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Friday, 30th January, 2009, 11:47 AM #411
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 2 – The Briefing
Jim-Bean joined Caprice and Hammer at the St. Louis airport, but he left out the fact that he hadn’t flown to the location.
Their contact arrived in the early afternoon, FBI Special Agent in Charge for St. Louis, Louis Gaston. Gaston was a fortyish, graying African-American, with a closely trimmed mustache, a very mild Creole accent, and the demeanor of a man who hadn’t slept for three days.
“I’m your escort for this evening’s opera,” said Gaston with a smirk.
Flanked by two burly agents in trench coats, Gaston ushered the three agents into a stretch limo.
“We’re going to the home of Larry Daniels, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and member of the board of directors of McConnell-Bayless. The mansion is located near the University City district on the west side of St. Louis. Last night, at about one in the morning, there was an explosion in the Daniels’ mansion. Six hour sago, the forensics team announced that they were stumped. According to all the laws of physics, this explosion was impossible. It defies all logic.”
“What kind of explosion?” asked Hammer.
“Apparently there was a sex and drugs party in progress at the time of the explosion. Nine people were killed: Larry Daniels; an upscale procurer of refreshments and entertainers named Neal Beagley; St. Luis City Commissioner Stanley Cable; and six assorted party-girls. Daniels’ servants survived because they were in another wing of the house. Guess they weren’t invited.”
“So there were no survivors who were at the party?” asked Caprice.
“Can we talk to him?” asked Jim-Bean.
“That’s a little problematic,” said Gaston. “It’s Antony DiTorrio, Democratic Senator from Missouri and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He suffered a broken arm and is currently under close guard at St. Louis General Hospital.” He handed Hammer a file on Senator DiTorrio, everything they could collect in the last twelve hours.
Hammer flipped through the folder and then passed it around to his companions. The photo showed DiTorrio to be a slim, wiry man, a bit jowly, with dyed brown hair.
“DiTorrio is a fifty-eight year-old native of St. Louis. He’s been in Congress for twenty years.”
“Is he clean?” asked Jim-Bean.
“Near as we can tell, yes. Since his quiet and generous divorce settlement, he’s developed a serious interest in party girls.”
Gaston shook his head and handed another file. “Here’s Daniels’ file. Daniels had an exemplary career as a USAF administrator. He graduated from the Air Force Academy, but bad eyesight kept him from becoming a pilot. Worked in administration and procurement at the Pentagon, sometimes for us.” Us, of course, meant Majestic. “He was expected to rise even higher than the rank of colonel, but at the close of his twenty-year hitch, he took a high-paying job with McConnell-Bayless.”
“Did he share any of his experience with McConnell-Bayless?” asked Hammer.
“Daniels might have been responsible for brokering arms deals during the Iran-Contra affair, but there was so little evidence that the Justice Department never pursued it.”
Gaston leaned forward. “We’re considering this a terrorist bombing. The problem is that the forensics people have found nothing to suggest there was any explosive used. No residue of nitrates or other explosive has been discovered, and no fragments from anything resembling a bomb, timer, or detonating device can be found. Even weirder, the structural damage to Daniels’ mansion does not match any known combustion or blast pattern.”
“I don’t understand why we’re involved,” said Caprice, shrugging his shoulders. “I mean, this is standard terrorist stuff. Even if it’s some kind of weird explosion, there’s plenty of other teams that could handle this.”
Gaston smiled. “You don’t get it, mon ami. But you will when you see the site. It’s easier to show you than to explain.”
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Saturday, 31st January, 2009, 01:09 PM #412
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 3 – Silent Force
Colonel Daniels’ colonial-style mansion sat on several acres of well-manicured gardens surrounded by an eight-foot wall. Outside the front gate, the St. Louis police department kept the reporters and gawkers away. Inside the wall, the estate grounds were swarming with police cars, forensic vans, and evidence collection teams from the FBI and the ATF.
The front door was guarded by a pair of agents. Gaston flashed his credentials and waved the other agents through. There was no St. Louis PD inside the house, only Majestic agents.
The mansion was full of signs that something like an explosion happened. There was a smell of smoke and obvious smoke and water damage from fires that started after the blast. All the lights were off. Hammer snapped on a pair of plastic gloves, took a mini-light from his belt and clicked it on.
“The fires weren’t caused by the heat of the explosion,” said Gaston, “but by electrical shorts that cooked the writing throughout the building.”
The foyer of the house had a huge double staircase and a balcony that wrapped all the way around the room. A burnt and shattered chandelier hung above the marble floor. There was a figure tape-outlined on the ground just beneath the balcony.
“That’s where we found the Senator and his escort,” said Gaston. “The force of the explosion must have thrown them over the balcony. The Senator landed on top of the woman, breaking his arm and her neck.”
They climbed the steps. Hammer’s brow furrowed. “This door,” he pointed at the door across from the balcony. “It’s completely intact.”
“Could it have been open beforehand?” asked Caprice, a little sarcastically.
Hammer shook his head. “For an explosion of this force? It would have blown the door off its hinges even if it was open. There’s no sign of any blast concussion whatsoever.” He leaned down to inspect the debris on the floor. “What’s this?”
“Furniture, stereo equipment, glass,” said Gaston. “Fragments from the explosion.”
Hammer put one hand on the wall. “But the wall’s smooth. They’re not pierced or marked.”
A camera flashed in the room off to their right. Two crime scene photographers snapped pictures of a nude woman hanging from the ceiling.
“What’s she hanging from?” asked Caprice.
“Nothing,” said Gaston. “She’s not hanging by anything like chains, rope, or wire.”
The woman’s left hand was seamlessly fused into the plaster of the ceiling. Her arm was twisted and broken, obviously wrenched out of its socket but still attached to her body by muscle and skin. The floor of the room was filled with furniture fragments, but none of the furniture in the room was obviously damaged.
Jim-Bean wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell?”
“Vomit,” said Gaston. “The officer who initially responded puked when he saw what was in the party room.”
They made their way to see what made the cop throw up.
Sunday, 1st February, 2009, 01:34 PM #413
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 4 – Party City
The room where the explosion took place was right next to the one with the hanging girl. Another girl was fused through the wall and sticking into the hallway. She emerged from about her waist, face down, with her dangling fingertips touching the floor.
The wall buckled outward into the hall, but it wasn’t cracked or broken. “It’s smooth,” said Hammer, touching it with one gloved hand. The wall bulged in a shallow hemisphere. “The hallways and the rooms adjacent and across the hall are filled with fragments of furniture and glass flung form the party room, but they should have been embedded in the wall of the main room—there’s no way for them to have passed into the other areas.”
They made their way into the room proper. The party room was filled with shattered furniture and stank of alcohol. All four walls, as well as the floor and ceiling, bulged outwards. “It’s as if some spherical force pushed them outward,” said Hammer, “warping the molecular structure rather than shattering it.”
“All the debris in the house seems to have been generated by objects in this room,” said Gaston. “The debris extends through the house into rooms above, below, and adjacent to the explosion site.”
“Where did they find Daniels’ corpse?” asked Jim-Bean.
“At the epicenter of the depression in the floor.”
“And where’s the body now?” asked Caprice.
“St. Louis General Hospital, along with the others not embedded in the walls. We did find one other curious thing.”
“Oh?” asked Jim-Bean, walking around the perimeter of the spherical pattern and counting to himself.
“We found a small crystal with Daniels, apparently quartz.” Jim-Bean stopped his pacing and looked up. “His body was found in a kneeling position, hands cupped together holding the crystal. He appeared to either be mummified or burned so badly that he became frozen in that position.”
“The heat to do that would have incinerated this room,” said Hammer. “There are no burn marks anywhere.”
Two forensic technicians entered and, with high speed saws, began cutting the wall around the fused body of the party-girl.
Jim-Bean stood in the center of the blast. “He was kneeling right here?”
“Yeah, why?” asked Gaston.
Jim-Bean closed his eyes and entered a trance, just as he’d been taught at Enolsis.
“It’s best if you don’t ask questions,” said Hammer, sounding very far away.
Monday, 2nd February, 2009, 11:29 AM #414
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 5 – Crystal Clear
Jim-Bean opened his eyes from the vision and swore. Gaston wasn’t in the room anymore and neither were the two technicians. Jim-Bean guessed that he was in his trance much longer than he thought.Ronald Valiant had mounted a recruiting drive for Enolsis, signing up new members, including his old friend Colonel Larry Daniels.
Colonel Daniels was particularly thrilled with his initiation into Enolsis. The bursts of energy he received during his meditation exercises positively resurrected his virility. Following this discovery, Daniels’ tastes grew considerably less bizarre.
Even so, what he now lacked in eccentricity he made up for in volume. His stamina quickly became the talk of the call girl circuit. Daniels’ mansion was the site for weekly orgies, attended by Daniels’ closest friends and some of the most expensive ladies in the city.
Daniels had just taken a huge snort of cocaine and was meditating on his flawed Realizer while the call girl put her mouth to good use. The last thought that went through his mind as the crystal sucked the life out of him was: This is the ultimate thrill!
“What now?” asked Hammer.
Jim-Bean sighed. “Enolsis,” he said. “Daniels was part of Enolsis.”
“A new age cult,” said Jim-Bean. “Splintered off from Scientology awhile ago. Daniels was recruited by somebody named Ronald Valiant. He was here at the party.”
“There’s no body that was recovered here linked to a Ronald Valiant.” Caprice scanned his cistron. “I can put in a request to see what we find on him.”
“That’s because he’s alive,” said Jim-Bean. “I’m sure of it.”
“How can you be so sure?” asked Caprice.
“Because I saw him,” Jim-Bean said simply.
“We’d better check his personal effects,” said Hammer.
“And his bedroom,” said Jim-Bean. “But we might not like what we find there.”
Wednesday, 4th February, 2009, 11:39 PM #415
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 6 – A Valiant Effort
One wall of Daniels’ bedroom was covered with certificates, decorations, and pictures of Daniels with well-known politicians of the northern hemisphere, including Senator DiTorrio.
“Oh great,” said Caprice, staring at the contents of a trunk. “This guy was into the hard stuff: whips, chains, you name it.”
Hammer nodded. “That indicates these marks.” He pointed at the wood. “Handcuff marks. Old handcuff marks.”
Jim-Bean swallowed hard as he caught sight of the well-thumbed pamphlet on the nightstand. It read: Your Realizer and You, published by the Enolsis Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma. On the cover was a picture of a crystal similar to the one Jim-Bean carried on him held by a pair of cupped hands. The pamphlet promised that exercises would help the initiate “find his true light.”
“If he’s got this …” said Jim-Bean. “He’s probably got Inner Science in his library.”
They made their way to the library. Two men in somber suits were rifling through Daniels’ desk and computer files.
Hammer eyed them suspiciously. “Who are you?”
One of the men flashed a badge. “I’m Captain Picton. This is Captain Wentzlauf. We’re with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.”
Hammer cocked his head. “Looking for something?”
“Classified USAF materials,” said Wentzlauf. “As a member of McConnell-Bayless’ board of directors, Daniels had access to quite a bit.”
“Find anything?” asked Caprice.
Picton shook his head. “Nothing so far, but there’s a pile of New Age crap in his library.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the library.
Leaving the Air Force captains to their research, they picked through Daniels’ library. What wasn’t dedicated to New Age philosophies were classics of literature and military histories.
“Most of these seem to be fairly new books about crystals and crystal-related magic and rituals,” said Caprice. “But I did find …” he handed Jim-Bean the book. It was a well-read copy of Inner Science: A Guide to Modern Reality. “What’s so important about it?” asked Caprice.
Jim-Bean flipped through the book. The author was Herbert Price, copyright 1962. The forward of the most recent edition was written by The Living Power and published by the Enolsis Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The book bore an inscription in ballpoint: “To Larry, for more than I can write – Ron, June 12, 1994.”
Jim-Bean pointed at the signature. “Ron. Ronald Valiant. That’s got to be him.”
“You’re sure?” asked Caprice. “You got that name from standing with your eyes closed for twenty minutes?”
“It’s a hunch,” said Hammer, cutting him off.
A photo slipped out of the book. Hammer picked it up.
A man in Marine green had his arm around Colonel Daniels, who was in a tropical suit and straw hat. He was in his late thirties, about five-foot ten with blue, weary-looking eyes and crew-cut blonde hair. He had a pointed chin, almost no cheekbones, and a nose that was broken several times.
“Ronald Valiant,” said Jim-Bean, pointing to the man next to Daniels. “That’s our guy.”
Thursday, 5th February, 2009, 11:30 AM #416
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 7 – Antony DiTorrio
Senator DiTorrio was staying at St. Louis General Hospital. DiTorrio’s private physician, Dr. Chichester, hadn’t arrive but was expected the next day.
“I’ve got some matches on Valiant. St. Louis PD, USMC, and his juvenile records.” said Caprice as Hammer drove them over. He uploaded it to their cistrons. “Take a look.”
“Valiant’s blood type was A … hair was blonde,” Jim-Bean muttered.
“Valiant was a successful drug dealer in St. Louis in 1989. His street name was Prince Valiant. In September 1992, Prince Valiant killed a rival drug dealer, Marvin Nash, in East St. Louis by injecting him with heroin and burning him alive with gasoline. He disappeared shortly thereafter.”
“That’s not just your usual gang tactics,” said Hammer. “This Valiant is a sadistic son of a bitch.”
“This isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know,” said Jim-Bean. “Cross-reference Valiant’s name with the names of the guests at the mansion.”
Caprice tapped a few keys. “Bingo. Neal Beagley, a pimp and drug supplier, was a known associate. He died in the explosion. But what’s interesting is Angel O’Rourke, Valiant’s ex-squeeze. Three months ago, she was sentenced to six months in the county jail for stealing a tourist’s wallet during a for-pay sexual encounter.”
“Good, that’s our next stop.” Hammer pulled in front of the hospital. “But first we chat with DiTorrio.”
They made their way through the hospital, brushing off doctors’ complaints that he wasn’t fit to talk with their badges. DiTorrio was jowly, with a down-turned mouth and tired eyes that made him resemble a hound dog. He looked a little bit like the former talk show host, Morton Downey, Jr. His head was bandaged, hiding most of his silver mane of ahri, and his arm was in a cast.
“Senator DiTorrio?” asked Hammer, looming over his bed. “We need to know about what happened at the mansion.”
DiTorrio’s eyes fluttered opened and closed. “My boy … my boy … no!” His head thrashed as he moaned. “He’s mine … all I got …”
“Who?” asked Hammer. “Who are you talking about?”
“Deneen … safe …”
He lapsed back into unconsciousness.
“Does DiTorrio have any kids?”
“Nope,” said Caprice.
“What about Deneen?” asked Jim-Bean.
Caprice tapped some keys on his cistron. “That’d be the name of the mattress that he fell on when they were blown off the balcony.”
“Great,” said Hammer.
“I need to see something personal of DiTorrio’s. Let’s visit his office.” Jim-Bean stalked out of the room.
With a shrug, Hammer and Caprice followed. They left Senator DiTorrio to his fitful sleep.
Friday, 6th February, 2009, 11:24 AM #417
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 8 – Out of Office
Hammer threatened his way through the ranks of DiTorrio’s assistants until they were let into his office.
“You ever sit down in the senator’s chair?” Jim-Bean snapped at Barry, the last of the assistants and the final gatekeeper to DiTorrio’s office.
“That’s what I thought.” He slammed the door shut.
“How long do you need?” asked Hammer, watching the door. “When they start confirm that we don’t have a real subpoena.”
“A few minutes tops,” said Jim-Bean.
Caprice peered at the desktop computer. “It’s password protected, I’ll need some time …”
“I just need his telephone,” said Jim-Bean. He picked up the receiver …
Jim-Bean snapped out of it. “Didn’t Gaston say they retrieved the crystal?” he asked.“Dad?”
“Ronnie? Why are you calling me here?”
“Dad? Listen, I just joined this new organization, named Enolsis.”
“Enolsis? That New Age crap?”
“Yeah – I mean, no, it’s not crap. But it’s the real deal. The rush is amazing! The meditation is better than any coke I ever did.”
“High on life, huh kid?”
“I’m serious dad, that’s why I’m calling. Now I’m an assistant to the deacon—“
“Deacon? This some kind of church?”
“Listen to me! I’m running a recruitment drive and I want you to join.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“No, really. Larry joined and he’s loving it. He’s got his virility back and the girls … they can’t believe his stamina, or mine for that matter. This is the real deal dad!”
“Deadly serious. I’m having a party. I want you to come. When you see what these crystal can do …”
“Yeah,” said Caprice. “It’s currently being examined by the geology lab at Washington University. Why? You’ve been listening to dial tone for a minute.”
Jim-Bean didn’t answer him. “We need that crystal. Now.”
Saturday, 7th February, 2009, 01:05 PM #418
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 9 – Crystal Balls
When they entered the Geology lobby, three Majestic agents were lounging around trying to look collegiate and unobtrusive while surreptitiously guarding the lab. Hammer flashed his badge and they nodded at him.
A man in a lab coat looked up in irritation from a microscope as they entered the lab. “Finally! You know, I’ve got a day job other than inspecting piece of quartz.”
Jim-Bean gave him a pained smile. “Professor Travis Archer? Thanks for meeting with us such short notice. What can you tell us about the crystal?”
Archer handed over a folder of print outs and pictures of the crystal. “It’s been cut recently, with some kind of jeweler’s saw. Other than that it’s a standard pure quartz crystal of a type commonly found throughout North America.”
Hammer pulled one of the pictures out. “That cut … I recognize it.”
“Oh man,” said Caprice, recognition dawning on his face. “That’s not the crystal that brought the ship down, is it?”
Jim-Bean looked a little panicked. “Where is the crystal now?”
“Right here,” said Archer, handing it to Jim-Bean. “But I don’t see …”
Jim-Bean closed his eyes. With a gasp, he fell to the ground, wheezing. Hammer, Archer, and Caprice staggered backwards as it fell as if all the blood rushed from their extremities towards the center of the room where Jim-Bean collapsed.
Hammer grabbed a nearby tumbler and scooped the crystal up with it, snapping it shut.
“What the hell just happened?” shouted Caprice.
Archer was already on his cell phone calling for an ambulance.
Hammer tested Jim-Bean’s pulse. “He’s breathing, but barely.”
“Jesus,” whispered Caprice, “look at his hair.”
Jim-Bean’s hair had turned completely white.
Sunday, 8th February, 2009, 12:29 PM #419
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 10 – Hopes and Dreams
Jim-Bean convalesced in the intensive care unit, finally stabilized. Hammer stayed in his room with Jim-Bean while Caprice stepped out to get coffee.
There was a knock at the door. Hammer answered it. “Yes?”
“Nurse Hope,” smiled a pretty blond with a short haircut.
“Let me see your badge,” said Hammer.
“Of course,” she said, thrusting her arm out with the badge extended.
Hammer didn’t know what happened. Her arm shot out lightning fast, faster than any human should move, and instead of extending her badge her fist socked him hard in the jaw. He spun, drawing his pistols.
It was a testament to Hammer’s reflexes that he had both Glocks at the ready. Hope’s arms twisted and stretched, snapping around Hammer’s throat like a python. He pulled down the trigger on his Glocks and fired the full clips into Hope at point-blank range.
Dozens of rounds struck her in the chest and head. Hope stood there and laughed.
Caprice arrived just in time to see Hope toss Hammer into the bathroom, shattering the bathroom door. Caprice closed the front door to Jim-Bean’s room and fired through the glass window at her.
“I need backup!” he shouted into his cistron. “Now!”
There was the sound of glass shattering. Screwing up his courage, Caprice dove back into the room, pistol at the ready.
Gone. The window was broken. He looked out the window.
Hope had fallen thirty floors. Her malleable body exploded on impact and melted away, leaving her nurse uniform behind.
Jim-Bean was unharmed. Hammer moaned in the bathroom.
“Hammer?” asked Caprice, peering around the shattered bathroom door. “You okay?”
“The crystal,” he said, coughing. “She got the crystal.”
Monday, 9th February, 2009, 11:46 AM #420
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Prince: Part 11 – The Eye of God
Jim-Bean got flashes of a huge, rust-red plant hurtling through deep space.
He woke up in his hospital bed with a start. Hammer was next to him, his ribs taped.It was red as rust, featureless except for bulbous protrusions like hills. Except that of course they weren’t hills if he could see them at that distance; they had to be immense.
A rusty globe covered with lumps then. That was all, but that couldn’t explained why he felt as if the whole of him were magnetized through his eyes. It seemed to hang ponderously, communicating a thunderous sense of imminence, of power. But that was just its unfamiliarity, thought Jim-Bean, struggling against the suction of boundless space; just the sense of its intrusion.
It was only a planet, after all. Just a red warty globe.
Jim-Bean could hear a kind of tuneless ringing in his head. The ugly, pitted sphere below him reeked of malevolence and power.
Then it moved. As the singing grew louder, Jim-Bean could feel the planet beneath him begin to stir.
The surface of a planet wasn’t supposed to move, it was only a planet. The surface of a planet didn’t crack, didn’t roll back like that, didn’t peel back for thousands of miles to show what’s underneath, pale and glistening. When Jim-Bean tried to scream air whooshed into his lungs as if space had exploded a vacuum within him.
“We have to go to the Enolsis branch,” he said. “Right now.”