomplish that, I'd be happy to hear it." He switched his gaze to Ace, "You... are a wild card. I still don't know where you play into this, and I can see you're not going to tell me, but I'd be interested to know: besides room, board, and a new bike, what are you getting out of this? Answer if you want," he said, turning back to his papers, "otherwise, while we're talking about secrets, I'm intrigued by the question of where Laura might have kept hers."
"Portia can't have her life back until those responsible for Laura's death are taken down. They want her too, but for slightly different reasons," Ace explained. Slightly, and only slightly. The only difference was that Portia knew a heck of a lot more than Ace guessed Laura ever did. "As much as I hate that she's involved, she is now, and that can't be helped. Now, as for what I want....you and I seem to have remarkably similar goals, here, Rex. More than I think you know. See, Laura and I have a connection," besides the fact that I killed her, he thought. "As it turns out, the same organization that tracked her down is the same one at my heels. The difference is, they explicitly want me alive. That's another story for another day. I guess, what I want from all this is my life back as well, because mine's been taken from me in more ways than you might think."

Ace wondered what that would look like and concluded that he would have some difficulty with the fact that he once was friends with these people. Things were different now, of course, but a relationship like the one he had with, say, Dominic could not easily be forgotten. When it came down to it, could he really stand and watch them crash and burn?

Ace paused, tapping a finger absently on the table next to him. "Rex, I don't doubt your enthusiasm and your drive to watch those responsible pay for their sins...but I doubt your perspective on the gravity of what you're wanting to do. You don't know what you're getting into--take it from me. In good time, i'll elaborate so that you will know what you're getting into, but for now, let me just leave you with that caution...." Ace drifted off as a thought entered his head; he paced around the room a few steps before finally taking a seat, as he'd been standng the whole time. "It's becoming more and more apparent that you and I, to accoplish our same goals, need eachother's help. I can't do this without your resources, and you can't do this without the skills Portia and I have to offer and the information I know," he said, thinking of Dominic. If Ace could sack a whole building, so could Dominic, and that seemed, even to Ace, like a formidable foe to stand against.

"More on that later, i think. Now, on the subject of Laura's secrets, I think her office building would be the best place to start, honestly, and I'd look in..." Ace paused, instinct overriding conscious thought. Some deep memory surface and he continued, "In the archives. They're labeled by date, and hers would at least have a year or a month, I'm sure. It's been a year--someone there undoubtedly found it and unwittingly stuffed it in the archives where the old stories belong." Why did he know this? "That's my suggestion for a jumping point, anyway."

Rex looked at Portia, "I'll defer to your judgement in that regard, Miss Knoll. If you were a file full of things that somebody didn't want to be found, where might you be?"
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:41 am

Portia had been holding back and letting Ace do the talking, partly because he knew more than she did, and partially because she was still conflicted about Rex. He definitely seemed sincere, and they were going to get farther with his help than they ever would without it, but something inside her didn't like him. The way he talked about Laura made it sound like he cared about her as a posession or a trophy rather than as a person. Maybe she was just being paranoid. A lifetime of experience with bad fathers would do that to you. At least he cares? She still didn't feel quite right about it, but she pushed her worries to the back of her mind and put her attention to the task at hand. Ace trusted Rex this far, so could she.

"It depends. If she was planning to publish something soon, any number of people could have gotten a copy; editors, fact-checkers, other journalists for input. Just from what I know, I don't think they wouldn't have let her get that close to publishing. Someone who got a draft of an article like that would definitely get suspicious if the writer disappeared. Unless Laura really trusted somebody there, I doubt she would have given it to anyone. If she was keeping a back-up copy of her research at the paper, I don't know where it would be. The archives are for stuff that actually got published, unless they've got storage space down there that I don't know about. There are places on the network she could have hidden something, but she wouldn't have had the technical expertise. Honestly, as a free-lancer, the only place in that building that was hers was a little office, and that was just temporary. Don't work for the paper for a few months and anything you left ends up in the dumpster. But we're assuming that anything incriminating her office was removed anyway, so we're looking for better hiding places. The paper is a good enough place to start, but none of us who want to keep a low profile can be seen anywhere near there, and we don't even know what we're looking for even if we got in. With my computers here, I could get into thier system easily enough, but the chances that Laura's got something hidden in there are slim."

Rex spoke without looking up. "I have someone who can look into it, someone better than the New York office, who no one with recognize; none of us have to set foot near the building. Where else? After she disappeared her landlord kept her stuff in the basement until the New York office claimed it on my behalf. We have it all here, but there's nothing much to go on, mostly just furniture and books. I'll take another look, though, there might be some clue that they've missed. Where else would there be to hide it though, it's not like she was kept a safe deposit box, and that would have been too obvious anyway."

Portia spoke up again. "I don't want to overthink this, I mean, Laura was creative, but she wasn't exactly the sneakiest person." She paused. "Then again, I would never have guessed she was working on something like this, maybe I'm not giving her enough credit."

"She could be devious when she wanted to be," Rex acknowledged with a smile.
"This is just a thought..." Ace said, scratching the dark, growing stubble on his chin; boy, he needed a good shave. Later, he thought. "There's always the possibility of looking in the most obvious places. Maybe she tucked a few papers in a book? Under a couch cushion? I don't know. I just assume that whoever took the information would have taken care of all the obvious hiding places--desks and the likes. Who the he-- thinks to crack open the Websters Dictionary for secret papers?"
"More likely to be something on the American Revolution, knowing Laura. I think that's where she got that devious streak. Living in Philadelphia you grow up knowing that the country was founded by the deviant and the subversive. Probably why those people are so successful here. Deviant I've got, but we Canadians never did figure out how to be subversive. She must have gotten that from her mother." Rex seemed to come back from his reverie, "So, might be worth another look through her things then, eh? I've got them in the other room..." Rex seemed to locate what he had been looking for in the papers, it was a print-out of a web page which he handed to Ace. "I kept copies of all Laura's articles, I'd almost forgot she was kicking around Florida before she moved up to New York."
Ace almost hesitated to take the article. Not that he didn't want to read it, but the fact that he didn't remember most or any of what this article would reveal about either him or his past made him uneasy. What if he didn't want to know? What if he would be disappointed at what he read? Or what if the article was completely useless?
Ace finally took the paper and read through it. According to the article, a young man at the age of 25 fell and crashed his motorcycle on a Floridian highway one afternoon. Interviews with a local man who knew him explained that the young man was a construction worker with Diamond Contractors. He would be missed by his friends and co-workers.
That man in the paper didn't even feel like the same man who stood in Rex's office, particularly the part about being missed by friends and people he knew. Ace didn't know anyone from Florida and the concept of him being missed by people he never really knew seemed entirely unreal.
Ace set the paper down. "Hm," was all he said. "Not very helpful. The guy had a pretty average job--construction. It's not like he had any special training. He wasn't an engineer, a soldier, an MMA fighter even. He was just normal."
Normal. Oh how Ace wished he could call himself that, now.

Rex took the article back. "Well, if that was where it started, she wouldn't have had anything to report on yet, eh?" He handed the article to Avery who had been hovering in the background with that same look on her face. "Look into this, discretely, only information that anyone could get. See if we can figure out what Laura was seeing in this. For the rest of us, I think maybe a look at Laura's things, and then we can talk about sleeping arrangements for the night. I for one have had a very exciting day." He motioned them to follow him to the hall.

"I have no preference where Portia and I stay tonight," Ace said, stepping into the hallway. "I don't know about you," he said to Portia. "But if we do stay in a commercial hotel nearby, I want someone else to make the reservation and check in. Portia and I can't be seen. As I've mentioned before, we're being watched and tracked like prison-escapees on the lam."

"Any number of stars you like, Philadelphia's not short on hotels. If you don't feel like going out, though, we have beds and such here, too. Sometimes people need to lay low, sometimes people work all night, things happen, and we're prepared. Miss Callahagn," he said, making the woman jump a little, "What kind of arrangements, do you think?"

"Uh..." Avery looked taken aback by the question, but there was a visible shift into 'work mode.' "Same room, separate beds. Sir." When Portia looked surprised, she quickly added, "You're too paranoid to be separated, especially here, and I'm not getting anything from your body language that would indicate... um, same bed." Avery and Portia looked at eachother for an awkward moment before turning back to business.

Rex smiled. "Acurate? She doesn't always exude confidence, but she knows what she's doing. Avery, can you arrange that, and get to work on that article? Thank you." They stopped a few doors down from Rex's office, while Avery proceeded down the hall and out the door they came through.

The room they entered was stark and barren, with a pile of furniture at one end, and a number of books, papers, and household items laid out on folding tables in the middle. "This is everything that was left in her appartment," said Rex. "It's been looked over, but they were just looking for the obvious."

To avery's credit, she did make a good assessment of their relationship and Ace could give her some respect for that. He watched as she left them, aware of the fact that she'd been watching mostly him through the majority of the conversation. To a degree, it bothered him. The idea of being watched weighed on his shoulders heavily and made him feel uneasy and pressured.
Move on, Ace.

Rex led them to a room filled with furniture and personal belongings of the woman he'd murdered. Ace felt a chill in his spine as he reached out and touched a lamp, a lamp that once belonged to Laura. She probably used it to read by at night or turned it on when she was out to make it appear like someone was home. And now here it was, lifeless, still, and stashed away in a plain room. Again, he shivered. Ace moved about the room slowly, pausing every once and a while to touch something or turn it over until he came to the bookcase. The dark haired man just stood in front of it and stared for a while like some revelation had come to him. He'd seen it before. Yes, through the front window, into the living room was this bookcase that he would see as he staked out her place early on in the job. Geez, did he really stalk her like that? That bothered him. It wasn't enough that he'd killed her, but he followed her around, too, and that felt like a serious invasion of privacy.
Ace, slowly, reached out a hand and picked up one of the larger books and began thumbing through it to look for any papers stuffed between the pages or under the jackets. Nothing. Ace grabbed another, then another, setting each one back in its place and moving on to the next one.
Finally, as he opened one up, a hunk of pressed, folded papers cascaded out of the pages and scattered onto the floor in a small pile. "Here," he said, putting the book aside and picking up the pages. There were some handwriten notes that looked more like quick scribbles and others that were neater and more detailed. One was a list divided into two parts that, to Ace's knowledge, seemed to be comparing two different injuries of what appeared to be two different people, as well as vague physical descriptions--height, weight, and so on. Both were similar, but notably different in small ways.
Ace's mind flashed back to what Ritchie told him; that Norman took Ace after the crash and somehow supplied a cadaver for the burial. The differences must have been subtle, but Laura must have found them.
"This must be when she figured out the man that was buried wasn't the same one who crashed his bike..."

Rex leaned over to look at the cover. "'Collected Writings of Thomas Paine'," he read. "Told you it'd be American Revolution." He continued reading, "Includes 'Common Sense' and 'The Rights of Man', ha! Something she had and something she believed in, eh?" Rex bent down and, moving with methodical energy, soon had the papers gathered up and piled them in an open spot on one of the tables. "Looks like she wasn't hiding clues so much as she was disorganized. Who needs a file cabinet when you can just shove it in the nearest book. Keep looking, there might be more in there, or in some of the others." Rex did something with his phone and then started sorting out the miscellaneous papers.

Very soon they were joined by another woman, dressed professionally like Avery had been, but somehow she pulled it off more convincingly. She looked at Rex expectantly. "You called, sir?"

"Indeed. Miss Knoll, kid; this is my assistant, Jane. Found her back when I was still running horses in Ontario, haven't been able to live without her since. You want something done, she'll get it done, period. So reliable, it's boring. She's also amazing at getting in and out of places unnoticed. Somehow people have trouble remembering a brown haired woman with a normal build, in normal clothes." She aknowledged Ace and Portia in turn with a look that seemed to neither accept or reject Rex's high praise. The look he was giving her was nothing but professional respect. "Anyway, Jane, I need you to scan all these papers, put a copy in the case file, and make a couple for us. Also, I think I'll have you go up to New York in the morning and see if there's anything of Laura's left at the paper. Miss Knoll, if you have anything you'd like retrieved, she can get that for you as well."

"Thank you, sir. Is that all?" Rex nodded. "Right away." And with a nod she was gone.

Footsteps. Down the hall, Ace heard swiftly approaching, confident footsteps. He looked up from another book briefly, but eventually returned to flipping pages. Sure enough, a woman entered and Ace acknowledged her with a quick glance.
The woman was introduced as Jane—the invisible woman. “Jane?” Ace extended only a polite nod to the woman. “Nice to meet you,” he said, pointedly not introducing himself or Portia. He watched as Rex gave her a few quick orders and the woman disappeared. Honestly, he didn’t like the fact that other people were getting involved, because the more people that were involved, the more people were in danger.
Ace grabbed another book, finding a few more loose papers of various sorts and sizes and, glancing only briefly at them, set them aside on a table. Part of him didn't want to know what she'd written down about him. Yes, she'd written in her article that he was once a construction worker, but was that all he was? What if that was his cover-job and he moonlighted as something else? Why else would Norman go through all the trouble to scoop him up like he did two years ago? If there was anything more, Ace didn't want to know, not yet.

In the back of the book were more papers, though they didn't appear to be related to his case. Ace held one aloft and began to look over it, though as he began to do so, he found that he couldn't read the words written on the page; they blurred and seemed to fade right before his eyes. Ace screwed them shut for a good second or so, then tried again to little avail as he squinted at the pages. Now blinking furiously to focus his vision, Ace couldn't help but wonder what was going on. He didn't have problems reading the papers a moment ago....
After one final clench of his eyelids, he opened them to discover they were back in focus again. Thank goodness. These papers were of little use to him--there were a few reciepts for big ticket items like a computer and a mattress purchased a few years ago. Nothing important. Putting the book back in the shelf, Ace continued down the line of books in search of more papers.

Rex obviously wasn't kidding when he said Laura liked American history; that must accounted for about half the books on the shelf. The other half were a mixed bag, everything from biographies of Gandhi and Napoleon to cheap romance novels. Portia wasn’t sure why someone who wrote seriously for a living would have those; maybe Laura got a laugh out of them. Who could be sure now? It struck Portia that she didn’t really know Laura that well at all. Granted, they’d been more acquaintances than anything, but she hadn’t realized how they’d never talked about anything really personal. Portia would never have even suspected that Laura was working on this level of investigative journalism. She was just a goofy girl writing for fun. Shows what I know, she thought, and not for the first time wondered if she wasn’t in over her head. She shared Ace’s doubts that Rex and his people could handle what they were getting themselves into, but now that she’d seen them in action --Rex’s determination and Avery’s detective skills-- she started to wonder about herself. It was fine enough to fake it, but if they were really trying to bring down something as big as Norman's corporation seemed to be, she wouldn't be able to fake it forever. Maybe just long enough. If I'm lucky.

She was tired. The nap earier had done something, but not nearly enough to make up for the stress and sleep deprivation of the past few days. She ran her hands over the various objects on the tables, looking through them rather than at them. She scanned her eyes over the stacks of books, absent mindedly picking one up, flipping a few pages and replacing it again. She didn't find anything, but Ace seemed to be running across things here and there. It seemed like Laura had just used the pages of her books to store all of her random papers, there was a good chance the book they had found was the one where she kept stuff on Ace, and the others would be mostly irrelevant. Then again, everything except sleep was seeming less and less important by the minute. When Avery came back to tell them that the room was ready, Portia gave Ace a quick look that said "I'm sleeping now, ok?" and moved to follow Avery without waiting to see his responce. She led them to another nearly identical hallway via another flight of stairs, to a room that was about the size of a decent hotel room, maybe a little more classy and a little more stark. There were two beds that looked like expensive cots, and a door leading off to what Portia assumed was a bathroom. She didn't have time to explore before she hit the bed and was gone.
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Thu Mar 15, 2012 3:19 pm

Ace, as Portia spoke, nodded in acknowledgement to her resigning for the night, a sentiment he too could share. And like a light illuminating a room, Portia's words reminded him that he, too, was tired. Since Rex and Ace were alone, the dark haired man turned to the other and said, "I'm sure you've guessed, but i know a lot more than i'm letting on. I'll tell you more, like i said, as i feel comfortable doing so. Just know this: Help me, and I'll help you. Hinder me, and....well, you remember New York all too well, I'm sure. It'd be a pity if that happened to you. Anyway, as you can imagine, i need sleep. Don't try anything, Rex," Ace told him, half serious and half as a joke. And with a polite nod, Ace exited the room and left down the hall to find their sleeping quarters. He didn't know exactly where they were, but he was good at guessing, and eventually ended up in the room. Portia was already down, so he tread softly. Lowering himself onto the cot set out for him, he took out the phone in his pocket and thumbed through a few of the pictures, ones showing not only him but Dominic, Norman, Aleah, and Jesse. The more he looked at the faces and gave them names, the more they seemed familiar. At some point, he cared about these people. Was he really about to throw them under the bus? Sell them out to the highest bidder for some sense of justice?
Ace put the phone away. Those people ruined his life. Norman saved it, too, but sometimes he wondered if he would have preferred that Norman let him die that fateful day. Of course, he could never difinitvely say that; he went back and forth.
As Ace lay back in the cot and curled up under the blankets provided, he made a very solid decision. Norman was going down. Hard.
Let the games begin.
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby SarahGracie on Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:50 pm

“That went well,” Meredith chimed sarcastically as Dominica hung up the phone, perhaps making her seem a tad more heartless than she actually was. A twinge of regret stabbed at her insides when she met Dom’s eyes. For just a flash of moment she could clearly see how much Ace’s newfound distance and coldness were affecting his partner. She had an urge to reach out across the counter and give his arm a squeeze, but of course she didn’t dare. The undergrad was not here to comfort Dominic. Instead she cleared her throat and shifted her eyes to the half-eaten breakfast that the man had prepared.

“Well. That should do it. Whenever you’re ready, I suppose you can make your move….I’d give it a little time though…so he doesn’t suspect anything, you know?” he told her. “Anyway…” he trailed off awkwardly and it was apparent that his thoughts were not in the same place as his body.

Meredith let a moments silence fall between them before she gave him a firm nod then rose from the stool. “I’d like to have at least one more night to study his file. I know time is of the essence, but I believe he likely needs some time to… cool after that conversation and I do not want my message to seem too suspicious. I’ll be at my apartment. We can meet up in the morning to make the move.” The woman then turned and stooped in a ladylike fashion to collect her things. Bringing her purse on her shoulder and gripping her briefcase with both hands in front of her she turned to make a move for the door, but paused after two steps.

“Mr. Richards. Dominic,” she began, “I can only imagine what you think about the reasons Norman brought me here. I don’t expect your acceptance or approval… I just wanted to assure you that I will have Ace’s best interest in mind. I do not wish to hurt him, just to get him the help he needs to recuperate.”

Her eyes swept slowly back up to search Dom’s face. She sincerely hoped that her words carried meaning for him. The ‘bad guy’ was not the role she wanted to play here. After the disaster with the altered children, she merely wanted to play it safe and if keeping a cold, professional demeanor was the proper route to take to ensure everyone’s best interest, then that is what she would do.

**********************************************************************************************************************************
Dom,
It’s been weeks! I can’t help but feel that I am getting the run around from you guys and frankly I’m sick of it. Where is he?! I’m seriously worried, Dom. It’s unlike him to just not return my messages. Is he hurt? Getting cold feet? I know you’ve talked to him! You two barely go 24 hour without contact! I want to talk to my fiancé Dom! Do not think that I won’t come down there and make a scene. I will! Please tell him to call me.
-Mer


“What do you think?” Meredith asks trying to not let her nervous excitement show too much as Dominic read over the sent message. Though she had read it about fifty times before she sent it and another fifty afterward, still she was practically hovering over his shoulder to read the lines again as he did.

Despite the late hour she kept last night, she found herself bright eyed and alert this morning. When Dominic rang, she was already showered, dressed and nibbling on some toast. Of course she quickly buttered two nearly burnt pieces for Dominic as well. It might have been amusing to her any other time. The morning before he had prepared the two a Denny’s Grand Slam and all she had to follow with was blackened toast. Which she was pretty sure he hadn’t touched, but honestly it was the last thing on her mind.
A successful novel should interrupt the reader’s life, make him or her miss appointments, skip meals, forget to walk the dog. - Stephen King

The same should apply for an RP.
SarahGracie
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Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Sat Apr 07, 2012 6:40 pm

One more night. Dominic let out a breath and nodded, knowing that even though he was impatient and wanted everything to be set in motion soon, it was always better to be extra careful than fast and careless; a lesson that had, on many occasions, saved his life. "That's probably all for the best," he said, still somewhat distracted. As Dom forked the last of his breakfast, Meredith gathered her things and began to leave. She spoke again, reassuring Dominic that she was in his corner. In all honesty, he wasn't sure what to make of that comment. Did he seem like he needed reassuring? Then again, he did have his doubts; it wasn't that he thought she was incapable of the job, but more that he thought Norman's choice to bring in a stranger and throw them in the ring on such short notice was...not his brightest decision. But maybe a stranger was exactly what they needed--Ace completely shut down whenever he came in contact with Dom, and to some extent even Jesse and Aleah, and yet he warmed up to this Portia character rather quickly. Pity he couldn't interview her and figure out her secret.

Dom looked up, stared in silence at Meredith with his blue eyes for a while, then, "You're here to do your job, and I trust, as does Norman, that you'll do it. It doesn't matter why you're here. The fact is, you're here, you have a job to do, and I am to assist you in every way I can." Something about his demeanor shifted, veered away from the relaxed, casual attitude he'd been in all morning and traveled back to something resembling the more professional mask he wore the night before. Work. That's all this was. If Dominic was lying, it would be hard to tell, but it was obvious that he felt unsettled about the whole setup and he made no effort to hide that.
"Contact me tomorrow when you're ready and we'll go over the next step."

Meredith left and Dom immediately wanted to talk to Jesse about Ace and his stats, to see if the Machine had produced any useful information, to see if his friend was alright. Friend. Apparently not this version of Ace... Dom thought bitterly, thinking back on that morning's phone conversation. Ace made it very clear where he stood, and it wasn't with Dom. What bothered him more than that though, was why he was suddenly going AWOL. Did Ace finally snap in Kuwait? Did the blast he endured do him in? Or did something else happen that he didn't know about? These were things he'd have to figure out in due time--he had a job to do, and that was taking down Portia.

---------------

The crunch of overcooked toast made a roaring echo in Dominic's ears, but it was food and that was enough for him, since he'd started his day with a long run around town before the sun even rose; he'd been feeling restless. Dominic was the type to sleep in till eleven on a weekend, but some mornings he couldn't make those REM cycles last. This was one of those mornings, and like a craving for caffiene, his body begged for a run. He felt better, now, but he couldn't seem to satisfy his stomach all morning.

Dominic read over the text at least five times, hanging over every word before finally he gave Meredith a nod. "Yeah. Yeah, that's good. Send it." The blonde's stomach clenched as the message sent, slipping off into the ether where he couldn't take it back. If this was going to blow up in their faces, there was no stopping that, now. "Okay. There we go. I had Jesse program your number in from the computer so it'll register as a contact and make it seem more legit. Hooray for iCloud, right? And thank goodness that thing is still registered on my computer...."

----------------

Zzzztt-zzztttt!
Two pulses of the little rectangular object in my pocket, two high pitched rumbles, and I found myself on my feet with my pistol drawn and trained on the door. I don't remember doing it, but my throat tingled slightly, which is when I realized I'd let out some kind of short yelp as I sprang from sleep to a frenzied panic.
Silence.
Trying to steady my breaths, I made a quick scan of the room, watching and waiting for someone to kick through the door or spring up from under my cot.
Silence.
"Hhhuuugghh...." I breathed, willing my heart to slow down to a reasonable pace as i sank back into the cot and let my gun drop into the blankets beside me. Thank goodness it wasn't Avery or someone coming in to do something nice, like deliver breakfast or something. A part of me feared I might have fired had I actually seen a figure at the door, but I dismissed the thought. No, I wouldn't do that.
Portia was already awake, though fully alert might not be an accurate description. "Sorry," I breathed. "Just startled....I think it was my phone..." To check, I pulled the black phone out of my pocket and turned it on, finding a message waiting for me. The message was to Dominic from a woman listed in his contacts as, Meredith Abernathy-Matheson; Apparently, the woman who shared a hyphonated version of my name wanted to know where 'he' was. Apparently, 'he' was her fiance, and 'he' was in constant contact with Dom. I could only guess that 'he' was me.

"S---...." i said softly. "Portia, read this," i said, sitting on the edge of her cot and handing her the phone. "I think I'm engaged to a woman named Meredith....I...I don't remember her at all...that's awful...." Engaged. Why hadn't anyone said anything about that? Why didn't I remember her? Why was she so worried? Dominic probably told her I'd gone AWOL and left Kuwait and was possibly injured--that's the kind of thing you tell a man's fiance. Naturally, she wanted to know what was going on....and perhaps Dominic was avoiding her because he was afraid to tell her he may not remember her? That was the best explanation he could come up with, honestly, and it worked.
"Portia....what the heck do I do....? Do I call her? Geez, Ritchie trained me to deal with tactics and fighting and who knows what else, but apparently no one taught me how to do...this."
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Wed Apr 11, 2012 12:27 am

The sound of Ace jumping out of his cot jerked Portia into consciousness. Her first thought was: Where am I?!? And then, almost as quickly as she had surfaced, she again relaxed. The events of yesterday filtered through her brain. They were safe. Ace had things under control. She hadn't gotten enough sleep yet. She was about to let herself get back to it when it dawned on her that Ace must have sprung out of bed for a reason. So she sat up as he was holstering his gun and pulling out his phone. Ah, that must have been what startled him. On the one hand it was good to know it had been a false alarm; On the other hand it was good to know that if there had been something wrong, his reflexes weren't any slower just because he was sleeping and in a relatively safe place. She sat up and gave him a bleary-eyed 'it's all good' half-smile as he started to read the text. She'd just swung her legs over and started to wonder if the room's other door actually led to a bathroom, when Ace turned to her with a look on his face that was immediately sobering. It hadn't actually occurred to her that anyone calling on Ace's -- no, Dom's -- phone, it was probably not with good news.

She was wide awake now, scanning over the message as Ace talked. It was written to Dom, from someone who obviously didn't know he'd lost this phone. It never mentioned Ace by name, but she had to agree he must be the one she was talking about. Unless Dom had another best friend who'd gone missing in Kuwait recently. Fiancé. The word hit Portia like a punch in the stomach. She'd never even thought about the fact that there might be nice people who cared about Ace from before. Well, alright, not that Ritchie or Jesse didn't seem nice, but people who didn't work for crazy underhanded shadow corporations. She must not work for them if she didn't know Ace was missing. Either that or Norman was very good at keeping secrets even within his own company. Fiancé. Ace wasn't wearing a ring. Maybe he didn't wear it out on missions. Would they have noticed an indent on his finger? Not unless it was a long engagement. What kind of woman would get engaged to someone with a job like Ace's? How much would he have even been able to tell her about his job? He was totally open with Portia because that's just what happened. And after everything they'd been through, what was there to keep secret? But this woman -- Meredith -- what did she know? And Ace didn't remember her at all...

All these thoughts raced through her head, but out loud, she was at a loss for words. For a long time, all she could say was, "Wow. Yeah." She got up and walked a few paces, now fully awake with a restless energy running through her. "Okay," she said, and then paused again, unsure of herself. "We don't... we don't want to do anything right away, we need to think about this." She paused again, aware that she hadn't done anything but state the obvious. "We... could try to look her up. If she doesn't work for Norman, it might not be as dangerous to be poking around." Maybe. But they couldn't be sure, and there was another problem. "Then we might have to tell Rex some things we're not ready to tell him, I don't know if we have the resources to find out anything on our own. And I don't think we're safe contacting Ritchie right now. They're probably watching him." She paused, contemplating the option she was least sure about. "You... could call her, but..." She looked at Ace with concern. "You don't remember anything? Nothing at all?"
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby Blackfridayrule on Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:01 pm

I just felt shaken, like once again everything I knew had been torn down and shattered. Yes, I certainly knew more facts than I did three or four days ago, but it seemed that the more I found out about myself, the less I really knew who I was. A sad realization, I thought, wondering if anyone else ever had that experience. Probably not. I leaned into cupped hands as I tried to recall all the pieces I knew and fit them together. I was a physically modified super soldier bodyguard assassin with lighting fast instincts and a rough case of claustrophobia. I used to work construction, I loved motorcycles, I drank orange juice like water and was apparently never able to recall my family or childhood. I served in Kuwait, worked under a polished shadow company and was soon to be a married man. What parts of all those things fit together cohesively was beyond me, and the ever present question once again circled around my head.
Who am I?

"No," I told Portia numbly. "I don't remember anything...." eyes shut, I tried to recall something, anything, searches the crevices of my broken mind for any hint of a memory. I tried to think back to conversations with Dominic; images of the two of us sitting back in lawn chairs on the roof of Norman's building, drinking slurpees and chomping on beef jerky as we looked over the city, our domain. I couldn't remember much of what we'd said, but instead I remembered emotions, particularly relief, like by talking to him I was lifting a heavy weight off my chest. Must have been fairly recently after my motorcycle crash, because I remembered also feeling just slightly apprehensive talking to him, like he was still a stranger to me. Finally, after several long minutes of rifling through those images, i remembered part of the conversation. I remembered vaguely mentioning a woman, how I thought she was beautiful, how I wanted to get to know her better. I remembered Dominic pushing me to pursue her, and that's as far as the memory went.

"Wait," i said. "A couple years back, when I first met Dom and got involved in all this, I remember talking to him about a girl. I wonder if that was her? I don't dare ask Ritchie--they'll be watching him for sure, and I don't want anyone getting the idea of....of taking her as leverage. Maybe I should call her, you know? Be honest...I mean, she'd understand, right? And maybe she could help me, us. I'll take all the allies I can get, you know? Besides, she should know what's going on so she can stay safe." I picked up the phone and held my thumb over the number on the touch screen, but i held it there for a while. I was calling my fiance. A woman who I was supposed to love and who loved me, who I wanted to share everything with and live with until I died. Someone who cared about me more than any other human on this earth, who chose me out of billions of other men. And I didn't remember her. Boy, did I feel awful.
My thumb touched smooth glass, the screen flashed to life, indicating that I was now calling her. No going back now. I gave Portia one last glance of something mixed with dread and hope, then put the phone to my ear.

Who am I?
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Blackfridayrule
Member for 4 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:38 pm

Ring. Ring. Ring.

"Hello? Dom, what is going on?"

There was a long pause. Ace took in a deep breath and poised to say something, but no words came out, no sound came out of his parted lips.

"Dom? Eventually you're going to have to tell me something! I deserve to know if my finacé is alive or dead at least."

"Not dead..." was about all he could viably manage.

There was a pause on the other end. "That's... not much better... Who is this? That does not sound like Dom."

"Mer..." Ace discovered he didn't know her full name. Was it Meranda? Meredith? Mercedes? "Don't you know my voice?"

"ACE?"

Half out of reflex, Ace thumbed his tags. "It's me."

"Where have you been?!"

"Let's say things got complicated...Mer, there's something you need to know before we get too far, here...."

A short pause and then more gently, "Ok, I'm listening. I understand things being 'complicated' comes with your job, but I want to know what's going on."

There was no sense in beating around the bush... "Mer, I don't...I don't remember you. I-I can explain...sort of. Kind of. And I'm sorry." Those words felt like bricks in his stomach.

The voice on the other end was more concern then confusion. "Don't remember...? What did you do? What happened?!" She became gentle again. "Tell me what's going on."

Ace didn't really know where to start. "I'm not in Kuwait anymore."

Her voice now was reasoned calm. "Ok, it's good to know where you were, but where are you now, and why can't you remember?"

"I can't exactly tell you where I'm at...See, when I say things got complicated...I mean complicated even for my job. /Really/ complicated. Uh...some stuff happened overseas...there was an accident--not a huge deal but...we'll just say my memory's been spotty from there."

"WHAT?!? You got in an accident so bad that you have amnesia and it's 'not a huge deal'? You could have a concussion, or worse! Can you get to a doctor?"

"It's not--I mean....it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. I'm getting a lot of it back as I go. And...no. I can't. Normally I'd see Norman but....like i said, it's complicated."

"S---, Ace. Is Dom with you, at least? You're calling from his phone."

"No. We...haven't been in contact for a while. I...in a strange series of events, I ended up stealing his phone. Don't worry about it--that part's not important."

"Not important...? No, you're right, I'm more worried about your head. Did you get hit with something? Did you take some weird forgetfullness drug over there?"

"Thankfully, I know I can say no to the latter theory. My head's...fine. I had a helmet when it went off and nothing directly hit that, anyway so...no--I'm gonna say no."

"Ok, so something exploded, but it didn't hit your head 'directly'. We'll come back to that, did anything else get hurt?"

"Just my arm." The statement was honest and simple, but Ace was underplaying on purpose, partly not to worry her and partly, he was fishing for that same reaction Jesse gave him when he first told him about his arm. How much did she know about his equipment?

"And you haven't seen a doctor about that either. Please tell me there isn't shrapnel slowly growing into your flesh as we speak. Is it bleeding? Bruised? I can't tell if you're not worrying about this because it's fine or because you've got a head injury."

"Trust me, I'm more coherent than that. It's not bleeding or anything, just...bruised something ugly." Apparently she didn't know about the chip, at least the one in his arm. Did she know anything about the fact that he had equipment to begin with? "Honestly, I don't notice it so much anymore. It's healing. It's fine."

"You always did know how to reassure a girl."

"I wouldn't know."

"Ha ha. I would feel a /lot/ better if you had someone take a look at it. And your head. H---, /I/ have enough medical training to recognize a concussion--"

"Hey, I already said I can't go back into Norman, alright? S---, you sound like Jesse!"

"Then don't go back to Norman! Just--"

"It's not like I've got medical insurance, either, alright? I can't just walk into a clinic and demand x-rays and checkups or whatever--I need what little money I have to last me a long d--- time, okay?" The frustration in is voice grew as he went on.

"Then let me do it! You need to see somebody, and besides the fact that I had to learn all the basic doctor stuff in grad school, /I really want to see you!/ Just tell me where you are. This is New York, I can find a flight out before you know it. Are you still in the Middle East somewhere?"

Voice softening, he said, "Middle--no, no, back in the states. I'm done with Kuwait, with the whole thing..." Ace tralied off as he thought of her offer to meet him. Was that really the best idea? What if she was playing him? Then again, what if she wasn't, and he could get the once over from a doctor that he desperately needed? He thought of how valuable it could be...and how catastrophic; Ace weighed his options.
"I don't know," he said finally. "No offense, but a lot of crazy things have happened lately...burned some bridges and there's been a lot of...changing circumstances along the way. Suddenly, as I'm remembering these people, that instinct they trained into me tells me to run. So forgive me when I say I honestly need a little bit to think that over--just a few minutes or something. I need some time to figure out my bearings...because right now I don't know which way's up. In a figurative sense," he quickly reassured.

She took a deep breath. "Ok. How about this: You take a breather, and call me back in five minutes." Her voice softened again. "I just want to know that you're alright. Ok?"

"I /am/ okay. I think..." it was as if some kind of revelation struck him just then. "I think I'm more okay than I ever have been. This is all crazy and there's a lot going on, and everything's really confusing, but...I don't know. I feel free. Anyway, yeah. I'll give you a call in five with my answer. Bye, Mer."

"Take care of yourself, Ace."

Ace hung up, staring at the phone for a good while. In doing so, he found out her name--Meredith. /That's right,/ he thought, remembering seeing her name in the text header earlier. In the excitement, he must have forgotten. Turning to Portia, he said, "She said she's a doctor. or...has medical training, anyway. She said she could give me the once over, you know? Make sure everything's solid. She didn't seem to know about my equipment, though, so I'd have to be careful with that If we went to see her. Do you think it's worth it?"

Portia responded hesitantly. "I'm... not sure what to think, honestly. I guess... if it seems like she can help us, we can use all the help we can get... But... I don't know." She shook her head and sat back down. "I guess I keep hoping your gut will tell us what to do. My gut's not telling me anything right now except 'I want breakfast'."

"My gut's turning all over the place. I guess...if we met up with her, we'd have to meet somewhere away from here...I want this place to be kept secret as long as possible. And we go through every precaution, have a way out."

"If we go somewhere, Rex is going to suspect something. We finally found somewhere relatively safe, and we're just going to charge back out again. He's going to want to know what's going on."

"Let him, I say. If he's really our ally, I dont' have much of a problem with telling him i'm going to get checked out and scope for another team player. I don't have to tell him anything specific."

"I don't know, Ace." She shook her head again. "But I trust you. If you think this is the best thing to do, then let's do it. We should get you looked at somehow. The more we talk about it, the more I'm worried that we haven't been taking your injuries seriously enough."

"I worry about that too, but...I dont get what the fuss is about. I feel fine, I don't remember hurting my head or having any headaches. I mean, I had one....but don't you think, if this was a concussion, there'd be more?"
Unless you just don't remember them.

"Don't look at me. If you were a computer maybe I'd be able to tell you something, but I can't exactly open up your head and look at the circuit board. I can't just hit F8 and look at the programing code."

"Computer," Ace mused. "Who knows, maybe I'm the Terminator." he offered a small smile. "I don't know. I think It'd be worth looking into...and it's not like i can just walk into a clinic. Clinics ask questions. At least she'd understand not to dig too deep--even if she was lying, her knowing things wouldn't be a concern."

"Right," said Portia uncomfortably. It was starting to bother her that she hadn't been more worried about Ace's condition. Even after Ritchie's warning, she hadn't really done anything. Someone who cares about Ace. I should have been more concerned about it. I should have been helping. I wish I could do something! She shrugged her anxiety aside. Ace knew what he was doing. She sat in silence waiting for him to make a move.
There was a long pause as Ace weighed his options. Then, finally, "Okay. Let's do this." Ace picked up the phone and dialed.
After one ring, there was a click. "Hello?"
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:41 pm

Dominic was pacing around the room the entire phonecall, listening intently to both sides. Meredith had quickly managed to carve a chink in Ace's armor, but he was still on his toes, ready to flee at the first sign of treachery, thought that was to be expected with him. Needless to say, they weren't out of the woods yet.
"Ace, I'll betcha, is conferencing with Portia as we speak. He likes bouncing his thoughts off other people to straighten them out when he can. I say the conversation went fairly well--he opened up to you more than he did any of us. But his next phonecall will be the true tell if you got him or not. Let's just hope you did."

Meredith tried her best to answer as if everything was under control. Mostly it was, and the parts that weren't... well, there was nothing to do for now but cover it up with an air of professional certainty. She looked over her papers as she spoke. "That went very well. He called me, which means he's not associating me with the things he's trying to run from, and didn't think too much about not remembering, didn't even try to make me prove who I was. That's good, we can use that, but it also means his amnesia is pretty serious." She looked at Dom, "I wasn't lying when I said I was worried about him. How was he compared to normal? We need to know if he's underplaying his injuries because he's trying to play things close to the chest, or is he messed up enough to not know how bad he is."

"Physically the guy looked alright...i mean...he looked tired and..kind of the same way someone does when they wake up after a night of heavy drinking, but nothing that wouldn't wipe clean in a day. I didn't catch the bruise on his arm...he was wearing sleeves. but that's all anyone knows for sure. He says he didn't hit his head, but it's been two weeks since the incident itself. Any immediate signs could have worn off by then and he would have forgotten about them. So...there's really no good way to know without looking at him. If i had to guess....just looking at what he did at the PI headquarters--Did you hear about that? one moment that girl Portia is under custody and the next, they're both at Ritchie's and suddenly there's no trace of that company to be found. Whatever he did in there, it was pretty major. I'm gonna say that to do that solo, he's got to be on his game. I'd say he's playing close to home."

"How about his mental state? He was losing focus a little bit in the conversation, I had to keep putting him back on track. How normal is that?"

"Oh, that?" Dom laughed lightly, but it'd lost much of its mirth in light of the situation. "No, that's just Ace when he's wired. Sounds like you woke him up, too. Ritchie used to work with him on that, and he's gotten a lot better with his anxiety, all things considered. When he starts...i dont know, repeating stuff or forgetting what you're talking about in the first place, that's what I'd call losing focus."

"Alright. So he's no less coherant than usual, and whatever his injuries might be they aren't hindering him from physical activity. He could still /cliff/-- sometimes that can happen with head injuries: you're fine, you're fine, and then out of nowhere you just take a dive, but... a concussion bad enough to cause amnesia but no other problems two weeks later /is/ a little unusual."

Dom paused. "It actually Isn't, not in this case. Remember that hearing aid i told you about? Let's just say it's...tangentially related. That's not your concern, that's ours," Dominic said, putting on his best Men In Black face.

"How cryptic," she said, but Meredith had learned her lesson from her last job. "Alright, you worry about it then. I'll focus on keeping him reachable. If he's buying the story, then whatever he decides to do, we can get something out of it. Either he agrees to meet, or he'll have to tell me more about what's going on to make up for being secretive."

"Good. I'd prefer the former, as i imagine you would, but we'll all take what we can get. Just...whatever you do, don't suggest that he come back in...for now. You'll have to gain his trust first, but if you start there, you'll scare him off."

Meredith was a bit miffed that he would even suggest it. Hadn't she specifically said "/Don't/ go to Norman" in thier conversation? Wasn't she the one that had come up with an acceptable middle-ground that didn't seem to scare him off? Outwardly she said simply, "Of course," in her best professionally condecending voice. She really wanted to remind Dom that of the two of them, he was not in a position to lecture her about gaining Ace's trust, but she restrained herself. Instead, she checked her phone. "Give him a few more minutes and I'll check on him again."
Dom continued to pace around the room, waiting for a response from his distant counterpart.
-----
The phone rang and Dominic's sharp ears trained on Meredith's phone as suddenly as though he hadn't expected the call, and for once he stopped pacing.
"Okay," Came Ace's voice from the other side of the line. "Lets meet. Come alone--no tricks now, okay? I don't want to find out this was all an excuse to get Dominic within grappling range again. No offense, but like I said, I've found that the lines between enemy and ally here are frighteningly blurred."
With contained excitement, Meredith responded. "Alright. Where are we meeting? I still don't know where you are."
Ace looked to Portia. "Locations...?" he mouthed. He didn't know the area like Portia did--she'd been here before, and while Ace may have, once upon a time, he didn't remember much from back then.

"I assume you're in New York?" he said, trying to buy time without losing face.

"Yeah, still in New York. Ready to charge off to one of our many airports as soon as you take me where I'm going. I'm already packed and everything." Meredith had been packed for weeks in case her landlord's patience ran out, but she was prepared to let anyone, especially Dom, think it was foresight on her part.

When Ace looked to her, Portia's eyes widened. She expected Ace to have thought of a location before he called. She quickly tried to think of where she would go. They didn't want to tell anyone they were in Philadelphia, so that was out. Back towards New York would just take them closer to people they didn't want to be any closer to. South or west, then. The nearest big cities would be... Pitsburgh or Baltimore? She couldn't remember which would be closer, she didn't know anything about either of them except vague memories from Geography lessons. Finally she just mouthed to Ace "Baltimore?" and hoped his gut could take over from there.
"That was quick, don't you think? What were you packed for?"

"Packed since you called. No time to waste, right?"

"Hmm. How familiar are you with Baltimore?"

Dominic's brow wrinkled. "Baltimore..?" he whispered to himself, wondering what Ace could be doing there. He had no connections...though...perhaps that was why.

Meredith thought for a moment. "I'm not familiar with Baltimore. I assume they have an airport though, and if there's no flights I can always rent a car. That should only be a few hours drive, right? So, what do I do in Baltimore?"

"Get there. I'll meet you at the Sunrise Motel near the airport."

"Sunrise Motel," Meredith repeated slowly as she wrote it down in her notes, although her mind was "on" enough right now that she was very unlikely to forget. "Got it. I'll text you when I know how I'm getting there and when. Anything else you want me to do?"

"Remember, come alone."

"Right." Meredith made sure her tone was one of absolute agreement, as if she was almost offended that he needed to ask. He needed to be sure she would. "I would say 'Take care of yourself,' but I know you will. I'll see you soon."

Meredith put down the phone and looked at Dominic. "There you go. We've got a place to meet as soon as I can get down there." She tried not to sound to smug that she'd been able to get to him so easily when none of them could do it, but there was some amount of professional and personal pride there. "So, I'm going to head out as quickly as I can on a believable budget. He'll suspect something if I get there too fast. What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to watch you work from a distance. If he catches wind of me in any way, this whole thing will be blown. I'll be working with Jesse to monitor things from base. I'm curious to see how this'll go. Anyhow, I'd best leave you to your work."

Dom was taking it pretty well, Meredith was starting to feel bad for him. This was his friend they were talking about, and while she was glad to be doing so well herself, her subject was a mess. Convincing him she was his fiance had been so easy, he must be really messed up. At least it wouldn't be hard to pretend to care about him, she was legitimately worried. "Alright. I'll begin making travel plans. I assume you can tell anyone who needs to know what's going on."

"Naturally."

"Naturally." Meredith sat down and started searching for flights on her phone.

"Good luck, Meredith. Be careful."

"I will." She wanted to say something to reassure him that she would look after his friend, but she didn't know what to say. Either he'd gotten the impression that she knew what she was doing or he hadn't, there was nothing she could do about it now.

And with that, Dominic made his exit, waiting until he was in the car before loosening the tension in his shoulders. Dom worried for the safety of both Ace and Meredith. Granted, he knew he wouldn't ever kill her--he was't the type. but he could and would hurt her if it meant survival. All he could do was hope.
User avatar
El Gordo
Member for 3 years


Re: Walking Conspiracy

Postby El Gordo on Sat Jun 09, 2012 6:44 pm

"See you soon," Ace said back. And that was it. He hung up and looked to Portia. "Well.....we're...going to Baltimore, i guess. To Sunrise Motel..." he held up the map on his phone that he looked up during the phonecall.

Portia nodded silently. She still had serious reservations about everything that was going on, and her confidence in Ace was a little shaken as well. She sighed. She needed food, and a shower, and /one day/ where she wasn't doing something that should only happen to people in movies. At least she'd gotten sleep. She stood up. "Ok, if we're going, we'd better start getting ready. Starting with food. What are the chances Rex is cooking breakfast?"

"Good call." Ace stood, blinking. He had a lot to process on his way to baltimore. "I don't know...he either isn't the type or he's the sort that would go full out. You know, stacks of pancakes with butter and syrup, fruit...lets find out before we deal with anything else....one thing at a time, right?"

Portia let out a little laugh. "I wasn't imagining him actually doing the cooking himself."

"What, you don't see that? Rex in a robe and slippers, whistling as he flipped pancakes?" Ace gave a smile, but it was mirthless and tense--a tell of his inner condition which he worked to quell.

"Now that you mention it? Yeah, I guess I can. I think he'd be more of the barbeque type, though."

"Mm, barbecue....i'd say it's been too long but as far as i know, it could have been three weeks ago. Anyway, c'mon, let's get food. I'm starving."

They stepped out into the hallway and realized they didn't know where anything was, after looking around for a few seconds, the door down the hall opened and Avery stepped out. "Good morning." She said brightly, "if you're hungry, we have some breakfast downstairs."

"Yeah...sounds good." Something about her professionalism snapped him back into defense mode, like he feared at any moment she could turn against him.

"Follow me," she said, motioning through the door and down the stairs. Breakfast was again in take-out boxes in Rex's office. The man himself was standing over the table looking over the scattered papers.

"Morning," he greeted them. "Help yourselves, I've already eaten."

"Take out," Ace mused, picking up one of the boxes and sniffing it investigatively.

"Something about catering and high-level security don't mix. I've seen enough heist movies, too easy sneak in on the food cart." Rex smiled. "And you don't see me cooking, so there you go, take-out."

All Ace offered in return was another of his half-smiles and picked up a plastic fork. Portia grabbed another box and dug in.

"Portia and I are leaving this morning," Ace mentioned, as though he were starting casual tableside conversation. "We'll be back, but we have business to attend to that doesn't concern you. We'll be in Baltimore. That's all you need to know."

Rex gave him a scrutinizing look. "Baltimore, eh? That's not too far, few hours drive at most."

"I don't want to be followed," he clarified, more as a warning than a reminder.

"I remember our agreement," Rex asserted, "which is why I'm not asking you what changed between last night and this morning, although believe me, I'm curious."

"Have some patience and your curiosity will be sated. But on my time, not yours."

"Fine. I seem to recall promising you another motorcyle as well, I hope you'll forgive me for not having gotten to it yet. Miss Calahagn has offered to let you continue to use hers as long as is nessisary." Avery nodded in agreement.

"That'll do, but I imagine at some point she'll want it back. Besides, I have bad luck with vehicles. You may not get it back, Avery." He was teasing, but not by much.

"Then I'll get your new one from Mr Noland and you'll just have to walk." Avery was teasing too, although her delivery made it hard to tell. "Not that you need the excercise."

"You'd be surprised," he answered, vaguely recalling the notion that he ran on a regular basis.
Ace set down the takeout box in his hand and picked up a different one to investigate what it held inside the laminated paper walls, but he didn't bring the box six inches off the table when he dropped it. That gave him pause, but he tried not to think about it too much for his own sake--if he worried about that, he'd be distracted later. He couldn't afford that.

"If you do need any help in Baltimore," Rex was saying, "I think there's a small unit down there I can give you the number for. Not a big office like this, but a few relatively competent people, and access to my resources from here." He nodded to Avery who started looking it up.

"I wouldn't mind that, actually. Can't be too careful." Avery handed him a slip of paper with the number on it.

"And of course," said Rex, "if there's any chance you're being followed by someone else, don't lead them back here. Anything you need from me can go through Baltimore. Given the choice, I'd rather have that office compromised. Well, I'd rather have neither, but you know what I mean."

"Of course. If things went south and I had to leave, I'd check in at a hotel somewhere, or a restaraunt and hold position until contact was made or the problem was resolved." Ace realized how...militaristic he sounded, there, and fought back a shudder. At the same time, it felt...natural. Like that's what he was used to doing for so long, like that was just what he knew.

"While you two were snoozing," Rex continued, "I've got some of the pieces put together from the stuff we found last night, but we've still got some work to do figuring out what Laura was on to. Jane is on her way to New York as we speak, if there's anything there to find, we should have it by this afternoon."

"And what /did/ you piece together, exactly?" Ace asked, wondering how close Rex had really come. Rex would know the truth eventually, but he wanted to keep those cards up his sleeve until later if he could, even if only to have some form of leverage. Or perhaps control--Ace couldn't really decide which. Probably both. It felt better to have something to hold on to, something he knew and could control, for once, because everything around him seemed to shift constantly. All he could count on was Portia, really. That, and the simple fact that his name was Ace Scott Matheson. Everything else seemed too distant for him to really own, or none of it made sense anymore. Ace wondered if it ever did, or if it was simply the amnesia undoing the last couple years of his life.

"Well, if you've got time before you rush off to your urgent appointment," said Rex with mock-incredulity. He handed Ace the file he'd been looking over, just a few pages, blocks of text interspersed with bulleted lists.

“This is just the summary, obviously. What we found in Laura’s notes, with Miss Calahagn's research at the end. The even shorter version is: This kid was from Colorado, parents still live there –no siblings– moved to Florida on his own for a construction job. No criminal record either place, seems like he never did anything noticeable enough to be on record anywhere, Laura’s article is the only place we can find him mentioned, bearing in mind that we’re not digging beyond what the average person could find so we don’t set off any alarm bells. So, Laura found the crash, the little paper she was working for had her do a story on it because it was a slow news day, and the whole ‘reporter on the scene’ thing made them feel classy or something. Point is, there doesn't seem to be anything special about this kid at all, certainly nothing that would tie him to anything as big as what you're talking about.”
There was a pause, and Ace forcibly resisted moving his face at all lest he betray his feelings of shock. Parents! He hadn't even thought about that! Ace held the folder in his hands gingerly, like he was afraid he'd break it. "Colorado? And this guy's parents still live there? Maybe someday I'd talk to them...tell them more about what happened. Maybe not. Anyway, this guy may not look like much--from what you have here, he /isn't/ much...or wasn't, I suppose. But this goes beyond all that. I think...to be inconspicuous, one shouldn't have any sort of reputation at all, don't you think? There is certainly more to his story than what common information can tell...believe me."

"You haven't given me a reason not to. I'll see what I believe when I know a little more. Even without you, we should make good progress today. Less than we would with you here," he gave Ace a stern look, half-joking, "but somehow we'll get along. I assume you're leaving now, eh?"

"If it makes you feel any better," Ace began, catching Rex's glance with an almost heightened awareness of it. That look...where had he seen that look? It seemed to jump out at him; it poked at his adrenaline slightly, in the same way an unwelcomingly loud alarm clock merits a higher blood pressure. And yet something about it said, 'home', like it was what he knew. Ace guessed the recalled memory, then. Norman would give him that look sometimes, though the dark haired man's gaze was much less subtle.
Ace continued: "This excursion of ours is beneficial to the two of us, as well as you, albeit indirectly. Besides, I'd say you've done well without me thus far," Ace teased lightly. "Anyway, we'd best be going. Thanks for breakfast. We'll be in touch."

"Alright. So far I've taken you for a man of your word, and I hope you've gotten the same impression of me. You won't be followed, but the sooner I hear back from you the sooner I'll rest easy." Rex went back to his work. "Avery," he said without looking up, "You can show them out."

"I mirror the kind of treatment I'm given--honesty with honesty. So far, things have been good." Giving a small nod and preparing to leave, Ace said, "We'll connect soon, Rex. You'll have to tell me how your search went." And with that, Ace followed Avery out the door.

"Good luck. Hope you don't need it," said Rex.

Avery led them back down to the lobby without saying anything. There was now a man in a suit behind the reception desk, but he was reading a newspaper and didn't seem to pay them any attention. When they got to the doors, Avery turned to Ace. "Something's changed since last night. It's in your body language," she turned to Portia, "mostly yours. And now you suddenly have to go somewhere. I don't know what's going on --and that's fine-- just... take care of yourselves." She ended lamely. "The bike's parked out front."

Ace looked Avery square in the eye--something he had hardly done since he figured out who she was. His expression was far from harsh and standoffish, though. Instead, his green eyes desperately tried to convey the fact that he was just as confused as she was. "The game has changed...new players making blindsiding moves....but you'll learn about that in detail all in due time. For now....thanks for the concern. I appreciate the bike," Ace said honestly, trying in earnest to crack a small smile as he and Portia headed out the door.

Portia felt Avery watching them trot down the steps until the door clicked shut behind them. She still wasn't sure what to make of this person who acted like a nervous little girl, but could read people so easily. It was a gift Portia could envy, she'd like to be able to read Avery right now. There was definitely more interest in them than just being "part of the job," and while Rex obviously had his reasons for being interested, what were Avery's? What was she hoping to get out of this?

Portia shook her head as if to dislodge the thought. There's no reason to distrust anyone here, she said to herself. "Ace trusts them and.." There was the trouble. She was starting to doubt Ace, too. She was starting to worry about everyhting. Now that she'd had a good night's sleep, it felt like the reality of their situation was hitting her harder than it had been able to before. Now that she had time to think, she was thinking too much. What if Ritchie and this Meredith person were right and Ace really had some damage that wasn't showing? And then this morning... she'd been acting like he was invincible, and granted he was still amazing, but he didn't think of everything; he could make mistakes. We could be making one right now, she thought as she put on her helmet. Refelxively, she checked her pockets for the dart gun and the tazer, and prayed she wouldn't need to use them.
Ace mounted the bike and put on his own helmet driving off towards Baltimore. After the quiet drive, the two arrived at the Sunrise motel and checked in at a small room. "I guess we just wait," Ace said, tentatively sitting down on the bed, which was sure to be less-than-fresh.

"I guess," said Portia. She didn't like the idea of being stuck in this room, but the idea of going out didn't sound any better. She sat down in the uncomfortable wooden chair and stared vacantly at the door.
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El Gordo
Member for 3 years


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