Border, KS

Isn't Kansas a little northern for Southern Gothic? (Updates Tuesday and Thursday)

4.2 The Black Box

“You mean a bug-out bag?” Siobhan asked as the group of them tramped downstairs. They didn’t use the basement much, primarily because everyone kind of had space upstairs. It was divided into two rooms and a bathroom; the larger room was storage from their multiple moves and is where they went. The slightly smaller room was used mostly as a study, where they went when they needed somewhere quiet to study or read. Or play on their cell phones, for all Walter knew—he tried to give his kids privacy when they needed it.

In the storage area they went, and Walter began moving large plastic bins. “No, not your bug-out bags. This is…well, this is the every little thing has gone right to hell box.” All of the bins were light objects, designed to be moved quickly. And behind it, in a dark green matte paint so dark it was almost black, was a long wooden trunk. It was most definitely not light, and he slid it out carefully.

“Has every little thing gone to hell?” Leah asked, giving the box a serious look. “Because I feel like the look of that box goes beyond ‘concerned veteran’ right in to ‘deranged prepper’.” She offered it with a smile to take the edge off, but that smile faded when Walter popped the lid off the box and showed what was inside.

“Wow,” Siobhan said simply, not coming up with more words then that. “Uh…no safe or anything? What kept us from finding that when we were 8 and killing ourselves? Or Ryan? Twice?” She asked, her eyes owlishly large. Inside the large box were smaller boxes that Siobhan recognized as the kind rifles, shotguns, and handguns were kept in.

“When you were 8, it had a lock. And your brother is resourceful, and ultimately only killable once,” Walter answered. “The reason I’m showing you this is because this is the box I keep for when the devil comes to town. And she did,” he explained, noting Siobhan’s satisfied smirk the devil was apparently a woman. “So if something goes wrong, any of you, and it is the kind of wrong that guns will help with, you come here and get it.”

Antigone leaned in, a moment ahead of Siobhan. “Guns or knives, it looks like.” Siobhan reached in to pull out a large, black handled knife in a nylon sheath.

“Did you take my knife?” She asked seriously, pulling it out of the sheath to look for the little spider logo at the top. Walter rolled his eyes and waited until she had re-sheathed it before taking the knife back.

“No,” he explained as he replaced the knife. “When you wanted a knife, I got you one I thought was good.” He looked back to Andre, Ryan, and Leah. “Siobhan asked for one for her last birthday that was, and I quote, a ‘legit shanking knife’.”

Andre blinked. “And you bought it for her?”

Walter shrugged. “When my little girl needs to legitimately shank someone, I don’t want her to have the wrong tools for the job.” He looked to Ryan, and motioned. “Anything you need to reassure yourself I didn’t throw away? Same as it always was: The SCAR-L is in our Crown Vic, and then I have the MK18 for tactical, Remington 300 for long range, and the pistols.” He closed the lid on the box, and his son helped him push it back in to place. He didn’t replace the plastic bins on it this time. At the elder Ryan’s shake of his head, Walter motioned them back in to the study.

“Alright, Walt,” Leah said as they went back in to the study and found seats. “You want to tell us about this boogie man who apparently showed up today?”

Walter moved to sit on the desk in the center of the room, looking down at his boots for a few moments to frame his words. “Someone came to Border today,” he offered to his children, by way of explanation, “that Ryan and I both knew through the military. She is phenomenally dangerous, and if she’s here then there is something else going on.”

For once, Siobhan didn’t have anything to add to that and took it in complete seriousness—perhaps on the theory that anyone her father considered to be phenomenally dangerous was not someone to joke around about.

“The one time I got to see Ashland’s record, it said that she had originally been commissioned as a Marine officer, and that she had been deployed in that capacity before she was transferred,” Walter explained. “By the time I knew her she was part of the CIA’s Special Activities Division as part of the Special Operations Group, and never met a black ops mission she couldn’t make just a little blacker.”

Antigone raised her hand like it was a class at school, and blushed a little when she realized she was doing it. “You said that with a tone…what are those?”

Walter smiled slightly. “Have you ever seen a movie where there’s a CIA operative who ends up using the heroes for their own gains, and is at best morally ambiguous the whole time?” He asked, knowing full well they had seen several of those movies together. When Antigone nodded, Walter turned his hand over in a ‘there you have it’ gesture. “That’s SAD. The SOG is a complete covert military within Special Activities, that answer pretty much only to the Director of the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, and the President. With Senate oversight,” Walter added, with a shrug at that technicality. He considered his hands for a moment and then continued. “I met her when I was assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, and we were both assigned to a counter-terrorism mission.”

“I take it this wasn’t the fun kind they make movies about?” Andre asked. Like his uncle Marshal Alexander, Andre had been a Marine and hadn’t needed to ask what Special Activities did. The question drew a laugh and a shake of Walter’s head.

“No,” he confirmed wryly. “Every time I ended up on a mission or task force after that, she was always in charge. Often having just gotten a promotion to a rank that would guarantee she was the highest ranked person working in whatever sub-unit I was in. When I retired she had the authority of a Colonel, which particularly rankled.” He shrugged. “Ashland and the things we did together were all one of the reasons I decided to retire.” His eyes quickly glanced up to Antigone, Siobhan, and Ryan, another larger reason he had decided to get out.

“Ok,” Leah said, not missing the glancing or the unspoken statement about the kinds of things Walter had probably been involved in, “But what makes her so dangerous you and Aquino both pulled a gun on her?” That silenced the room again, and all of Walter’s children looked over at him in wordless shock.

“She is relentless, ruthless, and other r-words which mean she is terrifyingly capable of and willing to finish whatever mission she is on,” Walter explained. “And that it doesn’t matter who she hurts along the way. And that’s why I told her if I ever saw her again, I would put a bullet between her eyes. And no,” Walter finished, seeing Siobhan already leaning forward to ask questions, “I won’t tell you why.”

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4.1 Armament

Walter opened the door to the house and stepped over the enlarged pile of shoes in front of the door, noting them with a glance and a chuckle. He looked back over his shoulder to Andre and Leah, who were stepping in behind him. “Looks like we have some company. You guys want to stay for pizza? That’s going to be the question in about…fifteen seconds.”

Andre grinned, and cast a quick look at Leah. At her little shrug and return smile, he nodded to Walter and they both stepped over the pile of shoes. True to Walter’s prediction, fifteen seconds later Antigone and Siobhan tumbled out of the hallway leading to the bedrooms with a wide grin on their features. “Oh father whom we love…” Antigone began, and Walter held up one hand to cut her off and the cell phone in the other hand to reassure her.

“Already dialing,” Walter offered with a smirk. “Go ask your brother if he wants something besides literally all the meats possible.” Antigone spun on her heel and jogged back in to the hallway she had just come from, taking the turn to go to her brother’s room instead.

The Richards house opened in to a large, open concept main room that was divided between the kitchen and living room; off of the living room area a hallway ran down one way to the conjoined suites that Siobhan and Antigone had claimed from the very beginning, and the other way to the other two bedrooms and the stairs to the basement. While dialing the pizza company, he motioned for Andre and Leah to move in to the living room and the couches and chairs there while he dealt with food.

“Meat,” Antigone confirmed a moment later, and Walter finished his order with the pizza place before putting his cell back in his pocket. “You guys have a bad day at the office?” She asked, moving to the island in the kitchen and hopping up on to one of the chairs. “Not that the whole team can’t come play video games if it wants,” she offered with a smirk and a glance to Andre and Leah. It was true, Walter knew, they had tended to go out to a restaurant or bar when they wanted team bonding—or bowling, to keep Leah and Andre’s skills sharp for the departmental league. The last time too many people in the department had been over had been…

“Too many memories of the victory celebration?” Siobhan asked, interrupting Walter’s thoughts by guessing them. She went to sit next to Antigone, and when Lacey and Monica followed it became apparent the High School set was claiming the island for their own. It was, after all, where the pizza would be set down once it came.

Walter shrugged, and went to claim his favorite recliner in the living room area. “Something like that. Or maybe it is nice to get a night out from my children, whom love me so much,” he offered with an insouciant smirk, calling back to her words.

“Mr. Richards, that isn’t how you use whom…” Lacey ventured hesitantly as she noticed Siobhan’s shaking head.

“He knows, he just likes to be funny. Or thinks he is,” his goth daughter commented with a long-suffering look at her father. “By the way, who were the mushrooms for? Lacey and Monica aren’t fungi fan=girls, you know…”

Walter gave his best all knowing grin. “No, but your uncle loves them, and I fully expect that we will be hearing from him—” At that moment there was the roar of a motorcycle coming in to the driveway, and the grin on Walter’s face turned from all knowing to simply insufferable.

Siobhan and Antigone both sighed as only teenage girls disappointed to find out their parents do actually know things can, and shared a look. “I don’t hate it when he’s right,” Antigone explained in an aside to the rest of the room. “I just hate it when he happens to be so right.”

A moment later a key scraped the lock, and the front door opened. Ryan Aquino, namesake of his nephew Ryan Richards, entered through the front door. He had changed since Walter had seen him earlier that day, and was now in a plain black shirt and matching fatigue pants. He looked far more paramilitary then he had earlier in the day, and Walter didn’t need to ask why—or what was in the bag that he had brought with him. “Uh…” Ryan offered, having apparently not expected to see so many people waiting in the house. “You want to go talk plans in the basement, Walt?” He asked after a beat.

“Sure,” Walter said, rising. “After pizza—I got you mushrooms, you monster. But I did want some of the rest of the crowd here, and we’ll just role with the other ones,” he offered, making clear that the ones he had planned on were not the high school students. They all shrugged, and Ryan looked to Walter.

“You still have the black box, right?” He asked cryptically; Walter smiled.

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4.0 Not Right

Winter refused to give up its hold on the city entirely, and as evening set it had brought a chill with it. It settled in and sent people in to their homes and even licked frost on windows by the river.

The cold air that blew through the city brought Siobhan, Antigone, Lacey, and Monica in to the Richards house when they had planned to spend it out. Staring at a pile of math homework—Antigone and Siobhan were a grade ahead in mathematics and studying pre-Calculus, while Lacey and Monica were both studying full Calculus a year early—Antigone decided that she had enough. They navigated the almost obsessively cluttered floor of Antigone’s room when they stood, owing only to that she had a larger desk to study on—Siobhan’s tidy room had seriously tempted them.

“It’s not normal,” she declared, sighing and pulling away from the desk. While not a small office desk, purchased from a well known flat pack furniture store in Kansas City along with most of the furniture she and Siobhan owned—it was nonetheless almost groaning with the weight of math textbooks. “And I don’t like it.” With that proclamation she flounced down on to her bed, legs rising in the air before flopping back down on to her pillows.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to like pre-Calculus, Annie,” Siobhan said with a sigh, as she too left the desk by rolling back away. She had dragged her rolling chair from her room, and folded her legs back up under her on it as she rolled back to the bed. “Although, I’m not sure that it’s exactly abnormal…”

Antigone glared at her, and then sat up. All four girls, planning on a sleep over to study for a pair of scheduled quizzes the next day, had changed into a panoply of pajamas. Antigone sat up in matching forest green flannel, while Lacey was in a less subtle matching pink, Monica in a subdued dark red pajama bottoms and white sweatshirt, while Siobhan had a black and red plaid pair of shorts and a black tank top under a black zip up sweatshirt. “No, I mean school, and don’t interrupt me by saying of course school is weird. The way everyone’s been treating me since the…thing.”

“Incident,” Lacey supplied with a grin as she stood up to take a break.

“Battle!” Siobhan insisted. What to call, amongst themselves, the incident from the previous semester that had involved literal lords of the realm of Nightmare galloping out of the school basement had been an ongoing argument.

“We can’t call it that, because it isn’t subtle,” Monica pointed out, in a tone reserved for something repeated not less than one hundred times.

Antigone grabbed one of the stuffed animals around her bed, of which there were not a small number, and chucked it at her friends. “Everyone likes me, and is really nice to me! And it is weirding me out.” That, along with the flying teddy bear, brought silence to the conversation as everyone considered it.

Lacey was the first one to speak up. “Isn’t it what you wanted?” Siobhan propped her feet up on her sister’s bed, and nodded.

“For as long as we’ve been conscious, and out of the womb? Maybe a little bit in the womb, while we were eating our triplet?” Siobhan added, her voice taking on a faux-innocent questioning tone at the end.

“What—you didn’t…what?” Lacey spluttered, diverted from the conversation by this apparent revelation.

Siobhan leaned back further in the chair, tucking her hands behind her head in smug satisfaction. “You’ll never know if we ate Cassiopeia,” she pronounced.

“Of course not,” Antigone offered with a long suffering sigh. “It’s just one more horrible thing that Siobhan had an entire school convinced was true for a while. I’ve seen the ultrasound picture, and there were just two of us in there.” Siobhan, at this revelation, pouted heavily and crossed her arms. “And yes, I’ve wanted to be popular and accepted, and not always feel like I’m invisible or marginalized in school—but this is just wrong.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment as they considered that. “Because it isn’t real?” Siobhan asked, and Antigone nodded in response. “Because they remember…differently, and we remember the truth.”

Antigone fussed with another stuffed animal, but it was Monica who spoke up. “There’s something kind of…terrifying about how everyone remembers the official story, and we don’t. Why don’t we?”

“I think there has to be something in Border,” Siobhan answered sincerely. “I mean…you guys explained some of the weird stuff. And we’ve seen other things happen the same way—no one thinks that Death got loose in the hospital over winter break—but I still don’t think that just happens. People are stupid, but they’re not that stupid.”

Monica shrugged. “It could be that’s true, but I don’t think there’s a way for us to test the hypothesis. What would we do to test?” It was a fair question, although they did have one way to accomplish it—ask Morgan. Monica and Lacey knew that the coroner was involved in the supernatural world, but not exactly how; the fact that she was one of the Queens of Faerie remained a secret, in part because it sounded insane to say out loud and in part because they felt like keeping some of the specifics secret was important. Maybe that’s what keeps Border running and people ignoring the crazy crap, Antigone thought wryly, compartmentalization.

“Oh, testing it is easy…we just wait for the next insane nonsense to happen and see what happens,” Antigone offered. “But once again Siobhan has taken us down a conversational rabbit hole we may never recover from. What do I do about the people at school?”

No one had any easy answers, and after a moment Lacey shrugged. “Let it ride, Annie, and see what happens. Take it for what it is, and worry about it later. And other things you can purchase on inspirational posters—anything else is just borrowing trouble.”

Before anyone had a chance to respond they heard the telltale signs of the front door being opened and someone entering. “Want to make Dad go order us all pizza?” Siobhan offered, to the general agreement of the room.

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ASN 3.6: The Screaming

Katherine Haven paused for a moment after delivering that line, and sighed. “I haven’t thought about it in some years, you understand. Some of the details have faded—but I’ll never forget some of them.” She leaned back in her chair and folded her hands together, looking at the spots and wrinkles on her fingers as if remembering a time when they had been clearer and smoother.

“It was the tenor of the scream that woke me up first, I think. I was a professor at the community college for a number of years, and I taught piano and vocal lessons on the side to save up for vacations. And because I loved it,” she added in a side note, with a faint smile. The smile quickly vanished. “I have heard a lot of different kinds of shrieking. I knew immediately that it was not someone screaming in happiness, or even fright. It was…terror,” she concluded. “Bone deep terror, the kind you never forget.”

There was something in her tone that made Walter think Haven had experienced something like that terror in her life—the way she described it, the words she used, the way her eyes unfocused for a moment as she considered it. There was terror in her life, too, and she had come through. But neither Walter nor his partners had any inclination to interrupt the story in progress.

“My husband, Bill, was in the National Guard. He kept a pistol in the house and he grabbed it and went outside to investigate. The screaming didn’t stop the entire time—it just kept going until the person had to breathe, and then started again.” Katherine shuddered at that, closing her eyes. “I went to watch from the window, and just as I got there the fire started. I swear…” she began, but didn’t finish. Something was keeping her from plunging over in to the rest of the story.

Walter leaned forward, and reached across the small table separating them to put his hand on hers. “Katherine, whatever it is…we’re not going to think you’re lying, or crazy. Andre, Leah, and I have seen the very…oddest that Border has. I believe you, whatever it is.”

Haven paused for a moment, and then nodded. “At first it didn’t seem like normal fire. I swear that it was green, and then almost dark blue, and it spread too quickly.” Another shake of her head, as if she could see the flames dancing in her vision and wanted to banish them. “After that it acted like normal flames. Bill tried to push his way in, but it was too hot—by the time he could force his way in, it was just about too late. He pulled…their daughter out, and that was it.” She paused, and Walter thought she might be done, but after a moment she continued.

“My husband went to Vietnam with the Army, Detective. He saw…terrible things—the kind of things that you can really only see at war.” She looked at Walter directly, for the first time since she began meeting his eyes full on. “Do you know what I mean, Mr. Richards?”

Walter continued to look in to her eyes—hers were the kind of gray-blue that looked hard when she was intense, or twinkling when she was happy. They were definitely intense now. “Yes ma’am, I do.” There was another momentary pause, and now Walter shook his head and broke eye contact for a moment. “I surely do.”

Haven nodded, and leaned back in her chair again. “To this day when he wakes up in the middle of the night I know it isn’t anything he saw over there that wakes him up—it is what he saw in that house, that night. I only saw the outside…but I saw their faces, when he brought that little girl out of the house. It was…” Her voice had grown slowly more soft, more fragile as she described it. Now it was almost a breath. “It’s always the house. For both of us.”

She stood up after that, and went to a small cabinet on the side of the room. When opened, it proved to be a liquor cabinet. She pulled something in a decanter out, and poured it in to a little glass before draining it in one go. She put the bottle back away without offering them any—apparently it was her private reserve. She walked back to the chair and sat down primly. “I don’t know if you are religious men or women, Detectives, but I firmly believe I saw the work of the devil that night, and even the next day when we went back to look through it to see if any of her things could be saved. The devil was in that house, and nothing in this world will ever convince me differently.” Haven had the posture of a woman warding off bad memories, keeping them from her core—arms wrapped tight around her body and every visible muscle tense.

No one spoke for a long moment, and then it was Leah who broke the silence. “Mrs. Haven, our file says that the girl went in to foster care. I know it’s a long shot, but do you know what happened to her or where she went? Our file doesn’t mention a name, an age…it was all sealed.” Now it was Leah’s turn to shift; she leaned forward and smiled softly. “There’s a lot going on here, and I know it seems like it can’t possibly matter. But it could be very helpful.” Leah’s voice was soft, but filled with conviction, and at it Haven clearly eased slightly from her withdrawn posture.

“I do know what happened. The police and Judge worked to keep it quiet, so that she had a chance to get past all of it,” Katherine explained. One hand worked at the knuckles of the other for a moment, as she considered a choice—either in the past or the present. “We adopted her,” she explained finally after the long moment of hand-wringing. Both Leah and Andre started to lean in eagerly, but Walter held up a hand and they eased back slightly.

“Can we talk to her, Katherine? And your husband?” Walter asked, his tone striking a fine line between eagerness and restraint. She paused, tapping her foot, before shaking her head.

“I can’t make that decision. I mean…Bill will talk to you, I have no doubt. But that’s up to each of them,” Haven explained. “But I can call our daughter,” she said, emphasizing the word to leave no doubt how she viewed the young woman she had apparently rescued, “and ask if she would be willing. Will that suffice?”

Walter nodded. “That will be perfect.”

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ASN 3.5: I Remember…

The house that sat at 785 Denver Terrace loomed large, over-sized for its plot and its neighbors. Dark brick, dark wood, and a looming door that seemed to invite visions of horror movies and serial killers. Even the dark ivy crawling up one side of it seemed to project an air of subtle menace. It was impressive. It was grandiose. It looked like the kind of house that would have a sinister history.

It was also, and unfortunately, not original. “The file says there were some drugs in the areas, and apparently gang activity. In the late 1960s the house burned down,” Leah explained. She had changed into much more normal clothes, a cream colored button up and navy jacket and slacks. She had apparently also showered, her brunette curls still slightly damp. “There was only one survivor from the family, who went in to foster care. But the family that moved in afterword is still here,” she finished. “So we may be able to find some information. Robert and Margaret Haven.”

Andre considered the house. He had apparently caught a shower as well, freshly shaved both face and head, and was dressed in a dark red dress shirt and a black suit. “So the house burned down.” Leah nodded, and he continued. “And they chose to build a new one right here.”

“Yep,” Leah confirmed as they all pulled themselves out of the Border PD Charger they had taken after lunch. All three of them adjusted their jackets to make sure that they weren’t flashing guns at unsuspecting citizens, and began to walk toward the house.

“So the question we have to ask ourselves…” Andre began.

“Is why they chose to make it so spectacularly ugly?” Walter finished, grinning wryly. “Because house builders are like Burger King. You can have it any way you want, even if it will terrify neighborhood children.” Andre let out a low chuckle, and Leah gave a little smirk.

“And now we are going to talk to people about the family that died here fifty years ago, so we will endeavor to be respectful,” Leah drawled affectionately, sharing a look with Andre. “Right?” Both men gave a little bit of a non-committal shrug before they all turned to the door and took a slight breath in and Leah rang the bell.

Walter always tensed up during the moments between ringing the bell, or knocking, and the answer. Not that he was any less tense when they had to kick, ram, or blow it in; but it always felt like a moment of tension and transition. The person on the other end might come out angry or scared, or armed and screaming—or might not come out at all. Walter’s muscles tensed as he heard the sound of the lock being turned, and the door opened.

This time who answered the door was a petite woman in her late sixties or early seventies, her dark hair having apparently just started losing to gray in a way that made Walter idly jealous. Bright eyed and with deep laugh lines around her mouth and eyes, she could not have looked more non-threatening unless she had been actually holding a plate of cookies. Walter watched the tension ease out of his partners at the sight of the woman’s welcoming, if somewhat confused smile. “Good afternoon, can I help you?”

Walter matched the smile, and pulled his badge wallet out of his jacket pocket. He held it up so she could see both the ID card, and the gold badge with the rank of Detective and the motto of the Border PD: Fiat Justitia Ruat Caelum. Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. “I’m Walter Richards, and these are my partners Leah Silverman and Andre Alexander. We were hoping to be able to ask you a couple of questions about the fire here fifty years ago? I understand that you’ve lived here since then.”

Walter knew there were people in the world who didn’t have events in their lives that would cause the shadow of sorrow to cross across their face when mentioned—people who did not have trauma that still occasionally kept them awake at night. Walter was not one of those people—and apparently neither was the woman in front of him. “Yes, we’ve lived here since then. We were friends with the family who lived here, and we bought the land when it was sold.” This news brought a round of curious looks from the detectives—one raised eyebrow from Walter, two from Andre, and a tilt of Leah’s head. “Please, I’m being very rude, why don’t you come in and we can talk about that…unpleasantness.” She sighed a bit as she stepped back to let them in, but Walter figured it was from the topic rather than their presence.

The living room she led them to was surprisingly tastefully appointed for the looming exterior. The walls were medium-dark wood, and the carpet was cream colored and just this side of shag—older in style, but certainly not suitable for serial killers or ghosts. Maybe some ghosts, Walter amended as he remembered how the current residents had come t live there. They sat down, respectively, on a matching set of chairs and a couch in a discrete floral print. Perhaps seeing their glances at the decor, Katherine Haven smiled. “My husband designed the outside; in return I got the inside. But you’re from the police, not Border Home and Garden—how does a fire from so many years ago get police atte*ntion now?”

Andre nodded at the slightly incredulous tone in her voice. “We understand that it is a little bit unusual. But we’re looking in to some crime trends from the time, and if they continue to have an impact on the neighborhoods.” Haven looked at them with a little smile on her lips.

“And three detectives who even I recognize as having been cited for the…what was it, gang war at the High School? Three decorated detectives have annoyed someone important and are sent to query little old ladies?” No matter her age, Katherine Haven hadn’t lost a step from her younger days. Now it was Walter’s turn to smile slightly.

“No, there is more to it, but we can’t really talk about it. But it is important, and we need to know more,” Walter explained in a patient voice. “Did you live nearby? Did anyone talk to you about it, or do you know anyone we can talk to about it?”

Katherine Haven paused for a long moment,, taking in a deep breath as if to steel herself against something. “I remember the screaming, most of all.”

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ASN 3.4 Why Border?

“So why Border?” Walter asked, as they got in to the car. The file review had taken long enough that it wasn’t too early for lunch, so the crew had gone separate ways to eat. He and Morgan had broken off to the parking lot each with the intention of driving, but his pleading look had prevailed on her letting him be in control of the car.

Morgan blinked a little bit as she adjusted herself in the seat of his Highlander. Dropping off the kids in the morning had required the larger car—purchased once they had gotten too big to force them all to share one row. Adjustment, in this instance, meant putting her feet up on the dashboard and making sure the “What do you mean, why Border?”

Walter shrugged in turn as he turned the car on and began pulling out of the parking lot. “I mean…you’ve lived here for decades, you’ve saved the city a couple of times now, and you apparently stopped the mayor from summoning a squid god. I get that when Oberon was alive you couldn’t go back to Faerie…but why Border?”

Morgan was quiet for a moment, considering her dark blue flats as she kicked them on the dash. “The Border is a nexus, a place where all the edges of the supernatural world meet. It has its own power, both inherent and for whatever faction controls it. Even if I had been able to live in Faerie the whole time, I would have spent a fair bit of my time where the Border is—and did, before the geas.”

The Old Market slowly rolled past them, brick buildings slightly dark from the morning’s rain. The slight dampness didn’t stop the area from being filled with people shopping or eating, and a man stood on the street corner outside of Robby Rocket’s Rocket Burger Bar with a bagpipe serenading the passers by. “Probably not Rocket’s, it’s going to be packed with high schoolers,” Walter commented idly as they rolled passed it.

“Plus it kind of blows,” Morgan pointed out wryly, to which Walter nodded in agreement. “We’ve always controlled the Border, to answer your next question. Or at least kept others from controlling it—that’s why the Fey have always been a big part of its make-up. For a long time it was in Germany, a rare place untouched by the wars of religion. For a century, it was in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya—that was a good time,” she offered with a fond smile. “That’s where it was when Tania and I found our father. We spent a lot of time in the capital. I still have some of the clothes in my wardrobe in Faerie, as a matter of fact.”

The trendy restaurants and shops continued to pass them as they drove, the all you can eat sushi place spot that Siobhan and Antigone and Ryan the younger all loved. “What happens if you lose it? Can someone take it?”

Morgan sighed at that, shaking her head at some foggy memory. “Yes, they can take it under very particular circumstances. We can also…force it to move early, under very particular circumstances. Either one would be very bad.” She sighed at that, and glanced over at him. He gave a little nod, which she rightly took as a signal that he was in fact going to ask. “We had to do that before it came here,” she gestured to the city rolling past the windows. “It was ugly, and yes you’ve heard of it.” She took a moment to deal with a memory of some kind, something that briefly looked like it blocked out the brick buildings in her eyes. “Roanoke.”

Walter had to jerk the wheel suddenly to keep it from drifting into the other lane of traffic. “Mysteriously disappeared, probably suffered some calamity and were absorbed by local Native American tribes Roanoke?” He shook his head. “So there was a disaster caused by having to move Border early, and that’s why?” At her nod and silence, he continued his questioning. “So you know what happened to the colonists?”

Morgan nodded again, and sighed. “I do. And I cannot talk about it at this time—I might be able to later, but I can’t now.” At his look she shook her head again, loose curls tumbling around her head. “I swore a direct oath, and I can’t break that without breaking a part of me. If, God forbid, the circumstances are right then I can talk about it.”

Walter took a moment to process this, and to make sure that he wasn’t going to risk a jaunt in to the other lane again. “If that happens in Border, it is going to be worse than what Oberon wanted to do, isn’t it.”

Morgan looked out at the people walking past them on the street. Mothers and fathers, students, shoppers—families, singles, and above all living and vibrant people streamed past. “This isn’t a small city, Walter. It would be hideous beyond all imagining. That’s why Border, and why Roanoke, and why the village near Ayutthaya. Because for someone else to take it prematurely would be just as bad, and we can’t let that happen.” At the silence that fell in the car, as they both contemplated that happening, Morgan offered a little smile. “But hey, it hasn’t happened in centuries, so what are the odds it will happen in the next ten years—right?”

At that allegedly cheery thought, they pulled into Bosch, Bottles, and Bailey for drinks.

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ASN 3.3 Connections and Calamari

Ashland had brought sufficient evidence with her to convince them of her claim, and they spent most of the rest of the morning going through it. A lot of it was speculation—references to other odd drug outbreaks going back at least twenty years, which had potentially been misidentified as other kinds of narcotics. Tainted crack, a new form of meth—in the nineties there had even been something that had been labeled as a Thai drug called ‘Yaa baa’, which Walter had needed to look up; and all of it was a potential outbreak of what they now called Salvation. They had a lot of leads to potentially follow; they also had pizza they ordered.

“Well,” Walter offered philosophically after washing down some pizza with a splash of soda, “at least we’re not starving for information this time.” He looked at the piles on the table in front of them. “I’m not saying the other side is much better, mind, but…”

Alexander smirked. “But at least it’s different? If only it made much of a difference, instead of just being different.” At that the older man sighed, and put down a report he had been reading. “But whether you’re in a desert dying for a drop of information or drowning it, the end is the same. Like this report…I’m the reporting officer, for Christ’s sake, and I remember it. Marshal Herrera assigned me to look in to what we thought was a batch of tainted heroin, because she had no leads. After about two months, I didn’t have any leads either and then we had a more important missing person.”

Andre Alexander, Walter’s partner wearing the dark green Border PD dress uniform from a visit to a local elementary school, leaned forward. “Was that when the Mayor went missing, back in the 90s?” He asked curiously. He picked up the file underneath the tainted heroin, and nodded. “Yep, here it is. Liam McElroy, Mayor of Border, mysteriously disappeared from the locked Mayor’s house, without a trace.”

Leah Silverman, Walter’s other partner also in the green dress uniform, blinked a little bit. “Do you think they’re related? I remember when that happened, it was big news. Everyone thought the Deputy Mayor must have done it on account of her being his ex-wife, but she was acquitted,” Leah explained to Walter, who was starting at them in startlement.

“The Mayor of Border was kidnapped? Was he ever found?” Walter asked curiously, leaning over to leaf through the file as well. Even Ashland looked interested, drawn out of her shell of smugness to watch as they looked over the papers. “Never found. Holy shit, Border, how do you lose a mayor?”

Morgan coughed delicately from the corner. “There were rumors he was engaged in some…salacious activity that caught up with him,” she offered. And then with a raised red brow she shared a very meaningful look with her sister for a moment, before looking back to Walter. At his very questioning look, she continued the facial communications with a look that clearly said I’ll tell you later.

“Needless to say they tore down the new Mayor’s mansion and went back to using the old one,” William Alexander said with a sigh. “Since it was the second time in fifty years a mayor went missing in the new on. New being relative, since it was built in the 50s.”

“I…” Walter offered slowly, shaking his head from side to side with a little laugh. “I’m not entirely sure how to process a town that loses two mayors in half a century. So why don’t we just move back to the data. Are there any patterns in what we’ve got, besides ‘stuff happens, weird drug involved’?” He picked up three of the files up from the table. “What’s the oldest one we’ve got?”

Leah picked one up between slim fingers and considered it. “I think this is the oldest case that might be connected. It’s from the sixties, and I haven’t seen anything older here,” she offered. Everyone at the table shuffled the papers ahead of them, and one by one shook their heads. “Ok, so that’s our starting point. How often does it happen, is it regular?”

Andre considered the papers in front of them and sighed. “Nope. And they involve different people—I remember two about black gangs, one about a Latino gang, and then some college students. Different ages too, and different times of the year. If there’s a pattern here then it’s not one that I’m seeing, boss,” he offered to his uncle the Marshal.

“No, there’s something,” the elder Alexander responded. “If Ashland is right and these are related to Salvation, there has to be a rhyme or a reason. We just don’t know what it is. But that means we need to get to wearing out shoe leather, and run down these cases.” That brought a general silence to the green carpeted room, as the detectives considered the amount of work before them—and no doubt the civilians tried not to be noticed and ‘volunteered’ to help.

“Can we change first?” Leah asked wryly, looking down at the military-style buttoned wool coat with standing collar. “Or at least get some bottles of water?” At Alexander’s laugh and nod, everyone began to filter out of the room. Ashland collected her papers and proffered a very lazy salute in Walter’s direction and a wiggle of her eyebrows at Ryan. Finally the room fell to quiet again with just Walter and a recently red-headed coroner and Faerie Queen.

“Did Tania murder the Mayor of Border after sleeping with him or something?” Walter asked, after a long beat. Morgan blinked, and then couldn’t stop a peal of laughter from escaping. It was, Walter reflected, very much like a giggle.

“Oh no, is that what you thought that look was? I mean…we killed the shit out of him, to be sure,” she offered in continued amusement which only grew at his horrified look. “But he was part of a cult trying to summon a squid god into the town.”

That drew another series of blinks, choking noises, and an elongated silence from Walter as he processed it. “That’s…quite a little word picture, for a simple couple of sentences. Would it have worked?” He managed to ask as he stood up, and began to walk with Morgan out the door.

“I don’t know, but we went out for calamari afterwords and took great relish in chewing it…vigorously afterword,” she confessed.

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ASN 3.2 The Briefing Room

The main conference room at the Border Police Department Headquarters was elegantly done, if somewhat in need of updating. It had the classic boardroom style of dark wood for the table, chairs, and walls. The floor was a dark green carpet that held up well despite obviously having been installed in the 80s or 90s—and thinking about carpet from then needing replacement made Walter feel very old himself. The chairs were plush, and the table long and bowed out in the middle to create the impression of an oval or at the very least a rectangle that had let itself go.

Oblivious to the glares it drew from the officers, Ashland had marched herself to the head of the table and sat beneath the wall with the Border Police seal on it. She looked quite at ease in her little power play, although none of the people who knew her seemed surprised and Marshal Alexander didn’t seem bothered. The Marshal took the seat next to her with great equanimity while the rest of the officers and spectators filled in to their seats. Morgan remained standing, taking a back wall near Walter, while Tania blithely took the other seat next to Ashland and opposite Alexander.

“Forgive me, Marshal Alexander,” Ashland began in a polite tone, turning gimlet eyes to Morgan and Tania in turn. “I’m not sure this is necessarily appropriate to discuss with non-police employees. Frankly I’d even prefer to keep our mission quasi-confidential from the rest of the Department…” She let it trail off as if the rest were self-apparent, and she felt a little embarrassed at having to point out the obvious to him. He matched her tone with a grandfatherly smile of his own, as if he were taking her concern and embarrassment for him as wholly serious.

“I do appreciate the concern, Agent Ashland. But this is my briefing room, in my police department, in my city,” Alexander said very evenly. “Doctor Winters and…Tanya have proved to be very useful in previous cases—the Doctor for her medical knowledge, and her sister as a community interface.” That Alexander could label Tanya so smoothly as a community interface when she tended more toward an abrasive pusher of her own agenda impressed Walter, and reassured him that the man could keep up with Ashland.

Ashland, for her part, merely pursed her lips for a moment and then offered an apparently nonchalant shrug. “It’s your department, Marshal Alexander, I’m only here to assist. I cannot, of course, insist my advice be taken,” she offered, in a tone of voice that made clear she thought anyone who didn’t listen to what she had to say was an idiot. “But there are certain things, as we…evolve our relationship, let’s say…that I will want to keep secret for operational security.”

Ryan let out a snort. “OpSec, you mean like in Islamabad?” Ashland’s eyes may have narrowed at the interruption and the reference, but they were back to bland vagueness so quickly Walter wasn’t sure if it had been real or imaginary. “Or what was it…the second time in Kabul?”

“Second time,” Walter confirmed. “I don’t care about your OpSec and you don’t even really scare me any more, Ashland, so cut the shit and get on with it before I message Doodle and tell him you’re here. He’s still awfully salty about that money he never got,” Walter offered with an oblique smile of his own. That got a little bit of stiffness from her for sure, and a surreptitious glance at her cell-phone. Doodle could work wonders from distances measured in the thousands of miles, and she knew it. She gave him a steady glare but made an ‘as you will’ motion with her hand.

“The FBI, and certain resources they have had tasked to them,” Ashland allowed sourly, with a little bow, “have been focusing on the Salvation trade for the better part of a year.”

Tanya smirked. “That seems to me like a job for the clergy, not the FBI,” she offered in amusement. Ashland didn’t bother to hide the scowl she gave the journalist, before she looked over to Alexander.

“I can either give my briefing or I can trade witticisms with your pet civilians, Marshal. I’d really prefer not to do both,” Ashland offered in a tone of faux-sweetness. At Alexander’s quelling gesture to Tanya, and her return scowl to Ashland, the alleged FBI agent continued. “Salvation’s spread didn’t follow normal drug patterns, and for a long time even the FBI had difficulty in figuring out exactly what it was. It isn’t an opioid, a cannabinoid, or an amphetamine. Certain strains have had those cut in, but at its heart its source and its mechanisms were unknown. Well, recently, the FBI figured out on of them.” She paused, Walter knew, for effect.

“Still don’t know what it is but you know it comes from Border?” Walter guessed in a tone of pleasant helpfulness. She scowled as the moment for her dramatic revelation was stolen out from under her. “It’s disturbingly common, I’m finding out. So you tracked the source and the creation to Border, and somehow conned the FBI in to thinking you’re one of them to investigate?”

Ashland continued to scowl as he beat the dead horse of her cover, but she shook her head. “Would you like to call my Bureau supervisor, Walter? I guarantee he’ll answer.”

“Whatever FBI agent whose family you kidnapped can stay uncalled for now,” Walter shrugged in response. “So what great wisdom have you brought us, and when can you take our disinterest with you back to Washington?” Now it was Alexander who gave him a slightly sour smile—his baiting might have gone on too far, he thought.

Ashland’s smile wasn’t sour at all, which also gave him pause. “We’ve discovered Salvation may be much older than any of us ever believed. Maybe by a few decades. And,” she offered, giving the room a falsely beatific smile, “the FBI has assigned me to stay here and give our help to you all until we can solve where it came from and how it is distributed.”

“Shiiiiit,” Ryan opined from the back.

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ASN 3.1 The Whole Crew

Alexander looked unamused. “Walter, you bought a lot of credit with last year, but—” he began, before Walter shook his head and sighed.

“She doesn’t work alone, she never works alone. I don’t care if she rolled some FBI agent for his badge, she has at least a couple of people with her. I guarantee it.” Walter’s eyes didn’t move off of Ashland as he spoke to his boss, and his tone continued to be in a far more commanding tone then he ever would have normally used with the man who was his superior and friend.

He could tell Alexander was watching him, weighing the current situation versus his trust for Walter. After a moment he gave a nod, and looked over to where Ashland stood waiting without worry or care. “Agent Ashland, if you could call in whatever other men you have with you, I would appreciate it.”

Ashland considered for a moment, sucking on her teeth—a habit Walter knew meant she was thinking. After a moment of consideration she shrugged and nodded. She tilted her head slightly to apparently speak in to her shirt collar, but Walter knew that she preferred to keep her microphone there and she was obviously relaying orders to her team. Once that was done she leaned against on of the building’s pillars, hands folded casually in the classic bodyguard posture—one hand grasping the other by the wrist.

Less than thirty seconds after she spoke, two men came in through the door that looked like they had responded to a casting call for physical opposites. The first one couldn’t have been more than five-foot seven, but was so broad of shoulder he almost seemed like he was wider than he was tall. He moved with an unexpected lightness, and he had buzz-cut short hair on caramel colored skin. The second one was three or four inches taller than Walter and had pale skin and dirty blond hair. Walter didn’t recognize the second newcomer, but both he and Ryan started at the sight of the first one

“Sergeant Major, it’s been a while,” Walter offered in a tone of adopted neutrality. The man was wearing a suit that had to have been custom tailored to fit his shoulders, and he gave a grin when to Walter and Ryan. Ryan didn’t take the tone of neutrality, but strode out to embrace the wide man in a hug.

“Taito, you bastard, what are you doing with this psychopath? And you got a promotion?” Ryan asked in delight. They went through the standard man-hug ritual (handshake to hug, two slaps on the back, and then out), before stepping back. Ashland only scowled slightly at being called a psychopath.

“You know how it is, brother. You do the good work, and you do it with the people you’ve got to do it with,” the wide man responded. He gave a nod to Walter. “Playing it cool, Major?” He offered with a wry grin, and a little finger salute.

“Anyone spending sufficient time with Ashland is somewhat suspect, Taito,” Walter offered, but give him a slight smile. “Who’s your friend.”

Ashland took that as an invitation to rejoin the conversation, walking forward. “Gavin Neill, formerly a Captain with the Air Force 21st Special Tactics Squadron,” she introduced the tall blond man. “Captain Neill had a distinguished career before joining the Bureau and my team,” she explained.

The three of them began walking toward the conference room Alexander had indicated. The Marshal didn’t stop them, but did turn to look at Walter with a raised eyebrow. “Well you were right. I take it you know the Sergeant Major from your army days, Walt?”

Walter and Ryan both nodded. “Sergeant Major Taito Hernandez was one of the best men and best Special Forces operators I ever met. He was a Ranger, a Green Beret sergeant, and later spent a lot of his career in Delta,” Walter explained. “He taught Ryan and I a lot when we were puppies.” At the use of that phrase, Taito gave a wolfish grin that carried him in to the conference room, along with Ashland and Neill.

Alexander paused at the door, considering both Walter and Ryan for a moment. He rested a hand on the dark wood of the conference room doorway, rubbing at the weathered room with what seemed like an equally weathered ebony finger. “You both had a much more…interesting career than any record I could get to would indicate, I take it.” He spoke it less as a question than as a statement, and one he didn’t particular expect an answer to. When neither Walter nor Ryan confirmed, he shook his head. “And now somehow it’s all rolling up in my town. Just…keep me informed of anything that could get all of us killed, if you would be so kind?”

“We’ll do our best,” Walter offered with a shake of his head. “With Ashland in town, it could be up in the air. But we’ll do our best,” he offered, looking over to Ryan. “Come on, let’s go see what kind of shit show she’s brought this time.”

“As if she’d tell us the truth,” Ryan offered cheerily as he walked in to the conference room. Walter couldn’t stop himself from sighing, but he also couldn’t disagree with the sentiment. As the rest of the involved Border PD team filed in, including Morgan and Tania, he shared a meaningful look with Morgan. After she entered he let out a deep sigh and entered, closing the door behind him.

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ASN 3.0 Of All the Police Stations in the World…

By Monday morning, Walter was thinking that Lacey might even have been right. There were apparently some leads in the murder of Troll, some drug dealers who he had crossed a few months before that might be vicious enough to tear him apart. It was a long shot, because Walter still wasn’t certain that what had happened wasn’t from Morgan’s side of the street, but it was something.

He was seated at his desk at 8:30 AM, working on paperwork. The Deputy Marshals, what Border called detectives, all had desks clustered together by team on the main floor. The teams were further broken apart by division, with Homicide having what were considered the prime seats: Straight back from the front desk, near the break-room and with a straight shot either back to the employee parking lot or front to the front doors. His desk was actually against the back wall, and gave him a clear line of sight to the front door and the back exit. After the attacks the previous year he had requested that specifically, and in light of everything that had happened it had been an easy request for Marshal Alexander to grant.

Walter could hear Tania and Ryan talking to the Marshal about some security matter for an event Tania was throwing, and he was waiting for Morgan to come back from the copy machine with the autopsy results. As a result he didn’t see the woman enter until he heard the desk sergeant say his name, and point back to where he was. He looked up to see a woman coming for him. She was of middling height, thin but whipcord lean with what looked to be well-defined muscles, and ash blond hair kept in a close crop around her head. Her eyes matched the gray suit she wore, and the expression on her face was a kind of neutral boredom that bordered on the arrogant; like nothing could possibly trouble her.

Her eyes caught his in that moment, and he saw the familiar sly smirk in them. His lips were in a snarl without realizing it, and he was moving. He stood up, chair sliding back from him to hit the wall, and by the time he had risen he not only had his gun out but he had finished racking a bullet in to the chamber. The sound of the slide slamming into place on the Border PD standard issue .45 brought all activity in the room to a stop.

“You’ve got thirty seconds to get the hell out of here before I follow up on my promise to put two into your skull, Ashland. Thirty…” Walter all but shouted, his voice angry and his counting staccato and firm. “Twenty-nine…”

Ashland smiled sardonically, shaking her head from side to side. “Walter, Walter, Walter…Major, is this any way to greet an old friend?” She walked toward him unconcernedly. Walter saw someone going in to the Marshal’s office out of the corner of his eyes, but he kept his focus intently on the woman in front of him.

“If we were friends, I wouldn’t be twenty-eight seconds away from saving a war crimes tribunal from having to do their job,” Walter answered. “Twenty-seven…” The end of the Springfield Armory 1911 didn’t waver, the sights putting his aim directly between her eyes.

Morgan stopped in the other corner of his vision, stacks of paper in her hands, and he could tell she was taking stock of the situation carefully—trying to decide if she needed to start using her powers, or if it was handled. “Now now, I thought we at least had an understanding. At least me and the puppy did. Do you still keep in touch with him?” She asked with a wry smile.

Marshal Alexander chose that moment to step out of the office to investigate the incident evolving on the main floor of his police station, along with Tania Summers and Ryan Aquino. “Ah…” Ashland’s smile took on a decidedly lascivious turn at the sight of Ryan’s tanned and handsome face. “There’s the puppy. I wonder if I can get you to play fetch for me again?”

Walter and Tania both blinked, although only the woman turned to look at Ryan. Ryan, meanwhile, looked stunned beyond action for a moment, his mouth open in shock as he stared at the woman thirty feet away from him. “Tell me you didn’t screw the crazy, Ryan…” Walter asked almost pleadingly. “Twenty-five,” Walter counted, skipping twenty-six since time had passed.

“Walter, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Alexander demanded, his voice a drill sergeant’s bark. “Put your weapon away right now!” But he was forced to do a double-take when Ryan, spurred in to action, also drew a gun in a smooth motion; all he did was turn off the safety, his own personal weapon a double-single action that could be kept with a bullet in the chamber and the hammer down, because pulling the trigger would pull the hammer back as well as drop it and fire the bullet. “Aquino, put your fucking weapon away right now. I will not have another shootout in my station! This woman is an FBI liaison the Bureau sent to help us with the Salvation dealing problem.”

Walter shook his head quickly. “Bullshit. If she’s an FBI agent I’ll eat this whole station. Her name is Ashland, and she’s CIA. Not just CIA, but Special Activities Division, and the third deadliest person I know alive on the planet.” Walter didn’t have to look over to know Morgan had gotten that last hint about how highly he ranked Ashland; she tensed up suitably, since she could be reasonably sure that she and her sister were in the first two slots.

Ashland sighed, leaning against a desk and shrugging. “Trying to blow my cover, Walter? That would be a shame, it would have only lasted what…five minutes?” She laughed, but it was only a cousin to something actually mirthful. “But if you look, I am wearing the badge on the outside of my suit, so I wouldn’t even have to reach in to my jacket to pull it out.” She wiggled her shoulders a little bit. Tucked in to the breast pocket of her suit was a badge jacket, with an FBI badge hanging from it.

“NOW!” Alexander shouted, and Walter’s face locked in to a grimace while Ashland just smirked. Walter thumbed the safety on and holstered his weapon, leaving it more unsafe (because the hammer was back and could theoretically drop and fire if he dropped the gun) because it was also more quickly ready to fire. Ashland was worth the risk. He saw Ryan doing the same, and looking about as happy about it as she was.

“Let’s all go in to the conference room and have a sit down, so we can decide whether I’m going to fire Walter and ban Ryan from my station, or if there is some merit to their accusations. And brandishing of weapons,” he continued with a glare at his officer and guest. Walter started to comply, but then he paused—never taking his eyes off of the woman.

“Have her call in her crew, before we all go chat.”

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