Author Archives: dreamfarer

The Second Chance Club – Ep 03 – Act 3

The clinic was empty, boarded up, and burned.

“They were more thorough than I thought they would be,” Anna said, testing the charring around the edges of one of the door frames.

“The fire department says that this location burned down three weeks ago,” Tam said.

“Which means Izzy’s doctor pals decided to bug out a few days after she went missing,” Val said. “They are not the most laid back bunch of people it seems.”

The Mulberry Park Associates building was where Izzy had gone through the majority of her procedures. It wasn’t a particularly isolated location. No lonely mansion on a windswept outcropping, or other suitably mad science sort of locale. It was, or had been, a decently sized three story office building, set on an open parcel of land near a small shopping center. Before the fire the building had been colored in a sandy shade of cream that was just mild enough to appear harmless and yet offer the eye no noteworthy features to alight upon.

The fire had changed that, rendering the building into a hollow, gutted wreck with an interior that was dark enough, even in the broad daylight, to suggest unnatural shadows waiting to pounce on the unwary.

“Unfortunately, paranoia is working in their favor in this case,” Anna said.

“Maybe not,” Tam said, She’d left her laptop behind and was fiddling on her smartphone instead. “This was a high-end research facility right?”

“Yeah, but the fire cleaned up any traces they might have left behind, didn’t it?” Val asked from inside the building. A little thing like the door being nailed shut hadn’t been a sufficient deterrent to keep her out.

“It did, at least inside the building,” Tam said. “But the equipment Izzy described wasn’t listed in the fire department’s Incident Analysis Report. High end gear like that may have been too pricey for them to let burn up in a fire.”

“Or, perhaps, they didn’t want to have to explain why a simple primary care practice had enough imaging machinery to put all the hospitals in the state to shame,” Anna said.

“That makes sense too. The fire wasn’t hot enough to completely slag something like an MRI machine and if it had been that would have been incredibly suspicious all on its own,” Tam said.

“So if they took the special gear away before the fire that means that there was some hauling that was done,” Val said. “Maybe at night so people wouldn’t see the building being emptied before it burned?”

“Maybe, but these folks have been reasonably smart, so I bet they did it in the middle of the day,” Tam said. “For something like this, it’s less about not being seen, there’s too many buildings and people around her to guarantee that. What you want is for people to see you and think you’re doing something else. Something they don’t care about.”

“Linens,” Anna said. “Hospitals and hotels send out their laundry to bulk processing plants. I would venture to guess that they have a truck with a Linen company’s logo which they used to get the equipment into the building in the first place and which drove the machines to their home.”

“If it’s their truck though, it’ll be a little challenging to track down won’t it?” Val asked from the far side of the buildings lobby.

“We can narrow it down some if we can confirm that Anna’a guess is right.” Tam said.

“Our luck with witnesses will be poor,” Anna said. “The fire was too memorable an event. It will dominate their thoughts and eclipse the lesser details from the day.”

“Maybe, but we could we ask the people who were used to seeing the delivery truck,” Val said. “If it was a linen truck, then the building’s janitorial staff might remember which company it was.”

“Wouldn’t they be in PrimaLux’s pocket too though?” Tam asked.

“Did PrimaLux own this building directly?” Anna asked.

“It’s hard to say.” Tam checked the notes she’d copied to her tablet. “Definitely not directly, but the actual owner is a property management company, so Prima could have a stake in them that I can’t track down.”

“They might, but even if so, the two operations would be kept separate and unaware of each other,” Anna said. “As you mentioned, they have been behaving with intelligence so far. Secrets stay hidden when as few people as possible know of them.”

“Can you find out who was employed here?” Val asked as she exited the building. There’d been nothing left inside that offered any clues, just as she’s suspected before she entered.

“Sure, I’ve already got that list. I just need to filter it down a bit,” Tam said.


The visit to the ex-janitorial staff of the Mulberry Park Associates building turned up gold faster than anyone had expected it would.

“Yeah, I remember the truck that came in that day,” Clara Bellingford said, putting the menu she’d been reading back onto its holder. The Pink Elephant diner didn’t have a large menu, so it hadn’t taken her long to decide on what she wanted. Her new friends were treating and not having to worry about the cost for a change made things a lot simpler too. “It was a big 18-wheeler. Had a sign on the side that said ‘Pure Stream Cleaning’. Used to swing by once a week or so on Mondays, but that Tuesday it came back for a special pickup. Then the building burned down and I lost my job.”

Clara made the last bit sound bright and cheerful, when it was anything but.

“No luck finding any other work yet?” Tam asked.

“Every place needs to be cleaned but no one wants to pay anyone to do it,” Clara said.

“Did your former employers give you any severance pay?” Anna asked.

“Not really. They said the fire burned up too many of their assets and that their money was all tied up until insurance sorted things out,” Clara said. “We got a full week’s pay but they said not to go anywhere because the police might want to question us about the fire in case one of us set it.”

“How many people did you work with?” Val asked.

“There were twelve of us. Two shifts of three people each spread out enough to keep us all at part time,” Clara said, “Some of them bounced back quick. They had family who could get them in somewhere. The rest of us were just left flapping in the wind though.”

“That sucks,” Val said, joining the group with a platter of sweet teas that she’d liberated from the overworked waitress.

“We might be able to make it suck a bit less though,” Tam said. “We know someone at the Marigold estates. There’s a position open there if you want it? I think we can put in a good word for you too.”

“That’s nice of you, but you don’t have to go to all that trouble,” Clara said.

“It’s no trouble,” Anna said. “You are helping a friend of ours, it is only right that we help you.”

“Well that would take a world of weight off my shoulders,” Clara admitted.

“Here’s a card for the Custodial Services Manager there,” Tam said. “On the back I wrote the number for our liaison with the Marigold Estate. If you have any trouble getting through to the Manager, just give JB a call and he’ll get things sorted out.”


The Pure Stream Cleaning company had two offices in the Greater Atlanta area. One was the corporate office while the other was the plant which did the cleaning and transport of the clothes and linens for a variety of businesses in the Atlanta area. Tam was more than slightly annoyed when all her efforts to break into the business office quietly failed to up the required information, not because they were caught but because the shipping manifests were only kept at the processing plant.

“What kind of luddite company still relies on nothing but paper records!” she revved the engine on her bike almost fast enough to catch up with Anna, who was, as ever, still in the lead.


The break in at the laundering plant was more rushed and slipshod than the one at Pure Stream’s business office had been. Tam argued that picking the lock with a crowbar was a perfectly viable option and neither Anna nor Val had the heart to disagree with her.

The paperwork they needed fortunately did turn out to be there, though it took them long enough to find it that Val had to put a roaming security guard in a sleeper hold when he came too close to discovering them.

Maurice Clevenger, the security guard in question, woke up a minute later with a terrible headache but no further damage. Since nothing was disturbed or missing as far as he could see, he very quietly went back about his rounds without trying to explain why he’d unexpectedly passed out on the job.

A few days later he visited his doctor for a physical, driven to it for the first time in years by the worry from his fainting spell. No cause for the fainting was determined but the blood work did reveal an elevated white blood cell count which lead to an early diagnosis and successful treatment of the prostate cancer he wasn’t aware had been developing.


The cleaning company’s shipping records didn’t list the pickup from the Mulberry Park building, but they did list the trucks that had been in service, and the transponder codes for the ones that were theoretically parked in the lot that day. Tam cross referenced that list with the telematics data that showed when trucks left and arrived to discover that one of the 18-wheelers had apparently been taken for a joyride the day before the fire consumed the Mulberry Park building.

“They have telematics and GPS on their trucks but they print everything out to store on paper records? Oh my god this company needs to be shutdown!” Tam said as she searched for the addresses of the company’s senior management with plans to wreck a horrible and unspecified vengeance on them for their poor management practices.

“That is less important at the moment than discovering where our delivery truck dropped off the missing equipment,” Anna said.


Stealing the GPS data was so trivial that Tam felt obligated to rewrite the information in the device’s flashrom to always pick the third slowest route out of the top ten options it could calculate.


The Wainwright Health facility, the spot the GPS data pointed them too, was cut from the same overly sanitized block as the Mulbery Park building had been. Unlike the burnt husk that remained in Mulberry Park though, the Wainwright building was whole and well lit. Somehow it captured the same uninviting air as its ruined twin though.

“Do we wait and come back tonight?” Val asked.

“No, I don’t think we give them that chance,” Anna said.

“What’s the plan then?” Tam asked.

“Very simple. We are going to walk in and take the information we need,” Anna said and began striding directly towards the front door.

Val and Tam exchanged quick looks, reading the surprise in each others faces and, with a shared shrug, trotted forward to catch up with Anna’s long strides.

“Hello, can I help you with anything” the receptionist said. He was a brown haired, mildly handsome, young man who could have been pulled from any college campus in a three state radius.

“That will not be necessary,” Anna said, glancing around the interior without bothering to look at him. She didn’t break her stride at all before venturing through a door that lead into back of the building.

“You can’t…” the receptionist began to say.

“It’s fine, we’re here for the records” Val said, cutting him off. She met his gaze briefly before turning away like that was all the explanation she was required to give.

Tam said nothing at all, instead adopting an expression somewhere between disinterest and casual malice. The receptionist didn’t try to meet her gaze. It seemed like a poor idea to attract her attention if he didn’t need to.

Anna navigated them through the corridors of the office building, setting a pace that didn’t look frantic or hurried but conveyed a sense of purpose. She didn’t avoid encountering people either. She made them avoid her.

At least until they got where they were going.

In the basement they found the room where the MRI machine and other medical gear had been stored, or setup again.

“We have a problem,” Val said as they took in the large open room before them.

There was more than scanning equipment waiting for them in the basement. In close to two dozen glass and metal canisters there were bodies frozen in a dreamless, breathless sleep.

Izzy wasn’t the only vampire the doctors had made. She was just the only one still walking around.

The Second Chance Club – Ep 03 – Act 2

The key to defanging a vampire turned out to require learning what had given her fangs in the first place. That meant tests, and lots of them. To her credit Isabella Rodrigo was a model patient, but then it was a lot easier when the doctor working with her kept her informed at every step in the procedures.

“This will be the last draw for today,” Dr. Helen Shavitz said, filling the final vial with the red liquid which passed for blood in Izzy’s veins. “We’ll be testing this one for your platelet count, though I’m going to guess that what we’ll find will be as irregular as the rest of the outcomes.”

“That doesn’t sound very promising for figuring out what they did to me,” Izzy said, keeping her eyes closed. She didn’t mind the sight of blood. It neither frightened her nor, contrary to several vampire myths, threatened to send her into a feeding frenzy. She had simply grown so used to having her blood taken over the years that she’d learned to take the time as small moments of relaxation in an otherwise busy and unpleasant day.

“I can’t usually say this, but the more the results are out of the ordinary, the better in this case,” Dr. Shavitz affixed the vial’s label and turned to face her patient.

“Because it confirms that Isabella’s hematology is wholly unique?” Anna asked.

“Any one of these tests would prove that,” Dr. Shavitz said. “No, the results we’re seeing are useful because while they don’t make sense on their own, they compliment each other. I can see, in part at least, how Izzy’s system supports itself, even if it’s radically different from the mechanisms we typically use.”

“Too soon to be asking about a cure though I’m guessing?” Val asked.

Anna, Tam, and Val had insisted on accompanying Izzy to the Boston medical center where Dr. Shavitz had access to a private lab for testing. Jenny and Meg had joined them, because, as Jenny stated emphatically, she’d spent a month under Izzy’s protection and come out perfectly fine and healthy and there wasn’t a damn thing anyone was going to do to prevent her from returning the favor. Sera had tagged along as well, happy to have an all expenses paid for vacation and a chance to babysit her niece whom she hadn’t seen in over a month.

They made for a bit of a crowd in Izzy’s room, even with Sera and Meg safely away from the medical center’s potential contagions. Being surrounded by a small throng seemed to buoy Izzy’s spirits though so no one minded the crowding.

“Depends what you mean by ‘cure’,” Dr. Shavitz said. “Izzy’s biology is terra incognita at the moment. Even if we could come up with a method of reverse the procedures she’d been through, there’s nothing to suggest yet that we would want to.”

“But what about the accelerated aging?” Jenny asked. She was holding Izzy’s hand, and showing all of the worry that Izzy was appearing to be free from.

“That is the primary condition that we need to deal with. Not the blood dependency, or the aversion to strong odors,” Dr. Shavitz said. “But we need to be careful in how we approach it. The rapid aging may be responsible for keeping her alive at this point.”

“That sounds kind of counter-intuitive doc,” Val said, swinging her legs on the table she had taken a roost on.

“Not exactly,” Izzy said. “Remember, I didn’t start off on this in perfect health. I was pretty close to kicking the bucket even before I became one of the undead.”

“You are right and wrong there,” Dr. Shavitz said. “It’s true that your prior medical condition has an impact on your future prognosis. Removing the effects of the procedure could leave you with compromised or failing systems. I’ll know more about that once the results of these tests are in. You are wrong however about being ‘undead’. You are every bit as biologically viable as anyone else in this room.”

“I’ve been shot in the heart. Normal people don’t get up and walk away from that,” Izzy said.

“I believe that incident did disable you for a brief period however, am I correct?” Dr. Shavitz asked.

“It may have stung a little, yes,” Izzy said.

“That would be because you are still using your heart. And your lungs. And your other organs as well,” Dr. Shavitz said. “You are more resilient than someone without your current biology but you are not immortal, or unkillable. From the scar tissue that remains at the entrance and exit wounds, I believe the bullets did not directly pierce your heart, though in another woman they might have. If they had, or if you were to drown, or burn, even the impressive recuperative capabilities you possess could be taxed beyond their limit.”

“I know the doctor’s I worked with before looked into that a bit,” Izzy said. “Some of the tests they did couldn’t even have been close to ethically sanctioned.”

“I have to wonder what they were hoping to get out of this?” Tam asked. “I mean on the one hand, a vampire treatment could be amazing, especially if it can cure something major like cancer, but it sounds like the survival rate is pretty low. Something like that shouldn’t be in human testing yet, should it?”

“Definitely not,” Dr. Shavitz said. “The work to produce this complete a change in someone’s biology requires multiple breakthrough level inventions, any one of which should have been peer reviewed and studied for a decade or more before any sort of clinical trials on humans began. From the sounds of it, Izzy was far from their first subject too, which suggests this wasn’t a lucky and unpredictable effect of the treatments they gave her.”

“So what can we do then?” Jenny asked. “I mean we don’t understand cancer fully but we can fight that. There has to be someone way to fight this too, isn’t there?”

“Maybe I’ll just turn into an infinitely shriveled old lady,” Izzy said, offering Jenny a smile.

“At this point, I have nothing specific to offer,” Dr. Shavitz said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. There’s still a lot of data to collect, and a lot of possible options. I don’t want to get your hopes up yet, but I don’t want to dash them either. These are early days still. One thing that I believe will help will be to prevent Izzy from suffering any more significant injuries.”

“Apart from the obvious, why is that doc?” Val asked.

“It’s just a hypothesis, but I believe her aging and her regeneration are linked,” Dr. Shavitz said. “I think her body is able to fabricate and replace cells at a rate vastly quicker than normal. There’s a degree of metabolic deterioration in the “quick copying” her cells do though and that adds up to the accelerated aging.”

“So, PrimaLux has a procedure that makes people incredibly healthy, strong and fast, which is frequently fatal to administer, and kills the subject in an unfortunately short time frame? Who would they sell that to?” Val asked.

“Is it possible they’re still running tests in order to work out the accelerated aging side effect?” Tam asked.

“I don’t think so,” Anna said. “If Dr. Shavitz is correct, then the aging element is a central part of the process. Correcting that would be done via trials in an animal population first. It seems more likely that they have accepted the losses, both short and long term, and were running this trial as an off-book project searching for some other benefit.”

“Maybe they were trying to make super soldiers?” Izzy said. “I can certainly fight a lot better than I did before.”

“For that they would want candidates with combat ability, or who they could rapidly train as combatants, before the aging rendered them incapable of fighting. Did they offer you any formal combat training after the procedures began?” Anna asked.

“No. The closest they came to that were the endurance and reflex tests they put me through,” Izzy said. “I learned to fight on my own time.”

“What do you practice?” Val asked, leaning forward.

“Mostly boxing,” Izzy said. “But I took a few years of jiu jitsu too.”

“We’ll have to get in a ring sometime,” Val said with a wide smile. “After your better of course.”

“You’d hit a little old lady like me?” Izzy said.

“I hit Anna all the time,” Val said. “Or I try to.”

“Yeah, don’t fight with Anna,” Tam said. “I’ve watched those matches. She is mean.”

“I am not mean,” Anna said. “I just know more tricks that you do.”

“While I’m all for age and treachery beating youth and skill,” Dr. Shavitz said. “No one is to do any fighting while you are under my care. In a ring or out.”

“Agreed,” Anna said. “We have a more important foe to deal with than each other.”

“PrimaLux. They are not going to be an easy group to handle,” Tam said. “They’ve already fried one of my systems just for poking around their front door.”

“And if they were renting out Izzy’s talents as an enforcer to a scrub like Boyers, it’s means they’ve got plenty of other muscle for targets that are closer to home,” Val said.

“I wasn’t thinking of taking down PrimaLux directly,” Anna said. “We need more information on them before we engage in a contest of that scope. Their lab, on the other hand, would make a much more manageable target I believe.”

“What are you thinking of targeting at their lab?” Val asked.

“I hope you’re about to say ‘the research notes on the procedure they put Izzy through. If we had access to those, it would catapult us forward in terms of coming up with a treatment for her,” Dr. Shavitz said.

“That was exactly my thought,” Anna said. “None of the work they’ve done has been peer reviewed, and if anyone else had made parallel discoveries they would be racing to apply for patent protection on it. Our only chance at understanding what their treatment plan was, and avoiding the mistakes they’ve made, will be to take the data we need from them.”

“We’re going to need to find out where the trials are being run now then,” Val said.

“I can give you the address,” Izzy said.

“I’m willing to bet we find an empty office space there now,” Tam said.

“Losing an asset tends to make people involved in highly illegal endeavors somewhat nervous,” Anna said, focusing on Izzy. “When you disappeared for a month after being sent on an errand they had to consider whether you had been compromised, and would in turn compromise them.”

“The good news, is they didn’t send out a strike force themselves, or send another vampire to help Boyers out. So there’s a limit on how invested they are in this,” Val said.

“What if Boyers lied to them?” Jenny asked. “He was already embezzling from them, why would lying about losing Izzy bother him?”

“He was probably smart enough not to try that,” Izzy said. “I was supposed to put in some time with him to help offset the costs of the procedure, but I was still expected to come in for my usual weekly checkups. Even if Boyers told them I was busy they would have been suspicious by the second week.”

“What I suspect is that they were nearly ready to wrap up your tests and saw this as a chance to close up shop with the data they had collected and move elsewhere,” Anna said. “We will certainly follow up on the locations you can provide us, but if my guess is right, we will find little or nothing to confirm your story.”

“But you still believe her, don’t you?” Jenny asked.

“Of course we do,” Tam said.

“Seriously, how could we not?” Val asked. “Saying ‘a secret lab turned me into a vampire’ might seem like a wild story, but she has the fangs, and blood that’s X positive to prove it. That’s some pretty solid evidence right there.”

“Maybe I’m from some ancient mystic bloodline that refuses to let the mortal world know of our existence though. Isn’t that what a conspiracy whonk would think?” Izzy asked.

“Sure, except for two things,” Tam said. “One, you have an extensive medical history which I apologize for intruding on, but the hospitals you’ve been treated at really need better security, and all of that history says you were a non-vampire up until the records run out. Also, point number two, we’re going to find the doctors who worked on you and then they’ll be proof that what you’re saying is real.”

“And, just to eliminate all suspicion,” Anna said. “I’ve met enough real vampires to know their biology is nothing like yours.”


The Second Chance Club – Ep 03 – Act 1

Having a hungry vampire prowling the house did not make for the best Saturday morning, Anna decided. There was only one solution to the problem. She had to feed the beast.

“The eggs will be ready in a few minutes,” she said, glancing to the island countertop Isabella was pacing back and forth around. The vampire had complained of hunger pangs since waking up but had insisted that regular food would serve her appetite just fine.

“I could kill for some waffles,” Izzy said, forcing herself to stop behind her chair and relax with a long, slow breath.

“I thought vampires could only subsist on the blood of the living?” Tam asked, twirling her fork so that it danced between her hands in a complicated but repeating pattern.

“Blood’s good too,” Izzy said. “Two years ago, I couldn’t imagine drinking the stuff, but I guess your appetite changes based on what you need?”

“The body is not usually that smart,” Anna said. “We crave sugar whether we need it or not for example. Your condition may have affected your senses as well though.”

“Maybe. I don’t think there’s a lot of research that’s been done on it,” Izzy said. “From what I gathered there’s not a whole lot of us.”

“”Must be more than a handful though,” Val said, wandering into the kitchen in workout sweats with a bagel in one hand and her phone in the other. “Phil Boyer was too small time to lend for PrimaLux to lend a truly unique resource to.”

“You said they offered you an experimental blood treatment and that’s what modified your physiology right?” Jenny asked, as she fed baby Meg from a bottle.

“Yeah,” Izzy said. “I fought leukemia as a kid, remember? Did really well too, but then when I got to college it came back. I was in pretty rotten shape when this new doctor took my case and made me an offer. He said was the option to take part in an experimental program that was working on a cure, and…I knew it was ridiculous, but I jumped at it. My options were kind of limited at that point that.”

Jenny gave Izzy a supportive glance, and adjusted Meg’s bottle to see if the baby would take anymore.

“That limits the pool of potential affected people rather substantially,” Anna said. “I gather the success rate was not high however.”

“They didn’t say, but I think I might have been the only one to pull through in my group. From some things they said though, I’m pretty sure there were other groups that had been through the program already,” Izzy said, sliding into her chair as Anna started transferring the pile of scrambled eggs from the pan in front of her on the stove to the warm serving plate Jimmy B had wrangled for them.

The women were enjoying the luxuries of the Marigold estates. They could have taken breakfast in the Grand Dining Hall and allowed the staff to provide their meal, but they needed a certain degree of privacy to discuss the details of Izzy’s case, so they’d gathered in Anna’s suite and made breakfast for themselves.

“That’s a pretty convenient population to do shaky medical experiments on isn’t it?” Val asked. “I mean, any failures you can explain away as the disease following its natural course.”

“There are usually more thorough reviews of the patient outcomes and closer monitoring of studies like the one Isabella described,” Anna said. “I suspect this one did not follow the accepted guidelines though?”

She placed the plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, and cheeses on the table before glancing over to Tam. Tam was busy working on a laptop she’d brought to the breakfast table, and looked up at Anna’s words, taking a moment to process them.

“I’m checking Izzy’s records and there’s no listing for that study at all,” Tam said. “Of course, these records also say that she’s still receiving treatments. Not just in general, but right now, this morning.”

“I haven’t been sick in two years,” Izzy said, portioning out a generous helping of eggs and meats for herself and then preparing a plate for Jenny whose arms were occupied with Meg still.

“At least not with a conventional illness,” Anna said.

“Yeah, no offense, but you’re looking a bit weathered for a twenty two year old,” Val said.

Izzy didn’t look any worse than the night before when they’d rescued Jenny from Phil Boyers and his crew, but her features were clearly no longer those of a 22 year old. For all that though, she still looked vastly better than Phillip Boyers had as the police carted him and his men away.

Boyers had made the mistake of shooting “Jenny” on camera. That it hadn’t actually been Jenny but rather a clever illusion arranged by Tam meant the recording wasn’t evidence for a charge of “Murder in the First Degree”. The police still brought Boyers in though, and he was going to stand trial for murder due to fifteen other cases which they were able to link him to via DNA evidence and other incriminating details they acquired after someone (Tam) gave them probable cause to search his home and workplace.

“The doctors said this was normal.” Izzy managed between bites of the bacon and eggs.

“You said you heal rapidly?” Anna asked.

“Faster than you can imagine,” Jenny said. “Which is kind of a good thing I guess. Otherwise she wouldn’t be here.”

“She shot me,” Izzy explained when the other women looked at them curiously.

“To be fair, she was breaking into my apartment, and I knew Boyers was going to send someone after me,” Jenny said.

“Where did you get hit?” Val asked.

“Center torso. Two shots,” Izzy said. “I think I would have gotten one in the head too if I hadn’t recognized her in time.”

“That must have been a fun scene,” Tam said. “Why were you breaking into Jenny’s apartment though?”

“It’s messed up and complicated,” Izzy said.

“I will get the waffles going,” Anna said.

“You were working for PrimaLux, who was backing Boyers for some reason right?” Val asked.

“Yeah. I mean, not originally. Originally I was just taking part in the study. Then, right when I started to change, the study finished up.”

“That’s a good trick,” Val said. “String you along and if it looks like things are working out, threaten to take the treatment away.”

“That’s basically what they did,” Izzy said. “I mean, they said they would pay for another three months of normal hospital care so that they could monitor me for any long term impact from their study, but the protocol that I was on was going to be cut off.”

“And you weren’t cured yet, or even in remission, so they had you over a barrel,” Val said.

“At first all they wanted was for me to check into a new hospital, a private one, where they could monitor me 24/7,” Izzy said. “Then they wanted me to take part in evaluation exercises. I think that’s what working for Boyers was in a sense. I’d passed all the physical tests, but they said they had ‘behavioral effects’ to check for too.”

“They weren’t evaluating the effects of their treatment,” Anna said, making explicit what Izzy was suggesting. “They needed to see if you would do the sort of work they needed you for.”

“I thought it was supposed to be like bounty hunter work,” Izzy said. “You know, find someone who’s trying to skip out on a debt they owe, bust down their door, and make it clear that they can’t just bail on a deal like that.”

“I think Boyer had a different idea in mind,” Jenny said. “He’d already sent some of his men over to threaten me. They said if I couldn’t pay off the money we borrowed for Lewis’ operations, they’d have to find some collateral to use against me. They were looking at Meg when they said that.”

“I don’t blame you for shooting first,” Val said.

“I don’t either,” Izzy said. “I’m pretty quick now, and I came through her door like a freight train. I mean I can heal from bullet wounds but it’s not exactly fun. Didn’t matter though. I got about two steps into the room and I was on my butt with two new holes in my torso.”

“I didn’t recognize her at first,” Jenny said. “And I was scared someone else might be with her, but then it turned out that this poor woman bleeding on my floor was Izzy, and she was alone, and she wasn’t dying and nothing made sense anymore.”

“Whereas for me, everything finally made sense at that point,” Izzy said. “I let the doctors turn me into a freak and I just kept going with the flow. No matter how wrong things started to feel. I didn’t want to be Boyer’s muscle but I thought I needed the doctors to make sure the changes that were happening to me were going to be ok. I was stable, but I’d thought I was out of the woods before too and that turned out to be a bust, so it felt like just doing what I was told was the most important thing in the world. Turns out that sucking chest wounds have a knack for changing your perspective on things though.”

“We took off after that,” Jenny said. “I tried to drop Meg off with Sera to keep her safe, but it wasn’t the right time.”

“I’m so sorry about that!” Sera said. “I had no idea your situation was as bad as it was but I still should have helped you that night!”

“No, I would have gone mad if I hadn’t had Meg to look after,” Jenny said. “I’m just sorry we didn’t contact you. I was afraid if I did, Boyers would find out and try to come looking for me through you. I don’t know why I thought he wouldn’t come after you anyway.”

“You’ve been on the run for a month,” Val said. “I think you can be forgiven for not thinking too clearly under the circumstances.”

“I take it you two used Izzy’s money for rooms and food?” Tam asked, and the two women nodded. “That was smart. I don’t know if Boyers could have tracked Jenny’s accounts, and it sounds like Izzy had plenty of cash to work with?”

“Let’s say Boyers paid my salary in hard currency without technically being aware of it,” Izzy said.

“That was even smarter,” Tam said. “I’m sure the PrimaLux people were monitoring your accounts, but Boyer’s books were so crooked I don’t think even he would be able to tell if some of the cash went missing.”

“What was his plan in all this?” Val asked. “I mean he was loaning out a lot more money than a Payday loan shop should be trafficking in, and Lewis wasn’t exactly a good candidate for long term lending given the condition he was in.”

“That I do have an answer for, thanks to you and Anna picking up their actual ledgers,” Tam said. She spun her laptop around and put it in presentation mode. Financial charts filled the page, overlaying a series of spreadsheets that were open in the background.

“Am I reading these numbers right? Because I’m not just seeing a lot of big loans, I’m seeing a lot of really bad ones too,” Val said. “Boyers would have to have been an idiot to be lending like this.”

“He was, but not because of the failure of the loans,” Anna said. “Do you see these accounts here? They are all marked closed by the estate of the debtor. The amounts shown in the official report do not match the amount of the original loan balance though. I’ve seen schemes like this before. Mr. Boyers was laundering money for PrimaLux but that wasn’t enough. He was embezzling from them as well, increasing the reported loan amount and pocketing the difference between the amount his backers thought they were lending and how much the debtors received. He focused on lending to people who were likely to die before the loan was completed so that the discrepancy could be hidden in the loss when the estate wasn’t able to pay out the original loan amount.”

“I take it PrimaLux is going to find out about the embezzlement now that Boyers books are being entered as part of the charges against him?” Val asked.

“Definitely,” Tam said.

“We will want to watch what happens to Mr. Boyers. It will tell us something about how our adversaries operate,” Anna said.

“Sounds like a job for JB,” Tam said. “I think we’ve got a more urgent matter to take care of.” She nodded towards Izzy who was finishing her second plate of food.

“Yeah, somehow we’ve got to figure out how to defang a vampire,” Val said.

The Second Chance Club – Ep 02 – Act 4

Val wasn’t fond of the guy who was poking her in the back with a pistol, but she was glad he was staying so foolishly close to her. Right within easy grappling distance. It was almost like he didn’t realize that firearms were intended to be ranged weapons.

“This the place?” Boyers asked one his henchmen, looking up at an abandoned theater that hadn’t been seeing good days even five years before when it shut its doors forever. It was a small three story building nestled into a mixed use development to the south of Atlanta’s more prosperous metro area.

“It’s the right address,” the guy with the gun to Val’s back said. His breath reeked of the cheap booze he’d been swilling with his boss and, for as unpleasant as that was to breath in, it also made Val smile.

Coming into a gun fight more than half drunk meant you would be sure your reflexes were superb when they were in reality slowed to a snail’s pace. From Anna’s expression and how she rolled her eyes when Val cast her a questioning glance, Anna was aware of their captors’ weakness too but didn’t want Val to move on it yet.

“Figures she’d be hiding out in a place like this.” Boyers smiled broadly at a joke he never got to complete because even in his semi-addled state he noticed something was wrong with the picture before them. “Wait, where’s Donny?”

Boyer’s other men looked around. There was a car parked outside of building, but no one was in it. And no one was waiting for them outside the building. And as far as anyone of them could see, all of the lights in the building were off.

“Give him a call,” Boyers ordered the guy holding Val at gunpoint.

He didn’t take the pistol away from her back, which said he wasn’t completely plastered, but Val felt an itch in her fingers as she heard him start to call Donny’s number on his cellphone. Between the alcohol and the distraction of being on the phone there was no chance he’d get a shot off before Val could get the gun away from him. Ann shook her head though. Not yet.

With nothing else to do, Val eavesdropped  on her captor and could hear the phone ringing and ringing with no one answering.

“He’s not picking up?” the gunman said.

“These guys,” Boyers said, shaking his head. “Come on, let’s get these two inside.”

Val allowed herself to be prodded forward, leading the small group into the theater’s darkened interior through it’s broad and open front doors.

In its prime, the Royale had been as grand as its small footprint would allow, and the bones of that grandeur were still visible in the moonlight that streamed through the broken windows. A pair of spiral stairways, long fallen into disrepair, wound up to the balcony level while the faded and mildewed remains of what was once an opulent red carpet covered the ground floor like a crimson tide gone to rusty brown.

“Hey! Donny! Larock! Stets!” Boyer called out to the hollow darkness of the theater. “Where are you guys?”

“Maybe they decided this was not a place they wanted to be?” Anna asked. “It does not seem very friendly here. At least not for people like you.”

Boyers whirled on Anna, his hand rising as though he intended to hit her but he checked himself at the last moment. Meeting Anna’s gaze had that effect on a lot of people. It wasn’t so much that she was unafraid of the violence he intended. Fear didn’t enter into the picture. What lay in the depths of her icy gaze was a sleeping bear that was all too ready to awaken if the thin layer of civilization Anna surrounded herself was cracked. She wasn’t a violent woman, but she had lived too long and seen to much to be overly burdened by mercy or restraint when the situation called for their absence.

“You keep talking,” Boyers said, backing off without meaning to. “This place is going to be get real unfriendly for you as soon as we find my guys.”

“Sounds like there’s something in the back,” Val said, lying through her teeth to draw Boyers crew deeper into the theater.

All of the fun waited inside, but she caught sight of a flicker of motion above them.

Except it was too early for any traps to be spung.

She risked a quick look up again but couldn’t see anything in the shadows of the high ceiling. She knew better than to doubt her senses though. Someone was up there. Which was odd. Of all the allies they had, or could call into service, Val couldn’t think of any that were particularly gifted at clinging to ceilings.

Her pulse quickened at the thought of a rogue element coming into play. Boyers and his men were idiots. They were at most ten minutes away from multiple broken bones, followed by their arrest, and then years spent in a maximum security prison.

If there was someone here who could wall crawl on the ceilings though, that meant Val might get a decent work out for a change. Since the shadowy presence seemed to be something of an ambush predator, Val decided to keep Boyer’s attention focused elsewhere for the time being. There were a lot of dangerous things that lived in dark corners. Val dearly wanted to hear Boyer’s reaction to running into one of them unexpectedly. Little girls had nothing on high pitched screams compared to terrified adult males.

“I don’t hear anything,” Boyers said, some animal part of his brains trying to alert him to the danger he was in, but failing to pierce the bravado he substituted for actual thought.

“Sounded high pitched, like someone crying,” Val said. As bait went, it wasn’t terribly subtle. Boyers expected to find Jenny inside the building, so of course he assumed she would be crying. In his conception of the world, she was just a scared, helpless woman after all, wasn’t she?

“Somebody find a light,” Boyers said and started walking forward, slowly and with his gun held in a shaky hand before him.

As they walked into the theater’s main auditorium, Val noticed that there were some sounds that she could make out. They weren’t high pitched though. Instead they sounded like the sort of low moans that barely conscious and noticeably injured men made as they struggled to either escape or regain consciousness.

A flicker of motion to their side caught Val’s eye again. Someone had run behind one of the grand pillars that held the balcony up.

Also, one of Boyers men was missing. Or perhaps it was two. Their party had consisted of six of Boyer’s men (including Boyer himself) with Anna and Val held at gunpoint. A quick glance showed that only the two gunmen, Boyers, and the guy beside him who was holding a light remained. Val began to wonder if the theater was Jenny’s hiding spot, or if it was something very different.

Someone who ran away from people as violent as Boyers was might not look for a place to hide. They might look for somewhere that they could secure. Someplace that people who came after them might regret finding. And they might not be alone.

Val saw a trapdoor at the other side of the theater flash open and close in an instant. Whatever else was true of the theater, they were definitely not alone in it, though it was still possible that they were the only human beings who were present.

No more of Boyer’s men disappeared before they reached the door to the backstage area, but Val felt the creeping weight of someone watching them from the shadows and as she got backstage she saw why.

In the staging area behind the main curtain, Boyer’s first crew was strung up and groaning. They were hung from the rafters by cords that were looped around under their arms, and around their waist and legs. Some weren’t moving, all were painfully contorted, but from the ones that groaning, Val guessed that none of them were dead. That didn’t make the tableau and less disturbing though.

“Boyer,” someone called out in a lilting voice. “We’re waiting for you Boyer.”

Boyer whipped his head around. It was plain which direction the voice was coming from, but he was still jumping at the shadows that seemed to press in around him. He was so nervous though that he missed the fact that the men who’d been holding guns on Anna and Val had vanished.

Boyer started to creep forward, taking the lead, and Val saw Tam peek out from behind a door as he passed, beckoning Anna and Val to slip inside.

“What’s going on?” Val asked in a whisper once they were safely separated from Boyers and his remaining henchmen.

“You found Jenny?” Anna asked.

“And her friend,” Tam said.

“I thought all her friends had tried talking to Sera?” Val said.

“This one’s a special friend,” Tam said. “Give her a moment and you’ll see.”

“What’s happening now?” Anna said.

A trio of gunshots rang out.

“Phillip Boyers just provided us will all the evidence we’d ever need to get him convicted for Murder 1,” Tam said, and threw open the door casually, not bother to remain quiet any longer. “He just shoot to death a startlingly convincing replica of Jenny Williams and her daughter Meg. And he did it on camera.”

Tam held up a finger to forestall questions and opened casually the door they were hiding behind.

“Isabella? Is he disarmed yet?” she called out.

“He still has his arms. They’re just in a few extra pieces now.” The woman who stepped from the shadows ahead of them was even darker skinned than Sera had been. What caught Val attention though wasn’t her piercing gaze, or her lithe, hard muscled figure, or the early wrinkles of age that creased the woman’s skin. It was her perfect, white teeth. Especially the ones that were just a bit longer and pointier than a human’s were really supposed to be. “You’ll want to give this to the police when they get here though.”

Isabella offered Boyer’s pistol already inside a plastic ziplock bag to Tam.

“We seem to be in your debt,” Anna said.

“I feel like I’m a few steps behind though,” Val said. “Wasn’t the plan that you would get here before we did, sneak Jenny out to safety, and then setup some surprises for Boyers’ crew.”

“I did,” Tam said. “Jenny’s safe and sound. I just found that there was already a surprise waiting here for Boyers. It’s really your story to tell though Izzy. Could you fill my friends in?”

“I was the one they sent to collect Jenny in the first place,” Izzy said, her gaze flicking back and forth to read Anna and Val’s reaction to the revelation.

“You worked for Boyers?” Anna asked, a frown of disbelief creasing her lips.

“No, I work for the people he reports to,” Izzy said. “Or I used to, I guess.”

“What made you quit?” Val asked.

“Jenny shot me,” Izzy said, a proud smile spreading across her face.

“Ah, that was the blood they found at her place then?” Anna asked.

“Yeah. I surprised her, and she surprised me. Then we surprised each other,” Izzy said.

“Not quite how I hoped our reunion would go, but I’ll take it,” Jenny said, stepping out from behind a curtain that led to the dressing rooms. In one arm, she held Meg who was sleeping with the profound peace only briefly seen in a contented infant. In the other Jenny had a sensibly sized black semi-automatic. Val made a mental note that Boyers was probably lucky Tam had been in charge of setting up the sting to take him down. Neither Jenny nor Izzy looked like they were interested in merely terrifying him out of his wits and extracting the evidence needed to put him away for life.

“Your reunion?” Anna asked.

“We were classmates,” Izzy said.

“We dated,” Jenny said, nudging Izzy with her elbow and rolling her eyes.

Val glanced at both of them. Dating was easy to imagine. They were both attractive enough, but classmates seemed unlikely. Jenny was around Val’s age, in her early 20s. Izzy looked closer to Anna’s age, if maybe a bit younger. Mid-forties in all likelyhood.

“It was in high school,” Izzy said. “I’m not quite as old as I look.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Anna said. “Perhaps it is something we can help with though.”

“I don’t think so,” Izzy said. “I made some mistakes and I don’t think I can walk them back.”

“We’re going to need to move too,” Jenny said. “Izzy’s bosses are going to go nuts when they find out that Phil’s out of the picture.”

“That we can definitely help you with,” Tam said and dialed her phone. “JB, can you book the Marigold estates for two more residents?”

“The Marigold estates?” Jenny asked.

“Yeah, you’re sister’s going to be staying there for a week or so while we sort this out, and I think she’ll be kind of happy to see you safe and sound,” Val said.

“Sera’s staying there?” Jenny said. “Oh my god, Izzy, do you think we can?”

“I think that’s a fantastic idea,” Izzy said. “I should probably take off though. With Boyers down, the powers that be at PrimaLux aren’t going to be after you anymore. If I hang around, you’ll just get caught in the backblast when they come for me.”

“Wait, Boyers was reporting to PrimaLux?” Tam asked.

“Those were the guys backing Larson, that real estate guy in North Dakota, weren’t they?” Val asked.

“Yes,” Anna said. “It seems their reach extends a bit farther than we imagined. Ms Isabella, I believe we know someone who would be most interested in speaking with you, and if there’s anyone who can offer you shelter from your former employers, it’s her.”

“Yeah, Charlene’s all about giving people second chances,” Val said. “Even people with pointy teeth.”

The Second Chance Club – Ep 02 – Act 3

Two years of nursing school and then six more spent practicing as an RN didn’t seem to be enough to prepare Sera for the details of the report Val handed her. If anything her depth of knowledge seemed to leave her more confused.

“What is this? It doesn’t even look like a report on animal blood?” she asked, turning the hemtology reports over and back again as though she would force the numbers to make sense if she folded the papers into the right sort of origami.

“We don’t know,” Tam said. “What we can tell you is that this is a copy of the original inspection report from Jenny’s apartment. The current file though has a blood sample that matches a missing person, quite human and nowhere near as remarkable as the owner of this blood.”

“Someone tampered with Jenny’s file?” Sera asked, her bewilderment deepening.

“It’s noted in the log as a correction,” Tam said. “The claim is that there was a mixup of the case samples, the wrong vial got tested and results were assigned to Jenny’s casefile. We spoke to the officer that performed the investigation though and there was no mixup.”

“Why would they do that?” Sera asked, pressing a hand against her battered head.

“An effort to keep whatever that faux-blood is underwraps maybe?” Val said, handing Sera an ice pack wrapped in a towel.

“The more important question is who would be well connected enough to corrupt a police investigation?” Anna said.

“One lead we might have is Phillip Boyer,” Tam said. She’d taken her laptop out of her courier’s satchel and rotated it to show everyone Phillip’s bio and picture from the Best Deal company website. “He’s the general manager and it looks like he personally handled the short term loans that Lewis took out.”

“You think he’s after Jenny because of a paycheck loan?” Sera asked.

“Not the paycheck loans,” Tam said. “Those were small potatoes compared to the overall medical bills that Lewis paid off.”

“Do we have any evidence that he was loan sharking in addition to the Payday loans?” Val asked.

“Evidence that would stand up in court? No nothing like that unfortunately,” Tam said. “Enough to be sure he’s doing it though? Oh yeah, absolutely. Money laundering too. From what I can see of his history, Phil came from money, and since Daddy had always paid for everything he wanted, he decided the rest of the world should follow suit.”

“How did Lewis get mixed up with someone like that? He wasn’t an idiot,” Sera asked.

“Desperation does not always make room for good choices,” Anna said.

“It looks like Boyer’s whole business model revolves around that. Best Deal does most of its advertising around hospitals,” Val said. “They even have offices right near each of the major surgical centers in Atlanta.”

“Predators do tend to look for moments when their prey is weakest,” Anna said. “On a brighter note, if Boyers was the one to send the men who attacked Sera however, then he does not know where Jenny is.”

“Yeah,” Tam said. “He probably knows a lot of places she’s not, which could be helpful, but he can’t lead us directly to her.”

“Do we have options for tracking her that Boyers doesn’t?” Val asked. “Follow her credit card transactions or something like that?”

“Normally that’s an excellent option for finding someone,” Tam said. “Most hotels require a credit card for security on check-in, and we know Jenny didn’t have enough cash to go for a month buying food and shelter for herself and Meg.”

“What are you saying?” Sera asked, her breath growing shallow.

“I’m not saying she’s dead, don’t worry,” Tam said. “She’s not using credit cards, touching her bank accounts (which are basically empty anyways) or registering for anything with her driver’s license or social security number but she’s still alive. I think the guys who broke in here are confirmation of that. They wouldn’t still be looking for her is she’d already been caught or turned up dead somewhere.”

“If she knew people were after her, she has perhaps fled somewhere too far away to follow?” Anna asked. “Taken on a new life with no connections to the old one?”

“That’s what a lot of people in her position would do,” Tam said. “The only problem is, that takes time. You need to save up enough for a plane ticket, or at least bus fare. And getting a new identity is not trivial or cheap anymore.”

“Maybe a friend drove her somewhere far off?” Val suggested. “It doesn’t sound like she had a lot of baggage to move with her.”

“I talked to her friends,” Sera said. “They were all asking me about what happened to her and where she was. It could have been an act, but I don’t know why they would have lied to me.”

“There is another factor to consider,” Anna said. “She called you the night she was attacked, but we do not know for sure that it was before the break-in happened.”

“But afterwards she would have told me, wouldn’t she?” Sera asked.

“Not necessarily,” Val said. “She wanted to leave Meg with you didn’t she? What if she knew people were coming after her and she wanted to make sure they didn’t come after anyone else?”

“She might have disappeared because she didn’t want to put you or any of her friends in danger,” Tam said.

“The break-in would have been proof of the lengths people were willing to go to in order to get what they wanted from her,” Anna said. “It is easy to imagine Jenny being afraid that her attackers would target anyone close to her as well.”

“So no money trail to follow, and she’s had a month headstart on us. There’s got to be something we can do to find where she’s holed up though right?” Val asked.

“Of course there is,” Anna said. “As you said though, there may be good reasons for why Ms. Williams is hiding. We would do well to remove those reasons before bringing her back to the light of day.”

“That sounds like we’re going to pay a visit to Mr. Phillip Boyers?” Val asked, cracking her knuckles in anticipation.

“Yes, let us see what he knows of Ms.Williams disappearance,” Anna said.

“While you do that I’m going to start setting up for my show,” Tam said.

“Your show?” Sera asked.

“Stage magic,” Tam said. “I thought as long as I was in town, I’d put on a performance.”


The offices of the Best Deal Payday Loan company showed the sort of keen style and aesthetic refinement usually only found at the bottom of a beer keg. Anything that wasn’t splashed with a sloppy layer of gold paint was instead adorned with giant clear paste “gemstones”. Val’s fourth grade class had put on a stage production of “The Hobbit”. The treasure mound they’d created for the dragon’s lair had been both better designed and more tastefully executed than the decor in Best Deal’s offices. She could only imagine how horrible it would look if the lights were on.

“Tam’s already raided their computer system,” Val whispered. “I’m going to see if there are any physical ledgers that tell a different story. Guys like this usually like to keep a set of accurate books so they can keep all the lies straight.”

“Yes, check in the CFO’s desk,” Anna whispered back.

They were standing inside the executive suite on the top level of the Best Deals office building. One of the skylights had developed an inexplicable issue with the lock that kept it closed at night. The bolt cutters which lay on the roof beside the skylight might have matched the damage done to the skylight’s latch but as there was no one around to inspect the roof, and would not be before JB retrieved the bolt cutters in the morning, it was hard to say the cutters counted as ‘evidence’ in any meaningful sense.

The damage to the security system was more subtle and lasting but, again, was small enough to be overlooked by all but the most determined searches, which would also not occur before the building changed ownership.

Val strode across the darkened office, secure in the notion that no alarms would trigger due to her passing. In the Chief Financial Officer’s room, she dug into the large, multi-drawer desk that was waiting for herr. As Anna had predicted, a set of hard copies of the businesses ledgers were in the (poorly) locked lower drawer.

“That was pathetic,” Val said. “Why didn’t they have this somewhere more secure? I mean, we could have broken into the vault too but at least make it a little challenging.”

“Boyers probably wanted the ledger updated with each significant transaction,” Anna said. “With any requirement for extra work you can add the fact that people are lazy and you will find many large security holes.”

“Did you find anything interesting?” Val asked.

“A list of all their repeat clientele,” Anna said. “This should help us build a case against them.

The elevator dinged and opened.

When the quintet of men inside stepped out and turned on the lights, they found Val and Anna reading quietly with pen lights, each leaning against the half walls on the opposite side of the aisle that made up the executive assistants area.

“Who the hell are you?” Phillip Boyers asked, his voice not yet slurred by the alcohol he and his associates had been indulging in at their dinner party.

“Consultants,” Anna said.

“Oh no, they’re from the main office!” one of Boyers flunkies said.

Boyers himself took a step back and then shook his head.

“No they’re not,” he said. “They were standing here in the dark. They broke in!”

“Is it really breaking if your locks are pieces of junk?” Val asked, holding the ledger in front of her chest.

“Yeah, I kind of think it does,” Boyers said, drawing his gun. The men with him followed suit.

“There’s no need for this to become unpleasant,” Anna said. “We’re here on behalf of a client.”

“No you’re not,” Boyers said. “If you had legitimate business, you’d be here when the sun’s up.”

“I never said our business was legitimate,” Anna said. “At least, not any more than yours is.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about lady,” Boyers said.

“Is that true?” Anna asked. “Because I see you holding a gun on me, but I do not see you calling for the police? Should I call them for you?”

She help up her cell phone.

“Yeah, I’m sure they’d like to get a look at the stuff in here,” Val said, waving the one of ledger books.

“You dial that phone and I’m going to put a hole in your head,” Boyers said. “What do you want?”

“We want to resolve the debt owed by Ms. Genevieve Williams, which was originally incurred by Mr. Lewis Lakes, her husband,” Anna said.

“You came here in the middle of the night for that?” Boyers asked.

“We wanted to make sure we knew what the debt total really was,” Anna said.

“Wait a minute, did you say ‘Jenny Williams’? Do you know where she is?” Boyers asked.

“I am not at liberty to discuss the details of my clients whereabouts,” Anna said.

“That’s too bad,” Boyers said. “I’ve heard old people bones are really fragile and losing a hip is pretty bad for them. You might want to reconsider what you’re willing to talk about before we show you how tough it is to grow old.”

“I know all about how tough you can grow with age,” Anna said, drawing herself up to her full height.

Boyers retort was cut off by the ring of his cellphone. He thumbed it on and hit speaker so that he could keep an eye on Anna and Val.

“What?” he asked when the call connected.

“We got her boss!” the underling on the other end of the line said.

“Her who?” Boyer’s asked.

“Jenny Williams,” the underling said. “We found out where she’s staying. Should we get her now?”

Boyers looked over at Anna and smiled.

“Yeah, grab her. We’ll be over in a few minutes, and she better still be there. I only want to have one mess to clean up tonight.”

The Second Chance Club – Ep 02 – Act 2

Atlanta was a big enough city to get well and truly lost in. Even with a newborn baby to look after, there were plenty of cheap motels and off the beaten path places someone could go to hole up, which put the chance at finding Genevieve “Jenny” Williams about as remote as they could get. Val wasn’t worried about that though. Between the mundane sorts of magic Tam and Anna could work and the mystical weirdness Charlene sometimes had available for them, finding people wasn’t usually a problem. Finding them alive however? That was the tricky bit, with getting them back home safely and even more difficult feat to pull off.

“Any special line of questioning we want to take with Jenny’s sister?” Tam asked as they pulled into the driveway outside the single level ranch where Sera Williams lived. She dropped the kickstand for her newly enhanced bike (James had been as good as his word about getting it ready in time for her trip) and put her helmet over the right handlebar.

Val followed suit, her own bike a custom made,carbon copy of Tam’s except for the muffler. Anna, by contrast, eschewed the sleek, razor sharp lines her younger associates’ machines. Hers was a behemoth of a motorcycle, closer to a tank with two wheels than anything that could properly be termed a “bike”. That didn’t stop her from arriving first wherever they went. She might not have the maneuverability or raw speed to match the other’s bikes but she did have a level of fearlessness that put both Tam and Val to shame.

“I do not think she will try to hide anything,” Anna said, waiting for the other two to catch up before approaching the house’s front door. “If she was involved in her sister’s disappearance, she would not have reached out to us.”

“People can be kind of stupid sometimes,” Val said.

“Then she will give herself away as soon as she starts talking,” Anna said.

Val had no trouble believing that. Even without Anna’s height and low voice, the older woman projected an aura of authority. It wasn’t impossible to lie to her, but it took practice and a mindset that few people had.

“Is it a good sign that the door is open?” Tam asked. “I’ve heard that the people in the South are very welcoming but…”

“But we’re twenty minutes north of Atlanta,” Val said, taking the lead. “No one is that welcoming this close to a major city.”

Had Val been a cop, she would have drawn service revolver. Had she been a licensed private investigator in a TV drama, she would have drawn an implausibly large firearm. She was neither of those things though, so instead she put on what looked to all the world like a normal pair of sunglasses and gestured for Tam and Anna to stand back.

Then she kicked the door hard enough that it left a dent in the wall when it slammed open.

And she waited.

A second later there was the sound of scrambling within the house as two people fled towards the back door.

Val raced into the house, gesturing to Anna and Tam to head around to the back and cut off the fleeing suspects.

It was a straight shot into the house’s kitchen, and from there out into the backyard where two men were racing away from the premises.

Val’s first instinct was Fight. Chase down the bad guys. Make them pay. And they were definitely bad guys. Sera Williams was supposed to be home alone for their meeting. Two men fleeing her house at the first sign of someone catching them there were absolutely up to no good.

But there was Sera herself to think about.

The men had fled the house through the backdoor out from the living room. That’s where Val found Sera, half tied to a chair and ripping away at the knots.

“Let me help you with those,” Val said, putting away the Sonic X-Ray Vision glasses.

“Who are you?” Sera asked, her head shooting up in surprise at Val’s arrival.

“I’m Valentina Perez. Charlene from the Second Chance Club sent us.” She helped untie the last of rope that bound Sera to the kitchen chair.

“Oh thank god that you’re early!” Sera said, shaking off the ropes and jumping out of the chair like it was covered in leeches.

“Who were those guys?” Val asked, gesturing for Anna and Tam to come inside. They’d made it around to the back of the house but the men had fled to a waiting car on the next street over and escaped without running into either woman.

“I don’t know,” Sera said. “They were asking about Jenny, but they wouldn’t say why.”

“She’s been missing for a month right?” Tam asked. “Does that seem like weird timing to anyone else?”

“It is somewhat unusual, yes,” Anna said, scanning the contents of the room as she always did when meeting someone new in their personal space.

“I went to the bank today,” Sera said. “To get some of the stuff she kept in our safe deposit box for you. Could that have done it?”

“Maybe,” Val said. “Were they asking about the things you retrieved?”

“No. They just wanted to know where she was,” Sera said. “They burst in here, and I think one of them hit me on the head. Then they were dragging me in here and tying me up.”

“Hold still for a moment,” Tam said and inspected Sera’s scalp. “Yeah, they clipped you across the side of your head. We’ll probably want to get you to hospital next.”

“That sounds good,” Sera said. “I have some friends on duty today.”

“That’s right you are a nurse aren’t you?” Anna asked, standing up a chair that had been knocked over.

“I just got off my shift a few hours ago,” Sera said. “But you’re not here for me. What can I do to help you with finding Jenny?”

“Step one? Get somewhere safe,” Val said. “We’ll be more effective if we don’t have to divide our efforts.”

“I can do that,” Sera said. “The hospital has officers stationed there and I can go to a friend’s house tonight.”

“I think we can do better than that,” Anna said and tapped a contact on her phone.

One quick ring later and Jimmy B answered.

“Anna, hello, what can I set you up with this fine day?” he asked.

“We need secure lodging. One week’s worth. Some place nice.”

“How secure would you like?” Jimmy B asked.

“Let us be on the safe side,” Anna said.

“I’ve got just the thing then. The Marigold estate is currently unoccupied. I’ll book you in there for the week. The guards will know to expect you and a guest. No one else is going to get in unless they bring a battalion with them.”

“The Marigold estate?” Sera asked. “I catered there once when I was in school. That place is unreal! It’s gorgeous! I can’t afford that!”

“That’s the concussion talking,” Val said. “This isn’t a hotel stay. This is protective custody. We’ll work things out with the hospital to get you some time off. For now though, if you’re up for it, tell us what happened with your sister.”

“The last time I saw her, we had a fight,” Sera said. “It wasn’t a big one. She wanted me to look after Meg, her daughter, but I had a shift that night. I should have heard how desperate she sounded, but I thought she was just tired. I told her I’d come over as soon as I was done, but that wasn’t good enough. She hung up on me in the middle of me asking her if she’d be awake when my shift was over.”

“This was the night she disappeared or did anyone else see her after that?” Tam asked.

“It was that night,” Sera said. “The phone records say I was the last person who talked to her.”

“So you talked to her at most a couple hours before the break-in,” Tam said. “When did you learn she was missing?”

“I was mad that she hung up on me, so I didn’t go over the next day. I tried to call her though, but she didn’t answer. Finally, when I didn’t hear from her the next day, I went over to see what was up and that’s when I found the apartment had been broken into.”

“That’s when you called the police?” Val asked.

“Yeah. I had to leave everything in there alone because it was a crime scene, so I don’t have any of the stuff from her apartment for you. That’s why I thought about the deposit box.”

“You have a key to her safe deposit box?” Anna asked.

“Not her personal one,” Sera said. “This is one we share together. It’s got things like the life insurance on our parents that’s payable to the both of us. Some of Jenny’s personal stuff was in there too though. We put a copy of our own wills in there and the paperwork for some accounts that we have at that bank. It’s just the most convenient place to keep them.”

“That might be something to start with,” Anna said.

“I don’t think so,” Tam said. “I’ve checked her bank accounts. Jenny was tapped out.”

“She drained her accounts before running?” Val asked. “That’s a pretty typical move for people looking to get away from their old lives.”

“In this case I don’t think it had anything to do with trying to runaway,” Tam said. “From the bank records I’ve been able to pull up, her husband’s medical bills and the bills from Meg’s birth completely wiped them out. More than completely in fact. They somehow paid off more of Lewis’ bills than they had income or savings to cover and then had enough left for the initial charges around Meg’s birth. But they still owe a lot of money.”

“But she didn’t say anything about that?” Sera said.

“Many people do not like to talk about their finances when money is short,” Anna said.

“Which, of course, is also when they could use help and advice the most,” Tam said.

“But why would she disappear?” Sera asked. “I could have helped her get back on her feet. We could have worked out some kind of plan. Or declared bankruptcy or something.”

“That depends on what her creditors were like,” Val said.

“It looks like several months ago, both Lewis and Jenny used the services of the ‘Best Deal Payday Loan’ business,” Tam said.

“But that would just make things worse!” Sera said.

“Yes. That is how those businesses operate,” Anna said. “You said that was several months ago though? Where did they turn after that?”

“That’s the part that has me worried,” Tam said. “Lewis made a number of deposits, but I can’t see any source for the income. Could he have had friends who could loan him over two hundred thousand dollars?”

“No,” Sera said, shaking her head in disbelief. “No one in our family knows anyone with that kind of money laying around.”

“Then I think we know who Jenny is running from,” Tam said.

“Yeah, whoever Lewis had been going to for cash,” Val said. “That’s got to be who sent those guys over.”

“Why would they want to know where Jenny was though? She obviously doesn’t have any money to pay them back at this point,” Sera asked.

“Sometimes it is less about recovering money that has been loaned out, and more about setting an example for others,”  Tam said.

“There is one other mystery that presents itself here though,” Anna said. “The blood.”

“What do you mean?” Sera asked.

“There was blood found in your sister’s apartment,” Val said.

“Yeah, I know,” Sera said. “It wasn’t hers or Megs though, so they weren’t hurt in the break-in. Were they?”

“We don’t know,” Val said. “What hasn’t been made public yet is that the blood in Jenny’s apartment wasn’t just ‘not from them’. We have less than usual to go on because the blood wasn’t from anyone. It wasn’t human blood at all.”

The Second Chance Club – Ep 02 – Act 1

For all her expertise with using them, and the myriad ways she incorporated them into her act, Tam spent a fair amount of time hating computers.

“Fine! Then this is how I’m going to fix you!” she said and dropped a live wire onto the exposed circuit board in front of her.

Electronics are capable of amazing feats. Dealing with 120 volts of alternating current grounding itself out across components that were only meant to handle 5 volts of direct current however is not one of those feats.

“Can I get you a fan? And perhaps a fire extinguisher?” Jim Baughsley asked.

“Yes to the fan, no to the extinguisher,” Tam said. “The bios on this thing was so infected that burning is almost to good for it.”

“Should I be worried?” Jim asked, carrying a small battery powered fan over to blow the smoke coming off the motherboard up into the fume hood that hung over Tam’s bench.

“Probably,” Tam said and then sighed. “Or not. It’s just frustrating dealing with a machine that was hacked this badly.”

“I’m going to guess it was Jimmy B’s fault?” Jim asked.

Tam laughed. It was a safe bet. Of all of the Baughsley’s, poor Jimmy B was the most likely to render an electronic device non-operational within five minutes of interacting with it. It wasn’t that he was technologically illiterate, or that he meant to destroy whatever gadgets he got his hands on, he was just a weirdness magnet of sorts. Electronic devices simply malfunctioned in the most bizarre manners possible when he was around. Fortunately his area of expertise was logistics, and as long as he was working on that his telephone and computer were relatively well behaved. Ask him to play a Words With Friends game though and you’d wind up with nothing but Gaelic words all showing up in a mix of Hiragana and Sanskrit.

“Nope,” Tam said. “This one was all me.”

Confession is good for the soul, or so they say. Jim’s startled look may not have erased her frustration but it was good for a chuckle.

“I’m trying to decide if panic or absolute terror is the right response here,” he said. Tam was almost the opposite of Jimmy B. She didn’t have technical problems. She was the one everyone else came to for a fix when they were having technical problems.

“A little from column A, a little from column B,” Tam said. “I suppose the real people to blame are the ones with a lot better security than they should reasonably have.”

“Oh, were you still looking for the backers that Larson guy was working with?” Jim asked. He handed Tam a glass of water with a lemon wedge in it before sitting down on the opposite side of the computer bench. “I don’t think any of us expected them to be that much of a problem to track down, did we?”

“Charlene mentioned that I should be careful, which I was, just not quite careful enough,” Tam said, leaning back and enjoying the freshly squeezed lemon water while it was still cold. “I managed to track back some of the payments Larson made after his last scheme. It looks like they were on him right away and got their money back plus interest.”

“But it didn’t end there?” Jim asked.

“It did not,” Tam said. “He didn’t make any more payments to them but there was a trail of correspondence with a Mr. Judicar of the PrimaLux Group that continued on up till the day we took Larson down.”

“I’m going to guess that Mr. Judicar was the one with the unreasonable amount of security?” Jim asked. He wasn’t “a computer guy” but he was always willing to listen to Tam’s explanations of what she was working on, even when some of it probably went over his head.

“The PrimaLux Group in general is guarded against cyber-intrusion via some very nasty countermeasures,” Tam said. “Nasty in this context meaning probably illegal. Hence the bonfire. I couldn’t risk whatever ate this machine getting into the rest of our network.”

“Should we talk to James in case there’s anything a bit…” Jim waved his fingers around like he was casting a spell. Jim was a mechanic by trade, and while he performed a lot of other functions for the Second Chance Club, he had never entirely warmed to the more esoteric aspects of the job which his coworker James was proficient in.

The same was not true of Tam. As the group’s resident magician, she found it amusing how little overlap her work had with James’ actual magic but she wasn’t one to let professional pride stop her from being conversant with what he brought to the team.

“There’s no need,” James said as he joined them. “Ms. Le’s containment circle was top notch.”

“There was something mystical that tried to get in along with the boot record virus then?” Tam asked. It was too late to make any repairs but she looked at the circle of silver dust her ex-computer rested inside. The geometric swirls she’d carefully blown the dust into still held all of their original precisely specified dimensions.

“Yes, a Storm Class Gremlin,” James said, nodding at the circle as he inspected it as well. “Nasty in the wrong hands, but burning its receptacle as you’ve done disperses it harmlessly enough.”

“Well, we’ve got a name at least,” Tam said, leaning back from the bench and watching the still burning motherboard sizzle. “Problem is they know we’re looking for them now.”

“I would guess they will rather regret if they come looking for you in return?” James asked. Despite his training in the arcane arts, James was as interested in Tam’s form of wizardry and she was in his, so he had an inkling of the kinds of things Tam’s cyber defenses would do to an unwitting intruder.

“I’m honestly hoping they will,” Tam said a flicker of delight washing over her face. “Other duty calls though?”

“Indeed, A new letter has arrived,” James said, producing a set of copies from his breast pocket.

“A local job?” Jim asked, scanning the single paged document.

“I don’t believe so,” James said.

“I’ll get your bike ready then,” Jim said, turning to Tam. “I’ve got the muffler modifications all set, just need to finish the installation.”

“And just like that, my day got a bit brighter!” Tam said, extinguishing the motherboard at last and collecting her things to get ready for the meeting.


Anna and Val were already in the meeting room by the time Tam arrived. Anna was engrossed in the paperwork that JB had supplied for them. The packets were always informative but usually served more as a recap of the meetings details than required reading.

Val, taking that notion to heart, was sinking free throws from her seat with a foam basketball and a hoop that was affixed to the wall beside the projection screen. Tam watched her take a trio of shot at the hoop without missing a single one.

“Have any luck?” Val asked as Tam took the seat next to her.

“We’ll call it mixed results,” Tam said. “On the upside, I found the public facing company of Larson’s backers. On the downside, they bricked my computer. So a point for each of us?”

“Sounds more exciting than hacking should be,” Val said, catching her foam basketball and turning to back to the table.

“Yeah, if literal flames enter the picture something is going very wrong,” Tam said, sliding an iced tea over to Val.

“Or perhaps quite right,” Anna said, looking up from her papers.

“Is there something in there about the PrimaLux Group?” Tam asked.

“No, this is about our current assignment,” Anna said. “Triggering a strong response can be good though. For most people it is a warning. For us? It is bait.”

“Perhaps there’s more connection here than there appears to be,” Charlene said, speaking over the conference line. In the background, a cheerful chanting sound was dimly audible. Tam couldn’t place the language but thought it sounded vaguely like a bit of Swahili that she was familiar with. “This assignment involves an unexpectedly strong response as well.”

“What are we looking at with this one?” Val asked, as she began to go through the dossier in front of her.

“We have received a letter from a Sera Williams,” Anna said. “Sera’s sister is missing.”

“That’s never a good sign,” Val said. “How long has it been since someone last saw her?”

“A month,” Anna said. “Sera writes that she was the last one to see Jenny, her sister, before she disappeared.”

“That’s long enough for the police to be on the case,” Tam said. “Clearly they haven’t found her but have they turned up anything?”

“Very little,” JB said, passing out a new set of papers, copies of the official police file. “I spoke with the detective assigned to her case and there’s been no new leads since the initial investigation of her apartment three weeks ago.”

“The detective’s a club member I take it?” Tam asked.

“Not officially, but I’ve worked with her in the past,” JB said. “She’s glad we’re looking into this. All too often this sort of case goes nowhere for them.”

“Looks like Jenny left basically everything behind,” Val said, skimming through the police papers. “Is this a missing person’s case or a homicide?”

“That’s the first thing you’ll need to discover,” Charlene said. “Especially since there is more than one life at stake.”

Tam turned her attention to the original dossier but Val noticed the relevant detail first.

“She has a two month old daughter?” Val asked, anger coloring her words than she normally allowed.

“Yes. Meg Williams, who is also missing,” Charlene said.

“There were signs of a break-in at her apartment,” Anna said, flipping to a page in the police files. “Also blood traces on the carpet near the door, but none of it matched either Jenny or Megs.”

“So, Jenny is on the run then?” Tam asked. “That’s not necessarily that much of a challenge to sort out.”

“Depends on why she’s on the run,” Val said. “And from who.”

“Yeah. That brings up a good point. What’s the story with the father?” Tam asked, scanning to find any notes on him.

That he would turn out to be the culprit was an all too likely scenario but for a change it didn’t turn out to be the case.

“Deceased,” Anna said. “Lewis Lakes. He was a building contractor up until six months ago when he was diagnosed with an aggressive strain of pancreatic cancer. He passed away five weeks ago at St. Edmunds.”

“I don’t like the timeline on this,” Val said.

“You think someone was looking for Lewis and came after Jenny when Lewis wasn’t available anymore?” Tam asked.

“That fits the details we have so far,” Anna said. “Which means this will need to be a two pronged operation.”

“We need to track down where Jenny went,” Val said. “Which is going to be hampered by the fact that she’s got a one month head start on us.”

“And we need to find out what Lewis was into and why some scared his widow away from her own home when she’s got a two month old to care for,” Tam said. Ideas for how to pin that down started bubbling up faster than she could write them down.

“I have a private plane reservation to bring you into Atlanta as soon as you’re ready,” Jimmy B said. “If there’s anything you’ll need for in the base of operations there just let me know. I’m setting you up a suite downtown and a mobile surveillance center.”

“I’ll be going along as well,” JB said. “If you need a contact with the Atlanta PD or the FBI branch in Georgia, I can facilitate for you.”

“What about my bike?” Tam asked.

“It’ll be on the plane before you’ll be,” James said.

“Excellent. If we are all set then, let’s go rescue a runaway,” Anna said.

The Second Chance Club – Ep 01 – Act 4

Howard Larson held all the cards. He knew he was in control and that he had everything coming to him that he deserved. It was just like it was supposed to be.

“Have to say, I’m glad you asked to meet here. Makes this pretty convenient,” He took a step towards Anna, trusting the intimidation factor of the loaded gun in his hand to keep the old lady in line.

Anna eyed the weapon critically. It was a Smith and Wesson 500 Magnum, just the sort of ludicrously overblown piece of compensation hardware that she’d expected Larson to carry. She was fairly sure he’d never fired it before, given how he was holding it and the damage it would do to his wrist if he pulled the trigger. Of course, it would do noticeably more damage to her, so she chose to play along with his demands.

“You are throwing away a rather sizeable amount of money,” she said, meeting his gaze and letting a little of the Siberian frost of her motherland show in her expression. She’d seen death before, and lived with it for long enough that she regarded it more as an annoyance than something to be feared. It was the cat scratching at the door who you would have to let in eventually but could afford to wait a good while longer on because it would never really be satisfied wherever it was.

“I see a pretty sizeable amount of money in that trunk right there,” Larson said. “Now maybe you’ve got more, and maybe you don’t. The fact is, I don’t care. You made a mistake and I’m going to win, and sometimes that how things go.”

“And how will this be a victory for you?” Anna asked. “You will kill me I suppose?”

“Oh, not me,” Larson said, gesturing for Anna to walk forwards to where they would have a better view of the road. “That’s why I have people. To handle the messy stuff.”

“That’s still not going to go well for you,” Anna said. “If I disappear people will come looking for me.”

“Sure they will,” Larson said. “But no one’s going to come looking for me. I’m not here.”

“Then you are not holding a gun on me?” Anna said. “I guess I can leave whenever I want.”

“Don’t get cute,” Larson said. “I have people who will swear under oath that I was at dozen different places tonight.”

“And the forensic evidence?” Anna asked.

In the distance another call pulled onto the Green Bowl farm access road. The headlights suggested it was a large truck of some kind. Not the car Anna was waiting for, but one that she’d expected to see nonetheless.

“What evidence?” Larson said. “When they recover your body it’s going to be so charred there won’t be any evidence left.”

“Shot and then burned? The bonfire would be visible for miles here,” Anna said. “Unless…you’re also planning to burn down the farm as well?”

“Funny thing about acquiring the farmland,” Larson said. “People put up a lot less fuss when it’s no longer being used for agriculture.”

“And it’s even easier when the current owners can’t afford legal counsel to fight it out in courts?” Anna asked.

“You are a smart one,” Larson said. “It’s a shame we can’t be partners.”

“You haven’t pulled the trigger yet,” Anna said.

“Well you see the thing is, I already have some partners in this,” Larson said. “They’re not the kind of people who would be happy with global attention coming around here, so, you’re offer? It’s not really that interesting I’m afraid.”

“Curious,” Anna said. “Why put out a call for investments at all then?”

“A guy can always use some extra cash right?” Larson said.

“I see. So your partners want this development to happen, and they don’t need to know about the eleven million you’re going to pocket?”

“No reason why they should,” Larson said as the truck pulled up in behind his car.

“Who’s this?” a tall blonde haired guy asked.

He was all bulky muscles starting to run soft from lack of use. Probably in his early twenties and just out of school if Anna guessed correctly. A football player past his prime with his glory days fading behind and the promise of quick wealth luring him onwards to stupidity.

Behind him half a dozen other similar men exited the truck. They were all armed and all had the same focused, hungry look that came from anticipating a violent release of their less civilized fantasies.

“Someone who was trying to bail out the Perez woman,” Larson said. “A foreigner.”

The men all nodded knowingly. Their leader gave Anna a sharp look, gauging her from head to toe.

“Traitor.” He spit the word out and Anna smirked. He didn’t mean it in terms of betraying his country. If he believed Anna was truly a foreigner then “saboteur” or “infiltrator” might have been viable terms, even though neither actually applied. No, he meant ‘race traitor’, because she was a white woman working to protect the holdings of a woman of latin descent.

That Larson had corralled a group of white supremacists to do his dirty work came as no surprise. They weren’t exactly difficult to manipulate or goad to violence.  

Anna smiled. She’d been concerned that Larson’s inevitable flunkies would be people in debt to him or whom he held unfair sway over and could force to do work they desperately didn’t want to. These men assembled before her weren’t beholden to Larson like that though. They followed his orders of their own free will and therefore deserved everything that was about to happen to them.

“What are we going to do with her?” the blonde guy asked.

“The same thing that should be done with all traitors like her. The fire will make sure they can’t even identify the body or pick it out of any of the rest of the people who were here,” Larson said. “For now though you need to go and rig up the monitoring systems like we talked about.”

The leader nodded and began directing the others to head for various points around the farm’s fields.

“The monitoring systems?” Anna asked. “You’re going to blame the farmlands burning on a glitch in the crop monitoring systems?”

“This place lived by its technology, so it’s going to die by its technology,” Larson said.

“And when the manufacturer initiates an investigation to clear themselves of liability?” Anna asked.

“Well that’s not something you’re going to need to worry about is it?” Larson asked.

“I suppose that is true,” Anna said. “Tell me though, are you planning to actually build something here? Or is this just another ploy to reap a quick fortune from unwary investors?”

“Oh, my partners are quite serious about redeveloping this area,” Larson said.

“And do these partners have a name?” Anna asked.

“Not one you need to know,” Larson said.

A crack of gunfire came from the wheat fields.

“I wonder who that could be?” Anna asked.

More gunfire followed, abruptly cutting off after a few shots in all but one case. Larson hadn’t been expecting any resistance and pulled out his cell phone to call the leader of his minions. He dialed the number and then frowned.

“No service?” Anna asked. “You should switch to my provider.”

She held up her cell phone which had a screen which showed an active call going. To the police.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Larson thrust the gun at her, as though being a few inches closer would increase the danger it represented.

“Waiting for them to show up,” Anna said, gesturing behind Larson to where three police cruisers with their lights whirling were pulling onto the access road.

“What are they doing here?” Larson asked.

“Looking for you,” Anna said.

The lead police car skidded to a halt and the officer inside threw the door open and exited behind it with his sidearm drawn and pointed directly at Larson.

“Put the weapon down and put your hands on your head,” the officer said.

“Doug? It’s me! Howard. Why are you here?” Larson asked as he put his gun on the ground and his hands behind his head.

“Howard Larson, I am placing you under arrest for the burglarly of the First Security bank,” Officer Doug said. “Get on your knees.”

“What? I didn’t rob First Security! That’s my bank!” Larson said.

“His trunk is full of cash,” one of the other officers said from the back of the black Mercedes.

“That’s not my car!” Larson said. “It’s hers! That’s her cash!”

“But my car is over there,” Anna said. She pointed to a red Ford Mustang that was parked farther down the road. “It’s a rental. I don’t think they rent black Mercedes here do they?”

There was a rustling from the wheat field and as quick the officers could re-aim their weapons a man with a battered face stumbled out and collapsed to his knees.

“Put your hands over your head,” Officer Doug called out.

“I can’t,” the blonde minion leader said holding out his arms to show that they were both bending in places arms weren’t meant to bend.


“But I don’t understand what happened?” Daniela said when they were once again gathered in Green Bowl’s command center.

“Howard Larson robbed the First Security bank of 11.2 million dollars,” Tam said. “Or at least someone wearing a disguise which looked exactly like him, down to fingerprints and DNA residue.”

“Thanks to some very special makeup,” Val said, smiling at Anna who looked impossibly innocent somehow.

“The reality is, he did rob the bank of that money,” Anna said. “We just made sure that it happened on camera and with evidence left behind to prove it.”

“Then we made sure the police caught him red handed with the money still in his car,” Val said.

“How did you managed that though? I thought you drove there separately?” Daniela asked.

“We did, but it’s not that hard to make a car disappear if you know what you’re doing,” Tam said.

“Also, Larson drove there in our car,” Val said. “It was his car was parked outside the bank when all the money was loaded into it.”

“Is that going to save Green Bowl though?” Daniela asked.

“Well the guys who tried to burn the place down aren’t going to be coming back,” Val said, a satisfied smile on her face.

“Once they’re fit to travel, they’ll all be standing trial for an impressive list of outstanding changes,” Tam said. “Most of which are even real.”

“More importantly though, when First Security does a review of its records, it’s going to find evidence of the embezzlement that Larson’s been doing for years now,” Anna said.

“And in this case all of that is real,” Tam said. “Apart from a few breadcrumbs I left to make sure they found the backups with the real financials.”

“So they’ll see that we’ve been paying all this time?” Daniela asked.

“Yeah,” Tam said. “Larson kept a set of real transaction records it turned out. He needed to be able to make sure he was properly covering up the money that he was siphoning off.”

“You’re accounts will be squared up as soon as their internal audit is done,” Val said. “And until then, the bank will be putting a hold on all fees and premiums assessed against you.”

“So we don’t have to pay any interest until they’re done?” Daniela asked.

“The audit will probably take about six months,” Anna said. “You can keep paying as usual and all of the funds will go towards your principal, or you can reduce your payments by the interest amount and you won’t fall behind.”

“That will definitely make things easier around here,” Daniela said. “But what about the foreclosure?”

“It never happened,” Val said.

“It was a fiction that Larson put together,” Tam said. “I confirmed it with the official court records. First Security never received a judgement against you. The one they had on file was a complete fabrication.”

“But how would that have ever stood up?” Daniela asked.

“It wouldn’t have,” Anna said. “Unless there was no one around to challenge it.”

“That’s why Howard brought those men here?” Daniela asked. “He was going to kill me?”

“And we have him on record admitting it,” Val said. “Howard Larson is going to be sent to a deep and lonely cell where he is going to have a long time to reconsider the choices he’s made.”


“That was well done,” Charlene said over the conference line when the team reassembled at the Second Chance Club. “Green Bowl farm is safe, there’s a bountiful harvest due in soon, a ruthless swindler is behind bars, and a dangerous cell of extremists will be serving time as well.”

“One thing about this still bothers me though,” Anna said.

“You’re wondering who Larson’s partners were aren’t you?” Val asked.

“I’m going to start looking into that,” Tam said. “Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of them.”

The Second Chance Club – Ep 01 – Act 3

Green Bowl’s total land was well over a thousand acres. There was no conceivable reason why the entirety of it would be needed for shopping and road access to support an airport in northern North Dakota, but that didn’t make the slightest bit of different to the man who was poised to steal it.

“Larson is moving quickly,” Anna said, gesturing to the map that was laid out on the conference table, indicating the properties Larson’s investment company owned. The map offered a sprawling topographic view of area around Green Bowl’s land and the airport that was soon to border it. “He is looking for backers to invest in his development company with a cutoff on the initial buy in of next week. He claims the more investment funds he can collect, the more infrastructure and services he can create around the airport, though he also claims that he has enough money already to make a shopping destination larger than the Mall of America.”

“Shouldn’t the cutoff be when he reaches the funds that he needs rather than a specific date?” Tam asked. She was more familiar with the workings of venture capital in terms of startup tech companies, but the general rule of ‘don’t sell off more of your company than you need to’ seemed like something that should cross industries.

“That depends,” Anna said. “If you are setting up an actual company, then yes, you want to be careful how much investment you take on and terms it is offered under.”

“And if you’re running a scam?” Val asked, tracing paths through the map with her finger. The Red River Valley was relatively flat, which would make construction easier once it began. That was good for building but it also meant that, if the earthwork machines rolled in, Green Bowl’s farmland would vanish in record time.

“For a scam you want as much money as possible, in as short an amount of time as possible,” Anna said. “Some people prefer the long con, but those require patience and are very delicate affairs. Larson is a man lacking in both impulse control and finesse, so naturally he gravitates to the quick scam, despite its long term costs.”

“I just don’t understand why he would do any of this?” Daniela said. “I’ve met Howard. He has a good job at the bank. He’s a respected member of the community. Why would he want to setup a scheme like this to take our farm? He doesn’t need the money at all.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Tam said. “Howard Larson has been living beyond his means for several years now it seems. He’s still rich, don’t get me wrong there, but a lot of the wealth he splashes around is an illusion.”

She handed a dossier she had compiled over to Val before turning back to the laptop she’d brought to their meeting to continue plugging away at it.

“Three houses, but they’re all heavily mortgaged,” Val read from the dossier. “He’s being sued by a bunch of private contactors too. Oh hey and he hasn’t paid the staff for the gala that you went to last night. This guy’s a real winner.”

“But the bank must pay him a good salary doesn’t it?” Daniela asked. She had a stack of papers that she’d brought with her to the meeting, order forms and time sheets from the workers to be processed before the next business day. They sat unsorted and blank in a pile in front of her still.

“His salary is more than generous, as are the perks that come along with it,” Anna said. “For the class of wealth Howard Larson aspires to however, no amount of money is ever sufficient.”

“He might want to be one of the ultra-rich, but according to this he’s lucky not to be in the poor house,” Val said. “I’m seeing big losses year after year. This guy’s a disaster when it comes investing. How is he the CEO of a bank?”

“Look at who the CEO was before him,” Tam said without looking up from her computer.

“Oh, of course,” Val said as she found the relevant page in the dossier and showed it to the others. “Like father, like son, I guess.”

“George Larson was a different category of disaster than his eldest son,” Anna said. “He built First Security on the back of a lucrative smuggling trade that ran through the Canadian border. By the time proof of that came to light, the elder Larson had been dead for half a decade.”

“And yet Howard got to keep his inheritance,” Tam said.

“The probate was long finalized by the time proof came to light,” Anna said.

“I don’t understand how he can keep losing money like that though,” Daniela said. “Wouldn’t the bank have noticed? Wouldn’t they have fired him if he was that bad?”

“Up until now, Larson has kept his investment schemes separate from First Security,” Anna said.

“Yeah, I’m seeing that here,” Val said. “Each of these big losses that Larson’s reporting are tied to corporations that he setup. His personal losses are much smaller.”

“It’s an efficient tactic for a swindler,” Anna said. “He creates corporations based out of other states, uses his connections as the CEO of a well capitalized bank to present a solid, dependable image for the new businesses, brings in investors and buries the lower performing companies under debt from the few ventures that do succeed, and walks away with everyone’s money and owing none of them a dime.”

“But that should give him a terrible reputation,” Daniela said. “Who would work with a man who does that?”

“A surprising number of people. Board shareholders have no special wisdom in picking their CEOs,” Anna said. “They choose people who they have connections to, regardless of previous failures or the capability, or lack thereof, the person may possess.”

“Also, it looks like Larson has avoided scamming anyone local, or related to First Security,” Val said. “People are much more likely to overlook things that happen far away than trouble that lands close to home.”

“And, seriously, what’s the chance that the rest of the First Security board isn’t into things that are just as unethical?” Tam asked.

“Why would he change now then? Why target us?” Daniela asked. “We’ve gotten along just fine up till now. Heck if he needed a road, we probably could have just sold him that.”

“When was the decision on the airport’s location made?” Anna asked.

“Technically it hasn’t been made yet,” Tam said. “But the final draft of the plans was submitted a month ago. They’re up for review and the deciding vote next week.”

“So Larson knew a month ago where the airport would probably land,” Val said. “And that’s right around the time he put the plan in motion to steal Green Bowl.”

“The timing is suggestive,” Anna said. “Of a great many things.”

“It suggests that Howard Larson has the impulse control of a five year old hopped up on pixie sticks,” Val said. She’d started making small ‘x’ marks on the map at various locations.

“That is unkind to five year olds I think,” Anna said. “It also suggests some amount of desperation. We should look into his most recent creditors, particularly any involved with companies that failed in the last six months.” She paced around the end of the conference table, nibbling on a pen cap, her gaze turned inwards as she crunched the possibilities through the wheels of logic in her mind.

“You’re thinking one of them is unhappy with him?” Val asked.

“Many of them are unhappy with him,” Anna said. “One of them however has resources beyond simple wealth.”

“Like the mob?” Tam asked.

“Possibly,” Anna said. “Larson is highly enough placed though, and this area remote enough that I’m not certain if typical mobsters could make an effective threat here. I believe he may have stumbled on someone with a more extensive war chest of resources to draw on.”

“So he needs a quick score to pay back people he shouldn’t have ripped off in the first place?” Val asked. “If we wanted to, could we just bribe him to leave the farm alone?”

“That depends on how his creditors wish to be paid back,” Anna said. “Control of the facilities servicing a new international airport is a resource worth far more than the monetary value of the land and buildings.”

“Good,” Val said. “I like it when we can’t do things the easy way.”

Her smile radiated the kind of self confidence that had told more than a few of her enemies they’d made a terrible mistake in squaring off against her.

“You know, we don’t even know if he has any goons or not,” Tam said. “There may be no one for you to pummel on this assignment.”

“Oh, I’m not worried,” Val said. “Push comes to shove, guys like Larson always seem to be able to dig up some meat slabs for protection.”

“Yes, that does seem to be true in more cases than it should,” Anna said. “But perhaps in this case, we have a simpler path.”

“You want to con him before he cons us?” Val asked, unable to suppress the lift of her eyebrows.

“We have a golden opportunity to do so,” Anna said.

“I feel like you always make a case for that,” Val said.

“Greedy men are very easy to manipulate,” Anna said with a shrug.

“So how do we approach him?” Tam asked.

“The only thing that interests someone running a scam on the scale Larson is attempting, is a payout that will bring it to the next level,” Anna said. “He is swindling millions of dollars. We will make him think that he can tap into a set of investors that will net him billions.”

“Definitely a job for me there. I’m in,” Tam said. “What do we need to set everything up?”

“We’ll need a car that matches Larsons, a set of Russian credentials, and for you to work a little bit of magic,” Anna said.

“This sounds very risky,” Daniela said.

“Yes, you could say we’re betting the farm on it,” Anna said.


“So he took the bait?” Val asked.

“He was all too happy to meet me at Green Bowl when I said I had the funds with me and needed to see his vision for the facilities in person,” Anna said. “Now I just need to put on my makeup.”

She pulled an old box covered in complex geometric sigils from her bag.

“James sent along the good stuff I see?” Tam said.


The bank was long closed by the time Howard Larson’s black Mercedes rolled down the access road to Green Bowl’s farmland.

Anna was waiting for him at the border of the farm’s lands, leaning against her rental sedan, which was also a black Mercedes, the tall wheat of the farm’s roadside acre waving behind her as she worked on her cell phone.

“Getting any signal out here?” Larson asked. He’d parked behind her, bumpers uncomfortably close together despite the miles of shoulder available.

“It comes and goes,” Anna said.

“Well now that’s something we’re going to change,” Larson said. “Soon as we close on this? Bang, up go the cell towers. We’re going to make this place so modern, you won’t even believe it.”

“Will you now?” Anna asked. “Which service providers will you contract with?”

“All of them,” Larson said. “The best ones.”

“But that will be very hard won’t it?” Anna said.

“Not for me,” Larson said. “They’re going to be begging me to let them work here.”

“I mean it will be hard because you’re not going to building anything here,” Anna said.

“What? Are you crazy? Of course I’m going to build something here!” Larson said, his mood fading as irritation and panic twitched at the corners of his mouth.

“Mr. Larson, Howard if I may, I looked you up,” Anna said. “There is no construction firm bidding on work beyond the airport, and no permits or plans have been filed yet.”

“We’re waiting on those things,” Larson said.

“Waiting until you can get away with the cash or until you’re sure you can steal this farm from its rightful owners?” Anna asked.

“Now listen here, I don’t know…” Larson started to say but Anna cut him off.

“You don’t know what I have to offer you,” she said, her tone mild and conciliatory. “Whether this is a scam or a legit development, I don’t care. In either case it is an opportunity.”

“What do you mean?” Larson asked, his shoulders tight and his hands clenched.

“I mean, the money I would invest with you? It is currency which is for chasing rabbits.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that. What do rabbit have to do with this?” Larson asked.

“Rabbits are very quick, and can get away very easily, but they are quite tasty when you catch them,” Anna said. “That is what the people I have found are like. They have money to burn chasing tasty rewards, but they are not too bright about how risky those rewards can be.”

“What are you saying?” Larson asked, perplexed by Anna’s metaphors but she’d mentioned money and he understood that.

“I am saying you’re operation here is a very alluring rabbit hole, and I have people who are looking for such a thing to throw their money down. I am saying I want to invest in you, but I want a piece of your action. Not the return on the investment. I want a piece of the haul you bring in.”

“And why would I do that?” Larson asked.

“I can give you a million reasons right now,” Anna said. “They are in the trunk of my car. But they are not the important factor in these negotiations.”

Larson went around to the rental car’s trunk and Anna hit the fob to open it.

Neatly stacked bills in every denomination filled the trunk.

“Well, you do have a lot of money here,” Larson said. “But you’ve got something better than this?”

“This is one percent of the funds my backers have pledged me,” Anna said. “All I need to do to secure the rest is provide them with a sufficient opportunity.”

Larson face went pale and he swallowed.

“How much is here?” he asked.

“Eleven point two million dollars in cash and bearer bonds,” Anna said. Most of the money was in the bearer bonds, since eleven million in cash wouldn’t have fit in any car’s trunk.

“Well, isn’t that just an amazing sight,” Larson said as he stood up from the truck. “You know what my daddy always told me though? He said ‘don’t get too greedy’ son.”

As he cleared the back of the car, Anna saw that he had a gun in his hand and a smile on his lips.

The Second Chance Club – Ep 01 – Act 2

There weren’t a lot of venues for Vegas quality magic shows on a farm, but there was a surprising amount of computerized infrastructure in place Tam observed.

Granted, it was mostly surprising because she hadn’t expected to a see a single piece of technology that she wasn’t carrying herself once they left their plane behind at the Larimore Municipal Airport. Being located in the middle of nowhere North Dakota, Green Bowl farm’s tech setup wasn’t going to set Silicon Valley on fire but it did seem to be composed of generally newer machines within reasonably up to date software running on them.

“Oh so how do you like our command center?” Daniela Palomo asked, her North Dakotan accent marking her as a long time native even more than the well worn overalls and work gloves she wore.

Daniela was the founder and primary owner of Green Bowl Harvest, though Tam had gleaned from Anna’s breakdown of their financial structure that Green Bowl was an employee owned and operated venture. From Anna’s description of it, that was an notable irregularity in an industry where the vast majority of agriculture output came from either family owned farms or large agribusiness operations.

“You’ve invested a lot in this place,” Tam said. “Telematics for the tractors I take it? And soil monitoring?” she asked, nodding at one of the monitors. Her mind was leaping through the various failure modes she could imagine for each system she saw. The engineer in her saw the problems weather could produce in the readings and the lack of robust security in the applications that were running. The magician in her saw the options for spoofed inputs to convince her audience of a variety of illusions. People thought “computer wizard” was distinct from “stage magician” but Tam often found the two skill sets overlapped quite a bit.

“Yah, it helps with the maintenance and operational costs,” Daniela said.

“Seems like you stay on top of things pretty well,” Val said wandering around the walled off section of the barn that formed Green Bowl’s ‘command center’. Tam could tell Val was bored. She wasn’t being rude about it, Val claimed the Marines had taught her patience in addition to one hundred and seven other deadly skills, but being surrounded by tech was not Val’s strong suit.

“Well, I thought we did,” Daniela said. “Until this all happened.”

“May I?” Tam asked, sitting down at one of the stations in the command center. Daniela nodded her approval.

“I’ve spoken with your accountant,” Anna said. “Missing your payments for over a year is extremely implausible.”

“I know, but we can’t show the bank that we paid anything for that whole time,” Daniela said. “All the records are gone.”

“It was all electronic fund transfers?” Tam asked.

“They had to be,” Daniela said. “That’s what the bank wanted. I thought those were supposed to be secure.”

“They are,” Tam said. “But that doesn’t mean the bank is.”

“You think someone hacked the bank?” Val asked.

“Yeah, and, unfortunately, Green Bowl’s systems as well,” Tam said, reviewing the server logs on Green Bowl’s financial system. “Not the greatest job in the world. Pure slash and burn on the data. Problem is there’s no records here that support the claim that you made your payments.”

“Don’t they have backups?” Val asked. Computers didn’t fascinate her like they did Tam, but she wasn’t a techno-illiterate either.

“Sadly, no,” Tam said.

“But we do!” Daniela said. “We backup our data every day.”

“Unfortunately you back up onto the same media every day,” Tam said. “You can recover yesterday’s information, but it’s just as empty as today’s. If you’d caught the hack the day it happened you could have recovered but it’s too late for that to work now.”

“I guess part of it’s on us then,” Daniela said with a defeated sigh.

“We will connect you with a reliable IT coordinator once we have everything else straightened out,” Anna said.

“Who would do this?” Daniela asked.

“Most likely candidate? Whoever buys your land once the foreclosure is finished and the farm reverts to the bank,” Anna said.

“And we won’t know who that is until it’s too late,” Val said.

“Yes. Once the foreclosure goes through, the new owner will be able to do what they wish with the land,” Anna said. “If they want this land as anything other than a farm they’ll slash and burn the current batch of crops the same as they did with the financial data and begin whatever development they have in mind.”

“Losing a whole season of crops would put us in mighty poor shape even if we could get the farm back,” Daniela said.

“How long do we have until the foreclosure is finalized?” Tam asked.

“That is the puzzling thing about this,” Anna said. “Foreclosures on agricultural properties vary by state, but they are never rapid. In this case, Green Bowl Harvest should have up to a year to reinstate their loan payments, and the bank would need a court judgement against them to sell the property.”

“So why is the bank claiming that the farm is going to be put up for sale next week?” Val asked.

“Probably because they think they’d already won a judgement against Green Bowl,” Tam said, spinning the monitor in front of her so that the rest could see.

“The date on this court judgement was over a month ago,” Anna said, scanning the document on the screen.

“Where did you get that?” Val asked.

“It’s on First Security’s collections server,” Tam said.

“How can you see that?” Daniela asked. “Did you hack into them?”

“It’s hard to call it hacking when it’s this easy,” Tam said. “Check out the created date on the judgement file though.”

“That’s last week,” Val said.

“Which could mean that they received the electronic copy of the file last week,” Anna said.

“Or that it was created directly on their server last week,” Tam said.

“Will any of this stand up in court?” Daniela asked, a note of hope brightening her voice.

“We could check with our legal team,” Val said. “But I’m going to guess the answer is no.”

“There’s another option we could pursue though,” Tam said. “We know that Green Bowl made the payments right? That means that the money went somewhere. If First Security still has it then an audit of their systems would turn up an overage for the amount they were paid but aren’t showing anymore.”

“The problem there is what if Green Bowl isn’t the only place the hackers targeted?” Val said. “If the overage doesn’t match their payments exactly could we prove that it was really their missing money.”

“That won’t be a problem. The money won’t be in First Security at all anymore,” Anna said. “Why steal just a farm, when you can steal the farm and a year’s worth of their loan payments?”

“Well this just doesn’t sound all that good then,” Daniela said. “Is there anything we can do?”

“Oh, no worries,” Anna said. “We will make sure you keep your farm.”

“How are we going to do that?” Val asked.

“We’ll follow the money,” Tam said. “If First Security prefers to use electronic fund transfers then Green Bowl’s money should show up somewhere in the withdrawals.”

“While Tam works on that, you and I will pay a visit to Howard Larson,” Anna said.

“The CEO of First Security?” Val said, having paid more attention in their briefing than Tam had.

“Yes. This move against Green Bowl is risky and rushed,” Anna said. “That tells me there is more to it than acquiring a single farm, however well organized this one might be.”

“And you figure Howard Larson is either in on it, or can point us in the direction of whoever is?” Val asked.

“Precisely,” Anna said.


Howard Larson was most definitely “in on it”.

Anna worked that out within three minutes of entering the “Good Father’s Annual Foreign Charity Ball” which First Security sponsored and Howard Larson lead as the featured awards presenter.

“How many rich people does North Dakota have?” Val asked. Her champagne pink dress stood out enough in the crowd to draw attention, just as Anna’s simple black ensemble allowed her to blend in almost invisibly despite her height.

“These are not all local residents,” Anna said. “We have quite a few out of state interests represented.”

“What brings them all here?” Val asked, evaluating the room along different lines than the one’s Anna was looking for.

For Anna, reading the room meant evaluating the interplay between the various groups of people. Who sought conversation with who, what sort of distance did they keep between themselves, who was enjoying themselves and who wished to appear to be enjoying themselves to please someone else.

Val’s attention on the other hand was focused on the locations of exits, cover positions and areas sheltered from outside view. Those were considered and catalogued, before being placed in her memory securely enough that she could navigate the room to safety while blinded and deafened. Determining which people could become active threats and what sort of challenges they would pose to deal with was a more involved process and took somewhat more consideration.

“Infrastructure development,” Anna said. “See if you can find anyone here who’s not a local, and not involved with heavy construction.”

“What will they be involved with?” Val asked.

“Technology or international investment,” Anna said.

“That’s an odd combo,” Val said.

“Larson either employed a hacker directly, or has contacts with someone with no compunctions about hacking an American bank,” Anna said. “Probably a Russian or Chinese interest.”

“And while I do that, you’re going to go talk to Larson and find out if he’s the player or the played?” Val asked.

“Just so,” Anna said and turned to cut a path through the crowds.

Howard Larson was a large man, cut and chiseled like he’d been hacked from a wide tree with an axe. He was in mid-diatribe when Anna reached the group he’d gather around himself. Their attention ran the gamut from servile attentiveness to feigned amusement for their hosts sake. Only a few seemed to believe the claims he was making about his college tenure and being denied his rightful position as valedictorian because of the school’s fear of his entrepreneurial success while there.

“It’s a shame you can’t buy them and close them down,” Anna said as Larson concluded his monolgue. “That’s what I did.”

“I probably could,” Larson said, his eyes lighting up at the idea. “I don’t know though, would the Queen sell Oxford to an American?”

Anna resisted the urge to sigh. The Queen of England didn’t own Oxford, but the assembled crowd neither knew nor cared about that, they were happy to swept along by Larson’s bluster. That was always aggravating on a personal level, the moreso because Oxford was Anna’s alma matter, and would never have admitted a lout like Larson. Bluster and brainless were too useful a combination of traits to ignore though, however distasteful they might be, so Anna played into her role, allowing a subtle hint of a British accent to color her words. People always thought she was wealthier when they thought she was British.

“You’d probably do a better job with it than she has,” Anna said, heroically refusing to gag on the words. “From the look of this event though, I’d guess things here must be keeping you quite busy? Lazy people don’t throw galas like this.”

“Oh, I like this one,” Larson said. “She gets its. She does.”

It didn’t take many more bald faced lies disguised as compliments before Anna had Larson’s complete attention to herself. The others who had gathered into his orbit either wandered away, grateful for the chance to exit Larson’s company without offending him, or remained and hung on his every word, hoping to enter his good graces through sheer proximity.

“I’ll tell you,” Larson said, when the group had at last dwindled to just Anna and a handful of silent hangers on. “What you see here is nothing. Nothing at all. I’m going to make such a killing. It’s going to be incredible.”

“Personal investments?” Anna asked.

“Big ones. Huge,” Larson said. “I’m not supposed to say anything but it’s ok, we’re going to announce it soon anyways.”

“Your bank will announce it?” Anna asked.

“No, no, the Consortium I’m with,” Larson said. “The airport. They’re going to tear down Pembina Municipal and put in a new international airport out west.”

“Out in the farm country?” Anna asked.

“It’s not going to be farm country when we’re done,” Larson said. “They’re going to build an airport, and I’m going to build the city that services it.”