Border, KS

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

4.5 Who?

Twenty minutes later there were multiple police cars parked at the edge of the woods, and a corresponding number of police officers going through the area with flashlights—but spirits were not high among the searchers.

“We’re probably going to have to come back in the morning, boss,” Ryan said after another half hour of searching. “Shaw just told me they have it and they’ll keep looking for a while longer, but if they are out here they could be just about anywhere.” Ryan considered the woods around them with a look of old memory, and shook his head. “The woods in and around Border have lots of little nooks and crannies that you can get lost in. Ann and I used to leave parties to go explore, and we always found people smoking.” He paused for a moment, and then shrugged. “Or boning.”

Walter sighed as he followed Ryan’s gaze, and nodded at the wisdom of it. The woods loomed out around them like some strange world that had plowed right in to the real world and rested, waiting. Of course, given that had almost happened last year, Walter thought it might not be wise to tempt fate with his metaphors.

Walter nodded after a moment, and rolled his shoulder around from where he had been hit. “Alright, well. If you want to help, meet us here at 8 and we can keep looking. Maybe the scream came from inside one of your fabled sex nooks, and you can lead us there,” Walter shrugged—he neither looked nor felt particularly hopeful at the thought of finding the screamer. At least alive.

Ryan gave his shoulder rolling a curious look. “You looked like you got hit pretty hard, man. Are you alright? I can drive you to the ER if you need it checked out.” Walter rolled the shoulder around a couple more times experimentally, and then shook his head with a little bit of a shrug.

“Apparently not, I must have rolled with it better than I thought,” he responded in a surprised tone. It ached, but it didn’t feel as bad as he expected from falling on it so hard. “Lucky me. Come on, why don’t we head back—we can take the long way this time, and not scare the shit out of local homeowners.”

They grabbed Leah and Andre, and began to head away. “Do you think we’ll find whoever it was?” Andre asked as they began the circuitous path back toward the house. Walter cast a glance back over his shoulder, and didn’t answer.

**** ****

“That sounds…horrible,” Lacey said breathlessly when they finished the story of the hospital. Siobhan had uncharacteristically wrapped her arms around her body during the telling of it, mirroring her sister’s more characteristic pose. “How…I mean how did it know to imitate your mom?”

Antigone shrugged at that, reaching out and taking her sister’s hand. “We don’t know. Creepy demonic nonsense is our best bet. I mean…if there is an actual demon running around, why the hell not?” It took her a moment to realize exactly what she’d said, at the same time everyone else did. They all simultaneously exploded into giggles, falling back on to their chairs and enjoying the change in tone for a long moment.

“And you fought it and didn’t die,” Lacey continued, staring at Siobhan intently after the laughter passed. “And you fought men with guns, and Faeries with swords, and assholes at school. And you do it so…bravely,” Lacey finished with a little bit of a blush. Monica put a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t say too much more, or it’ll go to her head,” she offered with a little grin. “And I might get jealous.” The two women shared a smiling look, and Lacey’s blush didn’t go away. Antigone and Siobhan too shared a look, smiling at the other two and how they acted when their guards were let down. It was in this atmosphere of generally smiling that Siobhan was completely unprepared for Lacey’s next question.

“Can you teach me how to throw a punch?” The blond asked it so earnestly that any instinct of Siobhan’s to try to joke or pass it off fled instantly. “You’ve taken a lot of Martial Arts, right?” At Siobhan’s nod, she continued. “Which ones?”

Siobhan reached back to scratch the back of her head, flushing slightly herself as she tried to think of a way to not sound like she was bragging. “Primarily karate and aikido, but I’ve also been trying to teach myself a Filipino martial art called arnis, or eskrima. There’s a school for it in town—I think one of our myriad cousins runs it—but I haven’t gone yet.”

Lacey nodded wisely. “Yeah, those are just words to me, except I’ve heard of the first one. So very, very seriously, can you teach me to throw a punch?” Siobhan looked around the room for a moment and then nodded.

Under her direction they moved some of the furniture out of the way, and a few minutes later they were standing in the ring of couches stretching. “The basics of throwing a punch start in your hips,” Siobhan explained, as she rolled her shoulders. “Someone who doesn’t know how to throw a punch throws it with the arms or the shoulder.” At this she demonstrated two punches, one purely from arm movement and one moving from the shoulder. “They look like we think a boxer punches, right? Not that they do, because a boxer knows how to clean your clock unless they suck, but its what we think of for a jab. But a real punch comes from the hips, and the arm is just kind of there to guide that force.” Now she demonstrated a proper punch, her hips rotating and her arm lashing out in a powerful snap—her arm stopping in the air as she exhaled in a short burst.

“Wow, OK,” Lacey agreed. She stepped out next to Siobhan, and tried to mimic how she was standing. “So I don’t need like…a stance or something?” She asked, as she started to roll her hips in imitation of Siobhan’s.

“Bruce Lee basically said that when you’re attacked, your response isn’t a particular stance or paragraph. The ultimate goal of learning to fight is to be like water. ‘When one has reached maturity in the art, one will have a formless form. It is like ice dissolving in water. When one has no form, one can be all forms; when one has no style, he can fit in with any style,’ is one of his,” Siobhan quoted. She reached out and put her hands on Lacey’s hips. “The goal is small, but fast; and when you punch you’re not aiming for the target but two or three inches behind it, so you’re delivering your whole force to it.”

Monica, watching from the side, smirked. “Small but fast might end up being your new nickname.” The drawled comment drew a glare from Siobhan, who shook her head and looked back to Lacey. She continued to work with her in the body mechanics of throwing a punch for several minutes, until she was doing a decent enough job of it.

“Can you teach me to block a punch, too?” Lacey asked, a little bit of sweat on her brow and a little bit of a smile on her face—but one with concern around the edges. Siobhan nodded at that, and ran a hand back through her hair.

“Sure, but you have to tell me who is punching you.”

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ASN 4.4 A Bump in the Night

“So…I lost track of you guys during the fight in the High School,” Siobhan explained. “But outside, my dad shanked the King of the Faeries.” Both other girls, in the process of sitting down on the couch next to one another, froze and stared at them. “I know, he’s such a show-off,” she offered with a theatrical sigh.

“We knew it involved Faeries, you told us that much…” Lacey offered, plopping down heavily with wide eyes. Monica sat down, and reached out to take her hand casually.

“The King of Faeries had been having people murdered across the country,” Antigone explained, “Maybe the world. It was…Faerie politics, apparently, trying to draw an opposing group out of hiding. It’s weird, byzantine stuff, with magical nonsense that drives Dad crazy.” She grinned. “He hates magic, it turns out.”

“And he was back at the hospital?” Monica asked, brow wrinkling. “If so, your dad doesn’t seem like he’s very good at shanking, no offense to him.” Siobhan held up a fist to shake at her for a moment, and laughed—which felt good, and normalizing, and all sorts of other positive feelings. She smiled, and shook her head.

“No, but when he died some of his power…blew up, vented out in to the world and formed these crystals of power,” Siobhan continued explaining, albeit smiling now. “One of those crystals ended up in the basement of a hospital, and a demoness used it make Death go crazy,” she summed up. From the stunned looks on her friends faces, she was forced to admit that she may have summed up a little too much for them.

Antigone rescued them by leaning in and continuing. “We really don’t know the specifics, because nobody knows exactly what happened or why. But about thirty years ago it happened, and with the Oberon crystal a demoness was able to make it happen again. Two kids named Matthew and Natalie managed to stop it in the 1980s, but we had to stop it for good this time.” Both Lacey and Monica looked very solemn.

“You stopped it?” Monica asked seriously. “Whatever it was that caused the Plague of 86, you stopped it so it won’t happen again?” The sisters nodded solemnly, and almost gasped as Monica made the sign of the cross and looked down for a moment. Lacey took both of dark skinned young woman’s hands in hers and squeezed them.

“Do…do you think there’s a way to tell your mom?” The blond asked softly. “I can’t think of any way that won’t make us sound like crazy people, but I’ve been called worse things than a crazy person,” she offered. Monica gave a little smile at that, and leaned back.

“A lot of people lost somebody during that plague,” Monica explained with a sigh. “My mom lost her younger brother. I never met him, obviously, but she still misses him incredibly. I wish there was some way to tell her, but…I’ll just know it, and not tell them.” She looked seriously between Siobhan and Antigone and gave a small smile. “But I will know—so thank you.” She took another moment to compose herself, before she met their eyes again. “So what happened.”

Now Siobhan glanced away, shaking her head. “There was…fire, and darkness, and pain…and we saw our mother…”

**** ****

All around Walter there was darkness and pain. He didn’t have any memory of what happened between the beginning of the impact and being on the ground, but whatever it was hurt. He saw his gun and its light a foot away from him, and he reached out to grab it just as something barreled in to him again. Together the two of them slid across the dirt, as he saw Ryan struggling with something and Andre and Leah behind running toward them.

Walter brought his gun across and clubbed whatever it was on top of him somewhere that felt like it should be head-level, and then did it twice more for good measure. He didn’t know if he was really injuring it, because it was almost impossible to tell in the dark in specific and Border in general, but it pulled away from him with a hiss nonetheless. That let Walter bring his gun and flashlight up, and fire off a round. In the light of the flashlight, less steady than he would have liked, all he saw was a dirty figure with blood splattered on him in places. Walter was reasonably certain he had hit the man with his bullet, and he was damned sure that he had clubbed the man about the head and shoulders a couple of times, but he didn’t seem any worse for wear. “Some day,” he panted as he scrambled back to his feet, “Guns are going to work again and I’m going to be so happy.” He didn’t have time for further quits as he was being charged again, but this time he was prepared.

One of the fundamentals of training is that as you train at a higher level, you forget how much of a higher level you’ve been training at until faced with someone at a lower level. Before he had been in the business of fighting Sidhe blooded Faerie nobles, he would have thought the man charging him was faster than belief; now he recognized he was fast, and way faster than Walter—but he knew how to deal with it. As the man snarled and rushed in Walter was already ducking under his arms and off to the side, neatly avoiding him and also gaining a clear shot. “Police! Get down—shit!” Walter tried to shout at the man, but the man pivoted to come after him. He slipped on the loose ground, and came after him on hands and feet for a few steps like a wild animal.

It wasn’t Walter who fired before the man got to him, but Ryan coming up to support him. The other man’s pistol barked three times, flashing in the night, and the light blinded Walter so he couldn’t see if they hit or not. But he heard a snarl, and when Walter could see again all he could see was the man retreating with more speed then he had shown even in the fight. “You missed,” Walter commented, as the man disappeared into the night.

“No,” Ryan said simply, keeping his weapon at a low ready in case there were more. “I didn’t.”

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ASN 4.4 A Blur in the Woods

The Richards house sat in a nicer neighborhood of the city, near an area of fairly heavy woods and a lake. The houses that actually fronted the woods or the lake were desperately expensive—it was where Monica’s family lived—but the houses a little bit away had been surprisingly affordable. Siobhan’s jokes about the house being built on a Native American graveyard were funnier before they started learning the truth about Border.

“I think it’s coming from the woods,” Monica said quickly. Walter nodded, and moved to the closet to pull out his coat and his shoulder holster. He shrugged in to them as Andre and Leah did the same, and Ryan all but shoved him out of the way to grab his. All three police officers, and Ryan, moved to the door without drawing their weapons—but all three police officers drew small flashlights from their coats.

“Got a light?” Walter asked as they opened the door and began spilling on to the porch. As they did they heard the sound again—definitely a scream, not to be confused with anything else, and definitely coming from the woods. Ryan shook his head.

“No need. Running or driving?” He asked, and Walter glanced in the direction it came from. Leah apparently had better ears, and a better mental map of the area, shook her head quickly. Inside, the phone began to ring.

“Driving gets us to the woods faster, but on a weird side; gotta run. Keeping up with PT?” She asked, giving a little grin to Ryan. They walked toward the edge of the porch, and as he did so Walter turned around to the house in time to catch Siobhan trying to sneak out behind them.

“Stay here,” he told his daughter, in his most commanding voice—the one even she would recognize as ‘the voice not to be messed with’ that he only used in emergencies. She pouted, but started slinking back to the door. Walter looked inside past her, to Antigone who was standing by the phone. “Whoever it is, I’m not here,” he told her, while beginning to match action to word and begin jogging in the direction of the screaming.

“It’s Tums!” Antigone called out after him, which drew a laugh from Walter as they ran out of earshot.

“Never thought I’d be happy for screaming,” Walter snorted as they ran.

True to Leah’s word, the roads initially ran them toward the woods but then turned off, and they ended up having to dodge around houses and down a very narrow alley between a row in order to get right in to the woods—but once they were there it was clear the road they had been on had long since turned away. They had only gotten a couple of odd looks from people in kitchens, but hadn’t even stopped to flash their badges.

There hadn’t been another scream since they started running, and as they hit the edge of the woods their flashlights came up to begin scanning the area. “Leah, you and Andre go twenty feet out; Ryan and I will keep going straight.” Two flashlights bobbed in agreement, and the two officers split off. Walter and Ryan exchanged a look. Then both men drew the pistols out of their coats, turned on the flashlights attached to the Picatinny rail on the bottom of their pistols. With that done, they resumed advancing carefully.

Walter was pleased with how well Andre and Leah did in the woods, both of them moving with a care and precision, and Ryan was as silent as he could have expected—and as he remembered. Neither man spoke as they moved, easily falling back in to the habits of covering one another that had come wit long practice and work together.

Which is why both men were so unprepared when a nearly invisible blur slammed into Walter, and sent him sprawling.

**** ****

Siobhan paced behind the couch again for the fifth time, shaking her head from side to side in anger. “It isn’t right. We should be out there helping—we can do something to help!” She protested.

Monica’s response was a flat look, and a shake of her head. “So you want to go out there and chase something in the dark.” When Siobhan nodded eagerly, Monica’s head shook again in reproach. “Siobhan, this is Border. You do not go chasing random things in the woods at night in Border, unless you want to get turned in to…what was that phrase you’re so fond of…” she paused in faux-consideration. “Oh right. Chunky salsa.”

Siobhan made a ‘pff’ noise, and waved her hand. “I can pull a sword out of my chest, and then there’s the dog. We’d be fine,” she reassured, albeit with a look on her face that was not entirely sure. For a moment she saw flames in a hallway, a dark and inky blackness spreading all around her, and the face of her mother begging her to die. She shuddered, and reached out a hand to steady herself on the back of the couch.

“Whoa,” Lacey said quickly, bounding up at the same time as Antigone and moving to support her. Monica, only a moment later, went and pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator at the sight of her pale face. “You alright, Von?”

Siobhan nodded, taking the water when Monica offered it and draining a long slug of it. “Yeah,” she muttered after a second. “Just…not feeling well all of a sudden.” All three of the other girls stared at her as she moved to sit down, and Siobhan sighed. “Bad memories.”

Monica gave that a look that was somehow even more flat then the previous one. “Are you going to tell us at some point what really happened when you two worked at the hospital?” Siobhan started to respond with her standard brush off, but then she saw the look in Monica’s eyes—a very no-nonsense look, or at least a taking no nonsense look—and the one on Antigone’s face. She sighed, putting her hands against her face to steady herself.

“It was so ugly, and so weird, and we haven’t wanted to tell you because for all we know it will be almost as terrible for you,” Siobhan explained. Lacey put her hand on Siobhan’s shoulder, which was expected from the sensitive young woman—it was Monica’s hand a moment later that was more surprising, as she was less outwardly expressive.

“We’re your friends, Siobhan,” Monica said softly. “Do I need to be really cliche and say you can tell us anything?” She then smirked. “We helped you fight in the basement of our high school and then lie about it. Come on.”

Siobhan and Antigone shared another look, on uncertain and one pleading. Antigone needed to share things, and commiserate; Siobhan had a much stronger need to keep things internal. But she nodded.

“Fine,” Siobhan acquiesced. “Let’s talk about what goes bump in the night.”

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ASN 4.3 Yet More Screaming

The city outside was dark, and sparkling with the cold as they came out of the basement, and began making their way back to their seats. Lacey and Monica went to grab some of the pizza, while Antigone came over and sat on the floor next to Walter’s recliner.

“Dad,” she began, turning to face him. “Did you retire from the Military just for us?” She asked it completely earnestly, and Siobhan nearby grew quiet as she turned to listen. Walter knew the question wasn’t the kind he wanted to respond to with a joke, so he looked at her and considered his words for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” he answered in the quiet. “In part, at least. But yeah, a lot of it was because you kids were getting so much older, and I knew that I had lost so much time with you.” He leaned back, and motioned his assent when Ryan held up a beer for him. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Antigone answered, leaning back in to the chair next to his legs. “I just…listening to you talk about your career, it really hit me that you gave up a lot of time when you left.” Then it was her turn to consider, looking out at the room before she turned to consider him again. “Do you regret it?”

The room fell silent at that weighty question, although Lacey and Monica, and Andre and Leah, worked to look busy at other things to give them the pretense of privacy. “I don’t regret getting to spend more time with you, or not have to leave for months or a year at a time,” he answered, in a voice of honesty and reassurance that he reinforced by putting his hand on her shoulder. “But every choice has consequences, kiddo, and there are some things I regret that I’ll never have a chance to do—that’s part of being an adult. Anyone who tells you they don’t regret anything hasn’t had to make a hard choice before.”

Siobhan stood up to move over and join Antigone on the ground at that, crossing her legs. “So what do you regret?” She asked, curiously. She seemed comforted that he didn’t regret spending time with them, but there was an air of worrying that he wouldn’t find the trade to have been worth it in her voice. Walter smiled at her, and took a long draw of his beer.

“I would have liked to make at least Lt. Colonel if not a full bird,” Walter responded, his voice remaining thoughtful, as he referred to the nickname for a full Colonel’s insignia of two eagles. “I would have really loved to command either of the 75th Ranger Regiment’s battalions; maybe even the regiment itself, or one of the Special Forces Groups.”

Ryan moved to take one of the nearby seats, putting his feet up on one of his younger namesake’s skateboards that had been left nearby. “You’d have been great at that, Walt,” Ryan said with a shake of his head, offering a salute with his beer bottle. “You needed to play better politics to get there, or you needed to be less good at doing the shit we did with Ashland.” He smirked a little bit at the blank looks from Antigone and Siobhan, and shrugged. “Your dad didn’t put up with a lot of shit from people who put their own careers above their unit, and he wasn’t afraid to put them in their place. Didn’t make him a lot of friends, however.”

Andre wasn’t able to keep from joining the conversation at this point; he looked sheepish as he did so, but Walter gave him a grin and a motion with his own bottle that indicated it was fine. “And being too good at what you did with Ashland?”

Walter sighed at that, and took another swig of his beer. He considered the dark liquid in the bottle, and then looked back up at his partner. “Maybe it’s different in the Marines, Andre, but I’d guess you know how it is—when you’re good at something the reward is more. And the penalty is that they don’t want to let you stop doing it. Well, I got caught in a niche too, and they didn’t want to take me away from it. I spent a lot of time as a Major in a lot of the same roles I did as a Captain—just in more varied locations with more interesting co-workers.” He saw a nod from the other man, and shrugged. “It’s one of the reasons why I retired. They were supremely uninterested in transferring or promoting me, and I was getting pretty tired of what I was doing.”

That seemed to reassure his children, who stood up and stretched and wandered to go raid the left-overs. That allowed Andre and Leah to more fully join the conversation. “So you two served together a lot?” Leah asked curiously. They knew some of Walter’s background, but Ryan didn’t come drink with them often so they had lacked the opportunity to question him. At their nods, she continued. “When did you meet?”

“College,” Ryan answered for Walter, who was finishing his beer and setting it aside. “We were both in an Army program to go from Enlisted to Commissioned Officers, and we ended up at Kansas State together. Where my sister was also studying,” he added after a moment. “Which, in retrospect…” Walter took one of the many pillows that were formerly on the couches, and flung it at his friend.

“We spent a not insignificant amount of time serving at least in the same command structure, given we both went through the same training. He retired a couple of years before I did, with some of the same frustrations. Right, Cap?” Walter asked, drawing a nod from Ryan.

“And,” Andre began, “You can’t tell us anything specific about what you did with Ashland.”

Walter and Ryan both gave a bland shrug. “It isn’t really relevant, except to say that she’s here and we’re not happy about it. But her being here means there is more going on, and we need to be really damn careful about how we go forward. She has a plan, and she is going to make it happen if she can.”

Andre and Leah shared a look, and both looked like they wanted to say something else—but they were interrupted by the blood curdling scream.

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ASN 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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ASN 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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ASN 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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