Supernatural Science Fiction posted May 11, 2011 Chapters:  ...6 7 -8- 9... 


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R & R, Friends, and a Nightmare

A chapter in the book Weapon

Downtime

by SeLF

The next morning, we all checked out of "The Traveller's Lodge", made our statements at the RCMP detachment, and exchanged goodbyes with our new friends. By late afternoon, we arrived at the Citadel within minutes of each other. After a brief visit with Arthur, Lee, and the rest of the regulars, Henry and I packed up Snugglebutt and her accoutrements, thanked Arthur for looking after her majesty, exchanged goodbyes with our terrific team members, and drove for another hour to Haven Lake.

It's true. Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. Even though we were still sore and bone-weary, we happily unloaded our gear, and Snugglebutt's, from the pickup to the building foyer. Iris Bloom, our landlady and dear friend, had stayed at the shop after closing time to meet us. She saw our arrival from the shop window and insisted on helping us haul our luggage up the stairs, in spite of our protests.

A totally unexpected sight greeted us when we entered the loft. Several boxes and bags sat on the kitchen countertops, and the fridge had been freshly stocked with perishable goods. Iris and Lee had prepared a shopping list and arranged to have groceries and sundries delivered to the loft earlier in the day. We wouldn't have to go shopping after unpacking.

When we expressed our gratitude, she smiled her wonderful smile and said the thanks was theirs.

"This was Lee's idea, initially. She was so proud of all of you when she heard of the success in Two Rivers. However, learning of the physical demands involved with the rescues caused some anxiety for her, Frank, Ken, and me. This 'welcome home' gesture is a token of our appreciation."

"We were just at the Citadel," I said. "Frank was at work, but neither she, nor Ken, said anything about this."

"It was intended to be a surprise."

It certainly was.

"Right now at the Citadel, the rest of the gentlemen should be enjoying a dinner she planned especially for them."

Iris stood there for a moment, her expression now completely serious.

"The five of you, with some help from the Mounties, rescued thirty-nine trafficked people in five days. Thirty-nine. Impressive."

She hugged both of us, said she'd talk to us in a few days after we'd rested and recovered, and with a soft swirl of royal blue and lemon yellow caftan, left the loft. Henry and I stared at each other, touched and humbled.

By now, Snugglebutt was very vocal about wanting out of the carrier. When I opened it, she made a beeline for Henry, stood on his left foot with her front paws reaching up his pantleg, and impatiently nattered at him to pick her up. He obliged, and the nattering was replaced with her loud, diesel engine purr of sublime happiness.

I put the rest of the food and supplies away while Henry visited with her majesty. Upon looking more closely at the fresh fridge contents, I realized we wouldn't have to cook supper tonight. There were salads: green, chicken, potato, and broccoli coleslaw; a choice of dressings; a plate of precut raw veggies; a cheese plate; some lovely, fresh, whole grain dinner rolls; plain non-fat yogurt; a fruit salad; a small platter of fruit slices; milk, ginger ale, a couple of bottles of wine, one red, one white; and two casserole dishes of vegetarian and regular lasagna. Just heat and serve. All the ready-to-eat food came from the popular delicatessen in the supermarket that had delivered the other supplies.

After dealing with the minimal meal cleanup, and putting the last load of laundry in the washer, Henry and I cuddled on the sofa with Snugglebutt, and watched a network broadcast of an older movie we both loved about redemption and second chances, titled "Lord Jim", with Peter O'Toole. Later, after loading the dryer, we did our regular bubble bath and lotion ritual, and settled into bed. Snugglebutt stretched out languorously at the foot and kneaded the blanket with her dainty paws. Purring rapturously, she watched us through sleepy, half-closed, green eyes. She, too, was happy to be home.




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I was on patrol alone, dressed in my dark grey pants and hoodie, but without a vest. My regular route was cold, deserted, and much darker than usual. Someone, invisible in the blackness, followed me with confident, deliberate footfalls. My heart rate quickened with fear. When I tried to increase my pace, it was like moving through wet cement. The unhurried footsteps were getting closer. While trying to run faster, and desperately sucking air, I felt sharp, searing pain in my back. A nano-second later, I heard the distinctly muffled sound of a gun with a silencer. I collapsed to the pavement in agony. I tried to yell for help. Neither my lungs nor vocal chords worked. Tasted copper as blood filled my lungs and mouth. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't see. Very strong hands restrained my own. Couldn't move. Whooshing, icy darkness swallowed me.

"'Tas! Wake up! You're okay! You're safe!"

Covered in cold, clammy perspiration and gasping for air, I surfaced in the loft and found myself struggling with Henry.

I stopped fighting and blinked at him owlishly, as I continued to suck air. He released my hands, left the bed, came back with two towels, one dampened with warm water, and tenderly wiped me down.

"That was monster bad," he said softly. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Between deep gulps of air, and in a raspy voice resembling a load of gravel being dumped, I tried to tell him about the nightmare. My vocal chords felt almost paralyzed.

"'Tas, I think you're experiecing some PTSD. It's understandable. You were pounded black and blue and struck by a bullet, which would have killed you were it not for the vest."

"Well, why hasn't something like this happened to me sooner? I mean, like, after the incident with Greg McVie at 'Les Belles Femmes'? He fired directly at us, and none of us wore vests."

"Yes, but there were no other witnesses around except for McVie and Julianna. You took control and created the light shield which protected her, me, and you. But on Monday morning, you were almost as vulnerable as the rest of us. There were more potential witnesses. You only really powered up to destroy the transformer and cable boxes. No one, except me, saw you do that.

"When you shocked that guy after a physical struggle, which sorely tested your newly acquired strength, it was simply to neutralize him, like you did the men at the farm, and other bad guys in Haven Lake you've rendered unconscious.

"If you had been fully lit up during that fight, the bullet would have ricocheted right off the light shield. And that would have precipitated a flashstorm, pardon the expression, of media coverage."

"Yes, I understand what you're getting at. I've always tried to light up only around key people from the Citadel who already know about me. Monday, I didn't want Mickie to be a witness. You and Garth distracted her so she wasn't looking at us; you had her look at the thermal image of the guards in the factory. All the guys I've neutralized so far have never remembered what happened, like a blackout from too much alcohol. I can't explain why that happened, but it's sure a lucky bonus for me."

Henry put the towels in the laundry basket and got back into bed. His embrace was soothing and comforting.

"We can talk more about this, and PTSD, later," he said. "But, right now I want to suggest that you return to being our secret weapon."

"You mean, from here on in, there can be no more joint missions for me with the police or civilian volunteers. My unique gifts must remain known only to the Citadel team. Revealing my abilities to anyone else, especially adversaries in the heat of the fight, would make me a target, with a bounty on my head.

"In future, I work only with you guys, or by myself, depending on what's happening ."

"Uh-huh. And, our rescues will always be well planned and executed with precision, with an element of surprise. That being you, of course."

He tilted my chin so I could see his face. "You know, on the old highway when we confronted Deryl Drusen, you not only lit up and healed Adam's wound, you were able to protect him, Matt, me, and yourself from Drusen's shooting spree. The vest you wore didn't interfere with, nor was it damaged by, your ability to create a bulletproof light shield."

As we drifted off to sleep, he whispered, "'Tas, you must always wear Kevlar, even when you're patrolling to protect the homeless."



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The next two days were a gift. We puttered around the apartment, ate well, read a lot, listened to music, watched a couple of movies, and enjoyed each other. On the second day at breakfast, I told Henry I was going to make an appointment to see Luc Goodman.

"Please let him check you out, too. I'll be less anxious if I know that the impact of those bullets didn't do damage which didn't show up on the X-ray in Two Rivers. And I want to get all my baselines checked so I can resume practise sessions at the pines. Will you come with me?"

He stood up and said with a grin, "I want to show you something."

He removed his light T-shirt. The starburst scar was healed; it looked the way it had before bullets slammed into his vest.

He sat down, only now he had the calm, serious look which meant he had something important to say.

"After I was hit, and you were lying in the mud and pouring rain with me while we waited for the paramedics, you had your bare hand over the scar, remember? Well, before you touched me, I was fighting to get my wind back and in serious pain. But, after you covered the area over my heart with your hand, I felt faint, and not unpleasant, tingling. The pain lessened, and I could breathe again. Even though you were seriously hurting, and frightened for me, and for yourself because of all the lightning, you were still able to generate enough energy to help me.

"Of course I will go with you. I'll bet a new X-ray will show healed, not cracked, ribs."



When Dr. Goodman heard from his receptionist that I had phoned, he called back and told us to come in Friday morning at 10:00. Henry was right. Another X-ray revealed, at least to Dr. Goodman's expert eye, a very faint line of new bone growth where cracked ribs had healed.

My bruises were now faint, but he could still see where my back and thigh had been pounded repeatedly. My heart and lungs were sound, as were my blood pressure, reflexes, eye movements, and balance. Still, he told me to wait until Monday before "going to some isolated spot to throw ball lightning around".

I didn't mention the nightmare to him.



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On Sunday afternoon, Lee, Frank and Arthur came to visit. We had such a good time, Henry and I insisted they stay for dinner. Henry did most of the cooking, but Lee helped out as second chef. She loves preparing food. So does Frank. The two of them had prepared the great Thanksgiving feast at the Citadel. This time, however, Frank would be on dish duty, with me. Two cooks in our small kitchen area were plenty.

We had baked salmon with pasta and a tasty, meatless, creamy sauce of Henry's invention, plenty of salad, broccoli-slaw, baby peas and carrots, and whole grain dinner rolls. Tea, coffee, and ginger ale were the beverages. Freshly sliced fruit salad was the dessert.

The five of us sat around the small kitchen table and had a wonderful, relaxed time.

Lee looked absolutely fabulous, as always. Her medical checkup at the coast went well. Frank's being there was a bonus. He learned a great deal from other partners of transgendered persons.

Arthur was looking for his own apartment in Desmond Falls, the small, rural community just a few miles north of the Citadel. He was happy at the Citadel, but being a young man, he wanted his own space where he could have a social life. A couple of people had been to his apartment at the Citadel, but having friends go through the security system on Lee's property made them wonder what in blazes he was working at.

With a place of his own, he could cycle to work most of the year. In the winter, he would jog. Matt was still giving him Master Classes in driving, but he wasn't in any hurry to run out and put a down payment on a vehicle. Because it's a big purchase, he was researching different brands and models looking for top end engineering and durability, safety features, and good gas mileage, of course.

Then he abruptly changed the topic.

"Have you and Henry heard about the ballistics results for the twenty-two calibre bullets?"

"No, we haven't. We've been riding a whirlwind for the last week or so. I take it from your expression there wasn't a match."

Arthur nodded. "I know it's a common calibre. But I was still hoping."

"We'll find the guy," Henry said. "Even though it's a popular shot, there can't be that many of them in this area. Remember, we don't have the population numbers, or the gun culture, that the U.S. does. Trying to find a match there would be more difficult. Because we have tougher gun possession laws, I don't think you'll find a match with registered gun owners. It's probably been stolen, or illegally purchased, like those of Struthers and Bosworth, which means the owner is probably a career criminal or gang member. That narrows the field. He might even be an associate of those two."

"Well," added Lee, "neither one of them has said anything. The night guards at the farm talked, but they did not know much because the only people they ever dealt with were Struthers, Bosworth, and Patrick Entwistle.

"By the way, he and his family are doing well. Ken told him of an orchard just outside of Desmond Falls that needed a manager. The owner is a businessman at the coast who purchased the orchard to be his retirement property."

We laughed because we all knew of people from the coast or back east who bought small orchards or farms out here for their golden years after retirement. They ended up working harder than they ever did in their white collar jobs.

Lee added, "Faye is already scouting around for a rental house. Elizabeth is back in Haven Lake gearing up for the new school year. She wants to volunteer at the sanctuary once she has a handle on the school term."

Yes, August, and the hot summer, were nearly over. The Labour Day weekend was only two weeks away.

"What about the factory guards? Have they talked?" asked Arthur.

"They are even less cooperative than Struthers and Bosworth," Lee answered. "A number of them, including some of the day guards, are hard core, like ex-biker gang members, with criminal records. Barney Grier, the ex-building contractor and supposed factory foreman, is not talking, yet. He did not do a lot at the site, just kept track of the order sheets and production deadlines. He never put in a full day's work. Stromann would be unhappy to hear he hired a slacker. Grier would not qualify for 'hush' money after serving his jail time. He might want to get a reduced sentence by revealing what he knows. The thing is, he knows only what he would have to know for the job."

"Like what?" Arthur asked.

"Like the fact that the workers were all trafficked within Canada. Most of them were homeless, with little education, dreadful childhoods, and some had problems with drugs, alcohol, or both. They shared the all too familiar stories of men whose lives, since birth, have been constant battles to simply survive."

Her face clouded. "Apparently, a couple of them have developmental disorders, or what was once called 'mentally challenged'. Their disabilities are not totally disabling, but bad enough that they do not have either the cognitive capacity to easily understand and follow directions, or good motor skills. Before you ask, yes, they have been taken to a facility with trained staff to look after them. They showed signs of PTSD."

Henry and I exchanged looks.

"Why didn't the traffickers at the factory not know about the farm raid if both places were owned by the same guy?" Arthur was full of questions. A very good sign.

"No news coverage, and compartmentalization," said Frank. "No news media showed up at the farm. They learned of it after the fact. I think I saw a small filler piece in the free community paper that talked about a Mazda going up in flames. The fire investigator said it looked like a freak lightning strike had caused it."

They all looked at me with knowing grins or raised eyebrows. Or both.

"Okay," said Arthur, "Then, what's compartmentalization?"

"It's a system used by terrorist groups and spy networks. Each cell is independent and doesn't know the existence or locations of other cells, or their members. It's for protection of the whole. If the leader of one cell is caught, he can't get a reduced sentence by giving up the whole organization because he doesn't know the whole organization. All he knows is his group, and the person next in command who gives him orders. That person knows only HIS next in command. That way, the entire operation can't be betrayed by one captured cell leader or member."

A moment of silence followed his explanation.

"Well, after that," I said, "I'm ready to take on some dirty dishes."

Frank laughed and stood to help. While the other three adjourned to the living room area and engaged in lighter conversation topics, with Snugglebutt holding court among them, Frank and I had a chance to catch up.

"It feels like forever since we last talked. I'm so pleased that your long-time dream of a shelter is really happening."

"What's really great is the community involvement. Lee and I have applied for grants to run the place, and I've got some excellent leads on a couple of people to run it. A number of locals in the neighbourhood have submitted resumes to be volunteers. Like, helping with general maintenance of the building and property, yardwork, shovelling snow, setting up cots and other household chores, helping people get to job interviews or medical appointments, etc."

He paused for a moment, then added, "Lee told me what a great job Jeremy King is doing at the Citadel, and I've seen it myself. He's so good with the animals. Shy Guy follows him around on the days I stay out there. The man now has a job and a home. 'Tas, right now, life couldn't be better. The struggle was worth it."

After I cleaned the sink and removed my rubber gloves, I hugged him and thanked him for the special delivery. Then Lee, whom I thanked for her thoughtfulness and generosity, and, finally, Arthur. After expressing my gratitude once again for his taking such good care of Snugglebutt, I gave him a bear hug.

"We'll solve the case," I whispered into his ear.

"Or at least be instrumental in solving it," he said with a slight smile. "I really want to join the team when I have a few more skills under my belt. Maybe start out by doing what Garth does on the tech end. Or, maybe help Matt with the driving. Whatever I can do to help."

By ten o'clock, the three of them had left because they had to be at work Monday morning.

"Well," I said, "we didn't get to talk to Lee, but we can arrange something for the coming week. Maybe she can stop in one day after work for an hour or so.

"I think Arthur would make an excellent candidate for one of Melora Mulvey's seminars. He's young, smart, beginning a career. He's the type of up-and-coming, young professional who would benefit from such a course."

"Do you think he's ready, emotionally?"

"All we would have him do is take full advantage of what the course offers, make contacts with other people, and observe what goes on at the mansion. He might be able to help us learn the identities of Cadre members who spend time there. That's all. Just be eyes and ears and report back to us. No risk taking involved."

"Like, no lighting up, and knocking out the power supply with a perfectly tossed lightning ball," Henry said with a grin.












Recognized


PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- a condition of mental and emotional stress following injury or severe psychological shock, characterized by withdrawal and anxiety, and a tendency to physical illness. -- The Canadian Oxford Dictionary

I included two men with developmental disorders in the trafficked workers at the factory after reading a news story about developmentally delayed males being abused verbally and physically, and not receiving all the wages that they were entitled to. They worked longer hours than they should have, too, in, would you believe, a chicken slaughter/processing plant. Imagine the horror those men experienced.

A big thank you to digitalscud for the use of "Rich Red Clouds" at FanArtReview.com. These black and red clouds are evocative of the PTSD nightmare 'Tas has.
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