USW: Tip the World Over on Its Side

Session 56

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Having reconvened at Mabel’s house, Felicia, Jane, Jones, Leah, Mabel, Otis, Shake, and Tom discuss how best to overcome the strangers guarding the portal to Angeliy. Eventually, they decide that Felicia and Otis will wander up to the rocky overhang — since the people from Khalifastan have not seen them before (with the possible exception of Steve) — and linger for a bit to try to ascertain if anyone remains. Tom will trail them at a distance to keep an eye on them.

When they return, they say the coast is clear; the people appear to be gone. To improve their chances of success, they decide that they want to somehow harvest magickal charges for this activity, and they know a ready source for them.

Leah calls Shannon, asking if she can deliver a couple of Special Orders. She says she’ll have to ask her manager, and it will probably take her an hour and a half or so to get them to L.A., but she can do it. Leah gives her an address around the corner from Kevin’s house.

Roughly an hour and a half later, Leah goes to meet Shannon, but notices a white panel van parked up the street near Kevin’s house. It seems suspicious enough to give her pause, and so she makes like she forgot something and returns to Mabel’s house. Mentioning that there’s a suspicious-looking van outside, Jones accompanies her.

They wait at the surf shop for a bit until Shannon eventually arrives. She delivers a McDonald’s bag with two cheeseburgers inside, and asks if they need additional help. They decline, and she tells Leah to call her; Jones waits for her car to roll away before they return to Kevin’s house.

The van has shifted slightly in their brief absence, likely to get a better view of Mabel’s house. Jones walks over to it and waves before returning inside the house.

Once inside, they prepare. Felicia and Otis are going to go out the front and return to their house, thereby holding the van guy’s attention, while the others start wheeling supplies out the back. Mabel is going to stay in her house and keep an eye on the van. If Felicia, Mabel, or Otis have any trouble, call the people down at the beach.

Meanwhile, Kevin has been drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the evening. He appears to be in a body cast. He’s not precisely certain when it happens, but at some point, he drifts back into consciousness to see The Dealer in his room. The Dealer starts by saying that he thinks they got off on the wrong foot. He notes that Kevin has been in an accident, and the police are likely going to want to talk to him, if only for the shotgun pellets they retrieved from him during surgery. The Dealer recognizes that he’ll have a hard time working magick in the hospital, and he probably expended all his juice in whatever poorly-considered stunt he just enacted. Unable to move and without magick, Kevin is in a bad position given the enemies he has collected. If the L.A. Rats come to kill him — such as by sending a couple of police officers on the take, for example — he will be hard-pressed to defend himself. As such, The Dealer makes him an offer: if he is willing to give up his ability to see the holes, as well as a taste of his adept school, The Dealer will ensure he is fully healed and out of here by the time any other factions arrive. Kevin is concerned about the state of the city and how these symbolic abilities will be used; he wants some assurance that these abilities won’t be divided and sold around the city, and he further wants magickal charges so that he can hopefully close the Otherspace gates still extant in the city. The Dealer thinks that the hype about whatever apocalypse is going to happen in L.A. is overblown, and can’t get any magickal charges; he reminds Kevin that he is saving his life, and he will be unable to fix any of these problems if he’s dead. Having reached an impasse, The Dealer leaves, but tells Kevin that he’s welcome to return to negotiations later. If he lives.

At the ritual site, Jones will stand guard while Jane, Shake, and Tom assist Leah with ritual preparations. Leah eats the two burgers and takes the last tab of Shake’s magick acid before starting. They enact the ritual as described, killing the animals, making the mortar, and bricking up the tunnel without incident. It’s pre-dawn when they finish, and the bricks are consumed as the rock wall smooths over, erasing the Otherspace.

High on LSD, it’s too much for Leah, who is caught staring at the rock wall, possibly in the throes of a bad trip. The others give her a moment.

Then they hear the gunshot.

Jones leaves Jane and Shake to clean and shepherd Leah back to Kevin’s house while he and Tom run towards the shot. Jones is interrupted by a call from Otis, who says there was a gun shot at Mabel’s, and a man is running back to the panel van. Once the van leaves, Jones tells him to get to Mabel’s house.

By the time Jones and Tom arrive, it’s much too late. Mabel is close to her door, lying in a pool of her blood and holding her revolver. A single bullet punctured her forehead, and she stares vacantly at her ceiling. Otis was unable to resuscitate her.

Session 55

Sunday, June 26, 2011

When Leah composes herself, she and Felicia are quiet for a while. Felicia finally asks what’s wrong, prompting Leah to unload, complaining about how Jones is so stubborn and paranoid. Felicia agrees, but notes that Leah is probably going to have to talk to him again — and soon! — if they want to finish this whole ritual work business. Leah agrees.

They’re interrupted by the discharge of a gun.

After the gunshot, there’s some cracking and scraping; Leah and Felicia quickly surmise that it’s people coming through the door in Kevin’s room. Leah calls Jones.

Jones is contemplating his choices on the beach — he’s fairly certain he’s right, but being right seems to have upset everyone — when he hears the distant sound of gunfire. Just one, and he can’t pinpoint it; not exactly uncommon in L.A., but worth marking. When he glances around, he sees a group of five people heading in the direction of the grotto. The one with the gate to Angeliy.

He moves to intercept, taking their measure as he does. There is an African-American woman, two African-American men, and two Hispanic men. Among them, they’re carrying two duffel bags, albeit not weighted like they’re carrying weapons. He suspects all five are also carrying concealed pistols.

When they realize they’re being tailed, they start moving away from the grotto, confirming Jones’ suspicions that they’re headed specifically for the Otherspace. As he’s crossing to meet them, his phone rings.

It’s Leah. He gives the five travelers, who have clearly noticed him at this point, the gesture for them to wait while he answers the phone. There’s some back and forth about what to do before he hears the gunshot — both over the phone and on the beach. It’s a lot louder on the phone.

Meanwhile, Leah is talking on the phone with Jones and heading toward the door of the room. She quickly realizes that Felicia is no longer with her; Felicia is quietly trying to open the window, and looks somewhat incredulously at Leah, who is moving toward gunfire and heavy footfalls. She gestures for Leah to follow, which she does. Felicia goes out the window, and as she’s helping Leah move, the door opens, a man in tactical garb — but incongruously with a “THEATRE SECURITY” patch — shouts, “FREEZE!” and he fires.

Leah’s ears are ringing, but she’s out the window and unharmed. Felicia has her by the hand, slips out of the back gate in Kevin’s house, and is moving through back alleys until they are a sufficient distance away. Leah notices that Felicia seems like an old hand at this sort of thing, sneaking out of houses and through back alleys.

Jones puts his phone down, and informs the five of the situation — he has no desire to interfere, but his friends need help, right now. If they’re willing to help, he’s willing to assist whatever they’re doing. One of them says they likely don’t need the help, while another says it absolutely sounds like trouble at Kevin’s house. Sounds like he ought to get over there if he wants to help. Jones hesitates, but leaves; before he goes, he asks for an introduction from the man who spoke about Kevin’s house, and he introduces himself as Steve. Jones jogs over to find Felicia and Leah.

Otis gets Kevin’s attention when he hears gunshots, and they return to the beach and examine the situation. Felicia and Leah are hiding in an alley a couple of houses over, while Jones goes to meet them; clearly the situation is somewhat under control, so they decide to wait on the beach and watch.

There is little activity on the beach, although some of the beach-goers seem to have registered the noise. (Nobody knows enough to be concerned yet.) Kevin’s house is silent, although after a bit of watching, Kevin and Otis see movement: three men in paramilitary garb moving behind the fence. Two of the men poke their heads out of the back gate and look around before returning to his house. Kevin decides to call Jones.

Jones meets with Felicia and Leah and determines they are all right. After briefly discussing what to do to retake the house, they are interrupted when Kevin calls Jones. He reports what he has seen, and they consider people whom they can contact about these matters. Knowing that Shake and Tom are still in town, they settle on the two of them. Jones makes the call.

Shake and Tom are amenable to assist, and so are on their way. Jones also calls Detective Willett in case she can keep this situation under control; she says she will see what she can do. While Felicia, Jones, and Leah wait, Kevin and Otis see more movement in the yard, and one of the paramilitary security agents emerges, this time accompanied by something that resembles a man in a suit but with a peacock’s head instead of a man’s head. They seem to be confused by the beach and sky, and swiftly return to the house. After calming Otis, Kevin reports this to the others.

Shake and Tom quickly arrive and regroup with Felicia, Jones, and Leah. Kevin and Otis also join them to discuss plans. It is decided: Jones, Kevin, and Tom will go, with Otis trailing behind in case something goes wrong, while Felicia, Leah, and Shake will remain behind. Tom plays three rounds of Russian roulette with his snub-nose revolver — it’s apparently how he gets his mystic juice — and he’s ready. He instructs the others to stay behind him. Jones calls Leah and keeps the phone line open so communication can be constant.

The back gate and back door are still open when Jones, Kevin, and Tom arrive. Tom walks in, confronting a paramilitary person standing guard by Kevin’s room. He tells the masked man, “Why don’t you go fuck yourself,” and to the shock of any present, the man’s sleeves automatically wick through with moisture. By the color it looks like blood, as if someone carved “WHY DON’T YOU GO FUCK YOURSELF” into his arms. The man reacts and fires, but the shot goes wide; Tom continues into the house, opening himself to the other two men currently in Kevin’s room. Both fire, but one misses (somewhat miraculously, given how easy a target Tom is), while the other grazes his side. Tom takes cover along a wall while Jones’ gun comes out.

Jones shouts through the wall that this can end peacefully, but the security agents seem confused — they indicate that this is a restricted area, and Jones and his associates need to leave so they can, “strike the set.” When it’s clear no headway will be made, Jones turns into the room and fires. He misses the agent, and gets peppered with buckshot for his trouble. Kevin runs into the room and is surprised by all three agents, all of whom immediately fire at him. He falls back, unconscious, into a pool of his own blood. When Jones grabs him and drags him out of the room, however, he awakens, apparently his wounds not as terrible as they first appeared. Tom tells Jones and Kevin to get out, he has an idea; he spins the cylinder on his gun and fires it twice, coming up empty both times.

There’s a pause, followed by a tense exchange of gunfire. One of the gunmen emerges from Kevin’s room, and Tom tells the others to let him go. One of the security agents apparently turned on the others — possession, Tom explains.

The group drags the bodies into the backstage Otherspace, although Otis sees the carnage and vomits outside the back door, clearly in the midst of a panic attack. Well aware that the police will arrive before too long, and unable to calm him, Jones just leads him to his room and closes the door. Kevin takes some of the blood mixed with his blood, and forms an “X” over the door. Whatever symbolic power he was able to summon was apparently not quite enough, as the door decreases in size by half. The top of the door jamb literally shrinks down, bisecting the door and coming to a halt right where the door knob would have been had it not been blown off. Kevin sets to covering the door again. Jones calls Detective Willett, and learns that police are arriving, but don’t quite know the origin of the gunshots. If everyone just stays calm, it should be okay. She’ll be around when she can. Tom sits in Kevin’s blood-covered room, applying pressure to his side, while Jones’ adrenaline wears off and he realizes how woozy he is. He vomits in the toilet and then tries to remain conscious in the bathroom.

Meanwhile, Felicia, Leah, and Shake note that people react to the various gunshots, as it is clear there is some manner of active shooter on the beach. They hear the chaos, and when things start to settle, they decide Mabel’s house is safest. She is returning as they arrive; she evidently went wandering to try to figure out where the shots originated. Mabel and Shake are introduced, and they proceed to hole up until things die down.

Things calm down. The police investigate the beach, unable to find anything, and Kevin calls Felicia to let her know that someone needs medical attention. When Felicia arrives, she starts to work on Jones. She has another panic attack, but Kevin manages to talk her down, and with some effort, she is able to knit his flesh back together. She scoops out the buckshot and drops it in the stoppered sink, although with some scraps of tissue and shirt she ends up removing. Felicia then goes to Otis’ room to see to him. Kevin gets a change of clothing for Jones, and Tom’s wounds get bandaged.

When Detective Willett arrives, she is introduced to Tom, and Jones informs her as to what happened, including the people going into the Khalifastan Otherspace. There’s no way she can reasonably stop them — how would she even ask for backup for such a thing? — but the fact has been noted. Jones assures her they’re working on the matter. With nothing further for either side, she takes her leave.

After tidying as much as possible, and checking to see if Otis is okay — he and Felicia seem to have progressed to making out when Kevin checks on them — Felicia, Jones, Kevin, Otis, and Tom all move to Mabel’s house. Jones also calls Jane to let her know what happened, and to ask if she can bring a change of clothes.

The group reconvenes at Mabel’s house. Mabel and Tom are introduced, and the group discusses what transpired since they parted company. (Jones and Leah also apologize to each other for the earlier argument.) When Jane arrives, she makes introductions — Shake and Tom don’t recognize her, although she has met them before; Tom assumes Jones told her their names — Jones takes her aside to speak to her alone for a moment, broaching the subject of the sex ritual. She is willing to participate, if they go that route, but the menstrual fluid component would require another week or so to procure.

When Jane and Jones leave the room, Tom expresses incredulity at the fact that Jane is Jones’ girlfriend, and perhaps moreso at the fact that every person he meets in this cabal is prettier than the last.

When the conversation is rejoined, the group eventually decides to engage in further preparations. Since Kevin knows he can close the gateway with more mojo, he sets out to quickly gather it by taking risks in traffic, a specific symbolic interaction he has been loath to attempt, but it seems relevant now. The others agree, although Tom remarks that he’s not certain it is wise for the best ritualist in the group to go playing in traffic. Meanwhile, Jane, Jones, and Leah are going to go shopping for supplies — a wagon, cage, and some other essentials — to attempt to capture another animal from Khalifastan, assuming that the original trap is too heavily monitored or will have been lost.

Kevin rides his bike around the city, trying to cut corners and find shortcuts. Although he is successful on his first trip, he takes a turn too quickly on the second trip and wipes out in oncoming traffic, losing consciousness when he is dashed against an oncoming bus.

Jane, Jones, and Leah are at the hardware store when they receive the call that something has happened to Kevin. They make their way over to the hospital; Jones is angry and annoyed when he receives the news that Kevin is in critical condition, and takes a walk around the block to calm himself. They call Felicia to report this news to Otis, who can then call Kevin’s parents. When they realize that Kevin’s parents probably have a key, they also broach the subject of cleaning the blood; Tom takes care of it with a couple of rounds of Russian roulette, although he admits he doesn’t know what will have changed when they arrive at the house. Since the group doesn’t have infinite time to wait, and is keen on completing at least one of these rituals before their unknown deadline, they decide to leave and finish their errand. The hospital will keep them updated if there is a change in Kevin’s condition.

While leaving the hospital, Leah receives a call from an unknown number. It turns out to be Shannon, questioning why they threatened to kill Brandon earlier. Leah explains that it was a misunderstanding, which Shannon accepts — Brandon can be kind of an ass sometimes — and she offers to help if they need it. (Not that she expects they would need help from little old her; Leah is immediately reminded precisely why she originally gave the burner phone to Shannon. Apparently, Shannon received her number from Brandon, as she said she would try to sort it all out on his behalf.) Leah doesn’t have anything for her to do specifically, although it’s good to hear that Shannon has some ritual experience, but says she will let her know as they try to navigate their ritual work.

Their shopping trip is only interrupted by one more phone call, this time from Felicia asking what to do with the tarps? Apparently, whatever magick Tom cast helpfully put tarps down to catch all the blood. Jones says to just put them in the shed, along with any of the ripped and bloodied clothing that still might be about.

They receive another phone call on the way home, letting them know Kevin is stable and is expected to recover. Currently focused on completing this ritual, they will deal with that tomorrow.

Once the group reconvenes at Mabel’s house, they decide to complete their errand for ritual components. Jones, Leah, Mabel, and Tom will go to Khalifastan in the hopes of capturing some local example of wildlife. To draw less attention, Leah abandons the veil she has been wearing since receiving her facial scars back in the spring — Shake takes her hand and tries to comfort her when she removes it, as he knows that’s a big deal for her.

Jones, Leah, Mabel, and Tom take their equipment and start heading to the cave to Angeliy. Aware that they may encounter the travelers Jones encountered earlier, in addition to any other opposition on the other side, they move slowly, pretending as if they’re researching and trying to determine where to go. As they come into view of the cave, they see a man and a woman, both African-American, with pistols drawn. Once they recognize Jones, they relax slightly, apparently recognizing him from earlier and knowing that he is in-the-know, as it were. Jones indicates that they’re going across to Khalifastan, and the two standing guard apparently have no problem with this as long as everyone can be civil going in and out. They keep a wary eye on each other as they pass, however…

…particularly since Leah realizes, during the course of conversation, that she recognizes the man’s voice. He was the main speaker among the group of masked men who invaded the auction to steal The Box. Once they reach the other side, she informs the others of this fact, along with the fact that the masked gunmen clearly had some sort of magick of their own. They were able to convince the police to stand down “for America,” as well as the now-dead gunman inflicting some manner of magickal blast on Alex González.

With that passed, the group goes searching for wildlife. Leah spots something that resembles a chimp digging in a sand dune, and the group goes over to see it is more man-like, and wearing pants. It is clearly not a chimp, instead being a three-foot-tall hairy man-thing. It comes over to investigate the food they leave, and it sniffs at Leah before Jones tries to shoo it away. Dejected, the thing leaves.

Resuming their search, they spot a raccoon digging through some garbage. Jones moves toward it, hoping to capture it, but it starts to trundle away. He charges after it, tackling it to the ground; it gives him a nasty bite for his trouble, but he manages to wrestle it into the cage.

The quartet returns to the cave without incident. There is another tense crossing, accompanied by Leah giving the male guard a very intense stink-eye — he clearly recognizes that something is up, possibly even noting that she recognizes him. Still, nobody starts trouble and the crossing is peaceful.

Upon returning to Mabel’s house with the Otherspatial raccoon, Jones disinfects and wraps his hand. The group then plots how best to bypass or defeat the guards by the gate to Khalifastan so they may complete the ritual and finally seal the gateway.

Session 54

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Jones, Kevin, and Leah meet nearby before meeting with Brandon Frazier. After some discussion, they come to the idea that they will offer him the Old Mirror ritual. If they can also get his expertise in ritual work, they might be willing to trade one of their other rituals for it, but they will have to play it by ear. Before heading to the Starbucks where they have agreed to meet, Jones calls Tom to ask for his advice. Tom seems to understand his dilemma — do you really want to give him the access and information necessary to assist you? — and for his part, he says he probably wouldn’t do it. He feels comfortable enough with such things that he probably wouldn’t go for the extra help. For that matter, Tom notes that you never know what someone’s supposed “expertise” is worth. Jones and his friends seem fairly competent; for all they know, they’re better ritualists than Brandon. Regardless, he has a reputation for knowing what he’s doing, and isn’t really known for double-crosses. He’s just vaguely insufferable.

Tom also repeats what he told Leah, that he and Shake are staying in L.A. for at least a few hours, in case they end up needing help with anything. Tom also suspects Shake wants to stick around in the hopes of still being in the city when evening rolls around.

With that, they head to Starbucks. Brandon meets Jones for the first time, introductions are made, and negotiations go according to plan. Brandon produces a photocopy of a mimeographed zine called The Closing of Lord Shiva’s Eye by Frater Agrippa. The zine proceeds to describe how Hinduism is wrong with regard to the endless cycle of universal death and rebirth: these various world-states cycle concurrently. One can visit other facets of what he calls this “world-jewel” through esoteric techniques, and sometimes, these paths remain open. The zine then describes a way to close gateways, both physical and “the doors of perception,” giving instructions to some sort of mutant Tantric rite. The document includes photographs helpfully showing how participants should position themselves; although the faces are covered, the hair and tattoos suggest 1970s. The ritual requires a man and a woman, one of whom needs to be the ritualist. They should form a dye of his semen, her menstrual fluid, and Prussian blue, then stain cords with it. Also stain both sides of the portal to be closed. After taking a tincture of Datura, bind your wrists and ankles with the cords and start having sex. All four cords should be severed by the moment of orgasm for both participants, at which point, they decouple and the portal should close.

As noted three months ago, Brandon has previously attempting this ritual, assuming the gateways were somehow metaphorical. He ignored the rite when nothing happened, but determined it might be worthwhile when they contacted him. They agree to trade the Old Mirror ritual for this [[The Closing of Lord Shiva’s Eye | Closing of Lord Shiva’s Eye]] ritual, and then start asking about receiving his expertise to help them close these Otherspace gateways. While he’s interested in the other ritual they’re willing to offer, the Back Monkey ritual, their talk of the Otherspace portal they’re attempting to close intrigues him, and he says he can assist them if he knows more about it. Could they travel there now?

The group caravans to the beach. Arriving at the grotto, they show Brandon the cave. Despite the danger, he’s keen to enter, and gesturing to Jones’ concealed handgun, asks for him to accompany. Jones says they will all likely go. Kevin scouts ahead to ensure the coast is clear (there are just a couple of fishermen on the beach who don’t seem to be paying much attention), and after giving him a brief primer on what to expect, they head to the other side so that he can see it before quickly returning to “their” Los Angeles.

Once back in Los Angeles, he starts asking them questions about it so that he can better understand what they’re trying to accomplish. He jots down notes on a notebook in his messenger bag as they answer his questions. Jones and Leah mention that the gate opened spontaneously, that they might be connected, and that a fair amount of the testimony comes from people who went and returned without them, but he can tell they’re holding something back. So, he says he’ll go somewhere for a bit and give them time to discuss what they want to do. Jones says if Brandon is going to leave, he needs to turn over his notebook to them.

The situation immediately escalates as Brandon indicates he has no intention of doing so. He finally tells them that he gave them the ritual he wanted, and as far as he’s concerned, that’s the end of the transaction. If they want to shoot him in the back on a public beach, go ahead. He storms back to the road.

The others stand in stunned silence for a moment. Leah runs after Brandon and tries to talk him down, but he says he can’t help them unless he has the opportunity to interview the people who went to the other side. He also suggests that they ought not to threaten people who are trying to help them. With that, he leaves.

Kevin gets annoyed and storms back to his house. Leah goes back to Jones and chews him out, berating him for letting his paranoia sabotage an otherwise-successful negotiation. Stressed and hoping to somehow find some weed, she also trudges up the beach to Kevin’s house, shaking the whole time. Jones is left on the beach, left wondering if he did the right thing.

Kevin tries to blow off steam by playing Xbox with Otis, but finally decides to surf instead. He and Otis start preparing when Leah comes into the house; Felicia seems to sense what she needs, and goes and fetches her bong, gesturing for Leah to join her in Otis’ bedroom. Once Kevin and Otis have left for the beach, Leah breaks down crying. Felicia doesn’t say anything, she just quietly hugs her and lets her cry.

Session 53

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Felicia, Jones, Kevin, Leah, and Otis assemble to head to the Linda Vista Community Hospital. Felicia doesn’t need much in the way of preparations, and she says she’s fine to do this. So, they pile into one car and head out.

When they arrive, there are already cars and a handful of bodyguards about. Recognizing Jones, they escort him and his companions into the hospital.

Leah Dupree is already inside, wearing a hospital gown. Introductions are made — during the proceedings, Jones suddenly realizes that he doesn’t know Felicia’s last name — and Leah and Felicia converse briefly so that she knows what this will entail. (Assuming it works, very little; Felicia is just going to reach in and rejoin the severed neurons.)

With that, the procedure starts. Jones, Kevin, and Leah turn away to give Leah Dupree a little privacy while Otis looks on to try to give Felicia some semblance of moral support. It’s not clear what happens, but Felicia rapidly breaks down, collapsing into ugly, wracking sobs. Jones tries to comfort her, to no avail, but Kevin manages to calm her down after a few minutes of talking. Leah Dupree seems annoyed at the interruption, but everybody manages to keep the mood calm. Felicia claims she is fine to continue the procedure.

A few minutes more, and it is done. With the others turned away, they only hear a wet squelching sound, and then Felicia is cleaning her hands. Leah Dupree sits and tries to flex the muscles in her legs and feet; they’re hard to move, but she can feel in them again.

She then summons one of her bodyguards to deliver what she promised. He reveals a copy of the 1978 AD&D Player’s Handbook; pages 72 and 73 have been almost completely covered in white-out, save for the “Wizard Lock” entry. In their place, someone has hand-written a screed describing a ritual called Lhamo’s Liminal Lock, which is supposed to close symbolic doors. He also presents a photocopied copy of this Player’s Handbook, bound in a three-ring binder; that is the copy for Jones and his cabal to keep. They present it in its entirety in case there is something Leah Dupree missed in her examination of the text. Jones and Dupree note that they will contact each other if they need anything further, and Felicia, Jones, Kevin, Leah, and Otis are allowed to leave.

Afterwards, they hit a taco place and discuss what they have recovered. Felicia indicates she’s fine, and doesn’t quite know what came over her. She was just overwhelmed at the prospect of screwing this up. They then examine the ritual to determine what components they will need. The ritual requires two creatures, one from each side. (It’s somewhat nonspecific, but probably the size of a cat or larger would work. Sapient creatures, like people, are acceptable for the purposes of the ritual.) The caster must be high on LSD, get the creatures to clearly acknowledge one another, sacrifice both creatures with a silver knife, drain the blood, and mix the blood into mortar. That mortar then gets used to brick up the opening between this world and the Otherspace in question. Assuming the ritualist is still on LSD by the time the last brick is laid, the gateway will close. As such, Kevin and Jones decide to go get bricks and things, as well as some animal traps, while Leah will try to source a silver knife.

They reconvene in the early evening, their foraging successful. (The primary cause of lateness was because it took Leah a long time to find a knife that she presumed to be relatively pure silver.) Hoping to perform the ritual the following evening, they decide to set the traps in the hopes of catching something overnight. They set and bait the first trap in Kevin’s backyard. Then it’s time to head into Angeliy to set the other trap.

Jones, Kevin, and Leah trek up the beach and head into the tunnel to Angeliy. They sneak onto the other beach, noting that while the skyline looks a little different, the mountains and coastline look the same. The closest buildings are primarily boxy structures, still recognizable as beachfront. They decide their best chance is to sneak among the houses, but they are stopped by a man in uniform, evidently some manner of police officer, shining a flashlight in their faces. He inquires as to what they’re doing out after curfew — Jones and Leah say they just stepped outside their houses while attempting to catch an animal — before calling for his partner and asking to see their papers. Jones manages to throw enough jargon at the two police officers to convince them that he is some manner of secret police operative — perhaps GRU or KGB or something like that — and that interfering with his activities would go very badly for them. The police officers let the trio go, allowing them to set the trap and quickly head back to their Los Angeles.

With that finished, they’ll check back tomorrow evening. For now, as it has been an intensely long day with almost no sleep, Jones and Leah both head to their houses to sleep. Leah is only taking a nap, though, as she still has a commitment to head to the club and take Shake out.

Leah awakens refreshed and heads out to the club. For whatever reason, her friends don’t seem to take much of a liking to Shake and Tom — maybe the New Agers don’t mix well with the actual occultists, or maybe Shake and Tom are just too intense and weird to be easily liked. Regardless, once Tom realizes that these people can’t keep up with an occult conversation, he goes and drinks at the bar. Shake continues talking about philosophy, but it apparently falls on deaf ears.

Leah introduces Lorenzo to Shake, and as the night wears on, they take more of Shake’s magickal ecstasy and head back to spend the early morning together.

The next morning, Kevin finds that the trap he set at his house has caught a fox. The animal appears a bit mangy, but otherwise healthy (albeit distressed from being caged). He moves it into his garage with food and water and tries desperately to avoid engaging with it, knowing that he will have to sacrifice it later today. That same morning, Jones goes for a run, and Kevin similarly goes out to bike around the city. Leah sleeps late, but not too late, as they’re all set to meet Brandon Frazier at about noon. Leah says Shake can accompany, but he says he’s not feeling a meeting with Frazier today, as he apparently thinks he’s kind of pompous and just isn’t in the mood. Shake and Tom do agree to stick around Los Angeles in case the cabal needs assistance on ritual preparations.

Session 52

Friday, June 24, 2011

Before Shake and Tom make it back to the hotel, Shake asks Leah what she’s doing tomorrow. She indicates she’s going clubbing, and he says he can probably make it to L.A. if she doesn’t mind. She doesn’t; in fact she notes that there are a lot of cool people in L.A.

She stops herself from mentioning her boyfriend, though; she decides to leave that particular piece of information for this weekend.

She arrives back at the hotel without incident. Jones and Kevin have both been wandering in her absence — Jones went for a run while Kevin went down to the casino — but both have returned by the time she arrives. They check out of the hotel and start the long drive back to Los Angeles, again taking back roads to hopefully avoid another incident with a stranded driver.

On the way, Jones explains to them what Brian Lane told him three months ago — that the Archetypes are entities with agendas and the ability to influence events. They were also once human, and can be supplanted.

This leads into further discussion of the Oracle’s prophecy, as the capitalized Archetypes suggests parts of the prophecy refer to the Archetypes themselves in the Statosphere. They surmise that the first part refers to themselves: Jones arrested and placed on trial, Kevin and Leah nearly killed. The text implies the killer was sent to them by the Archetype of The True King itself — are they getting too close to unseating the King of Scales?

The rest is not terribly clear. Is the person doing this Sabas, a weapon wielded by time itself? Is “the father’s work and realm” a reference to Jasper Fitzroy? Is the endeavor doomed? Leah notes that a phone or other LCD screen is sometimes called a “black mirror,” so could it be a reference to that? Jones thinks “defenders of home” might suggest military or law enforcement, while Leah notes that “the skulls and the bones” might refer to Skull and Bones, the Yale secret society. Kevin is the one to wonder if these disparate elements might be connected: Jones noted that Lawrence Torres, the Homeland Security agent who visited his house, was connected to GNOMON on his phone. (Jones has seen him one additional time, and he was carrying a phone then, also.) If the arm of a sundial is called a gnomon, perhaps he is the man wielded by GNOMON?

Kevin decides these are questions answered by a sweat lodge. After considering going to the commune, he decides to hold a sweat lodge at his house instead, using a couple of personal items as foci for meditation. He figures he’ll use the map of L.A. he’s been making in his garage, and he’ll involve the magick LSD Shake gave Leah.

The trip is otherwise uneventful, except for a brief interruption: a call from Leah Dupree. She has found a site for tomorrow’s operation, the abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital. She is bringing additional security, and notes Jones is free to do the same. They agree to meet out front at noon.

They arrive back in Los Angeles around 10 PM. Jones drops off Leah at her house so she can shower and get a change of clothes, while he and Kevin go to Kevin’s house. Since Jane called to check on things, Jones calls her back. All is well, and at her insistence, Jones eventually concedes that she should probably bring his go-bag.

Jane arrives and learns that Kevin is setting up a sweat lodge in the garage, in addition to some of the activities in Las Vegas the previous day. Jones and Kevin also inform Felicia and Otis of tomorrow’s appointment with Leah Dupree, and ask if there is anything Felicia needs. Apart from maybe some antiseptic to keep things clean, she does not.

Leah arrives closer to midnight, and by then, Kevin’s setup is nearly complete. Kevin and Leah are both going to take the magick LSD, while Jones will abstain and keep vigil in case something goes wrong. During the course of the conversation, Jane overhears the proceedings, and hears about the magick LSD from Shake. She apparently knows Shake and Tom, as they were troubleshooters that Veronica and the rest of the cult occasionally used back in Las Vegas. She also refers to them as Tom, Shake, and Sage — evidently, the same Sage Price Jones and Leah met — as apparently Tom and Sage used to date. She’s similarly surprised to learn that Sage is the one who helped rescue Leah from Algiers. A small world.

They head into Kevin’s garage and disrobe (although Jones retains his boxers). Jane deigns not to stay all night, so she takes a couple of Jones’ things and heads back home; he keeps his cell phone with him. Kevin and Leah both take their tabs of LSD; before it kicks in, while Kevin is meditating to get in the mood, Leah takes a couple of selfies for Instagram, telling her followers that she’s doing a sweat lodge.

Jones spends the next eight hours sweating, bored out of his mind, looking at his phone. In light of the new information, he visits GNOMON and looks around for additional insight, finding none. Leah has a very calming, relaxing experience, and feels better about herself by the end of it — unbeknownst to her, the tab of acid she took was merely very good, and lacked the mystical potency of the stuff she had the other night.

Kevin, on the other hand, got a full dose. Studying his map, he feels what’s going to happen — a single phone call, a series of events falling into place, and the entire city’s power grid is disabled, along with the gates and Otherspaces attached to it. When it returns, the Otherspaces do not — perhaps lacking the knowledge necessary to fix the problem, it seems as though Torres and whatever other operatives are at his disposal operatives are going to hard reset the entire mystical grid for Los Angeles, and close every extant Otherspace currently attached, causing untold complications in the interim.

While there, he can also see Jones’ and Leah’s auras, as well as the signs of their symbolic paths — a a flag snapping behind Jones, a spotlight illuminating Leah. Strangely, while Jones is on GNOMON, his phone also seems to have a presence, like an aura unto itself. It definitely represents a mystical process while he looks at the GNOMON website.

The next morning, around 8 AM, when the drugs wear off, Kevin ushers the group outside to take a cold shower. After Jones leaves to put out the coals, Kevin recounts what he saw, and the group agrees that it sounds as though whatever government agency GNOMON represents is going to try a hard reset of the entire system in lieu of trying to delicately solve the problem.

And whatever these agents plan to do, they plan on doing soon.

Kevin also asks Jones what he was doing during the sweat lodge, and after determining that Jones was looking at the GNOMON website, tells him to avoid it — it clearly represents some mystical process, and he doesn’t know what it might be trying to do.

Leah also sends a text to the American Dream, as she suspects they may need to try a little gutter magick to fully complete this thing before the looming deadline. The American Dream agree to help.

With that, Jones sends Jane a text to let her know all is well, and Jones and Leah try to catch a nap before meeting Leah Dupree at noon.

Session 51

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jones receives a text message from Willett indicating Eli was killed at the Food 4 Less over on 6th Street. He tells Jane that he’s going to go investigate to see if there’s anything to be seen, and she decides to come along.

There’s nothing further to determine. The store is open until midnight, so it’s entirely conceivable that somebody could have used cars as cover to ambush him late at night. Likewise, late at night, it’s possible too few people were around to make a positive ID.

After contemplating enough heaviness for one day, Jane and Jones go out for ice cream.

The next day, Thursday, June 23, Jones, Kevin, and Leah meet in the late morning to go to Las Vegas. Jones drives. At Leah’s request, they take back roads so Kevin will hopefully not encounter as many threats to flow requiring them to stop. To calm her nerves, Leah has taken to smoking weed at regular intervals during the journey; Jones agrees, as long as she keeps it to a minimum and largely keeps it out of the car.

On the way, Jones has to pull over to take a call from Leah Dupree. She indicates she found a ritual she suspects will meet his needs, although she doesn’t want to go into detail over the phone. They agree that she will come to L.A. on Saturday; she says she will contact them tomorrow about a place to perform the procedure.

They also discuss what they want to do with the American Café. The general consensus seems to be to allow John Fist to keep running it for now, but perhaps get to work on training a replacement. Kevin thinks Felicia would be a good candidate, but Jones notes that she has no managerial experience of which they are aware. Although John Fist could probably train her. They all agree to keep on the lookout for whomever they might want to run the place once they complete the paperwork.

The rest of the trip is uneventful. They arrive in Las Vegas in the early evening, and meet with Tom and Shake at a coffee shop on the edge of town. Shake’s pupils are intensely dilated. Introductions are made: Kevin thanks Tom and Shake for saving them, while Leah hugs them both. Shake comments that Leah has a lovely aura, like a chrysalis ready to become a butterfly.

Tom explains that they’re going to Delphi’s to consult the Oracle, as Jones has no doubt told the others. Matthias Katsaros owns the place, and is some manner of Merchant; evidently, the prices for Oracle access tend to be steep. Tom notes he and Shake have never used the Oracle before, but by reputation, she is accurate enough to warrant the high prices. As per the tradition of the original Oracle, though, she can be a little vague or obtuse. So the stories say.

As for payment, Jones asks if Katsaros deals in money or more abstract bargains. Tom notes that he might deal in both, but he’s known for dealing in abstractions and knowledge. Anything that can be traded, he’ll trade.

With the possible preparation out of the way, the assembled quintet caravans to Delphi’s. Delphi’s appears to be just preparing for the night’s operation when they arrive. Tom bypasses the bouncers and security — they appear to recognize Tom and Shake — and they arrive at the back room. The bouncers outside ask what he wants, and he says he wants to die. They let the quintet inside.

The group navigates the tangle of passageways. As they arrive closer, they can hear the distant bass beat of another club (probably the one in D.C., based on the time zones), and they find people milling about in the backrooms. They arrive at a waiting room, Tom announces them to a receptionist, and it’s another fifteen or so minutes before the receptionist calls for “Tom O’Balor,” and the quintet is ushered into Matthias Katsaros’ office.

Matthias Katsaros is a well-dressed, portly, older Greek man. Tom makes introductions — Katsaros apparently recognizes Jones, Kevin, and Leah from their recent legal entanglements — and then turns things over to Jones. Jones wants to see the Oracle, and has brought money to pay. Katsaros notes that he’s unlikely to need money unless they happened to bring a lot of it, but he’s willing to trade in other things. Jones notes that he used to be an Air Force pilot, which could come in handy for Katsaros’ private jets; Katsaros notes that he usually has people to fly them, although he sees the utility if the pilot has a heart attack. He’ll accept the equivalent of a few years’ training and five years of life from everyone present, so twenty-five years total.

Tom takes this opportunity to call the group over in a huddle to discuss these matters. He asks if it’s true that John Fist in L.A. sells a year of life for $100 a pop — they say they don’t know. In either case, they’re wary about selling off years of their lives, particularly since you don’t know which is your last. Jones thinks he has something further to offer, and returns to say he can give some of his experiences in the war, familiarity with violence and things of that nature. Katsaros says he’s not in the business of buying trauma, as taking people’s trauma away is usually a service people pay him to perform.

Finally, Jones offers his service as an air traffic controller, saying that it helps with alertness and stress management. Combined with his Air Force service, his experience is measured in decades. After some negotiation, Katsaros says he wants half. Jones agrees, figuring he doesn’t specifically need the specialized knowledge if he’s out of a job. A contract is drafted and signed, and Jones feels some of his knowledge slip away, along with the occurrence of several small but strange gaps in his memory. Katsaros bids them to return to the waiting room, and says someone will be along once the Oracle is ready.

It’s roughly a half-hour before an attendant summons the quintet (they take the opportunity to finalize their question and determine how they’re going to record the answer), and ushers them into a room. Several armed guards are in this room. At the far end of the room, a pale woman rests in a chair; she is evidently the Oracle. She appears strung out, heavily drugged — uncomfortably so, like maybe-she-should-be-at-a-hospital levels of intoxication. In the middle of the room, there is a stool. Upon it sits a strange device, resembling an old-fashioned radio. Stamped across the middle, it is labeled “DACTYL HEX-O-TRON.” Jones speaks, asking what threatens Los Angeles and what they can do to stop it. After a pause, the Oracle begins speaking, mumbling incoherently but occasionally shouting only vaguely-understood fragments of words. As she does, the Dactyl Hex-O-Tron starts to whir, eventually revealing the following prophecy in a mechanized but pleasant voice:

Lo, did the Solid Citizen come to the brink of ruin, Explorer and Star nearly lost to the realm of the Cruel Ones, but the gods granted him and his trusted companions their lives. Countermove and move in the grand chess match of distant heavens, a blow turned aside from the Dark Stalker sent by the True King. The city suffered while they were away, trapped beneath shadows, the shadow of the arm of a sundial and the man it wields. Black mirror in hand, he is the trusted gatekeeper of kings, empowered by the skulls and the bones of defenders of home. The arm is mighty and its reach is long and it will discharge the lightning that holds the matrix of the father’s work and realm. The arm and the bound gatekeeper it wields have seen the future and hope the work they do ought to prevent the future they saw, but the doom they fear has already been wrought upon the kingdom. Theirs is the action of damming streams that already flood their banks and perhaps all this destruction is too little and too late.

After the translation finishes, they are ushered from the room to return to the Back Corridor. With their task complete, they leave Delphi’s.

Over drinks, they discuss the potential implications of the prophecy, and Shake and Tom are interested to learn that some force is apparently threatening Los Angeles. They will attempt to investigate it with any resources at their disposal.

During the conversation, Leah gives Shake her number. They commence flirting in earnest. Once it’s clear that everyone is hanging around for a bit, they start casino-crawling, although it’s really just Leah and Shake — Jones and Kevin keep watch, while Tom stops drinking as soon as he realizes she’s attracting paparazzi. (Shake, for the record, wasn’t drinking anyway, so it’s quickly just Leah.)

Eventually, it’s clear that the group is not returning to Los Angeles tonight. Tom arranges for them to stay in one of the suites at a slightly off-Strip hotel. Jones asks Tom a bit about himself; he’s apparently from South Boston originally, and he and Shake have known each other a while. They act as general troubleshooters, trying to help occult underground types wherever they can. For the record, Tom thinks Leah’s attentions are probably good for Shake, as he tends to be inside himself a fair amount.

With the group staying another day, Leah and Shake slip away. Jones, Kevin, and Tom hang out a bit longer until they all decide it’s time for bed. Jones and Kevin make their way to their suite, and Jones goes to sleep while Kevin stays up watching television and waiting for Leah to return.

Shake takes Leah back to what is apparently his house — moderately large, clean, not terribly well-lived-in, and located in a more quiet suburb. He gives her a cocktail of LSD and Ecstasy, but it’s quickly clear that it’s some strange mixture, as it’s a lot cleaner and purer than usual. The drug mixture has a few strange side effects, as well: Leah and Shake’s conversation is intensely engaging, and she can see Shake’s aura. He has a fiery third eye upon his brow, and the drugs resonate like they have some symbolic meaning. In the mirror, she appears much as she did in the ritual mirror, illuminated by a spotlight, her aura blazing.

They make love that night. Shake is gentle, and very communicative — it’s different different than Leah’s typical fare, and maybe it’s largely the drugs, but it’s all quite lovely. Shake is very introspective and philosophical, and they end up talking a lot as well, about things largely forgotten by morning.

Jones is concerned enough to send her a text message around 10 AM, which awakens her prompting a grumpy message back. Satisfied, he tells her to return to sleep.

When she actually awakens, Shake makes breakfast — he doesn’t have many of the components to which she is accustomed for some sort of vegetable smoothie, but they make do. Tom has returned by the time they come downstairs, and he seems very amused by the whole affair. Once breakfast is finished and she is fully dressed, they pile into a car to take her back to the suite with Jones and Kevin.

Session 50

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Leah decides to contact Alejandro del Rio in the hopes that he can provide some manner of closure regarding the whole Mark Thomas Bishop thing. He says he should be able to Skype this evening: 7 PM his time, 4 PM, Leah’s time.

Kevin calls Willett again to see if he can make some manner of contact with the kids who visited Angeliy. She says she’ll call him back; when she does, she indicates that Delilah Bishop will be available at Angel City Derby HQ this afternoon, maybe around 4 PM or so. Kevin calls Jones and Leah to see if they want to accompany — Jones should be free, but Leah can’t make it. However, all agree to go to the American Café tonight, perhaps around 7 PM or so. Kevin will meet Jones about a block away from his house (so as to avoid any lurking press), and they make the arrangements to meet Willett at Angel City Derby HQ.

Leah’s conversation with Alejandro doesn’t reveal much that wasn’t already covered by official reports. He and some friends went to his uncle’s cabin in the woods of Modoc County over the long Memorial Day weekend. They met a biker who warned them of danger, and Alejandro brought him along. They were partying Sunday night (really Monday morning) of their long weekend when they heard gunshots and the sound of a chainsaw. His friend Walgreens went out to check, Alejandro ran out to stop him, their friend Jason locked them out, Walgreens got attacked and managed to scramble back inside. Alejandro doesn’t quite remember what happened, but he managed to knock the chainsaw out of the man’s hands, pick it up, and hit him with it. Alejandro doesn’t admit it to Leah, but she can tell by the quaver in his voice: he was scared, and was probably lucky to take out Bishop the way he did. She asks if he’s sure Bishop was killed, and Alejandro says he’s pretty damn sure — the cops came and everything. She thanks him for his time before they end the conversation.

Kevin and Jones head over to the warehouse — with Jones careful to dodge the few remaining press lingering outside his house — where the Angel City Derby players train. As planned, Willett is waiting outside; she is not wearing a badge or gun. They exchange pleasantries, and Jones asks about Special Agent Weaver — why was he so interested in Mark Thomas Bishop when it sounds so much like bad television, and why did she refer him to Jones? She notes that Weaver came to her asking if she knew anything about Jones, and she recommended the meeting. Weaver is also Blue Line, fairly trustworthy, and was apparently tracking this unknown Midwestern serial killer for quite some time. Kevin also asks if he can call Willett, “Patricia,” and she says she guesses that’s fine, although it’s not like they’ve ever had a beer together. Kevin says she should come over some time, and she notes that most of her friends call her Patty.

Only a few people are inside Angel City Derby HQ, waiting for the rest of the team to get off work. Willett waves to one of them, and before long, a young Caucasian woman with pink hair approaches. Introductions are made — Willett indicates Jones and Kevin are researchers with some knowledge of this kind of thing — and she introduces herself as Delilah Bishop. Jones and Kevin ask about her recollections from the incident in February, and she indicates that her sister’s friends have a hangout spot on the beach. She hangs out with them sometimes because they’re pretty cool, for the most part. After staying away from their hangout spot since before Christmas, she wandered back and found a cave where none existed before. She let people know that there was something weird, and then went inside. What she found was this weird Soviet Los Angeles with velociraptors and weird ape-men. (Her sister’s friends refer to it as “the Flipside.”) She spent the day looking around at the weird versions of some old hangouts, then ended up hiding from the police after an apparent curfew. To her surprise, her sister and her sister’s friends pulled up alongside her hiding spot with five people she had never met before. They seemed weird, one was injured, they had guns, and they threatened to kill the group or abandon them here if they didn’t take them to “their” Los Angeles. The strangers wandered into Los Angeles when they returned to “our” side, but her sister called the police, although it’s not like anything came of it.

She notes that none of them have seen the beast allegedly attacking Mike, but it’s clear that something is happening to him. Of note: her sister’s friends all perceived the rotting meat smell that evidently accompanies the monster.

Also of note, they didn’t tell anyone of their experience. Who could they have told?

After Willett reminds Delilah that she is under no obligation to give any personal information to private citizens outside police jurisdiction, and Willett’s assistance ends where the strangers’ begins, Kevin exchanges contact information with her and indicates he would be interested in talking to Delilah’s sister’s friends. She thinks she can arrange that at some near-future time. Kevin also warns her against messing with any future incursions she might encounter; for her part, Delilah is fascinated (and a little horrified) that there is a hidden world out there, and that the gate on the beach might not be the only one.

Kevin, Jones, and Willett part company once outside, but give the usual promise to stay in touch. Jones then chides Kevin for letting someone know that there are more of these gates out there, although he argues that now she knows, and knows to avoid them.

The group — including Felicia, Jane, Jones, Kevin, and Leah (Otis decided to stay home) — reconvenes at the American Café at around 7 PM. Upon entering, Simon plays the familiar strains of “Magical Mystery Tour” on piano before melding back into whatever song he was playing. The place seems relatively empty; apart from the band, the bartender, and John Fist, the only patrons present are the guy in the banana costume (sans banana) and the loser at the end of the bar. People order drinks, although Jones adulterates his usual with a shot of Jägermeister. Kevin’s signature drink, strangely, appears to have changed; he now receives a California lemonade. Leah sends another of whatever John Fist is drinking over to his table.

The group wanders over to John Fist’s table and asks if they can join. Leah notes that she was instructed to speak with him. He pulls an envelope out of his jacket and hands it to Leah — it is, fittingly enough, labeled “Leah” in Clark’s neat handwriting. She opens it and read’s Clark’s letter while John Fist informs the others that he’ll explain the rest when she’s done. She doesn’t show the letter to anyone else, but by the time she finishes, she’s fighting back tears. She asks what John Fist was supposed to tell her; he explains that the bar is theirs if they want it, a payment from Clark for their assistance. Jones is about to consider it when Leah blurts out that they’ll take it, for Clark’s sake.

John Fist begins to explain the details. The lease is owned by a holding company, and they would gain control of that company. Terry Kozlowski has all the details and paperwork. They are free to change the bar, although the only stipulation is that they keep all current employees salaried for one year, whether or not they keep them on staff. And to give adequate warning if they are going to be released from employment. Clark has set aside money for this purpose. But they can change anything else. John Fist is current acting night manager; Clark’s brother, who doesn’t know about all this weirdness, is the day manager.

Leah excuses herself to the bathroom for a moment, where she vomits from the stress. She returns feeling a little better. As for Clark himself, he’s away on business. Indefinitely; he’s unlikely to return. He’s fine, as far as John Fist understands, though. John Fist is also willing to continue managing the establishment if Jones, Kevin, and Leah wish to continue their own activities but still own the bar. For a nominal fee, of course.

When they ask about the place being largely empty, John Fist notes that there’s supposed to be some big, heavy shit coming down. Every augury in the city suggests a big, bad disaster is going to befall Los Angeles, so many of the local occultists have skipped town until it works itself out. Radio Free Pineal has even talked about it, although all prophecies regarding any potential horrific future have been frustratingly vague.

The group thanks John Fist for his assistance, and then decides to leave the American Café to discuss matters. Piling into one car, they discuss the possibility that whatever doom is about to befall Los Angeles is their fault. They decide that closing the breach on the beach should be a priority. Leah contacts Brandon Frazier and gathers that he can be in Los Angeles on Sunday so they can make a ritual exchange. Jones calls Leah Dupree and she says she hasn’t found a ritual that suits their needs yet, although she’s still looking. Hopefully by the end of the week?

With those things in motion, they head to the tar pits so Kevin can attempt to ascertain more information. Concentrating, he senses that the city is reacting to a nonspecific danger, trying to bolster its defenses against an unknown invader. Whatever it is feels cold and clinical, like ozone. He also tries to scry to find the monster that’s attacking Delilah’s sister’s friend, but he cannot find it; perhaps it is out of range?

Finally, since this regards a major disaster to Los Angeles, Jones calls Willett, and they agree to meet at a coffee shop. (Although she’s not trying to actively dodge Detective Daniels, she’s still worried that he’s going to be suspicious, so she wants to meet somewhere that isn’t a private residence.) When all parties arrive, Willett seems slightly perturbed at Jane’s new appearance — she seems confused and vaguely agitated at the presence of this strange woman in their midst, and she has difficulty connecting that the woman with Jones is Jane. Once that’s out of the way, the group presents what they know. Willett indicates she’s not aware of anything big on the horizon; in fact, things have been pretty quiet for the past month or so. The only weird thing she can recall within the past couple of weeks is the death of Elaphalet Browning, better known to Jane and Jones as “Eli.” He was apparently gunned down in a grocery store parking lot. Forensically, he must have realized something was wrong right before it happened, because he was reaching for his gun. One shot to the back of the head; there were no witnesses to see anything, but nearby witnesses heard a loud noise, like something falling or maybe a car backfiring, with the noise possibly suggesting a suppressed shot. Jones asks if she remembers the grocery store, but Willett does not. She can look it up and get back to him. They’ll both try to find more information and reconvene.

As they head back to the American Café, Jones calls Tom to ask how to access the Oracle at Delphi’s. He says it’s in the Back Corridor, and he can show him how to access it; Jones asks if it would be possible to do that tomorrow and Tom agrees.

With that, everybody returns to their cars and heads home. Once she gets home, Leah immediately sets about watching a copy of Casablanca, and receives a shock around minute seven: a couple walks into Rick’s bar, and the man has greying hair. The figure looks back at the camera before he enters Rick’s Café Américain, and he is clearly Clark.

Session 49

Monday, June 20, 2011

Jones is returning back to his hotel room to pack and catch a flight when he finds a man standing outside his door. He is a middle aged Caucasian man with brown hair and a mustache, and he is wearing a suit. He has a portfolio under his arm. He flashes an FBI badge and introduces himself as Special Agent Joseph Weaver. He indicates his associate Detective Patricia Willett recommended he speak with Mr. Jones, and that Jones should have an understanding as to what that means. He needs to speak privately with Mr. Jones, and would his hotel room work? Jones cautiously invites him inside.

He notes that what is to come will seem intensely suspicious: a federal agent, with no lawyers present, interrogating someone about a potential crime. But he assures Jones that there is no crime of which to accuse him, and that he is merely here to gather information.

He shows Jones a picture, apparently some institutional picture like a driver’s license photograph, of a balding man in middle age. It matches the face of the killer he saw that night in the desert. He asks if Jones knows this man. When Jones seems reluctant to answer, Special Agent Weaver elaborates.

It is clear Jones committed another crime on the night he was arrested, but there was not enough evidence for a grand jury, and there were too many anomalies to count. Cell phone records place him in Chicago, and then in Las Vegas after only a two hour gap. But, assuming we accept this evidence as true rather than anomalous, the blood spatter on Jones’ clothes suggests that he fired at someone at point-blank range, probably angled downward suggesting an execution. Weaver suspected it was once in the back of the head, execution-style, but a scar on the victim’s head suggests Jones was looking the victim in the eye when he did it. Blood spatter also suggests he was wearing a jacket at the time.

The blood on his clothes links to three other crime scenes via hits in CODIS. The first (01-JAN-2003) is the murders of Kendrick and Natasha Fitzgerald, both elderly, both of Perryville, MO. Slain by blunt force trauma in an apparent home invasion, trace DNA was found under Natasha’s fingernails indicating a male suspect. The second (04-DEC-2006) is Nancy Crawford of Bancroft, NE. She was stabbed to death, although blood, hair, and skin was recovered from her skillet, indicating she defended herself. The DNA evidence matches the suspect in the Perryville slaying, and the blood type is A+. The third (24-APR-2010) is Charles Thompson of Atlanta, GA, notably the only African-American (the previous three victims were Caucasian). He was camping at Fort Running Bear RV Camping Resort in Idaho, having been attacked with a hatchet and found in nearby Anderson Ranch Reservoir. DNA from hair and fiber linked the potential suspect with the suspect in the previous two slayings.

The Astro van described by Kevin and Leah was found abandoned near Shasta Dam in the vicinity of Redding, CA; the owner was apparently one John Coleman, Native American, of Fruitland, UT, deceased. He was murdered with a kitchen knife in his own home. The van was never reported missing because jurisdictional disputes in the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation prevented proper followup. This suggests that the killer stayed in the region, as he would later kill another: a former New York City police officer named Raul Chase, slain in the early morning hours of 30-MAY-2011. Weaver shows Jones a crime scene photograph of Mr. Chase; he is badly mutilated, with several horrific rents across his torso. He notes, however, that the culprit himself died, showing another crime scene photograph of the perpetrator, shot twice in the chest and then nearly decapitated by some blade, apparently a chainsaw. Agent Weaver only recently learned of this, as it was bouncing around in limbo in Modoc county for several weeks before it hit federal databases. Apparently the killer, one Mark Thomas Bishop, attacked a house party in Modoc County. He was killed by one of the partygoers when he tried to attack them.

With all this, he wants to know if Jones can elaborate on his encounter with the man in the desert. Jones asks how receptive Weaver is to strangeness, and he merely replies that Detective Willett recommended he speak with Mr. Jones. Jones then elaborates that he managed to track the man down. The man freely admitted the crime, and said it was something he was driven to do. Jones then shot him in the head, and as far as he could tell, the man was dead. He drove away when he arrived at the crime scene in the desert.

Special Agent Weaver notes that if Jones had let the proper authorities take care of it, Raul Chase might still be alive. Jones asks if Weaver can confirm Mark Thomas Bishop is dead; Weaver says he has been autopsied and given a funeral, he is quite certain. He asks if Jones can tell him where this encounter in the desert took place, and Jones does so. They exchange contact information, Special Agent Weaver thanks Jones for his cooperation, and the agent takes his leave. Jones boards his plane.

That morning, Kevin receives a knock on his door, and answers to find Detective Willett. She indicates she has something important to discuss with Kevin, and asks if she can enter and they can sit. She then proceeds to explain the purpose of her visit.

She only heard this story herself within the last couple of weeks, but didn’t want to burden anyone during the trial. Particularly since she’s not certain how much time is a factor anymore. Several months ago, there was a case that pinged on Child Protective Services’ radar. A good kid, good in school, extracurricular activities, started showing signs of trouble, and finally, abuse. (His gym teacher evidently noticed scratches.) Coupled with slipping grades and increased fatigue, people apparently suspected abuse, and CPS became involved. They weren’t able to get much out of him, other than he was adamant his parents were not abusing him.

Fast forward several weeks. The kid gets a wound bad enough to require hospital attention, and although he (and his parents) claim it was a skateboarding accident, it is consistent with previous wounds he has sustained. CPS and police question him to no avail. However, when coming out of anesthesia, he rambles about some bizarre encounter — enough for the police liaison to contact Detective Willett as a potential subject matter expert.

It takes her some doing to convince him that she’s not going to call him crazy, get him in trouble, or have him committed. No matter how strange the story, it’s his job to give her the facts as he understands them, and her job to interpret those facts to the best of her ability.

The kid proceeds to explain that he and his friends encountered a thing, something ripping apart a homeless person. One of his friends didn’t go into the building, and the other three couldn’t see the thing, just the massacre in its wake, but he clearly perceived the thing. It was vaguely humanoid, with a leering face and claws like knives as it tore apart this person. It oozed some grotesque sweat, like tallow or gravy, and smelled like rotting meat. (Apparently, everyone could perceive the smell, even if they couldn’t see the creature.) This creature has apparently been stalking him ever since, trying to ambush him — he’s largely adept at not being caught because he has learned to recognize the smell. It scratches him, then flees.

Detective Willett asked for more information regarding the homeless slaying, because it might match something in their database, but that’s when the kid offered more information. It wasn’t here. They apparently had a gathering spot on the beach, and hadn’t been in a while, since winter break. When they arrived, they found a cave where none existed before, and indications their friend had gone inside. So, they followed.

What they found on the other side was a bizarre version of Los Angeles they called “the Flipside.” It was some weird Soviet Los Angeles, featuring raptors and weird ape-people. (They called the one they met Danny, and it attacked them.) They described a shootout between police and some weirdos with funky powers, one of whom grew to twice normal size. More worryingly, they apparently revealed enough information for these weirdos to determine the kids were from a different Los Angeles, and so they offered to help find their friend with the condition that they be shown how to access our Los Angeles.

As such, the kids all managed to return to Los Angeles, but with five of these strange people coming back through the gate with them. And apparently, this strange monster followed them, and has been harassing the one.

Also, this happened back in mid-February. That brings the total number of known and currently free interlopers from the beach Otherspace to seven: the one who initially made contact with Kevin, the five who came back with the children, and the monster. Detective Willett doesn’t know precisely what to do about it, as it’s somewhat above her pay grade, but Kevin says he’ll help. He would be interested in interviewing the people involved, and while the one is underage, one of the people involved is of the age of majority. Detective Willett can set up an interview. She’ll be in touch.

Leah similarly receives a knock on her door, but refuses to answer when she notes it’s The Dealer with a couple of his goons. She refuses to answer, but he looks into the camera for her intercom system and says he knows she’s inside. He has a business proposition to discuss. She balks, but he notes that she’s a shrewder businessman than he; after all, she sold out her father for a television show. That’s cold even for a capitalist such as himself. She opens the door (after donning her veil, of course), and he agrees to leave his security outside if she’ll talk to him. She agrees. He hands off his cigar to one of his bodyguards as he enters.

Inside, he indicates he’s willing to buy Leah’s scars — she’s still wearing the veil to cover the scars on her face — if she’ll allow him to invest in her business ventures. Again, he doesn’t want controlling interest, he just wants to invest on the winning side, as he again reiterates that the King of Scales’ reign can’t last forever. She asks if this is a one-time only deal, or if she can think about it. He tells her she can think about it, as she knows how to reach him. He then takes his leave.

When Jones arrives at LAX, a chauffeur with a sign is awaiting him. However, when he inquires to make certain this is Jasper Fitzroy’s car, the man indicates he’s here on behalf of Leah Dupree — ostensibly the same Dupree with whom he was supposed to meet three months ago regarding the ritual to close the Otherspace on the beach. The chauffeur leads him to a limousine; this one is a trifle strange, as one of the passenger rear door is larger and more elaborate than normal, which Jones surmises would allow wheelchair access. He enters the limo and meets a bespectacled dark-haired Caucasian woman smartly dressed in a suit and sitting in a wheelchair. A couple of armed guards are at hand.

She introduces herself as Leah Dupree, and indicates she was supposed to meet with Mr. Jones three months ago. He sought some ritual, and in exchange, he thought he had the means to heal her current affliction. He excuses himself so he can contact Jasper and let him know he made other travel arrangements before proceeding. He then notes that, when last he heard — admittedly some time ago — that offer still stood on his end. He specifically needs a ritual to close Otherspace gates; Leah Dupree says she will have to return to Chicago to investigate, but she may have something that meets his qualifications. They exchange contact information, and she says she will contact him when she has further information.

She drops him off where he asks, some blocks away from his home, and he lets Jasper know about the change of venue. Fitzroy’s car delivers him home.

He is surprised when he enters his home and finds Jane, as she appears different. She is objectively the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen, so much so that her details are hard to hold in the mind — it’s only because he knows her so well that he’s able to do it at all. He is shocked, and more than a little perturbed, but he manages to roll with it. She just says it’s something that happened while he was gone. Despite his distaste, they manage to have a lovely reunion.

Leah also receives a call from Terry Kozlowski regarding the American Café. Although Clark hasn’t been seen in several months, the American Café reopened in April. Clark had some instructions for Leah, and she should see John Fist about them, as he’s currently running the American Café while Clark is laying low.

The next day, June 21, Jones and Jasper Fitzroy have a telephone conversation regarding his defense. They’re still plugging along at work, and there are likely some things that will require resolution in Las Vegas, but there’s time. Jones should just take a couple of weeks to himself before having a meeting with Jasper. Jasper notes he recalls Jones saying something about a girlfriend, and recommends he take her on vacation somewhere, anywhere, just to get away from things for a couple of weeks; after all, family is the most important thing. Jasper will cover the cost. Jones thanks him, even though he knows he has too much to do to leave Los Angeles right now.

That evening, Felicia, Kevin, Jane, Jones, Leah, and Otis meet at Mabel’s house. They largely spend the time catching up and sharing the information they’ve compiled over the intervening months since they last met. Kevin shares the tale about the kids who apparently accessed Khalifastan, while Jones notes that the killer who attacked Kevin and Leah is apparently dead, having been killed in Modoc County, CA about a month ago. (Leah, for her part, already heard about this, although she didn’t know it was the same man who attacked her: Alejandro del Rio, a modeling contact of Lorenzo, is apparently the man who killed him. Mark Thomas Bishop attacked their house party in Modoc County.) Mabel seems to recognize the description of the killer as a potential avatar of the Faceless Man or Dark Stalker, something foul like that. Whatever the case, channeling the avatar yields benefits similar to the now-codified slasher antagonist of various horror movies. Jones also notes the back corridor at Delphi’s — Mabel is apparently familiar — and the two men who showed it to him, Shake and Tom. Shortly thereafter, he gets a call from Tom, noting that he has Jones’ stuff. Jones says he’ll meet Tom tomorrow to retrieve it.

Leah is also sure to comment on Jane’s new look, noting that she looks fabulous, and asking if there’s anything she can do to duplicate it. (Being that it’s a side effect of channeling the Naked Goddess, probably not.) While they’re talking, Mabel notes to Jones that he’s going to steal Jane away from him. Somewhat despondent, he notes that he’s not sure why she did it, if she was going to take on the path of The Flying Woman. Both Kevin and Mabel admonish him to ask her about it.

That night, a somewhat tipsy Jones broaches the subject with Jane. She explains that this was something she’s been wanting to do for a while. There’s a church in Boyle Heights that is sacred to the Naked Goddess, and Jane arrived in Los Angeles trying to make a pilgrimage to the spot. In fact, it’s why she initially approached Jones: he looked like he had a bit of money, and the sisters are always taking cash donations. Of course, when he turned out to be more charming and gentlemanly than she expected, she wasn’t inclined to go through with it…

Regardless, she and Rosie pooled their money and went while he was away, just about a week ago. It was a transcendent experience. When Jones balks, Jane assures him that this path isn’t going to separate them; she’s not going to ascend into the sky. In fact, she argues that this path is what led her to Jones in the first place. She still has the plan of riding it as long as she can until she falters, and then she’ll do something else. This seems to allay his fears.

The next morning, Jones meets with Shake and Tom at a local coffee shop. Tom has Jones’ duffel bag with him. After small talk, Jones asks why Tom kept the bag, and what Jones owes him. Tom says he doesn’t owe him anything; risk makes the world go round, and holding onto incriminating evidence is certainly a risk. (Shake argues that it’s chemical change, and they seem to briefly rehash some old, relatively frequent debate.) He mostly just wishes they had been more helpful, although he’s glad Jones managed to rescue his friends. Jones also asks for a few details about Delphi’s, largely regarding the owner, a Merchant avatar by the name of Matthias Katsaros, and Tom indicates he’s happy to show Jones around some time. Finally, Tom notes that Jones’ firearm is probably a perfect candidate for the Murderer’s Crows ritual. He doesn’t know much about it, and doesn’t have access to this ritual himself, but based on what he’s heard, that gun is probably appropriate to enact it.

With that, Shake and Tom their leave. Jones takes his duffel bag and heads back home.

Session 48

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jones has a long car ride to consider things.

He doesn’t have a problem with killing that man and leaving him in the desert, and he accepts that horrible things happen all the time, but he still thinks there’s a chance he can change it. Maybe it’s not too late for Kevin and Leah.

When the car gets close to the crime scene, Jones asks if Shake and Tom can take his bug-out bag, along with his jacket and gun. He wants to go investigate the dump site. They agree, and say they’ll stick around for a bit.

Jones walks from the road out into the desert, in the direction of the flashing lights. It appears that all manner of emergency vehicles are present. Jones first tries to sneak through an area where there aren’t many police officers, but manages to startle one wandering near the edges of the crime scene. He pulls his gun, but Jones manages to keep him calm, explaining that he’s just trying to help. The officer sends him on his way.

Jones then takes another jaunt through the desert, coming closer to the ambulances. He sneaks into the back of one, finding gurneys with sheet-covered bodies atop them. He peers under to find Kevin and Leah, badly wounded by various axe wounds. When he checks, they both have weak, thready pulses. Leah coughs, spurting up blood. Jones immediately runs out of the ambulance to get the attention of nearby emergency personnel.

Although EMTs take his advice and move to check on the presumed “corpses,” Jones is recognized, questioned, and placed under arrest.

The next several weeks are a blur for everyone involved. Kevin and Leah awaken, days later, in the hospital, apparently having been in comas for almost a week. Their lives are a blur of doctors appointments, visiting family members, and agents of the press who apparently heard of their miraculous recovery. Leah also gets a visit from Clark, both to check on her and to let her know he has something to discuss, but it can wait until she’s better. Webcrawler also makes contact with Kevin and learns of his predicament; he decides to just charge Kevin money for his services (he requests payment in something called “Bitcoin”), and says they’ll perhaps revisit this whole affair at some future time.

Their recovery, a combination of rest and physical therapy, takes months. During that time, Leah is certain to maintain contact with Jimmy lessthanthree Brenda. For his part, Jasper seems willing to allow her to use this strange accountant, although he is going to throttle back her access to the family money until he has proven that he isn’t going to just run away with it. She considers this arrangement fair, and doesn’t press the issue.

Meanwhile, Jones is processed and calls his lawyer, Terry Kozlowski. (Fortunately for all involved, Terry is also licensed in Nevada.) When Terry arrives the following day, he explains what happened in complete detail, and gives Terry instructions on what to do — tell Jane to stay away, check on what happened to Kevin and Leah, check on what happened to the axe-murderer’s Astro van, and give Jasper Fitzroy an abbreviated (and mundane) version of events.

Jones also receives a visit from Tom, of all people, asking what he wants to do with his things. Jones tells him to hang onto them for now.

A few days pass in county lockup while events proceed. Terry successfully argues that Jones does not pose a flight risk, and so bail is set, and Jones spends the days preparing for trial at his home in Los Angeles. Jasper Fitzroy sends his attorneys from Gibson Dunn to see if Jones needs anything; he does not, although Fitzroy apparently retains criminal attorneys from Eisner Gorin to assist with Jones’ legal defense.

Discussions with the legal team note that Jones should keep and fight for his job, even though he is likely to be fired in the interim; they can sort all of that out after the trial.

The media gets involved when they realize this is the same Obediah Jones from the shooting at the American Café on January 11, and at the altercation at the Far Bar on February 1. At that point, it becomes a topic of media conversation: some find the circumstances of Jones’ presence at the crime scene suspicious, and advocate further investigation, while others note that the inconsistencies are distracting everyone from the fact that he’s a hero.

The involvement of the media rankles Jones’ sensibilities, but he understands that his lawyers operate well under these conditions.

Jones’ trial on the charge of evidence tampering officially begins on May 10, 2011. (Unofficially, there is a lot of evidence to suggest he committed another crime, possibly even murder, although investigation doesn’t yield enough evidence to bring before a grand jury.)

Although pretrial motions look unfavorably upon Jones — after all, there are many forensic anomalies suggesting his involvement in this or another crime — his defense shines when it comes time to testimony. Both Kevin and Leah take the stand, and both paint a picture of a steadfast friend who saved their lives. This, both in the courtroom and in the media, is the turning point of the trial. (Kevin also notes his encounter on the road before meeting the unnamed killer, assisting one Julissa Livingston. The mention gets her a brief news interview, and her glowing description of Kevin and Leah further helps their case.)

After a weekend of deliberation, Obediah Jones is found “Not Guilty” on the morning of June 20. His presence at the scene of the crime is indisputable, but the prosecution is unable to prove criminal intent in any possible evidence tampering case.

Session 47

Monday, March 21, 2011

About a half-hour outside Vegas, Kevin and Leah stop so Kevin can assista middle-aged, matronly, African-American woman with California plates whose car has broken down in the desert heat. She’s overjoyed at the prospect of good Samaritans, and is keen to continue on her way after a long weekend in Vegas. It’s about another half-hour or so when they find another stopped car, an old Astro van with blinds and Utah plates. A skinny, balding guy in a suit is trying to fight with a toolbox while his arm is in a sling. Kevin stops and goes to help him; the passenger front tire is flat. While Kevin is investigating, the guy goes to the back of the van, opens the doors, and pulls out a fire axe as his arm slips out of the sling.

Leah screams to get Kevin’s attention, shouting that the man has an axe. Kevin moves to the far side of the vehicle, keeping the van between him and the axe-wielding man. While the man moves to catch up, Leah grabs a lighter and hairspray, and Kevin casts a spell to make attacks tend to flow around him. It’s hardly immortality, but any barrier between him and violence is worthwhile at this point.

As the suited man catches up to Kevin, Leah exits the car. Kevin manages to send him sprawling back with something, a blast of force akin to being hit by a wave or the crushing pressure of the deep ocean. Both Leah and the suited man freak out at this display of magickal power, but their reactions are totally different. Leah freezes, unsure of what she just saw and too afraid to approach. The man loses it, charging at Kevin with the axe. The fight is swift and brutal as the man’s axe bounces off Kevin’s clavicle. This prompts Kevin to freak out and charge the man, although he is eventually able to overpower Kevin and fell him with the axe.

When the man knocks Kevin backwards and then disappears around the front of the van, the urgency prompts Leah to rush forward. Kevin is on the ground — unconscious? dead? — bleeding from numerous axe wounds. The man is poised to deliver one more blow, but Leah tackles him. Although she fights valiantly, the man in the suit is surprisingly strong for his size. She takes several defensive wounds in the struggle before he manages to completely overpower her. She finally pleads for her life, saying that she won’t tell anyone if they let her go. If he wants anything, she’ll give it to him; her father is very wealthy. He replies, “This is what I want,” before her hits her with the flat of the axe and she loses consciousness.

Jones continues to sit in Smitty’s awaiting a phone call. Felicia calls first, and he explains that there’s a woman who can possibly assist with their Otherspace problem, but she’s paralyzed and would need someone to treat her. Jones is sure that Felicia knows that she doesn’t have to do it — they have other leads and might be able to renegotiate — but she agrees, although he notes she does seem hesitant. She finally says that if he finds another option that he’s comfortable with doing, feel free to do it, but she’s willing to do this. He notes that she might have to travel to Chicago, but he would cover it.

A bit later, Brian calls. He managed to get ahold of his contact and she’s willing to meet tonight at 7 PM in one of the private dining rooms at The Peninsula Chicago. Jones agrees and Brian says he’ll let her know.

As the afternoon continues, Jones eventually gets a call from Otis asking if he knows where Kevin is. He notes that Kevin went to Las Vegas, but left hours ago. Jones says that’s odd, but not to worry. They probably just got stopped somewhere. He’ll make some inquiries.

Jones, however, is immediately on alert.

He calls Kevin and Leah, and each of their phones ring a few times before going to voicemail.

Next he calls Brandon Frazier. Brandon says Kevin and Leah left hours ago, ostensibly to head straight back to L.A. He met them in the lobby of the MGM Grand, for what it’s worth.

Jones calls Willett, asking if she has any contacts with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department she can call. Has anyone come through a hospital? Any highway patrol reports of abandoned cars or anything? Willett says she’ll look into it.

Jones calls Clark with the news, asking if he can do whatever weird summoning thing he does. He hangs up. He calls back a few minutes later. No response. At Jones’ request, he tries again. No response.

Jones calls Frazier again, asking if he knows anybody who could find his friends. Frazier recommends a group, and says they’re easy; they’ll probably just be interested in money. He gives Jones a number, strangely with a Chicago area code.

Jones calls. A man with a New England accent answers the phone. Jones asks if he’s in Chicago. He is. They make arrangements to meet.

Meeting with his contact, he finds two men. One is an intensely Irish man with a flaming red goatee wearing a trenchcoat and driving cap. The other is an African-American man with a scraggly goatee, Afro, and a puffy coat. Jones recognizes the latter man; he delivered Jones’ bag on Sage Price’s behalf at the D.C. airport. They introduce themselves as Tom and Shake. They ask for a few more details regarding the missing people, and say if they have everything, they can head out immediately. Jones asks if they’re driving; they give each other knowing looks and say they are not. They explain that there is a Back Corridor between Chicago and Vegas, and they will be there in a matter of minutes. He wants to go with them, and they agree.

Jones uses the phone again before leaving. He calls Brian, asking to let the contact know that an emergency has arisen, and he won’t be able to make the meeting. Brian says he’ll pass it along, but also tells Jones to call the hotel and let them know he cannot attend the meeting with the Dupree party. He does so.

There’s also another call from Willett in there somewhere. Nobody has heard anything regarding anyone matching the descriptions of Kevin or Leah. No highway patrol reports of an abandoned car matching the description of Leah’s vehicle.

Jones returns to Tom and Shake, and they head out. The trio arrives at Delphi’s, apparently part of the same chain as found in Las Vegas. The club is not yet open for the night, but a line is forming, but Tom and Shake manage to squeak through, as the bouncers know them. Jones brought his go-bag with him, and Tom informs the people manning the metal detectors that he has a gun, so not to worry when the detector beeps. The dance floors are empty, but Tom and Shake head toward some manner of back office. Tom exchanges a few words with the guards outside, and they open the door, leading into a hallway. A tangle of passages and backrooms — featuring a few occupants here and there — eventually leads back out into another dance floor, also empty. The trio emerges in the early evening air — the sun is still up and the air is warm. They’re standing outside Delphi’s in Las Vegas.

A phone call later, some nameless valet brings another car around, and Jones, Shake, and Tom enter. Tom starts driving, heading west toward the desert. Whenever there’s a choice to be made, he just drives on autopilot, or picks the exit by flipping a coin or flipping through the radio.

Tom, as Shake tells Jones, is lucky. He’s also good with a gun. Shake is emphatically not. If this turns to combat, Shake is going to stay behind; he just makes drugs. If Jones wants PCP that’ll let you kick out a police car door, there might be some in the trunk. When asked, Tom just instructs Jones to stay just behind him; let Tom go first. Jones agrees.

They drive out into the desert for an hour or so before Tom turns off onto a dirt road. Far off the road, they find Leah’s car, hidden behind a hill and some desert scrub. A patch of disturbed earth sits nearby. Jones gets out of the car as it rolls to a stop and investigates. He recognizes that there’s a lot of evidence here, so he doesn’t want to get close and contaminate the crime scene: it’s clear Leah’s car pulled up, somebody buried something — maybe about six feet long and a foot or two across — and then left on foot.

Jones doesn’t bother with it, he just records the GPS coordinates and sends them to Willett, telling her he won’t be there when the police arrive. He tells Tom to drive, and he does.

Another couple of hours pass before the car finds itself behind an old Astro van. Tom indicates that whatever he’s been following has led him here. Jones asks if Tom is ready to cut the van off; he is. Everyone makes certain their seat belts are buckled. Tom rushes around the van and slams into it. It manages to stay on the road, but he pulls ahead and blocks the road. Tom and Jones both step out and draw their guns. (Jones was initially thinking Tom had a shotgun given his, “Stay behind me,” comment, but now he sees Tom carries an eight-shot .38 snub nose.) Jones shouts for the driver to get out. Shake worms his way to the driver’s seat.

The driver steps out, a thin, balding man in a grey suit. He’s disheveled and dusty, with evidence of both hard work and a quick attempt at cleanup. He kneels in the dirt, his hands above his head. He seems far too calm for a man with two guns pointed at him.

While Tom keeps him under the sights of his revolver, Jones investigates the van. He finds a bedroll, a lot of radio equipment, a shovel, a fireaxe — is that rust? blood? — and other assorted items that don’t seem terribly relevant right now. He asks the man why he did it, why he killed them. The man replies because it’s what he does, because they just happened to pass on the road. Did he do it for the charges? The man chuckles and says Jones must be, “one of those.” Visions led him to where he needed to go.

Jones acts. He pulls the trigger, a loud gunshot cracking the desert night. Tom and Shake both jump, maybe not quite expecting the bullet right then. Jones steadies his breathing. He retrieves the shell casing when it’s cool enough to touch, and Jones and Tom step back into the car. Shake turns the car around on this small desert road, and they start making the drive back to Las Vegas.


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