The late summer storm was gathering power. It was headed in the same direction his car travelled. Dry storm, no rain yet. That was a blessing. Rain would wash away any trail that had been left. Skidding into a wide-open parking lot at the edge of a park Gahan shut the engine off and glanced to his phone. The thing had lit up with the same name for the fourth time that night.
He tilted the screen towards his passenger who gave a wry smile and a small shrug. Lately, Leon had been showing every one of his fifty-nine years. Recently the once non-existent lines in his face had deepened and spread. That deepening coincided with the news that his daughter had begun dating.
Not the easy to overlook group outings to the theatres or to the local greasy spoon but one on one dates during the evening. She wasn't courting the nice neighbour boy or the grocer's son. She was seeing some young man that had odd coloured hair and spent his time playing drums in some go nowhere two-bit excuse for a band.
He often came calling smelling of liquor, tobacco and marijuana. Gahan felt the man’s pain. There was a time once when he too had to worry about a daughter. That time was long gone but one never forgets the worry a daughter can cause in her father.
“You sure about this?” Gahan asked before Leon could rush out into the muggy night.
Dawning his weapon Leon grinned while reaching for the handle. “Don’t tell me you’re starting to underestimate me, Moore?” With that, he let himself out shoving the nine millimetre back into its holster leaving it unstrapped.
Squinting through the dark he assessed the trees at the edge of the park. Nothing looked out of place. The wind rustled the large poplars and birches, footprints in the fine dirt led this way and that way, a gated main trail held signage denying access to campfires motor vehicles and unleashed dogs. All utterly normal sights for a forest park.
Gahan joined his partner by the trail’s entrance. He too caught the wind the footprints and the signs but he also caught something else. A faint murmur in the distance, a wafted hint of iron on the wind and a disgruntled bird flying above the trees twenty yards into the thicket. He gestured towards the disturbance. “They’re that way.”
Leon nodded once then started into the wall of branches. There was no need to ask why or how Gahan knew the things he knew, Leon just trusted that he knew. He would have liked to have known what it was he saw or smelled but early on in their forty-year friendship Leon had learned that Gahan liked to remain a mystery.
They had only travelled ten yards in when the first smattering of rain on dry leaves dulled Gahan’s senses stalling his forward momentum. A loud burst of giddy laughter rang out giving away their quarries location. Both men dropped down and turned determined eyes to each other. “Get to the car and wait for me.” Gahan hissed out a harsh whisper.
Sneering at the suggestion Leon palmed his gun. “And let you have all the glory?” Gritting his teeth Gahan motioned for him to stay put. They would have to stop going on these little adventures soon. While Gahan could handle the stress and strain on his body Leon was not as resilient. In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure how the bastard had talked him into inviting a greying old man on a trip to spy on the type of monster that was hiding in those woods.
Shuffling forward in a crouch Gahan approached the source of the laughter. There were three of them in a small clearing. Unarmed with a hand-tied behind their backs each one of them was enough to overpower both Gahan and Leon. In a group with the full use of both hands, there was no hope. Silently moving back to Leon Gahan shook his head. “Bærnan, three of them about five yards that way. We have enough for Logan lets go.”
Sheathing his gun Leon followed Gahan out to the car. With a sour grimace belaying how arthritic his knee had become he climbed in carefully shutting the door making as little sound as possible. “This is bullshit, Moore.” He snapped the moment Gahan started the ignition. “Logan needs to man up and stop playing damage control with these fucks.”
Sucking in a gulp of air Gahan flashed a worried glance to his friend and partner. “Don’t ever say that don’t even think it.”
Letting out a dry laugh he rubbed at his sore knee. “I’m not afraid of Logan or his mind fuckery. He needs us more than we need him. We both know how many more problems he would have to deal with if it weren't for us mopping up and this territory of his has too many problems for one man no matter how powerful. You and I Moore, we could go back to taking the easy cases any time. I almost miss the good old days of doing background checks and searching for some little kid’s missing kitten.” He gave a wry smile.
Seeing an opportunity Gahan tried to bring up a subject he had been bringing up since the birth of Leon’s daughter. “You know we could always go back to the easy stuff.”
As usual, the suggestion of going back to their roots as a regular old run of the mill private detective agency was met with a scornful sigh. “I said almost.”
On that note, Gahan flipped the stereo on. They drove back to town listening to the grating tones of Tom Petty on cassette. A small price to pay to see Leon tapping a toe.
Pulling into an unassuming ally in downtown Washington Gahan rolled his window down and waited. The ally itself was like any other one would expect in any downtown district. Dumpsters bordering backdoors giving off the reek of garbage and old urine laced with a healthy dose of vomit. That particular ally held another more pleasant scent. It touched the hind part of Gahan’s brain that registered primal instinct. It prickled his nose while beside him unable to pick up on things so faint Leon sat unaffected by the clamour of scents.
It wasn't long before one of the many doors opened revealing a man with curly dark hair that fell past his shoulders. As usual, he was in a white ruffled shirt and shiny black pleather pants. It was all a little on the nose but for as long as Gahan had known the man Logan always thrived on image.
Sauntering up to the rolled down window Logan leaned in resting his elbows on the door. “Hello, Gahan.” He drawled in his usual French tilt before turning his attention to Leon and unleashing a grin wide enough to show teeth. “And hello to you as well Monsieur LaFont.” A move like that was meant to frighten but it did little to move Leon.
“Three Bærnan were holed up in the park just like you thought,” Leon stated forgoing any pleasantries.
Placing a well-manicured finger on his chin Logan searched the older mans face in vain for a glimpse of eye contact. Leon knew that when speaking to Logan it was best to keep your eyes away from his. “I don’t suppose you know what they were doing all the way out there now do you?”
“Beats me. You don’t really expect us to stick around babysitting a group of Bærnan for you now do you?” The retort gained a sideways glance from Gahan that Leon ignored.
With that Logan let out a snort as he righted himself. Pulling a nondescript white envelope from his back pocket he handed it to Gahan only to yank it back the moment it was reached for. “For what I pay you I expect better intelligence and more respect. Teach your pet to keep its mouth shut daywalker.” He warned before flicking the envelope into the car and turning on his heel back towards the unmarked door.
Reaching down to the floor to retrieve the envelope Leon shrugged away the hard glare Gahan was giving him. There was no reason to let a man like Logan intimidate him. Even if the man was a King and the term man had to be applied more loosely than usual.
Tired sore and paid Leon let Gahan drive him back to the office to retrieve his own car. Though the office was little more than a front since they started taking work from the not so human it worked well to thwart the IRS when tax season came around.
Leon had started the agency doing exactly what they claimed to do. Then money became tight and people like Logan pain handsomely. Not to mention the excitement of working for forces beyond what any mortal could fathom was intoxicating for anyone.
By the time they arrived at the office, there was a single car left in the parking lot. The storm had caught them again in a light drizzle and flashes of blinding light quickly followed by the chest-rattling clap of thunder.
As Leon stepped out into the rain the sound of rolling thunder did nothing to take away from the ear spitting pop of a gun. Such an innocuous thing, dropping a friend off at his car and yet it was there and not in the forest that Leon stood under the streetlights clutching his chest.
For that moment in the near-perfect silence of the soft pattering rain and the whoosh of the wipers, Leon could do nothing but look at his car. So very close to where he stood it promised home but he couldn't get to it.
The keys fell from his hand as he slumped down to his knees. Odd that the impact of his knee on the pavement wasn’t painful. Nothing was painful just then. There was that at least.
Already on the phone calling for help Gahan ran to his friend's side while he scanned the area for any hint as to who was out there. The smell of blood was thick in the air but Gahan could hardly concentrate on that.
Using his jacket to shield Leon’s eyes from the rain he hung up with the ambulance and called the only other person he could think of that would know how to help. Leon weakly grasped onto Gahan’s shirt. “Promise me something, Moore.”
“Yes, anything you ask.” He answered without thought his fingers still racing through the numbers.
“Look after her. Promise me you’ll take care of my Bea.” He croaked out with an intensity that demanded obedience burning in his eyes.
Gahan nodded while bringing the phone to his ear. “I promise to take of her while you’re getting better.”
The phone connected as Leon let out a humourless laugh. “This better be good Gahan. I called you at least four times in the past few hours.” The familiar voice scolded him.
After a quick rundown of the events including a very brief description of the gunshot wound to Leon’s chest Gahan asked his mentor what could be done. There was a long pause. The sound of sirens in the distance meant that time was running out. “I suppose he could be turned.”
“I will not do that. If I give him blood how much would it take to heal him but not turn him?” Gahan asked desperately looking to the street for the impending procession of police and ambulances.
The question was met with cold laughter. “Oh no, when I said turn him I didn’t mean you could do it. You are far too young to do that and far, far to young to heal him. By the sound of those sirens, I think you had best let nature take its course with this one kiddo.” Then the phone went dead.
One time in their relationship that he needed help and the man that was supposed to be there for him could do nothing. He hissed a profanity into the phone before tossing it to the side.
“I take it Joseph was no help.” Leon weakly smiled up at his friend. “Just promise me she’ll be safe and I can die a happy man.” Gahan gave his word as an ambulance wheeled around the corner.
Things began to happen very fast. Police had to clear the area before they could attend to Leon. Once it was determined that no more shots were being fired the paramedics took a no longer breathing Leon into the ambulance and off to the hospital despite it only being a formality at that point. Gahan stayed to speak to the officers. His past on the force gave him some leeway. The past on his record was a fabricated one but it was true that he had at one time been an officer. It was the next bit that Gahan dreaded. The news came back that Leon had died on rout. In truth, he had died on the asphalt but they never call it until measures had been taken. His daughter had to be informed. Gahan had to be the one to do it. It would be better coming from him. He changed his clothes and scrubbed his hands removing every trace of blood before he and two uniformed officers went to the LaFont house.
The moment she answered the door a knowing look of horror crossed her dainty features. Sweet feisty Bianca crumpled at the doorway. Gahan had known her since her birth and she had rarely cried after the age of five. It was painful to see her so distraught. Looking at her tresses of blond hair and her green eyes so much like his Isabelle’s it was more than painful. He wanted to take her in his arms but he could not let himself so much as touch her. She was not so little anymore but at seventeen she was still a child in the eyes of the law. There was talk of taking her to a home of some sort, foster care they called it. Gahan stepped in to put an end to that. The girl was seventeen, after all, that was nearly an adult. That would have been quite old enough to have married some nice farmer or thatcher back in his time. At first, they would not relent but it soon came to light that in his idiocy Leon had bequeathed not only the business to Gahan but also the care of his daughter. Godfather, they called it. Of course, he would care for Leon’s little Bea as well as he could. He would have done so regardless of deathbed promises or living wills. He cared for the little girl. More than he could or would ever express to her or her late father. The problem was that he was in no position to be a caregiver to anyone.
In order to appease the law, Gahan moved into the LaFont home until Bianca could take ownership of it on her eighteenth birthday. The following weeks were the hardest for Bea. Still grieving and working out how to balance a new relationship with Gahan she had to toughen up. Gahan had been Bianca’s fathers best friend, her fathers only friend really. He had been a staple at their meagre celebrations of Christmases thanksgivings and birthdays for as long as she could remember but he was strange. She had known exactly how strange he was since her tenth birthday. That knowledge did little to console her when she needed a pat on the back or just a hand to hold and he wasn’t willing. His guardianship was more like having a strict roommate than it was like having a real surrogate father.
While under his care Gahan insisted she spend all her time on schoolwork or working with him at the agency answering phones and filling paperwork. He didn’t care for her boyfriend and had made that quite apparent while Jason had still been around. After only a few months Jason broke it off. She was sure that Gahan had somehow scared the boy away. It would have bothered her more if she had loved him or wanted to do more than work until too tired to stay awake. Her father never liked the boy either. He would have wanted her to forget about Jason finish her schooling and make sure the family business carried on. If he didn’t want that he wouldn't have stated that on her twenty-fifth birthday she was to gain half partnership of the firm with Gahan. Their strained living arrangement lasted for a few months after her eighteenth birthday. He stayed until school finished.
Graduation was a sad day and her father not being there only made it worse. On that day she left her school and Gahan left her home. He only lived a short drive away but it was bittersweet having the house to herself at eighteen. Spending more and more time at the office she threw herself headlong into the business of becoming a private detective. Spending time at the shooting range she let Gahan teach her how to handle a gun. That had been hard. Handling the very thing that had killed her father made her nervous but she stuck with it until that nervousness was a distant memory. Learning the finer points of completing background checks and sweet-talking people into handing over information she watched Gahan with careful contemplation and tried her best to emulate him. He was, as her father had always said, the best detective on or off the force.
To keep the agency afloat Gahan took jobs from the local factions while keeping Bea on the more mundane cases. He knew that he couldn’t keep that up for long. The girl was curious and insatiable when it came to his world. Though it was in some ways less complicated having her in on the secret it was in many ways more complicated. He never knew how much to say or what to allow her to do. Thankfully she refrained from asking too many personal questions. There had been a time when she was around thirteen that she had been very curious about him. For a time she stared at his mouth expectantly when he spoke. He suspected that Leon had put an end to that with some sort of talk about etiquette but he could only speculate. Currently, her curiosity was directed outward to those he associated with.
While going through a police report detailing yet another one of the Bærnan atrocities Bianca wandered into his office. He shut the file before she could see the grizzly photos. “Who is Joseph?” She asked in the sweetly casual tone she used when trying to wheedle information out of people. The girl had learned well.
He smiled at her technique. “Just a friend, why? Did he call?” Gahan had requested that Joseph not call the office but he was not one to take requests and he seemed keen to meet Leon’s daughter. Not a request that Gahan was willing to fulfil either so perhaps they were equal on the stubborn front.
“Yeah, he called. He seems to know me but you never mentioned him before. Asked what I was doing these days. Told him not much besides working here.” She pressed narrowing her jewel-tone eyes studying him for any sign of a lie.
Gahan silently cursed Joseph for his loose lips. “He’s an old friend, I must have mentioned you at some point.”
Sucking her cheeks in she gave him one last hard look before she slowly got up and placed a post-it note on his desk. “Said I’d love to.” Tapping it once she turned and left him. Glancing down he saw that she had written Joseph’s words in small scratchy letters. Meet Joseph at the waterfront villa seven pm tonight. Bring Bianca I know you can give her one night off. Son of a bitch was determined.