If you missed the first book in the series, I recommend you read it first before proceeding with this.
Or you could just be a renegade and trudge on.
The striped barricades were raised at the sight of the yellow truck. The driver drove straight through, nodding curtly at the guard. The truck was deftly maneuvered past the towering building and rows of parked cars marked with the bat logo of ErenCorp.
The truck eventually came to a stop before a sprawling warehouse at the back of the enormous compound. A loud hiss accompanied the switching off of the truck’s huge engine. A man stepped out of the warehouse. His black leather jacket flailed wildly in the cold night wind. Ten more people came out behind him.
They made towards the truck.
“How many?” The man at the head of the column asked the driver crisply as he got to the truck. He spoke with a baritone that raised doubts about his possession of a vocal cord. The driver saw that parts of his neck still bore aftereffects of a run-in with fire. A long scar ran down the length of his right cheek.
“Fifteen”. The driver responded.
With this, the other men moved to the back of the truck. As the doors were opened, fluorescent bulbs clicked on in the carriage area, illuminating rows of mechanical equipment and wooden moving crates. Two men hopped into the truck and started moving out the crates.
The men worked in silence, small clouds of mist forming in front of their mouths with each breath. The driver stood off to one side. He brought out a cigarette and wedged it between his lips. He lit it and took a very long drag. That was all he could get. The man with the scarred face pulled the cigarette out and crushed it between his fingers. He watched the driver’s face for signs of protest as he let the crushed pieces of tobacco fall on his boots.
At that moment, there was a loud crash from the back of the truck. A crate flopped to the ground and the lid sprang off. A little girl with tiny beads in her corn rows sprang out of the crate like a Jack o’ lantern. She ran, whimpering, towards the main building. Her little feet could only take her so far before she was tackled by one of the men. She struggled frantically but she was still forced back into the crate. The lid was slammed shut.
After the last crate was unloaded, the man with the scarred face reached into his jacket. The driver smiled. The money was the only thing that would make him work with such diabolical creatures. And, boy, did they pay well!
The smile froze on his lips when he saw the other man’s hand slide out of the jacket again. It was empty. Then the scarred man took a step towards him.
Suddenly, the driver was afraid. His bladder felt heavy and he could almost feel the weight of his urine sucking him into the ground. The look on the other man’s face was set, determined.
The driver made a mad dash for the truck but like the little girl had found out earlier, he could not get too far. A powerful grip dragged him backwards and he could feel the coldness of the other man’s skin against his face.
Suddenly, the driver felt his head snapped backwards violently. One minute he was staring at the ground, the next, the starless night sky was in view. Moments later, he saw the scarred face looming over him. The driver watched in horror as the man’s mouth widened in a smile, then four of his teeth gradually grew longer.
“Oh no!” He cried. His neck was perforated by the descending canines.
The driver’s body was held in place by the teeth for a few seconds before it flopped to the ground, blood pumping sporadically out of the punctured skin.
The man with the scarred face wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He brought out a phone and dialed a number.
“The package is here”. He said once the connection was made.
“Good. How many?” The person on the other end said.
“Fifteen. We need six more”. He stepped over the driver’s body. “And I know just the place to get them”.
“That’ll be $106.90”. The young cashier said. ”Will it be cash or credit?”
Ben brought a hundred dollar note out of his wallet. A quick search in his pocket led to the discovery of two five dollar notes. He handed these over the cashier and waited for his groceries to be bagged.
“Next time, I’m doing the shopping”. Kyle said in his ear.
“Shut up”. Ben muttered.
A few of the people waiting in line looked at him. He smiled apologetically.
Ben’s relationship with his ghostly partner had gone through a lot of strain. The move to Steel City, Pittsburgh PA was partly a bid to repair this and, in most parts, an escape from his thirty thousand dollar gambling debt.
“Here you go, sir”. The bag boy said, handing over the purchased groceries.
Ben tipped him with the change collected from the cashier and stepped out of the department store into the early morning Pennsylvania sunlight. He easily located his black Chrysler in the lot. It was a Sunday morning so the parking lot was not as crowded as it usually was. The Chrysler was the only thing from his former life as a cop with the Miami PD.
A big bag filled with technical equipment occupied the center of the trunk. Ben shifted it aside to make space for the bag of groceries.
He slammed the trunk shut and climbed into the driver’s seat. He turned the car towards the Center Avenue road.
Ben Wright, nearly two years ago, had been a detective with the Miami PD. He was a replacement for Detective Kyle Kent who’d died on the job. In a series of unexplainable events, the ghost of Kent had bonded with Ben and together, they’d solved Kent’s death which had turned out not to be a murder.
The aftermath of the bonding, however, was that Wright descended into depression and, when Kent took over the body, fits of murderous anger. After a particularly vicious display of anger, Wright’s girlfriend, Claire had left him. A month after this, he had resigned from his job and moved to Los Angeles. They had joined a team of celebrity bodyguards. There, Ben had discovered gambling and it became his favorite pastime. Kent’s drinking problem landed them in trouble with the head of the security team and they had been fired.
Without a job, they were unable to clear their gambling debts which were stacking up daily. A move to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was suggested by Kent. Ben had wholeheartedly accepted.
The black Chrysler pulled up in front of a Jewish Deli. A sign on the floor above the Deli identified it as the base of the Wright Brothers Investigation (W.B.I.). With his credentials as an ex-cop and a former bodyguard, Ben had applied for and got a license as a Private Investigator of the state of Pennsylvania fairly easily. Wright Brothers Investigation was headquartered at Watt Street. It was a next door neighbor to Grandma B’s and further down the street was the St. Benedict the Moor School. The University of Pittsburgh was just a few blocks away from the Jewish Deli that housed W.B.I.
Ben killed the engine and opened the trunk.
“Make yourself useful and grab a bag”. He said.
He felt Kent taking over and he relinquished the reins to the body.
“We don’t have all day, man”. He said in Kyle’s ear through the tiny earpiece.
Kent, as Ben, lifted the bag containing the electronic gear and lugged it upstairs.
The idea to hire a temp to act as a secretary had been his. Now, he was surprised to see her at her duty post. She only had to work six days a week and even that was against the State of Pennsylvania’s Code of Conduct.
“Morning, Margie”. He said. It still always surprised him every time he talked that he sounded like Wright.
“Morning, boss. Need a hand with that?” Her full name was Sarah Margret Cruz though she told her boss she preferred Margie. She pulled off the headset wrapped around her head.
“I’ve got it. Any messages?”
“Just Mrs. Rowland. She wants to thank you”. Margie chuckled mischievously “And to ask if you’re free for dinner anytime this week”.
Mrs. Rowland was a divorcee the Wright brothers had helped make a divorcee. She had hired the agency to snoop on her husband for a week. In that period, a drug connection and an affair with their daughter’s third grade teacher had been discovered. The latter had led to the divorce. Now she’s openly trying to become Mrs. Wright.
“Tell Mrs. Rowland she’s always welcome and that I’m all booked up this week but I’ll let her know if there’s an opening”. He winked at Margie. “You know it’s against company policies to date clients”.
Margie laughed. Her boyfriend had been a client.
Kent pushed open the door to the office. The blinds were up. The black finish on the desk shimmered lightly in the morning sunlight. The Macbook on the desk was still belting out the last lines of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Give me love’. Paintings and an Ed Sheeran poster adorned the wall. The paintings were Kyle’s and Ben had bought the poster at the local music store.
Kent dropped the bundle in a corner. Ben would set the equipment up.
“So, what now?” Ben inquired.
“Ever been to church?”
* * *
The engine of the small white Citroen idled. It was occupied by two men. The tinted glasses of the car were up but the occupants could see their surrounding very well.
The eyes of the driver scoured his environment while his neighbor scratched irritably at the scar on his face. It was a reflex action that he barely took note of anymore. Despite the summer heat, the scarred man was wearing a very heavy trench coat. The collars were drawn up to ensure that his skin had no contact with sunlight. His face was obscured behind a ski mask and dark sunglasses.
There were not too many people out on the streets. Sounds of choral music drifted out of the Baptist church on the other side of the street. A sign boldly proclaimed Mossfield Street Missionary Baptist Church. Old black women donning huge bonnets dragged unwilling grandchildren up the steps of the church. A small group was outside just by the lawns acting as an intersection between neighboring buildings.
The attention of the occupants of the car was on the line of small children being drawn into church by their mothers. The children were glancing furtively around knowing that they will run back outside the first chance they get. The driver of the car hoped they would.
The voice of the preacher boomed out.
“Better pray for your flock, reverend”. The driver muttered. “The wolves are here for the sheep”.
* * *
The service was almost over when Ben pulled over at the sidewalk beside the Baptist church on Mossfield Street. Kent suggested they stay behind and mingle with the congregation.
“It’s good for business”.
Ben let Kent take over since he had, arguably, better human relations skills.
Kent squeezed between some elderly black ladies seated on the back pew. After the end of the church service, Kent approached one of the women they had been sharing a pew with.
She was making small talk with another woman. She excused herself and responded to Kent’s ‘hi’. He extended his hand and she shook it.
“I’m Kyl…Ohh, sorry. I’m Ben”. He stuttered.
“Reeeaaal smooth, player”. Wright drawled “Tongue tied around female senior citizens, huh. Interesting”
“I just moved here. A little place on Baum Boulevard”. Kent continued.
“Oh. That’s good”. The woman said. “My mama named me Madeline but to folks around these parts, I’m Grandma Kent”.
It took Wright a few minutes to process this information. When he did, Kent’s eardrums almost exploded with his outburst.
“You sneaky bastard!” Wright croaked. “You brought me to see your mom?”
Kent pulled out the earpiece and slipped it in his pocket.
“Grandma Kent, huh? Must be the youngest grandma in town Are these your kids?” Kent asked, pointing at two shapes behind her. A young woman and a small boy.
“No.” She broke up in wry laughter. “Much as I’d love to be flattered, I’m too old to be their mother. Tommy…” She called the boy “Come on here, boy. Come say hi to Uncle Ben”.
Tommy shuffled hesitantly towards them. The young woman followed suit. Grandma Kent introduced her as Nia.
“You seem like a nice young man, Ben. Would you like to come over for dinner tomorrow?”
“I’ll look forward to that”. He said, smiling. Grandma Kent gave him her address and they shared bye-byes.
Kent walked slowly back to the car. He sighed and plugged the earpiece back in.
…to be continued