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To the Victor…
Chapter 20: Resolutions
by Tog
(Part 2 of 3)


Entimangler crouched in the bushes outside the home of Reginald Danforth.  It was a nice house set deep inside a high wall which was hidden from view of the house by a ring of trees and shrubs.  From the outside, it tried very hard to look like a fortress.  From inside the yard, it was simply the only house in the world.

The ring of cameras and security devices intended to detect fliers meant getting in would be hard, even from directly above.  As impressive as the security system appeared to be, it didn’t really work all that well.  The first few visits saw a guard or two come to check out the area where a breech had been detected, but it really was just a simple matter of snagging a Mylar balloon in a tree near the active IR sensors.  The car dealership on the other side of the river seemed to provide a nearly endless supply of them.  It was one of the biggest complaints those on the residential side of the river had.

It had only taken four incursions to train the guards to look for a balloon in the trees when a breech was detected.  If they found one, they never even investigated an alternate cause.

From her position, the house was quiet.  There was no activity she could see.  No electronic devices she could hear, and no unusual smells in the air.  Then the wind shifted.  With the gentle breeze came the unmistakable smell of human flesh gone bad.

Less than 30 minutes later, Captain Pruitt arrived on the scene with a warrant and a small team of police to search the house for a dead body, or bits of one.  Epim and Ent were by his side as the head of security examined the papers and let them pass.

In the bedroom on the second floor, behind a locked door, lie the body of Reginald Danforth.  A single gunshot wound to the right side of his head, and a Beretta 9mm pistol clutched firmly in his hand.  At the sight of this, the Captain motioned for the heroes to stay put and for the crime scene guys to start on the scene.

“Before you do anything else, check his hands for any type of gel,” said the Captain.  Then he turned to Ent.  “Explain again how you knew he was dead.”

“Did not know was Danforth.  Only taste death.”

“How close to the house were you?”

“Closer than wall.”

“So you were on the grounds?  Why?”

“Danforth is enemy.  I watch.”

“Says who?  Mourning Angel?”

“Yes.  And Tog.  And Marcus.”

“Captain.  No sign of any gel on the hands, or anywhere else.  Just some grease smudges on the gun hand.”

“Can you remove the gun?”

“No, sir.  He’s got a death grip on it.”

“Okay.  Make the weapon safe and then finish up here.”  Epim, Ent.  We need to finish this talk someplace else.”

~~~~~

Mourning sat at a small table in a dull green room, staring into the large one way mirror that faced her.  Captain Pruitt opened the door and entered with a woman dressed in a Freedom Corp. outfit.

“Mourning Angel, this is Agent Reeves.  She’ll be asking you some questions about the incident last October.”

“Do I need a lawyer?”

“I’ve talked to Epim, and she’s sending someone named Katrina or something over if you decide you need one.”

“Ask away, and we’ll see how it goes.”

The Longbow agent sat down in the chair facing her and opened the file she had brought in.

“Records indicate that you were an exemplary hero up until October of 2006.  Then, you attacked Reginald Danforth without cause and left him on the roof of his office building.  Is that accurate?”

“Not entirely.  I had cause.  What I lacked was evidence and judgment.”

“So, you don’t deny that you attacked him.”

“No.  It’s obviously a matter of record at this point.”

The agent scribbled on her note pad then asked, “So you have a score to settle with him?”

“Look.  That day was a bad one.  I’d been on edge for months, I was singled out for an attack that used dozens of civilians as human shields, and my dogs were killed by a sniper during the fight.  It was all obviously intended to rattle me, not kill me.  They could have shot me mid-fight when I was too weak to do anythin’ about it.  They didn’t.  They wanted to torment me. It worked.  I snapped.  I went after the one person that came up just out of reach of every line of investigation we’ve followed.  After I left him on that roof, I went to Boomtown to think; to regain control.  Tog found me and took me home.  We filed the incident with the Freedom Corps offices and I accepted my sanctions.  I’ve since passed all of my reinstatement tests, and a psych evaluation, which was not required by the way, and I’ve been fully re-instated.  Now, weeks later, the Captain hauls me down here so you can dredge it all up again.  Why?  What’s really going on?”

Agent Reeves slid the folder across the table and turned the page to an 8 by 10 of the wound in the side of Danforth’s head.

“So, you know nothing about that, I suppose.”

“Was this today?”

“Yes.  And it turns out that members of your team have known how to get past his security system for weeks.  That’s pretty convenient.”

“And you think I broke into his house and shot him?”

“Can you give me a reason to think otherwise?”

Mourning flipped though some of the other pages in the file, then stopped on one that showed the full scene.

“The gun is still in his hand?”

“We think you staged it to look like suicide.”

“Seriously?  God, I’m soundin’ like Lis’.  Okay, first off, if I was goin’ to do this I wouldn’t have shot him.  It’s too loud.”

“But your natural powers would be too easy to trace back to you, so shooting is still on the table.”

“And easily traced back to anyone that can deprive a person of air.  You think I’m the only person in this city that can do that?”

“You’re the only one that has that ability and a history against him.”

“That you know of.  And that’s not even the point.  He was shot.  Anyone could have done that.”

“We know you’re not stupid.  You wouldn’t have used your powers since they could lead back to you.  That’s why you went for a method that ‘anyone’ could have done.  Pretty cut and dried if you ask me.”

“You should look up the difference between the phrase ‘cut and dried’ and the word ‘circumstantial’.  I can damn well guarantee that you will find no evidence of any kind that I entered that house.  I’ve never even been on the grounds.”

“We’ll find proof.”

Mourning was staring at a new picture now.  A close-up of the hand that held the gun used by Reginald Danforth.  She turned to the Captain with a look of bewilderment, only to see him shake his head back and forth in an almost imperceptible way.

“So, are you going to charge me?”

“Not yet, but I’d be really careful if I were you.  We’ll be watching.”  With that, the Agent stood up and left the room.

Mourning looked at the Captain again and watched as he silently mouthed “not here”.

~~~~~

Tog was sitting in the common room looking pensive when the others returned.

“How’s it going with Dawn?” asked Epim.

“Dunno.  She’s still in there, and I haven’t heard any noise.  I guess they’re still talking.  What’s all the commotion about?”

“Danforth was found dead in his house.  Looks like suicide.”

“You’re kidding!”

“And the cops hauled in Mourning for it.  They think she staged it.”

“That’s nuts!”

“It’s also not quite true,” said Captain Pruitt, who had just entered the base through the visitor’s portal, along with Ent and Kah-Trinahl.

Mourning emerged from the member portal to see the Captain standing before her.  She pointed to one of the smaller conference rooms.  “In here. Now.”

Captain Pruitt nodded and led the way into the small room.  As the others tried to follow, Mourning closed the door on them.

“Look,” said the Captain.  I’m sorry about that, but it was the only way I could think of to let you see those pictures without officially bringing you in on the case.  If I did that my boss would have my ass.”

“No worries.  I was pretty ticked at you until I saw that picture of his hand.  Same grease marks as the bodyguard from back in October, from the gun’s slide, right?”

“Yes, and no.  They are a different size, but the guns are different makes.  The marks are definitely from the slides of the guns.  We matched the grease from each stain to the grease on the gun.”

“But the slide couldn’t have hit them when it fired, could it?”

“First things first.  So now we have two suicides that have nearly the exact same look to them.  Both men killed with a bullet matched to their gun.  Both men found with their hand locked onto the weapon.  When I asked one of the crime scene guys to make the weapon safe, he dropped the magazine and racked the live round out while the gun was still in Danforth’s hand.  That got me wondering if the gun could have been field stripped while it was still in his hand.  Turns out, it could.  This is where it gets out of my league.”

The Captain leaned in closer and asked.  “Are there any powers that you know of that could stop a bullet dead in its tracks?  Both men fired a gun.  Powder residue on their hands confirmed it, and I’d sure hate to be the one to get shot at point blank and hope for a miss.”

“Lots actually.  Well sort of.  Take Tog.  Any single bullet isn’t really going to do much to him.”

“Wouldn’t he still bleed though?”

“Yes.  A little anyway.  It might not be enough to actually drop to the floor.  A sweatshirt might soak it all up.  Same with Ent.  She’d bleed for an instant, then it would heal.  You might not recognize hers as blood though.  And she wouldn’t have the dexterity to take the gun apart in the first place.  Someone like Twitch might be able to dodge a bullet at point blank range, but she’d have never tried to disguise anything; too much like lying.  HAAL could put up a force field to deflect it.”

“We didn’t find any blood or any bullet holes at either scene.  I also wouldn’t think the killer would risk leaving blood behind.  Whatever they shot had to have absorbed the bullet without breaking the skin.”

“Have you considered body armor?”

“Yes, but that trusts that the person will shoot you where it’s covering.  With Danforth, it’s possible he’d just aim for whatever he could get, but the secret service guy would have taken a head or leg shot at that range, if he saw the armor.  Hell, he might have anyway.”

“Kym.  She can create a thick goo around her.  That could slow the bullet enough to just leave a bruise, and it wouldn’t leave a trace in the room since it evaporates.  She could just pick the bullet up after it falls.”

“You don’t think she’d have done it do you?”

“Ha!  No.  Not her style.  She’d either talk him into killin’ himself for real, or she’d tear his arm off and beat him to death with it.  Not a lot of middle ground there.  Plus it doesn’t explain the cadaveric spasm.”

“Right.  That’s the part we’re having a hard time with too.  They usually only happen when the muscles involved are actively contracting at the time of death.  Usually you see it in a victim holding onto something of value.  You don’t really see it that often in a gunshot victim, and I’ve never seen it in a suicide.  Our M.E. says that if the vic were actually trying to fire the gun, like, in an adrenaline fueled, life or death moment, it’s possible.  It’s also possible in electrocutions.”

“I do think that some form of dark energy armor is the best bet to stop the bullet.  Electricity could also explain the cadaveric spasm of the gun hand.  The victim is trying to shoot the attacker, and gets stunned by an electrical surge.  While stunned and unable to relax the hand, a second gun is brought up and it’s done.”

“There were no burns on either body.”

“But there was that gel.  Maybe that stuff was something that would let the electricity through and disperse the heat.  OH!  That would also be why Holt used a silencer!  His body couldn’t be discovered before the gel had evaporated.  If we’d found the body later, the gel would have been gone and we’d have never known anything at all about it.  It was just sort of luck that we got to him that quickly.”

“And your final idea is?” Pruitt said with a pronounced arch to his eyebrow.

“The killer was someone trusted by both men.  The killer walks up to them, makes it clear they are about to die, then grabs their left hand and uses electricity to stun them as they fire their gun at him.  He takes his left hand and shoots them in the side of the head with a gun that’s the same make as the one they are known to carry.  Once they die, he swaps out the barrels to make the markings on the bullets match the barrels in the guns.”

“As luck would have it, I thought something similar on this second one, so I had the lab take pictures of the barrel and slide before they did the ballistics test, then again after.  There were tool marks on the slide, caused by the barrel, in places there had never been any wear before.  Danforth’s gun had never been fired in that configuration before he died.  Why so glum?  This is great news.”

“No.  It’s not.  One time makes it a perfect crime.  Twice makes it a pattern.  Twice in less than three months as a part of the same basic case, makes it either sloppy, or a message.  So far, nothin’ they’ve done has been sloppy.”

“So what’s the message?”

“The one I’m hearing is them sayin’ that we’re powerless to stop them now.”

~~~~~

A strong wind from the north whipped falling snow into a frenzy.  Mourners huddled close together to try and shield themselves from it, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

The service was generic and canned, right down to the form letter eulogy given by the priest that had never met the man in the grave before him.  Nowhere was there a tear shed.  Reginald Danforth was not a man worthy of friends, only rivals and victims.

At the gravesite, Lista tried to mingle with everyone.  She was hoping to hear or smell something that might be familiar to her from her long incarceration.  It was a long shot, but it had to be taken.

Mourning and Heather were working a different angle.  They were monitoring the parking lot, recording the people and vehicles to match them up later.  As the people returned to their cars, Heather noticed something odd.

“See that blue car there, the long one?”

“Yes.  What about it?

“It’s been idling this whole time.”

“It’s cold.  The driver probably wanted to keep the heater goin’.”

“But look at the snow around it.”

Mourning looked and realized what Heather was getting at.  The snow around the car was untouched except where the car had pulled into the parking stall.  She keyed her radio.

“Kym, are you still over the lot?”

“Yes, but I’m freezing my butt off.  Can we be done now?  Please?”

“Just about.  I need you to look at all the cars in the lot really fast.  Tell me how many have no footprints leading to or from them.  Mark them when you see them.”

A loud sigh came through the speaker, followed by a reluctant, “Fine”.

Two minutes later, she returned the answer.  “Just one.  Big blue one at the north end.”

“Nice.  Wait for Lis to meet you, then you can come in.”

Nowhere near soon enough, Lista was dressed in a white and grey outfit and hovering beside Kym.  Kym realized this and sped off for the heat of the base.

Lista waited for another 15 minutes for the car to begin to move.  Once it did, she watched it from high above and called in numerous reports on its location and heading.

“It stopped.  I’m in the middle of Talos Island, right by Future Dynamics.  Some guy is getting out.  I don’t recognize him.  He’s going into the old door where the dance club used to be.  The car is driving off.  You want me to stick with the car, or follow the guy?”

“Did the guy get out of the front or back?” asked Mourning.

“Back.”

“Did he open his own door?”

“Yes.”

“Did he signal to the car it was okay to leave after he closed the door?”

“He tapped on the roof twice.”

Mourning glanced at Epim for confirmation of her idea, then said, “Stick with the guy.”

Lista swooped down and landed beside the doorway.  She ignored the bum telling her it was his spot and that the dance club was closed, but the door refused to budge.  His chiding as she walked away were ignored as well.  After relaying this to Mourning, she went back to the base.

~~~~~

“We need to find a way in there,” said Tog.  We tried the doors at the other locations and they were shut tight as well.

“High strength magnetic locks would be my guess,” said Heather.

“Could Sliss use an EMP to take them out?”

“Probably not.  These guys aren’t stupid.  If they are relying on magnetic locks, they’ll be hardened.  Cutting power isn’t really an option since they can tap directly into the power facility in Indy.  And even if we could zap the lock at one location, we have no way to know if they have another type of lock on the door, or a second door.  We don’t want to tip our hand by attacking a place if we can’t get in.”

“She’s right,” said Mourning.  “We need somethin’ else.  Somethin’ more like what they’ve been doin’.”

“We could set up surveillance on the door,” offered Lista.

“They probably sweep the alley for electronics,” countered Mourning.

“So don’t use electronics,” said Heather with a grin.

~~~~~

“In the smallest words you can possibly know, explain to me how this works.”

Heather giggled at the pre-emptive frustration in Tog’s voice.

“Okay.  We need a way to make a record of who comes and goes by that door in a way that is totally passive.  We can’t send any signals they can detect.  Ideally, we’d just set up a stakeout in a nearby building, except there aren’t any that have a view of that door.”

“And this will help us?”

“Definitely.  It’s basically a periscope, but a really big one.  Now that Athena has fabricating capabilities, I can give these designs to Zach, then she can start making them.  All we really need from her is the lens.  I figure a lens set up about 400 millimeters across should get us close to a 0.285 arc second resolution, and since we’re only looking about a mile, atmospheric aberrations really aren’t a big concern and given the subject, neither will the chromatic ones that may be introduced by the non-apochromatic objective.”

“Smaller words.”

“Those are the smaller words.  Okay try this.  At one mile away, we will be able to tell the difference between two different freckles if they are more than 1 tenth of an inch apart.  We’ll be able to see them in more than enough detail to recognize them.”

“And how long will this telescope be?”

“About 3 feet.  See.  That’s what makes it cool.  If we put it on a building, like a warehouse, there would be a box on the roof about 3 feet square.  It will look like an AC duct or something.  Inside of that would be a big, flat mirror that would angle the light down to the lens.  From there, it would shine down about 50 feet to a very slightly rounded table coated like the screen at a movie theater.  We’d be able to control the angle of the mirror, and the direction it looks with ropes if we have to.  There would be zero EM signature, and we’d be able to look at anything on that side of Talos Island up to about 25 degrees above the horizon.  The principle is no different than an old box camera actually.  It actually goes back about 1000 years for a working model, and 2500 years for the first time the idea was written down.

“If you want to risk some EM output over ¾ of a mile away from the target, we can project the image onto a CCD array and record it live, like a DVR.  That will make zooming in and stuff a lot easier.  I talked to Zach about a spot I found on the south west side of the zone that would be really good.  It’s eight tenths of a mile away and has a clear view of the door but no buildings of any kind anywhere near it.  We could build it into this rock formation the same way Zach and Pure Energies carved this place out.  Zach said it shouldn’t take them more than 2 hours and we can make the opening blend in with the top of the rock well enough that it would take an up-close inspection to see it.”

“I think we can risk that.  You freaking amaze me.”

“Well, you are pretty easily awed.”

“I’m still a lot bigger though,” he said as he grabbed her in a light headlock and rapped playfully on the top of her head.”

~~~~~

By the third week they had a pattern.  Five people total came and went via that door.  Of those five, four were easily identified.  The fifth man made a habit of concealing his face with a wide brimmed hat or an upturned collar every time he showed himself.  Fresh graffiti on the wall by the door was used to determine his height, and a fair estimate based on that, his build, and his stride, gave them a weight, but that was it.  Five foot nine, 160 to 180 pounds just wasn’t enough to use.

It was clear from the way he exited the car that it was the man from the funeral, so plans were made to snatch him off the street.  This involved a good deal of debate since he had technically not done anything at all.  None of the other men identified were tied to any known organization.  Aside from being the only people capable of using that door, there was nothing suspicious about them at all.

In the end, the plan had been agreed to by all.  Every detail of the car was mimicked, right down to the screws used on the license plate.  Being right beside a store frequented by heroes made it simple enough to have several different people in place to notice any peculiarities with the way the car pulled up and drove off.  Debi was the one that spotted that vital bit of information.  The song on the radio was always the same; usually in very nearly the same place.  It had been noted by others that thought nothing of it at the time as well.  It was suspected that that was some sort of duress code.  Wrong song, and the guy will just not get into the car.

Thursday morning, 11:43 AM, the car rounded the corner after crossing the bridge.  At 11:44 it had stopped at the door, “Tears on My Pillow” playing on the radio.  The man came out, glanced around, and opened the door.

“Nice try, Doug.” he said, and tossed something in the back seat before slamming the door and leaping into the sky by way of rocket powered boots.

Tog whipped around to se what had been thrown in the back seat.  If it was a bomb, he couldn’t just abandon the car here, but if he was going to try to jump it into the water, he wanted to be damn sure there was a reason.  The wave of relief at the sight of the CD on the back seat hit him just before the wave of fury for missing the target.  He had been spotted somehow.  He blew it.

TO CHAPTER 20.3 >






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