Thinking about it back in time I can only imagine what the scene must have looked like...
Somewhere in the town a young man opened up a window and forced his way into the nice, wealthy-looking house. No one was inside, as far as he knew, except for a lonely cleaning lady who was working on the second floor. Despite his innate clumsiness, sneaking into the office without anyone noticing proved to be no problem for him.
The room was spacious, its walls lined with dark wood and red ornate wallpaper. A heavy rain beat on the windows, making his actions harder to hear for anyone who might have been listening, but he had to be fast.
With much-needed care, he took the bag off his back, set it down on the expensive-looking carpet and pulled out a heavy, metal device.
This was the most crucial part. All the wires had to be connected correctly, the batteries had to be taped as tight as possible to the body, the switches activated in the correct order…
Gregory knew all of this quite well. The big man made sure to drill the process into his head every time they practised together. And yet he managed to screw something up every single time. That's why he was muttering under his breath, repeating the instructions to himself one last time as he worked to be perfectly sure the device was ready for the deed it was designed to accomplish.
And somehow… somehow…
He managed to get it right this time.
If only it wasn't for the sudden interruption and the door creaking open hours before it was supposed to. Not even the big man could have expected that.
57Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrtAkYtUTAx
The morning after our adventure with the burned lady, I sat at the edge of our little lake, soaking my legs in the cold water and massaging my stiff muscles.
It's surprising how little it takes for the human body to just completely shut down. In the books and all the movies, they often love to show you these incredible feats of human capability; action heroes who run around for hours on end with no need to rest, fighting and punching their enemies with relative ease.
When you try to do the same, you have to remember it's all made up. Just playing make-believe.
I don't even remember doing that much physical exercise yesterday and when I woke up my legs ached so bad, I wasn't sure I'd be able to get out of my bed. All the walking, combined with the stress of the things I saw, must have begun taking its toll on me.
And by all accounts that was just the beginning of our today's work.
I wasn't sure whether to be worried or excited about the conclusion. While the strangely realistic nightmare I had during the night was more than off-putting, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the promised final resolution of our amateur investigation. Even when I was younger, I always admired the adventurous career my sister decided to pursue, and this was my one random chance to do the same, as laughable as our performance might have been to her if she could see us.
I remember Elskan lying in his bed, snoring like a jackhammer when I was leaving our room to go for a morning walk, that's why I was fairly surprised to find him drowsing away by the kitchen table with his head on a closed book.
“What are you doing in here?”
“I just wanted to make some coffee and I guess I must have fallen asleep in here...” he glared at me. “The TV was turned on too.”
“Wicked. You said we'd get on with the investigation first thing in the morning.”
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and put the book away. “Yes. I have a new place we could look into.”
“Really?” I started in surprise.
“Yeah. The guy doesn't seem to be the sharpest tool in the shed. I followed him across town for quite a while. He seemed to be really suspicious something might be going on, looking over his shoulder and moving all giddy, the way people do. Never noticed me, though.”
“Where did he go?”
“He eventually got off on this tiny bus stop at the other side of the town and that's where I lost him. The bus was already pretty empty and there's no way he wouldn't have seen me if I'd got off at the same time as him.”
“So is that it? We lost him?”
“I saw where he went and if I'm not mistaken, that's where we'll find him today, along with the ending to this whole story.”
A door leading to the shower opened and out came James to greet us in a sleepy voice and pour some fresh water into the kettle. After a second he sat down to join us.
“I was turning it over in my head over the night and for as much praise as we gave them yesterday, this business with the Rebels seems to be getting out of hand quicker than I'd like. That's why I think we should-” He was stirring his tea and stopped when he saw Elskan staring at him with a blank expression. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Did you know that stirring your drink like this doesn't actually cool it in any way?” El replied, without raising his eyes from the table. “If anything, you're adding kinetic energy and that should heat the molecules a little. It's all placebo... you're not doing anything to it. What did you say?”
“I'm coming with you this time. I want to see it for myself.”
“That's fine by me.”
“I'm all for the young ones being involved in decisions and all the important stuff, but this might be going a bit too far over the line.”
“That's right. This might get a little too dangerous.” El said. “Tony, on the other hand, is pretty expendable…”
“Excuse me?” I perked up.
“If we go right now they won't even notice we're gone.” The outlaw went on.
“Should we maybe take the Foxglove weapons you stole?”
“To restrain a tiny critter like the guy from yesterday? That won't be necessary.”
I understood well enough it was meant as a joke and yet, why did I have to be the one getting thrown into a potentially dangerous situation while Manny got a pass?
Not daring to speak up for myself at the time, the two outlaws made us a simple breakfast, briefly turned on the television to scan for any potential gossip and leaving a note to the two brothers we departed on our way a few minutes later.
I gotta say the colourful flags added some atmosphere to the place. Seeing them flapping lazily in the wind made me feel a strange sense of belonging and… maybe even pride I didn't know I had. By branding our surroundings it was like we suddenly really owned the place.
We made sure not to step on any wires and in the next few minutes I was already sitting behind the wheel again, ready to drive the two outlaws as far as the trees would allow. We still had a long way to walk through the town and while it was a pity we didn't have the cash to use a bus and move around by the means of public transport, this unique opportunity allowed us to get in some exercise and sightsee, as grim as our surroundings were.
It wasn't at all unusual to come upon the sight of some random malicious unfairness, either from the part of the army or from the desperate townspeople themselves. And as it turned out, this was just one of those days.
As we neared the Crown Street (you wouldn't find it on the maps these days), we could clearly see a small crowd gathering on the road in front of one of the houses. Some people were shouting and some of them staring at something in the middle of all the tumult, and against my better judgement we pushed through to see what was going on.
A Foxglove soldier stood in front of the crowd, guarding the scene with a rifle in his hands, while two of his buddies tried to restrain a random elderly man; probably a resident of the house, by the look of it.
The man was squirming and cursing, shouting something about his family and trying to get free until the unfortunate moment when, in his struggle, he elbowed one of the soldiers in the chin and sent his helmet flying through the air.
The next second he was lying on the ground, being beaten and kicked almost to death while everyone watched.
“Damn bastards... someone should do something about this,” James complained, but didn't move.
“Really? And who's that gonna be? You? There's nothing we can do about this unless, you want to join him and see the Lyonhall from the inside.”
“What was that?”
“Yeah… it's not fun.”
I didn't feel like joining the banter. I was just watching the scene. To think I could have ended up the same way as this bloke... It helped me to realise how lucky I was to stay more or less calm during my arrest.
If lucky is what you want to call it.
The entire performance lasted only a couple of minutes before they bound him in chains and dragged him off to be driven away into the dank dungeons. After that, the audience grew bored and shambled away to pursue whatever other amusements or responsibilities they had. And just like that, the random stranger was gone.
“This is just horrible,” James exclaimed again as soon as the coast was clear. “And the way everyone just stands around and watches when something like this happens…”
“Every time a war breaks out, the crime rates go up. The illegal ones and the legal ones too. That's just how it is,” his friend argued.
“Doesn't mean we have to tolerate it.”
“I don't think any of these people like what they see, there's just no way to do anything about it. That's how you get these underground organisations like the Rebels trying to influence things from the shadows… you can't fight a giant like Foxglove head-on. Not without some strange miracle.”
Just as El had said there was no way we could do anything about it and, while it certainly wasn't the proudest moment of my life, we moved on with our day and promptly forgot the whole incident only to be remembered years later as I'm writing this.
A few minutes and three pairs of sore feet later, and we turned up at the bus stop the outlaw had told me about in the morning. Now, I'm not entirely sure if I ever mentioned it before, and from a narrative perspective that would be a huge mistake on my part, but the town of Nederstone used to sit on a coastline. Dark black waves rolled towards the shore of a joyless English beach right at the edge of our vision as we stopped on a bridge leading over a shallow river that connected to the sea only a few minutes from where we were standing. No one seemed to be taking care of the place except to make sure cars could pass to the other side and bushes and tall grass grew all around us. El pointed down below us, beneath the bridge. “This is where I lost him.”
“You didn't follow him any further than this?”
“No. There's nowhere to hide out there, and the guy seemed to be getting more and more nervous as we got closer, looking over his shoulder every few seconds like he expected to find the whole army after him.”
“Sounds oddly conspicuous.”
“My thoughts exactly. If there's a place we need to find to earn our pay it's gotta be this.”
It took us a second to find a narrow, paved path going from the road down to the water and led us into the shadows under the span of the low bridge.
“Nothing good ever happens in places like this,” James muttered, carefully scanning our surroundings. “You ever thought about that? Drug deals, murders, bums...”
“Trolls?” I offered.
“That's not exactly what I was going for, but sure... If I was an architect, I would just fill this whole lower part up with something.”
El chuckled. “I'm definitely the last person who would want to hinder your creativity, but I'm pretty sure that ruins the general purpose of a bridge.”
At a first glance, there was nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary. Debris, plastic and rubbish flowing downstream were getting stuck on the concrete pillars and the bank of the river by our feet. Some kids sprayed an authentic caricature of female genitals on a nearby wall in their vain attempt to replicate real art by destroying public property. A rusted, brownish door, hidden behind a kind of a steel fence, stood embedded into the structure directly below it.
“What do you think about that?” I pointed out the curious sight.
“Unless the guy...” Elskan shrugged, “took a boat and went out to the sea or something? Seems like a pretty good bet.”
“Looks suspicious enough,” James confirmed.
“How are we going to get in?”
“Get in? No one said we need to do that. How about we just back away from the most obvious crack den in the history and go inform the Rebels we've found something?”
But as James spoke, the other outlaw was already pushing his way through a hole in the fence, looking over his shoulder. “You're going to have to give me a few minutes. There's some kind of a sturdy lock on this thing.” And without waiting for our reply, he got to work, first trying to hammer roughly on it with a rock until he resolved to use more of a sophisticated method and started to tinker with the lock using two long wires he found on the ground, his tongue sticking out in concentration.
“You know how to pick locks?” I asked as I watched him.
“We probably could have used that in the prison…”
“No wires around down there.”
“This bastard can do anything,” James glared at his friend with his arms akimbo. “Just don't question it, and it's gonna make your life a whole lot easier. Trust me on that one.”
“There's no science about it.” El shook his head. “With enough motivation and a stable internet connection, anyone can find and learn anything they want. I just visit… weirder sites than you two.”
“Let's not talk about the weirder sites you like to visit.”
The waiting had been going on for quite a while and although, as far as we knew, there was no one to be afraid of, James was clearly getting nervous.
“Come on! Can you go a little faster?”
“A little faster? Speed is my middle name, baby.” El stopped to look at him. “Elskan Speed Tesoro.”
“Just get on with it.”
“Tesoro?” I felt a sudden urge to inquire of them. “I didn't know you had it thought through all the way down to the last names.”
“We do, and as you can see, Elskan had to choose the weirdest, most eye-catching name ever. As if we didn't stand out enough as it is.”
“That's coming from the right guy, James Poopington!”
“My name is not Poopington, no matter how many times you say it!” James fumed.
A soft click forced both of them to look down. With a smile, El threw the lock away and bowed to us. “After you, gentlemen.”
Using his phone as a torch, James led the way, stepping over the threshold. “I can't believe we're doing this,” he muttered.
“We gotta stay alive somehow.” Elskan followed him in. “If we don't know how to hunt animals, we'll have to hunt people.”
“That sounded almost poetic.”
“More like a dumb line from a cheesy action movie.”
I went in as the last one, and the light lit the room around us.
It was undeniably a home to someone. Or… to actually call it a home would be far too generous.
It looked more like a... a lair than anything else. There was a sort of a bed in one of the corners, made up of a small mountain of dirty clothes piled up high enough to be considered its own entity. A single broken light bulb hung from the ceiling above a yellowed plastic table and an old-timey radio sat on one of the improvised shelves, though it appeared to be smashed in. There was also some furniture and a tiny refrigerator too.
Where the walls and ceiling were supposed to be, every surface around us was covered in cottony white mould.
To be perfectly fair, this place reminded me strangely of our own cabins back in the woods. That is, if we didn't care about hygiene.
“Looks like they were making something in here.” Elskan took immediate interest in one of the corners, where a low table and a couple of tools spoke of some sort of advanced arts and crafts project.
“Damn.” James was inspecting the haphazard bed. “This really looks like a crack den.”
“Yeah, you would know,” El taunted him.
They started arguing once again in their weird language and I decided to begin an investigation on my own and turned to one of the cupboards.
The first drawer I opened was full of cut-out newspaper articles. Mostly recent things from the local area; Foxglove taking over the centre, local trades losing their interests, the birthday of some famous actor born in the town... As far as I could tell, nothing of any significance.
All the rest of them contained just random junk.
I was just about ready to move on with the investigation and close the last drawer when the rotten wooden handle fell off in my hand and the created fissure revealed... well, nothing.
Where the flat back of the cupboard should have separated the drawers from the unkempt wall was just a gaping black hole. A slight breeze of air seemed to be streaming out when I leaned closer, imagining a creepy face or a buzzing hand that could have grabbed for me any moment.
“Guys, come have a look at this.”
“What have you got?” James turned around, abandoning the decrepit bed.
“An opening, I think. And it seems to be bigger than just some crack in the wall.”
As it turned out, the hole was much more than just a random crack in the infrastructure of the decrepit bridge above our heads. After removing all the drawers and opening the doors wide, the cupboard revealed a whole new entrance leading to who knows where.
“Is this a secret room inside of a secret room?” James shone his torch inside and stepped through and Elskan followed.
“Do you think it's like a requirement to build one of these if you want to buy a piece of land in Suffolk or are we just incredibly lucky in finding them?”
“Knowing us? I think it's luck.”
“It's like going through into Narnia. A disgusting, abandoned, smelly Narnia nobody likes, but still…”
This space was a lot smaller than the initial room. More like a closet adjoining to the bigger one. There was not a whole lot of diversity either. Just a bunch of metal and thick wires towered up onto one of the walls. At least that's what the heap of junk seemed to be until El started digging through it and I got a closer look.
It appeared to be a couple dozen devices stacked up on top of each other, each of them about the size of a regular car battery. And they looked really weird, all the wires sticking out of different places, coils and metal plates... That's the best description I can give you with my limited technical knowledge.
At first I didn't even realise the significance of this discovery until El turned around with a creepy smile and announced: “We found the bombs.”
It's important to say we didn't share his enthusiasm and both me and James immediately backed away.
“Oh, come on! It's not like I'm gonna activate it right in front of you,” the outlaw defended himself, waving the device dangerously close to my face. “But just look at this thing! This man clearly has to be a genius, James!”
“Just like you? Is that what you mean?”
“I didn't say that.”
“Jesus Christ on a bike!”
“But that's not the point,” El went on. “It's exactly what I thought it was going to be; a completely new technology. He's managed to make some kind of a homemade catalyst there in the middle and the batteries on this thing are just huge! Look at this! Come on!”
He was getting into some kind of scientific euphoria, explaining everything he could to us in as short a time as possible.
“It must be using electricity instead of metal shrapnels as a means of damaging its surroundings, and that woman we found must have been one of the first victims. I just don't understand why. It doesn't sound like there would be any benefit in doing that-”
“Excuse me?” someone boomed from across the damp room.
The bomb fell from El's hands as he jumped up in surprise to see a mysterious figure blocking the entrance.
It wasn't the scrawny, nervous boy from yesterday. The best description I have for this new bloke is that he looked like a younger version of Albert Einstein. I mean you know Einstein, don't you? The mischievous look, the unkempt, dishevelled hair; he had it all. Except this bloke was huge. And I mean like huge! At least two meters tall, so that he had to hunch down when he walked in through the door and his shirt seemed to be bursting in its seams with every other step.
“What the hell are you doing in my home?” he bellowed in a voice as deep as a Marianas trench.
“Nothing!” I managed to squeak. What else are you supposed to say in a similar situation?
For a second, the man appeared to be more shocked than any of us. Then his face turned into an expression of pure fury as he cracked his knuckles. “Now you've really pissed me off.”
He stalked towards us, like a menacing mountain of muscle.
“We can take this guy on,” Elskan said with confidence.
“Should have taken the Foxglove weapons,” I reminded them.
“Should have taken the Foxglove weapons...” James agreed under his breath.
Then the bloke was on us.
James, being in the front, got shoved out of the way so violently he flew into the ragtag furniture, breaking the table under his weight and with a loud curse in his natural language Elskan lunged forward only to simply bounce off the giant's rock-hard body.
In the heat of the moment, I grabbed one of the plastic chairs and smashed it over the brute's back. While the recoil of the impact hurt my arm, I'm not sure the giant even noticed anything.
It quickly became clear we were trying to fight an already lost battle. I knew I was the next one in the line and instead of foolishly trying for yet another feeble punch, I turned around and started backing away and trying to put as much distance and unbroken furniture between me and the man as I could. We did a few short comical laps around the table before he roared something incomprehensible and knocked it over in his rage. He would have had me at that moment if not for James, who jumped at his back and tried to choke him, only to be snatched off by a giant hairy hand and grabbed by the throat himself. When I tried to help him, I was once again reminded punching and kicking had almost no effect on our overgrown opponent. All I could do was to stand there and watch as he held my friend by the throat, his face reddening and his eyes bulging out in shock.
“Hey!” Something clicked, and we both turned our heads in the direction of the sound. “Is this how you turn it on?”
With horror in his eyes, the man saw Elskan throw one of his inventions into the secret hole behind the cupboard. James fell to the ground as he let go of his neck and we watched the brawny giant turned around and darted for the exit.
“No-” Was all he had the time to cry out before the device landed and a high-pitched gradual noise crackled through the air. I felt the hairs at the back of my neck stand up and the whole world went white when an actual lightning bolt crashed over my head. The thunder came only a second later, echoing back and forth in the tight space and nearly rupturing all our eardrums.
We all stumbled out of the burning, smoking room together, coughing, almost deaf and completely covered in soot.
My head was ringing and it took me a good while to realise James was trying to talk to me, literally shouting right into my ear. He was gesticulating wildly, pointing over my shoulder and moving his mouth as if trying to show me something.
When I turned around, I could see Elskan walking out of the hellhole that became the small room under the bridge. I'm ashamed to admit it was only now that I'd realised we left our friend behind in there. He seemed fine, though. Better than me. I felt like shit.
My hearing was returning, my eyes stung and my throat hurt from choking. I was dirty and beat up. And I'd broken one of my nails. It sounds like such a childish thing to mention, and yet it hurt like hell.
Other than that... Not bad for the second real fight of my life.
“Where's the Einstein guy?”
I raised my head. “Who?”
“The bloke. You haven't noticed what he looks like?” El raised his arms to point out the brute's hair and moustache. Then he turned back to look at the smoking remains of the improvised room, stared for a moment, and started laughing like a maniac.
“What the hell?” I looked to James for some kind of explanation, who only shrugged.
“He's gotta be in shock. That was... it was something. You have to agree.”
The newly christened Einstein didn't seem to be exactly his best self either. He wasn't hurt, as far as I could tell. He just ceased to be a threat. The sudden destruction of his home broke him faster than we had any chance to do with any physical attacks. As we spoke, recovering from the beating we'd received, he simply sat down at the bank of the grey river and stared out into the void with a thousand-yard stare.
The man didn't even flinch when James grabbed him by the shoulder, turning to the two of us in despair.
“This is not the bloke from yesterday, though,” I had to point out.
“We were looking for a guy to bring down into the sewers and we found one. I'd close it up at that. If the Rebels care to ask him about his friend they can do whatever they want with him.”
“What are we supposed to carry him halfway across the town or what now?”
“You got any better ideas?” Elskan answered from afar, hunched over and huffing like a knackered dog.
“You don't know...” Einstein exclaimed and the outlaw beside him jumped up in surprise.
“You don't know what you did.”
We were cautious of any dangerous moves he might try, but once again he didn't sound like a threat anymore. Just a tired, beaten man. He didn't say anything else.
“We should get a move on. People are going to see this smoke all the way from the other side of the town. Tony, you grab him from one side and I'll hold him from the other. Let's get him to the Rebels.”
James groaned as he hurried to help too.
“If they were ever going to arrest all of us at the same time, this is gonna be it.”
57Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡi1IjltrYuF
57Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpvTmuKKJkg
Only by some impossible miracle did we not encounter a single police officer or a Foxglove patrol doing their rounds through the streets. And while the by-standing civilians gave us some funny looks, none of them tried to mess with us either. As we shambled by the road, supporting a barely moving giant between the two of us, we must have been a spectacle worth seeing. They probably thought we were drunk, drugged or both.
We entered the underground through the only entrance we knew at the time and while the old man guarding the door might have looked a little surprised to see us, it didn't take long to convince him to let us through and, with the help of the little arrows at every corner, navigate our way down to the centre where the Rebels resided.
And again our time seemed to pass without a single slight inconvenience. Whatever primal rage our presence on his property must have ignited in the big man, there seemed to be no trace of it now, like all the fight had been beaten out of him the moment we'd won. We were still cautious, of course, and it was hard not to notice the sudden timidness the two outlaws expressed towards our newest captive, along with all their grumbling and complaining about their stiff, aching muscles.
The last dank, long tunnel, a few heavy, metal doors opening in front of us, people staring and whispering behind our backs as we passed them with our prize, and much sooner than I was ready for it, we spied Tommy standing in the middle of the corridor, chatting away with some of her Rebels.
“Who's this supposed to be? Some new friend of yours?” she asked with a confused smile, and El hurried forward to be the first to report the news of our triumphant victory.
“This is Einstein. The guy responsible for attacking your friend up high and the murder of his landlady, whose name I can't remember at the moment. Sorry about that.”
For a second, the Rebel leader seemed to freeze in place, her features like chiselled into the stone. Then she blinked a few times in what was almost a comical fashion and opened her mouth wide. “Excuse me?”
“This is Einstein,” Elskan repeated, putting a little more emphasis on each word. “The guy responsible for attacking your friend up high and-” His voice trailed off and he turned to me. “Tony, am I saying everything the right way? I'm pretty confident in my English, but…”
“I heard you! But- What the actual bloody-” Tommy was stammering and fumbling for words. “This is not- I- I don't even know where to start...”
“You could start by saying thank you.”
“No! How do you even know about this?”
This didn't sound like her. Something was seriously wrong and we must have been missing some key element to this whole mystery.
“Let's talk about this in my office,” she lowered her voice, looking around. A sizable crowd had already gathered around the five of us, making it almost impossible to get through the narrow hallway. “Quickly now!”
“So what's the problem?” Elskan snapped once we were safely hidden behind the closed door of her room. “You sent us out there to... help your rich boyfriend or something. Without any further input, by the way. And that's what we did! So what?”
“No, I didn't!” Tommy fumed. “I would have never even- Clarkson is- How the hell did you people even find out about all of this?”
“What do you mean, how did we find out about this? You sent us out there!”
“No, I didn't!”
“She didn't. Ashley sent us to go to the house,” I pointed out calmly, drawing their attention. “She was the one who told us about the job.”
Tommy stared at me, clutching the edges of her table in bewilderment, then arched her back and hid her face in her palms.
“Oh god... I'm going to kill that girl.” she whispered to herself. “Did you really think I would have sent you to do something like this? And on your first day? She must have accidentally swapped the papers or something!”
The leader of the outlaws was now visibly calming down too, the realisation sinking in. “Oh... that's- yeah, that makes much more sense, actually.”
“You should have come back here and asked for help! All it would take is a bit of common sense! Hell, even a single message would have been enough.”
James squirmed uncomfortably in his seat.
“We wanted to... erm... make an impression.”
“Well, you certainly have. You can be sure of that.” I expected her to kick us out or something, a practice well known among my former employers. Instead, she just sighed in disappointment. “Alright, you guys. Fine. You did a thing. Well done. So who is this supposed to be?”
“Oh, he's Einstein-” Elskan began repeating his mantra for the third time. “He is the man responsible for all the damage caused to your... the little tiny guy... Who was that, by the way?”
“The tiny guy?”
“The tiny guy.”
She frowned. “How about you tell me your half of the story and I'll tell you mine?”
James glanced over at the two of us. “Seems fair enough. Anyone cares to retell what we saw?”
So I took on the complicated responsibility of a storyteller and tried to recall all the details of the last two days. The assignment, the man and his pompous house, the clumsy criminal, the way we found him through the internet, the chase, the bridge, Einstein and how we managed to involuntarily burn his hole of a house down... When I'd finished, all the Rebel leader could do was to stare at us.
“And now,” El spoke up into the silence. “The tiny rich guy. Most people in this town get to afford to eat meat like twice a month if they get lucky, while this friend of yours has actual statues of himself standing in his hallway.”
Did he really? I must have zoned that one out.
Tommy drummed her fingers on the table nervously. “Since you already got so far into this mess...” She took a deep breath. “Mister Clarkson is one of the town's council-”
“Excuse me?” It drew an immediate reaction from James. “We're not from around here and even we know they are supposed to be the bad guys.”
Yeah. Wait a minute.
The town council? As in one of the people who led this town? As in one of the minted blokes who carried out the ultimate destruction of the local economy to get even more disgustingly wealthy, hired Foxglove to plague our lives and ruined everything for everyone? Did we seriously just meet one of them and completely miss the opportunity to punch him in the face?
“I know what you must be thinking,” Tommy said. “The world is all black and white and they are nothing but evil monsters… But this tiny rich guy you met is not like the rest of them. Clarkson regularly donates significant sums to keep our revolt afloat. In fact, he was one of the people who founded this thing and we owe him more favours than I can remember.”
“So we have ties to the council. Yes. To the good part. Are you happy now?”
I would have never thought there was a good part of them. Those bastards were so infamous I never stopped to think of them as anything else than your typical one-dimensional villains.
“So just to be perfectly clear,” I was still understandably sceptical, “you are absolutely sure he's an ally.”
“He was the one who came up with the whole idea of the Rebels in the first place. Some hidden force to try and help all the poor suckers who couldn't fend for themselves… Might be he felt guilty for the actions of his colleagues. I just took the initiative.” Tommy shrugged. “Now you might understand the very people we are trying to help probably wouldn't appreciate the dosh coming from someone generally believed to be our enemy. That's why I tend to be a little reluctant when it comes to sharing his personal information.”
“So nobody knows,” Elskan grinned. “Smoke and mirrors just like it is with everyone and everything else in this place.”
“No one knows,” she confirmed, “and no one will know. If I ever hear any of you talking about this outside of this room...” She left the rest of the sentence unfinished with a sinister expression that melted almost immediately when she smiled. “Now to your weirdly successful assignment... the original guys weren't even supposed to solve anything. I wanted a report on what was going on. Nothing more than that. I got some vague message from Clarkson saying there was something wrong and he would appreciate some guidance and we all know how dangerous it is to use phones, so I chose them to go and scan the situation.” She shook her head in disbelief. “That's all they were told to do. I had no idea of any... attempted assassination. I had no idea about any of this. How did you do this?”
“We had a whole lot of dumb luck and two of the most incompetent criminals anyone has ever seen. That's all it took.”
“And why did they do it anyway? Something to do with Foxglove? Personal reasons?”
“I don't know. We literally just caught him and brought him in here. He wasn't exactly talkative.” The tone of the conversation audibly shifted, and we all turned around to face the bloke himself. This whole time Einstein sat on a chair by the door, listening silently, watching and no doubt cursing us with every breath. Other than to tie his hands we didn't even bother taping him to the wood or anything. He didn't have a pepper spray.
Tommy got up. “Then let's hear it from the man himself.”
And following the Rebel's example, our entire group stood in her back, peeking over her shoulders, ready to witness the big resolution.
“Who are you?”
“I could ask you the same.” Einstein looked up with a fierce expression.
The Rebel leader frowned and tossed her hair. “My name is Barbara Bones. People in here call me Tommy and I run an organisation that's trying to save what's left of this town. An important work almost destroyed by your actions, as I just found out. So tell me again, who exactly are you supposed to be?”
“I don't need to tell you a thing,” was the only answer she got, “so-called saviour.”
“Maybe try to re-evaluate your options, buddy. You are leagues under the ground here and no one's gonna hear you scream.”
Despite the obvious threat from Elskan's side, he just laughed. “You're not the people to hurt anyone. I've seen you fight.”
At that, Tommy turned to us with a questioning look full of concern. It was clear the giant wouldn't budge.
“Brute force ain't gonna cut it with this one?” Elskan glanced from Tommy to Einstein and back to her again. “Let's try some basic logical reasoning instead.”
Stepping closer he got right up in the big man's face.
“Now that we've found out who the rich man is, we know this guy tried to attack a member of the council with a clear intent to murder him. I think that speaks for itself concerning the target group.”
He looked back at us for some kind of confirmation of his theory. No one dared to interrupt him.
“As I understand it, the folk who run this town gave people a lot of reasons to hate them. However, none of the normal citizens have ever gone as far as this guy, so what exactly pushed this one over the edge to come up with such a violent and intricate plan?”
“Someone might have hired him,” James offered.
“That's a real possibility. Though if we are dealing with hired assassins, we may have found the dumbest pair of villains the world has ever seen. Who would want to hire a man who leaves his credit card on the crime scene? I'd think that these two are just simple amateurs and a personal vendetta is a much more likely cause...”
Whether we were right or wrong in our assumptions, Einstein's face gave nothing away. He could have been carved out of stone.
“You saw the place where he lived,” El went on. “They could have taken away his job. They could have taken away his home... But that's a tale anybody around here could tell you. None of those things are enough to make a man start running around and murdering people. Unless, of course, there's something we're missing.” He rubbed his chin in thought. “Money issues often lead to problems in one's marriage. A dissatisfied wife, a possible angry divorce, lost kids or-”
“Wait...” Tommy warned him.
The big man sprang from the chair, charged forward, hands tied behind his back and all, and flew across the room, ramming El in the chest with his head. It took the three of us to sit him back down.
“Well, here we go.” The outlaw got up from the ground, brushing the dust off his knees. “You're welcome. As always.”
“You like to think how cool you are, don't you?” Einstein started to spit. “The smartest person in the room. Well, guess what? You don't know shit! That guy had it coming from a mile away! I wanted to kill him! I did! And if it wasn't for that damn idiot who managed to muck it all up, I swear I would have done this town a service.”
Einstein pierced us with his eyes, wheezing heavily.
“He tried to call me that night. Call me!” he emphasised the word. “On my own phone. After he'd just murdered an innocent woman. The boy might have been dedicated to the cause, but he proved to be the worst assistant in the world. If only I could get my hands on him again… But the coward legged it.” His arms shook as he imitated choking someone by the neck.
“So he's gone, the young one we saw yesterday?” Elskan asked, but all he got in answer was a curse.
“You can be glad the one above me doesn't know you exist! But he will soon, you can be sure of that! He knows everything! And once he finds out, he will come and burn this place to the ground!”
“Charming…” Elskan mused.
“This one is nothing but a mad terrorist,” Tommy proclaimed.
“So what will we do with him?” James wondered. “Should we just hand him over to the police?”
“I don't think that's the best idea. They would probably be pretty curious about how did we got our hands on him,” she frowned. “And considering you didn't even bother to cover his face when you dragged him through the tunnels, I think it would be for the best to keep him in here for as long as we can.”
She opened the door and on her call came two young women who watched the whole scene with some clear hesitation.
“Put him behind bars.”
“Erm...” The two Rebels exchanged a look and one of them spoke up. “Do we have a cell in here I didn't know about?”
Tommy closed her eyes and put two fingers to her temples in frustration, then sighed as if she'd came to some decision. “Take him into my room, then. The one I sleep in… Lock the door. We'll figure out what to do with him later.”
It was fairly obvious this was not the usual kind of orders they were used to be executing down here. Nevertheless, the two of them led the bloke away without batting an eye.
“You'll regret this!” he growled. “I'll get back at you! Whatever it's gonna cost!”
Despite his size and strength, he made no attempt to shake them off and disappeared from our view in a second. We stood together in silence, listening to his wails fading into the distance until El rubbed his hands together and smiled.
“So that's that.”
“Yeah…” Tommy exhaled.
“We didn't do that bad in the end, did we?”
“What? You were absolutely terrible! You should have come down here and asked for advice like I told you. Even if Ashley had managed to mess up the documents, you could have still prevented everything, and you didn't. All you caused was utter chaos.”
“There is no but!” she flared up. “You can be glad I won't have you locked up along with him! You're gonna get your bit of supplies your measly work has earned you and I want to see you standing here tomorrow doing something bog standard and listening to directions the way everyone else does! Understood?”
And so our fascinating investigation ended with a quick resolution and me and the boys fleeing from the underground office of the furious Rebel. It was not what I would have expected at the beginning of our assignment when Ashley walked into the camp with that first paper and while not everything might have ended up the way we planned it, we were soon about to find out that this day and the decisions we made would be crucial to our continued survival in the forest and the future of everyone we knew.
57Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡvy9iOosNEO
But more on that later.ns188.8.131.52da2