Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Part One: Turning Point
1) This story is set in the Wormverse, which is owned by Wildbow. Thanks for letting me use it.
2) I will follow canon as closely as I can. If I find something that canon does not cover, I will make stuff up. If canon then refutes me, I will revise. Do not bother me with fanon; corrections require citations.
3) I will accept any legitimate criticism of my work. However, I reserve the right to ignore anyone who says "That's wrong" without showing how it is wrong, and suggesting how it can be made right. Posting negative reviews from an anonymous account is a good way to have said reviews deleted.
4) Any resemblance to a particular movie is not an attempt to plagiarise that movie, but rather, an homage.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
She looks so small.
That was his first thought upon seeing her in the hospital bed. Skinny she might be, but she was tall for her age; however, her height was not apparent when lying down. Worse, some cruel trick of the light made her features seem emaciated, as though she had lost weight in the last few hours.
Leaning forward, he brushed an errant strand of hair from her face; the rest of it had been bundled back out of the way. There were a few scrapes and bruises there, including the makings of a black eye. She looks like she was beaten up, not shoved in a locker. I almost wish she had been. There would be more chance of finding out who did this.
He had seen many faces in repose; some had appeared angry, some surprised. But most of them had given the impression of serenity, of being at peace with the world. From what he could recall, Taylor's sleeping face had been much the same, once upon a time. But here and now, even sedated, she was not at ease; her body twitched, her eyes rolling from side to side beneath the lids. To him, it looked as though she was struggling with an unseen opponent, one that he could not assist her with. To a man who had sworn to protect his child from the evils of the world, this was almost intolerable.
"What's happening to her?" he asked, trying to keep the anger from his voice. Unheeded, his fists clenched, the nails biting into his palm. "Why is she like this?" His eyes fell on her wrists, held down to the side of the bed by soft Velcro cuffs. "Why in God's name is she restrained?"
The doctor at his side drew a deep breath. "Because she's not yet in her right mind, Mr Hebert," he explained carefully. "When she was let out of the locker, she was irrational, attacking everyone she saw. Some of the time she was clawing at herself, at the bugs and the filth on her." He gestured at the contusions on her face. "Some of that was done by her. We were understandably concerned that she might harm herself, so we put the restraints on her. When she's coherent enough to ask for them to be removed, we will take them off again."
Danny closed his eyes for a moment, trying to damp down the pain welling in his chest. "But she'll be all right?" he asked, eyes still closed. "She'll recover?"
"Sooner rather than later, yes," the doctor – Danny hadn't even bothered looking at his nametag yet – assured him. "She's suffered a massive trauma, but once her mind has had a chance to work its way through the worst of it, and we've eased off on the sedation so that she can take in the world again, she should be lucid. But she'll need care and attention. Make no mistake; she will be fragile for a while."
"I understand." Danny was no stranger to trauma and the effect that it had on people. "When will she know who I am?"
"Tomorrow," the doctor told him. "We'll start easing the sedation back then. She should be awake and lucid by tomorrow afternoon. If she isn't … well, we'll deal with that when we come to it. But I have every expectation that she will be." His tone was confident, not forced. Danny believed him.
"Can I – can I be here?" He hated the pleading tone in his voice, the supplication. But this was Taylor. There was absolutely no benefit to be had in alienating the doctor.
"I would much prefer that you were, Mr Hebert," the doctor agreed. "A familiar face would be a very good thing when she comes out of it."
"Will she be able to tell us who did this?" Danny's fists were clenched again.
"Now that, I can't predict," the doctor told him. "Some people block memories out at times like this. For others, it's burned into the brain." A slight shrug. "Gentle questioning may get the answer, it may not. Just remember -"
"I got it. She'll be fragile." Danny's voice was curt, sharp. "I'll be as gentle as I need to be."
Despite his tone, the doctor essayed a smile. "Good. You can also expect emotional outbursts and irrational demands. She may well choose to sleep with the lights on and the bedroom door open. This is a natural reaction; don't be overly concerned. Therapy -"
"- is expensive," Danny pointed out. "The school is denying culpability. They're covering her bills and that's about it." His tone made it clear what he thought about that.
This time, it was the doctor's lips that thinned. "That's absurd. This happened on their watch -"
"Preaching to the choir," Danny reminded him. "I've been through all this." He had gone right up to the line, stopping just short of threatening bodily harm to that skinny, narrow-minded bleached-blonde bitch behind the principal's desk in Winslow. She had been adamant that all due care had been taken, that the school could not oversee every single child every minute of the day.
However, there had perhaps been something about his posture, something about the look in his eye, that had caused her to relent. Or maybe it was a gesture to reduce the chances of him suing the school; the check she had written would cover Taylor's hospital stay with a little extra on top. This in no way admits any kind of culpability, she had warned him. It's just the school trying to help you out in your time of need.
He had wanted to tear the check up, to express his anger more physically, but the fact was that his finances were at a current low. Between unexpected expenses and the depressed state of the economy in Brockton Bay, he simply wouldn't be able to cover her hospital bills. Not easily and not quickly, anyway. At least, not without uncovering certain assets that would cause more problems than they solved.
And besides, his father had taught him long ago to never hit a woman.
I met her on the docks; I was working as Dad's enforcer, while she was Lustrum's favourite trigger-girl. Fortunately for the both of us, our interests coincided; the ABB was trying to ship out a bunch of teenage runaways to the brothels of Bangkok. Dad didn't know what the cargo was, but he knew it was illegal and the Asians hadn't slipped him any kickbacks to let it through. I was the one he sent to express my displeasure and find out what the cargo was.
I met Annette for the first time atop a cargo container at about half past one on a particularly chilly February morning. We sparred for a little, before establishing our respective credentials, then we decided to join forces. When I found out what the ABB was trying to slip past Dad, I didn't even think twice, just offered my help, no strings attached.
We found the container and the guards assigned to it at more or less the same time. I went in, while Annette covered me from a distance. She saved my life twice during that fight; I saved hers once. I'm not sure exactly when it was I started to fall for her, but it might have been about the time she shot the guy in the eye, seconds before he would have gutted me with a baling hook.
from the collected notes of Daniel Hebert
Taking leave of the doctor – his name was Franklin, Danny finally bothered to note – he strode down the steps outside the hospital to where his car waited at the curb. Climbing in, he fastened his seat belt but then sat with the keys in the ignition for the longest time.
He stared at the car ahead, but did not see it; behind his eyes, he was engaged in a struggle between what he knew he should do and what he wanted to do.
I made a promise.
Yes, but they did this to Taylor.
It doesn't matter. A promise is a promise.
It does matter. They hurt Taylor.
It shouldn't matter. I promised her.
Yeah, but she didn't know this was going to happen.
A promise is still a promise.
A tap on the window startled him from his reverie; he jerked in surprise, looking around, to see a police officer peering at him through the window. The officer made a 'wind the window down' motion; Danny nodded, drawing in a deep breath to regain his calm. He realised belatedly that he was gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his knuckles were white under the strain; slowly, one hand at a time, he let it go.
The window creaked and clattered as he worked the handle to wind it down. "Can I help you, officer?" he asked as politely as he could manage.
"You looked a little stressed there, sir," the policeman said. "Are you all right?"
Jerkily, Danny nodded, although he felt as far from all right as any father would, under the circumstances. "I … sort of," he admitted. "My daughter's in the hospital. She'll be fine, but I'm still getting used to the idea that she's been injured."
"Ah, yeah," the officer agreed, relaxing slightly when he heard the explanation. "I know the feeling. I have three myself; ten, twelve and sixteen. You just want to wrap them in cotton wool, you know?"
"Yes. You do." Danny felt himself warming to the man. He understands.
"But we can't have you hanging about outside the hospital," the police officer noted in a let's be reasonable with the stressed-out dad tone. "Is her mother still in the picture?"
"She died a couple of years ago," Danny replied shortly. "Car accident."
"Oh. Well, I'm very sorry to hear that, sir." The officer nodded sympathetically. "It can't be easy, raising a child on your own. My advice to you is to go home, relax, maybe have a few drinks. Go out in the back yard, swear a bit, throw something at the fence." His voice hardened slightly. "I would suggest not going to a bar. Chances are you'll start a fight with someone and you really don't want your little girl seeing you all banged up, right?"
Danny blinked. That's actually good advice. "You've done this before, yeah?"
"A time or two, yeah," agreed the police officer. "Both ways. The first one works better." He gave Danny a friendly nod. "You get on home now, sir. You'll feel much better once you've gotten it out of your system and had a good night's sleep."
"I'll do that, officer. Thank you." Danny started the car and moved off, not bothering to wind the window up. It was January, after all, and he rather liked the feel of the brisk air on his face. As he drove, he pondered the police officer's words, as well as those of Dr Franklin.
The conversation had given him time to cool down, to think rationally. He was still angry over what had happened to Taylor, very much so. However, there was still the chance that the forces of law and order – he permitted himself a mild snort – would carry out their duly appointed function and bring those responsible to justice.
No, what mattered right now was Taylor's happiness. She would wake up and he would be there. But he wanted to do more for her than just be present. She's going to need care and attention. I need to do something nice for her, something that proves to her without any shred of a doubt that I'm on her side.
The lights ahead turned red; without even thinking about it, he brought the car to a halt. Still thinking hard about the problem he had set himself, he was only vaguely aware of the figure approaching from the left … right up until the pistol was stuck in his face.
"Keys and wallet, four-eyes!" the shaven-headed punk demanded. "Outta the car! These are my wheels now!"
Danny was mildly shocked; not that the carjacking was going on, but that he hadn't seen it coming. Annette would have given me merry hell over this. He turned his mild gaze on the punk. "Shouldn't you be beating up a minority somewhere?" he asked. "Seriously, I've got enough problems to deal with right now."
The punk stared and jabbed the pistol at him; it ground into his cheekbone, just below his glasses. "I'm giving you the count of five to get outta the car, motherfucker!" he snapped.
With a sigh, Danny took hold of the kid's wrist and dug his thumb into the pressure point on the back. The Empire Eighty-Eight punk yelped with pain and involuntarily opened his hand, dropping the weapon into Danny's lap. "I said, I've got problems to deal with," Danny reiterated patiently. He tilted his head as he twisted the guy's wrist to keep him off balance. "My little girl's in the hospital. Do you think she'd like a pet? Maybe a kitten or a puppy?"
"Ahh! Fuck! Fuck!" screamed the punk. "Let go! Let go! Fuuuck!" With his free hand, he pounded on the side of the car, unable to formulate a more reasoned response.
With his free hand, Danny picked up the pistol and used the steering wheel to push the slide back. A moment's glance into the breech was all he needed. "Seriously?" Letting the slide snap forward, he tossed the pistol on to the passenger seat. "Kid. A gun is not a magic wand. It's a machine. It needs cleaning and it needs lubrication. Take care of your gun, it'll take care of you."
He would have said more, but the lights chose that moment to turn green; deciding to swap one lesson for another, he put the car into gear and let the clutch out. The car had gone through the intersection and ten yards beyond before Danny figured it was time to release the punk's wrist. Glancing in the mirror, he could see the shaven-headed thug as a vague form rolling and bouncing on the asphalt behind the car.
Puppy, he decided. I'll get her a puppy.
He did not see, as he turned the corner, another shaven-headed young man in Empire Eighty-Eight colours, step from a doorway. The man was already holding a phone; he used it to dial a number.
We worked well together. I was the better close-in combatant, while she had the edge over me with pistols and rifles. During our time together, I tutored her in every dirty trick my father ever taught me, while she instructed me in how to shoot.
Dad wasn't thrilled that I was quitting the docks, but then, Lustrum wasn't too happy about Annette leaving her crew either. But we didn't care. She was the only one for me, and I was lucky enough to be the only one for her.
After Taylor was born, we made a mutual pact that if either of us was killed, the other would quit the killing business and settle down to raise Taylor properly. I never expected that she'd die in something so stupidly mundane as a car accident.
from the collected notes of Daniel Hebert
The bell on the door of the Four Paws pet shop tinkled; Mabel looked up from behind the counter. A motherly type who had never quite managed to have children, she lavished care on her furry charges, and did her best to make sure that pet was matched with owner.
As always, the noise of the bell roused the various caged pets to respond. Some of the puppies yapped, while others sniffed at the air. The cats pretended indifference, though nearly all reacted in one way or another.
The man who had entered was tall and skinny, probably only a few years short of her own cough-fifty-cough age; he was balding, wore glasses and had a weak chin. Mabel didn't speak to him, watching intently as he approached the wall of cages.
Some customers knew more or less immediately what they wanted; others spent very little time before they made their decision. Her current customer fitted neither category; he seemed honestly unable to make up his mind. Either he doesn't know what he wants, or … he's buying for someone else, and he doesn't know what they want.
Lifting the hinged leaf, she stepped out from behind the counter and moved toward him. He looked around warily as she approached; she smiled to show her good intentions. "May I help you?"
Turning to face her, he shrugged slightly. "Maybe? I'm trying to pick out an affectionate pet for a fifteen year old girl. An emotionally fragile one."
She smiled slightly. "You're going to have to narrow it down a bit."
He frowned, apparently puzzled. "Pardon me?"
Mabel chuckled briefly. "Honey, teenagers have two qualities. They're really good at overdoing emotion, and they all think that they personally invented angst."
The man sighed. "She's a bullying victim. She's been subjected to a particularly mean prank and I want her to feel loved when she gets out of the hospital."
"Oh. Uh, sorry." Mabel immediately felt contrite. "I shouldn't have joked about it. Uh … is she allergic to anything?"
"Not that I know of," he replied.
"Well, then," she said briskly. "Let's have a look at this little fellow." She expertly opened one cage, then captured the resident puppy within, lifting it out, she settled it into the crook of her arm. "This one's a boy. He's been fixed, had all his shots and he's a friendly type." To underscore her point, the puppy licked her hand.
Her customer eyed the dog closely. After a moment, he shrugged. "What breed is it?"
"Not sure. No pedigree papers with this pup, that's for sure." She rearranged the creature so that she could examine him more carefully. It was some sort of short-haired breed, with almost comically floppy ears and a dappled red and white look. "Bit of beagle, maybe some basset. Wouldn't be surprised if there was some lab in this thing's family tree. All affectionate dogs." She held the puppy out. "Want to hold him?"
"I … uh, maybe?" he hedged.
She rolled her eyes. "Aw, c'mon. You're buying a pet for your little girl, but you're gonna be there, too. Want to make sure you get along with him too, you know."
"Ah. Right." He accepted the squirmy warm bundle into his arms. Mabel knew immediately that he hadn't spent much time holding dogs or cats. Holding them was totally unlike holding a baby; where babies were uncoordinated, puppies knew exactly what they were doing with their limbs. This one wriggled around in his arms until it could look up at him with a disconcertingly bright, intelligent gaze.
Mabel was watching them both, a slight smile on her face. "I think he likes you."
"How can you know that?" Unbidden, his hand crept up to smooth back those adorably floppy ears, the short hair soft under his hand. The puppy stood up on his arm, and for a heart-stopping moment, she thought it was making a bid for freedom. But instead, it licked his face.
Her smile widened. "Just a wild guess."
The puppy only whimpered a little as Danny bore him from the shop in a plastic carrier. Danny could hear the tiny nose sniffing at the gaps in the carrier, picking up who knew what messages in the brisk January breeze.
The oversized carry-bag in Danny's other hand held a basket, a leash and collar, various puppy toys, a bag of puppy chow and a bottle of puppy shampoo; Mabel had been a very adept salesperson. Danny had known con artists, back in the day, who would have gotten less money out of him.
It's all for a good cause. He dumped the paraphernalia in the trunk and placed the puppy in its carrier on the passenger side seat; after a little work, he managed to get the seatbelt around it to make it more secure. As he did so, the puppy sniffed and licked at his fingers through the gaps in the plastic. "It's okay, boy," he murmured, feeling foolish for talking to an animal as if it were a person. "We'll be home soon." Unexpectedly, he was rewarded by the sound of the puppy's tail thumping inside the carrier.
Maybe this will work out well after all. Strapping himself in, he started the car. I hope Taylor likes him.
Once we went freelance, we worked at building up our reputation without putting our real names and faces out there. Potential clients would contact us by email, then we would get back to them and let them know what to expect. They only tried to stiff us a few times, then word got around that this was not a great idea.
Marquis was one of our more regular clients; he appreciated our professionalism. He never tried to pull anything dodgy on us, always paid us on time, occasionally with a small bonus for a job well done. In return, we gave him preferential treatment when it came to picking clients. This was the case right up until he was taken down by the Brigade.
After that, our client base began to dry up. More and more capes were coming into the city, and Annette and I had a rule; we didn't go after capes. They were far too unpredictable, not to mention dangerous. We both had our cover jobs, and we started spending more time doing them than our other line of work. Between that and the fact that Taylor was getting smarter by the day, or so it seemed, we were working on making the reality fit the narrative.
That's not to say we didn't do some work, of course. Just not all that much.
from the collected notes of Daniel Hebert
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
"Taylor? Can you hear me?"
Taylor didn't want to wake up. There were reasons that she wanted to stay asleep. If she remained asleep, then the weird noises and odd flashes of light in the back of her mind stayed there and she didn't have to think about them. But the voice was insistent and the soft warm blanket of forgetfulness was drawing away from her.
Slowly, reluctantly, she opened her eyes. Everything was fuzzy, but she thought she recognised at least one person. "Dad?"
Her voice was husky, barely even qualifying as a whisper, but he must have heard her, or at least read her lips. "I'm here," he assured her, leaning over her. She heard something tearing, then something was unwrapped from each of her wrists. He took her hand in his and squeezed it tightly.
She squeezed back as hard as she could, as she felt tears springing to her eyes. "Oh, Dad," she whimpered, then coughed at the dryness in her throat.
"Help her sit up," murmured a male voice; immediately her father's arm was behind her shoulders and lifting her while pillows were slid in behind her. He squeezed her in a hug, holding her close. Weakly, she hugged him back; some of the terror began to recede.
"Are you thirsty, Taylor?" asked the male voice, once he'd let her settle back against the pillows. "Nod if you're thirsty."
Taylor nodded immediately; a squeeze bottle was held up to her mouth and she was given a couple of mouthfuls of water, just enough to take the edge off her thirst. It was barely cooler than luke-warm but it was still the best thing she had ever tasted.
Next, a light was shone into each eye, then her glasses were handed to her. For the first time since awakening, she could see the world clearly. Her father, looking more than a little haggard, was watching her carefully. A nurse and a doctor were also in the room, but she barely paid any attention to them.
"Taylor." His voice was soft, gentle. At some point he had recaptured her hand. "Do you remember anything of what happened?"
Involuntarily, she thought back to the locker; the horror, the terror, the utter stench. The machine beside her gave a warning beep as she felt her heart begin to race, the sweat springing out on her forehead. Her control began to slip and the crackling noise in her ears began once more, as did the odd formless blobs of light across her inner eye. I'm going mad. Or I already am.
"No," she mumbled, shaking her head. "No, I don't -"
"Mr Hebert ..." warned the doctor, but her father was already acting.
"It's okay, Taylor," he soothed her, leaning in to hug her again. "You don't have to talk about it. You don't have to think about it."
"Oh god," she whimpered. "Oh god, it was horrible ..."
"Sh, sh, shhh," he murmured, holding her close to him. "You're here now. You're safe. And there's someone here who wants very much to meet you."
"Huh?" She was just a little confused.
Letting her go, he ducked below the level of the bed, giving her a precious few seconds to get the visual and auditory hallucinations under control. Not all the strange sounds went away, however; there was still an odd scratching and whining noise that she had been trying to ignore ever since she woke up, with only middling success.
It stopped, and she congratulated herself on her self-control. Then her father stood up again and she finally realised that what she had been assuming to be a particularly stubborn hallucination was instead the doing of a perfectly ordinary ... puppy.
Confused, she blinked. "Dad?"
"Why do you have a dog?"
"Because I think you need it," he said. "He's yours, after all."
"What." His words made no sense at all.
"He's yours." Carefully, he placed the puppy on to her lap; it sniffed at her fingers, then licked them. She stroked his ears, marvelling at how soft they were, as the puppy began to clamber determinedly up her stomach toward her face.
"We've never had a dog before." The statement sounded inane even to her own ears.
He looked contrite. "I know you asked for one occasionally," he agreed. "But the time never seemed right. Now it does."
Wrapping her arms around the bundle of fur, she held it gently. "What's his name?"
He smiled to see her holding the puppy. "That's up to you."
She looked down at her new dog, who was rapidly making himself at home. "I think … Chewie."
"What, like the Star Wars character?" His tone was amused. "He doesn't look much like him."
"No." She smiled. "Because he's chewing my pyjama sleeve."
He grinned in reply. "Well then, Chewie it is."
Taylor leaned in toward Chewie and kissed him on top of the head. "Hi there, Chewie," she breathed.
Chewie, for his part, laid off worrying Taylor's sleeve and licked her face.
"So, do you like him?" Her father actually sounded concerned.
Her eyes misting over, she hugged the puppy – her puppy – as tightly as she dared.
"I love him."
Danny left Taylor playing with the puppy and moved into the corridor with Dr Franklin.
"How is she?" he asked bluntly. "Can I take her home?"
Franklin's grimace told him more than he wanted to know. "I don't like that idea right at this moment, Mr Hebert," he confessed. "She's more agitated than she lets on; her heart rate was elevated even before she woke up, and it's only eased off after you gave her the dog. Personally, I'm worried about her blood pressure. We really need to do more tests. And then there's the infections."
"Infections?" Danny didn't like the way this was going. "What infections?"
"Nothing serious," Franklin assured him. "Just a few scratches and scrapes that got material from the locker in them. Minor right now, but I'd feel a lot happier with a course of hospital-grade antibiotics inside her."
"So you're saying what?" asked Danny. "She needs to stay in the hospital?"
"Just for the next few days, until her condition improves," Franklin said. "If she goes home now, she has a chance of getting really, really sick. And I'm still concerned about her mental state. With your permission, I'd like to get in a child psychologist to talk to her."
"I still can't really afford therapy for her," Danny warned him. It wasn't really true, but if Taylor did actually turn out to need therapy, it would take him a little time to arrange payment in a legal fashion.
"This won't be charged as therapy," Franklin countered. "We need to see what her mental state is, find out if the agitated state will pass easily or not."
"Oh. Right." Danny nodded. "I can see that, yeah."
"In the meantime, the more you visit her, the better," the doctor advised him. "And bring the dog. She's obviously smitten by it. In fact, seeing the effect it's had on her already, that pup might end up having more to do with her recovery than any of our fancy medical techniques."
"Well, I was already intending to," Danny agreed.
Dr Franklin shrugged. "Puppy therapy. It's a thing."
Taylor sat in the wheelchair with the IV tree attached, watching as her father walked Chewie in the park-like grounds surrounding the hospital. The puppy bumbled happily through the grass, stopping and sniffing at everything that could possibly be of interest. He peed on everything he sniffed at, causing her father to hitch his eyebrows in mild surprise.
"Is it just me," he asked almost plaintively, "or did we not give him that much to drink?"
She giggled, enjoying the sunlight, the cool breeze and the company. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Alerted by the sound of her voice, Chewie turned and started toward her. Attached to the animal by a leash, her father perforce followed. He watched as Chewie scrambled right up to her feet and sniffed at them, then licked them.
"Oh god," she blurted. "That feels so weird."
"You'll learn soon enough what it's like to be woken up by a puppy slobbering in your ear," he said, grimacing from the memory. "It's quite an experience."
"Wow, Dad," she exclaimed looking at him in some surprise. "Letting him sleep on your bed now?"
He looked away. "He whines."
"Softy," she accused him cheerfully.
"Once you get home, he's your responsibility," he told her in an attempt to change the subject. "Got it?"
She grinned as he lifted the puppy to nestle in her arms. "Got it." Apparently tired out by his exertions, Chewie rolled over, snuggled in and went to sleep.
"I don't get the wheelchair," she complained as he began to wheel her back into the hospital. "Why can't I just walk?"
"Because you've suffered a massive trauma, and some of that was physical," he said. "Doctor Franklin wants you resting as much as possible, and if you were on your feet, you'd be running around after that dog."
"Yeah, maybe." She didn't exactly deny it, absently scratching Chewie behind the ear. He snuffled and one leg kicked a few times.
"No maybe about it. I know you." He stopped pushing and knelt down beside her. "I just want you to get better."
"How soon?" she asked, a break in her voice. "I hate it here."
"A few days, no more," he promised. "Doctor Franklin just wants to make sure there aren't any really big problems about to surface. I'll visit every day with Chewie."
"Thanks." She freed one arm from under the sleeping puppy to wrap around his neck. "And thanks for getting him for me. He's gorgeous."
He smiled self-consciously, putting his arm around her back. "Hey, if I'd known getting a dog would make you this happy, I would have done it years ago."
"Yeah." She leaned against him, looking fondly down at the sleeping puppy. "I really, really love him."
He ruffled her hair. "I know. Doctor Franklin knows. People on the fifth floor know."
"Oh, ha ha."
Chewie moved in his sleep, and Taylor disengaged her arm from her father's neck to steady the puppy. Her father took that as his cue to keep pushing her toward the hospital doors.
She was silent as the automatic doors slid aside for them; as they rolled down the corridor toward the lifts, she stroked Chewie's ears. It was only when the elevator doors had closed behind them that she spoke again. "I don't want you to go."
"I'll stay as long as they'll let me," he promised. "Me and Chewie both." He pressed the button for her floor. "In the meantime, do you have any idea who …" He let the words trail off.
Instinctively, she knew what he meant. "No, and I don't even want to think about it." She curled in on herself like a wounded animal, wrapping protectively around Chewie. "Every time I even start to think about it, I want to throw up." He couldn't see her face, but from the sound of her voice, she was about to start crying.
"It's okay," he soothed her, ruffling her hair. "It's all good. I'm not going to ask you that any more. We can talk about whatever you want to talk about. Okay?"
She sniffled. "Okay. Let's start with how come you let my dog sleep on your bed."
"Oooh." He mimed clutching his chest, just as the elevator doors opened. "A mortal wound. I am slain." Cheerfully, he grinned at the two old ladies waiting for the lift, and pushed Taylor out into the corridor. "You fight dirty. I'm proud of you."
"Yes, sir, what is your order?"
Danny cleared his throat. "One large Big Mac meal with extra fries. And two burger patties, no bun, no sauce, no salad."
"I, uh, beg your pardon? Two patties?"
"That's correct." He grinned. "There's a perfectly reasonable explanation. I just need to show you."
"Uh, okay." The attendant gave him the price. "Drive forward to the window, please."
Danny let out the clutch; the car rolled forward. As he pulled to a halt, he reached across to where Chewie was lying obediently in his basket on the seat – he had learned 'stay' relatively quickly – and lifted the puppy so that the attendants inside the shop could see him. "See?"
"Aww, he's so cute!" gushed the girl at the window. She waved at someone inside the shop, and an older lady appeared. She also melted at the sight of Chewie's happily panting face; when the meal came out to Danny, they had added several extra patties as well as some strips of bacon.
"Well, you're certainly popular," he observed as he pulled away from the shop. "They didn't even charge me for your food." Chewie made no reply, as he was busy attacking a strip of bacon.
They drove home in companionable silence, broken only by the tiny growls as Chewie wrestled with the bacon. Not being a very large dog, he was having trouble with it. However, being both hungry and stubborn, he wasn't about to give up. Danny grinned and ate fries.
"That the guy?"
The shaven-headed punk, decorated with gravel rash and bandages, nodded. "That's the sonovabitch."
"Good. Follow him."
The car pulled out of the parking lot and followed the sedan down the street. Two other cars fell in behind.
He pulled the car into the driveway and shut the engine down. Getting out was a little bit of a trial, as he had to carry Chewie and the basket as well as the fast food he had ordered. The basket and the food went on top of the vehicle while he locked the car, then he retrieved them and carried the lot around to the back door.
Chewie yapped at something in the darkness; Danny, concentrating on getting the key into the lock, shushed him. A car drove past on the side road, momentarily distracting him, and then he had the door open. Once he was inside and had the door closed, he put Chewie down again; the puppy pranced around his feet as he put the bag of food on the kitchen table.
"You can smell it, can't you?" Danny asked the dog, amused. "Well, give me a chance to get sorted -"
The back door crashed open; at the same time, there was a loud crack from the direction of the front door, followed by a less than impressive thud against the door itself. He spun sideways, reaching for a knife from the draining rack. His hand folded around the handle and he went in for the kill.
They had pistols, he registered somewhere at the back of his mind. Some part of him had understood that from the beginning and had made the choice to close the distance.
When going against firearms, you've got to either increase the distance, including cover, to the point that they can't hit you. Or you've got to get right up in the shooter's face, to the point that you can push the gun barrel aside. The former approach has the benefit that if you're behind solid cover and he can't see you, then he can't hit you. The latter approach is good in that if you've got a knife or something similar, you can stab him. A lot. Knives don't run out of ammo, after all.
So few gunmen expect their opponents to come at them.
from the collected notes of Daniel Hebert
They weren't even wearing body armour. He pushed the first gun aside and stabbed the man twice up under the ribcage, then spun to slash the blade across the man's throat. Blood spurted from the horrific wound, the coppery smell filling the air. The second man was trying to get a sight picture; in Danny's opinion, he should have started shooting the moment that Danny engaged the first one.
Oh well. His loss. Danny dived, rolled, came up inside the man's guard. The gory blade opened his second opponent from crotch to throat; the stench of more noisome substances joined that of blood. As the man fell away, hands clutching at his escaping intestines, Danny grabbed the chair and spun with it, intending to throw it at the third man.
A pained yelp told him too late that Chewie had been cowering under that chair; one of the legs must have caught him. Out of the corner of his eye, Danny saw the puppy skidding sideways, out of control, across the worn linoleum. Toward the open cellar door. The tumble down those steps to the hard concrete below would injure the dog badly, perhaps fatally.
He didn't hesitate; the chair left his hands, tumbled over and over in midair. It passed Chewie, landed across the cellar door, jamming in the opening. A split second later, the pup struck the hard wood and rebounded with an indignant yip.
Good. He's all right. Danny went to turn his full attention back to his third opponent; just an instant too late, he registered the presence of a fourth man in the room, behind him. An arm rose and fell; the weight of the world smashed into the back of his head. The last thing he heard before the lights went out was the sound of Chewie yapping frantically.
Consciousness returned as a series of apparently unconnected impressions.
Wrists, compressed, tied. Plastic ties. With time I can work my way out of these.
Headache. Maybe a mild concussion, nothing serious. Not nauseous.
Hands in front of me, not behind.
Smells of my house. My living room. Blood; the men I killed. Hasn't been long.
Blind. No, cloth tied around head. Blindfolded.
"I think he's awake."
The cloth was pulled away and Danny looked at a semi-circle of hostile faces. He'd been here before, more than once. The fact that he was unarmed and restrained was a mere detail. Besides, not all weapons can be seen.
"Can I help you?" he asked mildly.
The question seemed to take them aback. In fact, his entire attitude of less than fearful cringing seemed to have them puzzled.
"Fuck yes, you can help us," snarled a familiar-looking punk. He had bandages on both arms and his head; two of his fingers were splinted. Road rash showed from under some of the bandages. "You can die screaming, that's what you can do."
"Wait, I know you," Danny replied. "Aren't you the guy who tried to carjack me?"
"Yeah, an' I'm gonna be doing more than that now," the punk spat. "You fucking dragged me behind your car, you cocksucker."
Danny had tuned him out; his mind had tossed up a query. Where's Chewie? Looking around as if casually, he saw the pup in the hands of one of the men. He seemed to be healthy enough, for which Danny was grateful.
"Are you listening to me, you old fart?" The skinhead was shouting now, flecks of foam on his lips. "I'm gonna fuck you up so bad your grandkids will feel it."
Danny looked him in the eye. "Not on your best day." I have to play this just right.
"I'll fucking show you -" The punk moved forward; Danny tensed, but relaxed again as the punk was restrained by a hand on his arm.
An older man, in his mid twenties, wearing the colours of the racist gang, moved forward to stand in front of Danny. He was the one holding Chewie; as Danny watched, he scratched the pup behind one ear. "You messed up Billy and Steve pretty good," he observed. "And J-dog here came off second best, even when he started out with a gun in your face. I'm guessing special forces training, or something of the sort."
"Something of the sort, yeah." Danny wasn't about to give anything away, but a polite request deserved a polite answer.
This got him a brief smile. "Thought so. Well, J-dog wants a piece of you, and it was kinda impolite for you to drag him behind your car like that. How else is he supposed to learn how to carjack people?"
One corner of Danny's mouth curled up. "Tell J-dog that we can go right here, right now. You don't even need to untie me."
The Empire man snorted. "Yeah, that's gonna happen. Billy's dead and Steve isn't looking too good either. We don't need to lose anyone else tonight."
"So what, you just gonna kill me?" Danny watched the man's eyes. If they showed a change in focus, he was prepared to move.
"Thinking about it," mused the man. "I think you're too dangerous just to let live."
"Yeah well, it's not like J-dog could handle me," Danny sneered. "No matter how many buddies he had along." Come to my feet, headbutt him, catch Chewie, out the window …
The man stopped just short of the optimum point for Danny to carry out his plan. "Hm. J-dog, what do you think? He's tied up, and I'll leave you four men. Think you can make an example of him for me?"
"Fuck yes," blustered J-dog. "I won't even need them. I -" Belatedly, he caught the glare sent to him by the man. "Uh, yeah, sure. Four men sounds good."
"Excellent." The man smiled slowly, then turned back to Danny. "Oh, and by the way, you won't need to worry about your little dog here."
"Oh?" Show no concern, show no concern.
"The way you threw the chair shows that you're attached to the little furball," the man mused. "So I wondered how you would like it if I snapped his neck in front of you." His fingers dug into Chewie's fur; the pup whimpered as the pressure increased.
" - don't!" The word was jerked out of Danny's mouth. "Please, don't."
"Ahh." The smile widened. "We see your true colours, your true weakness. So let me tell you what's going to happen to little uh," he checked the collar tag, "Chewie here. I'm going to take him home. I'm going to feed him well. And then, tonight or tomorrow night or maybe, possibly, the night after, I'm going to take him to the dog fights."
Danny blinked. "But he's not -"
"Big enough to fight?" The smile turned vicious. "No, he's not. But he's big enough to blood the newcomers."
Danny felt sick. Blooding newcomers to the fight circuit was usually done with stray cats or rabbits. Anything small, that couldn't fight back. The dogs would tear Chewie apart, getting the taste for blood, making them more savage. No way can I let that happen.
"So yeah, while they're working on you, I want you to think about that." The man locked eyes with Danny. "Because J-dog's a fucking moron, yes, but he's our fucking moron. And you fucked with him. Which means you fucked with us. And nobody fucks with the Empire and gets away with it."
"But he's just a puppy," Danny argued. "Why hurt him? He never hurt you."
"Because hurting him hurts you." The man turned away. "I wonder if he'll even see it coming?"
Danny came off the sofa, hands reaching, but the men on either side of him had been ready for just such a move. Two grabbed his arms while the third swung a powerful fist into his solar plexus. He grunted and doubled over as the blow knocked all the wind out of him. His arms were released; he fell to the floor, taking the impact on his elbows before rolling over. A boot crashed into his ribs; he rolled away, fighting for breath. J-dog came in, vicious glee on his face. He drew his foot back, then lashed out; Danny caught the ankle and twisted. J-dog yelped in utter consternation as he lost his balance and crashed to the floor.
Danny tried to launch himself on top of the fallen Empire punk – maybe he had a blade on him somewhere – but once more, strong hands seized his arms and held him back. They lifted him to his feet, while J-dog climbed unsteadily to his.
While he caught his breath, Danny looked around. The man who had taunted him had left with Chewie; five men remained behind, including the redoubtable J-dog. I have to kill these idiots fast.
Reaching into his back pocket, J-dog pulled out a switchblade. I would have checked there, Danny told himself. "Okay then," he purred, attempting a menacing tone. "Let's see how you like it, wise guy."
"Not up here," one of the men holding Danny stated. "We've made enough noise as it is. He's got a basement. That'll be a lot quieter. Plus, he's got a workbench."
"So what?" snarled J-dog, weaving the blade around.
"So it's got a vice on it. You ever wanted to put someone's balls in a vice for real?"
"Ooooh." J-dog's eyes widened. "Okay, basement it is."
"All right, smart guy," the man behind Danny told him. "Basement. Now." Danny felt something hard and metallic prodding him in the small of the back; it felt like a pistol barrel.
I'd like one of those, too, Danny thought wistfully. He had cleaned the pistol he had taken from J-dog, and it was now residing in his nightstand, doing him exactly no good at all.
Together, they moved toward the cellar door; someone had moved the chair from where he had thrown it. "Serious soundproofing here too," the man who had mentioned the vice went on. "What's that all about?"
Danny didn't answer, at least not immediately. J-dog was at the bottom of the steps, with another man just a few steps up. There was one man immediately in front of Danny, another behind, and the last man was just closing the cellar door. The aged incandescent bulb almost directly over Danny's head provided the only illumination in the cellar.
"Gotta ask you guys a question," he said casually, stopping on the steps.
"What's that?" J-dog snarled.
He paused a beat. "Are you afraid of the Dark?"
"The fuck that supposed to mean?" J-dog retorted, but two of the other gang members were looking around.
"Whaddaya mean by that?" asked one.
"You mean dark, or, you know, Dark?" asked the other.
For an answer, Danny reached up; the cord for the light switch was right where he had paused. Giving it a tremendous yank, he plunged the cellar into darkness; a snap, along with the cord falling limply across his face, told him that he had broken the cord itself. He shoved the man in front of him, then grabbed the stair rail and vaulted over it to the floor below.
The name was Annette's idea. I wanted to use an acronym, so that people didn't know if we were two people or ten, but I was stuck between DAH, being Danny & Annette Hebert, and DAR; Danny & Anne-Rose. She watched me pace back and forth for a good ten minutes – I wanted an acronym, sure, but I didn't love either one of those – before picking up a pen and writing on her own pad. Spinning the pad around, she shoved it across to me.
DANNY & ANNE-ROSE, KILLERS FOR HIRE, I read.
"Yeah, so?" I asked.
Smiling, she underlined the first letters of the first four words, then wrote it out underneath.
DARK FOR HIRE.
I'm not sure which one of us first began using the phrase about being afraid of the Dark, but it certainly stuck. Before long, everyone had heard of it. We were officially 'the Dark'.
I had to admit, it was kind of cool.
from the collected notes of Daniel Hebert
Not having any visual cues, he had to guess at how far he was falling. He didn't quite get it right and fell sideways, feeling as though his ankles were broken. But the tumbling, yelling man on the stairs covered up any noise he might have made.
Muzzle-flares lit the cellar as shots racketed to and fro in the confined space. The first casualty was the man Danny had pushed down the steps; he had made enough noise with the bumping and yelling that attention gravitated his way, as did a few bullets. Pained shouts died away in a gurgling moan.
Thumps on the steps indicated that the men who had been behind Danny were coming down to join the others. Light or dark, he knew the cellar like the back of his hand, but that wasn't going to be much use if and when they produced light and then shot him down like a dog. So he moved fast.
Under the steps, there was a large cardboard box full of gardening paraphernalia; amid said paraphernalia was a pair of shears with rather sharp points. His questing hands found the box and the shears very rapidly indeed; closing his hands around the handles, he stood up beneath the stairs, just as the thumping noises went from over his head to in front of his face. Dust drifted down upon him; he didn't care.
Opening the shears slightly, he jabbed viciously through the gap between one riser and the next. One point struck something and sank deep, eliciting a scream from above; the shears were nearly dragged from his hands as the man plunged forward, tumbling down the steps in his turn. Nobody fired this time; he was obscurely disappointed.
"He's under the stairs!" someone yelled.
And that's my cue to move. Or wait …
Reaching into the box, he palmed a trowel then tossed it underhand toward the far wall. It made a nice clattering sound; several more shots were fired in that direction. In the glare of the muzzle-flares, Danny got a quick impression of where everybody was. Right then …
Lunging from under the steps, he lashed out with the shears; the improvised weapon struck someone, dragging an agonised yell from them. Danny stabbed again and again; the third stab, aiming at head height, hit bone before pulling free. He heard the boneless thud as the man went down … and more importantly, the clatter of metal on concrete.
The others were moving in, but this was his chance. He threw the shears aside and dived for where the gun had fallen. His fingers fell short; he scrabbled for it. I know it's here somewhere.
Light flared; one of the men held up a Zippo. Danny saw the pistol, inches from his hand. He grabbed it, rolled on to his back, looking up at the startled men. They tried to bring their guns around but he was faster.
He shot the man with the lighter last.
Danny trudged up out of the cellar, dragging J-dog by one arm. He'd shot the punk in the shoulder, then knocked him cold so that he could make sure of the others. That he'd done; nobody was left alive in the cellar once he and J-dog were gone.
Upstairs, he slapped the punk awake. J-dog stared at him blankly. "How the fuck -" he blurted.
Danny smashed the pistol across his face; blood started from the punk's lips. "I want answers. Now."
"Wha – wha – what?"
"Dog fights. Where?"
"Wha – wha - wha – dog fights?"
"Yes." Danny gritted his teeth. "Dog. Fights. Where. Are. They. Held."
J-dog eyed the pistol in Danny's hand. "I tell you, you don't shoot me."
"I won't shoot you."
"Or stab me?"
Danny rolled his eyes. "I won't shoot you or stab you. Now give."
The punk rattled off an address. "There. See? Can I go?"
"Nope." Danny locked his arms around the guy's neck, twisted.
"Urk -" J-dog had hardly any air left by the time he realised what was happening. "You said -"
"Said I wouldn't shoot you or stab you." Danny gave one last wrenching twist; the punk's neck snapped like dry kindling. "Never said anything about not killing you."
He let the punk's limp body fall to the floor and straightened up, feeling his own vertebrae click back into place. Getting old for this.
But he had one more thing to do. Going to the phone, he picked it up and dialled a number from memory. The voice that answered the call was male, and sounded as world-weary as Danny felt.
"Kwiksmart Pizza Delivery, Jimmy speaking."
Danny cleared his throat. "I'd like to place an order for Dark."
There was a long pause. "Sir, could you please repeat that name?"
"I said, I'd like to place an order for Dark."
"What? Holy shit." All the boredom fell away from the voice. "Is that really you?"
"September 'ninety-nine. Worth Street. Three guys."
"Shit, it is you. Everyone's been saying you've dropped out of sight. Maybe died, or left town. Nobody's heard from you in the last two, three years."
Danny grimaced, reminded of the reason. Two years, four months. "I'm still around. I've just been … retired."
"So what, are you back in the game? Or is this just a courtesy call?"
"No. I've got some business for you."
"So you're back then?"
" … temporarily. Maybe."
"Right. Okay, what's the job?"
"Pizza for five, extra topping. Going to need some garlic bread, too."
"Just like old times. Address, please?"
Danny gave the address. "Surprise party for a friend. You've got maybe an hour."
"Heh, same old same old. Yep, just like old times all right. Sure, we can do it. Kwiksmart is on the job."
"Good. Come in the back way. Key's under a fake rock. Payment's in the letterbox."
"Fake rock, got it. We're on our way."
"Good." He hung up.
Normally, at this point, he would have made more elaborate preparations, but time was short and getting shorter for a particular puppy. It was also getting quite short for the man who had taken Chewie, but he wasn't to know that. He would learn soon enough, however.
Under a loose floorboard in his bedroom, he located a locked box. He hadn't opened it in more than a year, but the combination was fresh in his mind. Our wedding anniversary.
Within the box were several small flat gold bars. He took one out, locking the box and replacing it once more. Gold was hard to change into legitimate currency in a hurry, but when dealing with not so legitimate businesses, it worked well enough.
An old backpack served to collect the guns that the men had brought with them. Letting himself out of the house, he slipped the gold bar into the mailbox. Then he got in the car and started it up.
It was time to go and see a man about a dog.
End of Part One