.45cal: The Setup
Chapter 1: The setup
Benjamin Scott entered the foyer of the .45cal headquarters downtown. Jericho, the enigmatic but brilliant man who ran the company had asked to see him. Generally, Ben tried to accommodate Jericho whenever possible. The man did, after all, write his paycheck.
Exchanging pleasantries with the receptionist, Benjamin made his way to the second level of the basement where Jericho kept his office. Somehow the windowless, bomb-shelter quality of the basement suited Jericho’s personality. Some said it reminded him of his time in the war.
“Boss. How’s it hanging?” Benjamin grabbed a seat in front of the desk, pulled it around and sat reversed on it, with one leg on either side of the chair’s back and his arms crossed and resting on it.
“Scott, I have a lead on the new candidate I want you to check out.” Jericho shifted as he spoke, leaning forward in his chair and opening a small cigar box on his desk. The rich smell of tobacco leaf wafted out as he chose one from the box and brought it under his nose a took a whiff, seemingly pleased.
“I have it on good authority that Fuchs likes to stay at a little private place in Julian.”
Benjamin groaned as soon as he heard the name of the small town east of San Diego.
“Oh, crap. Julian?” Benjamin shook his head, “Domingo and his boys are up there. They don’t like me very much after our last run in.”
Jericho flipped open a zippo lighter and began puffing away on the cigar in the age-old ritual of ignition. Once the cigar was lit he paused in his imitation of a chimney to hold it up and admire the orange glow and the smoke trailing from it.
“It can’t be helped, Scott, you are just going to have to play hard-to-get with the dogs. We need to know what Fuchs is up to.” Jericho brought up the cigar and took a few short puffs, holding the smoke in his mouth for just a second. “Look, our eyes and ears in Sacramento have connected him with Greer and we’ve had word from Susquehannah in San Fran that Judge Rikkert could be involved as well. It starts with Fuchs since he is in our back yard. I need you on this, Scott.”
“Wait, Judge Rikkert? Brady Rikkert? Domingo and the Mongrels or not, I’ve been looking for a chance to square off with Brady and his Bunch up in Frisco. I’ll do Julian if you let me take my findings up north and brush Brady’s teeth with it. Toothpaste optional.”
“Something told me you might feel that way. Standard expenses only. I’m reimbursing gas, no extras.”
“Boss, I told you. Starla was pretty standard and I ordered no extras whatsoever.”
Jericho reached into a desk drawer and pulled out the familiar sight of an expense report and plunked it down on the desk, pointing at one particular line for Ben to look at. The itemized charge—which was billed to a mr. ‘Bon Scott’ at .45cal news corp—read:
Exotic Stress Relief Massage – with Extras.
“Julian. No extras?”
“Julian. No extras.”
Benjamin drove cautiously several miles out of Julian when he caught sight of his first Mongrel, boldly wearing his patches with bandana-ends and long hair flying in the wind as he rode his bike down the road.
Scott had been following him at a safe distance for several minutes without issue so Ben began to relax. They passed an open pasture with the occasional picturesque wooden fence when Ben lost sight of the Mongrel’s motorcycle. He slowed down a little and took the winding road gently, slowly scanning with his eyes.
Too late, he heard the bikes before he saw them and three Mongrels on choppers pulled up beside and behind Ben’s car. The Mongrel next to the driver’s side window had long red hair tied in a black bandana with heavily tattooed arms. He wore his Mongrel MC patch and So. Cal lower rocker proudly, and so did his brothers. In addition to the typical patches you would see for various acts of violence and depravity, there was also a Wolf’s Paw patch on both shoulders of his jacket. Looking back, the other members did, too.
The curious entourage slowed down and Ben rolled his window down, smiling as though this was what he had planned all along. He yelled over the wind to the Mongrel riding next to the driver’s side window, who he happened to recognize as one of the brutes, but one with half a brain. Scott usually preferred brutes without any brains at all.
“Spot! Is that you? Almost didn’t recognize you without your winter coat! Some bitch made you shave your beard?” Benjamin found that if you act like you are not afraid of a ravening psychopath, they tend to treat you like family. Or eat you. But they might do that anyway. “I was hoping to meet with Domingo. Can you set it up for tomorrow? We’ll shoot a game of pool and I’ll buy the boys a round.”
The Mongrel gave an expression of amusement, tinged with something a little darker.
“It’s a good thing you are going to meet Domingo. He’s been wanting to talk with you for a while, brother. Don’t be late tomorrow.”
Without another word or signal, the three Mongrels sped around Benjamin’s car and streaked off with a sound like a jet engine taking off. Benjamin sighed in relief; at least he wouldn’t be bothered any more today by the Mongrel pack.
Benjamin gave the car a little more gas and considered his options.
“This is not a good start to my weekend.” He spent the rest of the trip to Julian wondering how he was going to explain to a bunch of Werewolves why the last time he partied with them they ended up shaved and unable to remember most of the events of the previous night.
Fuchs was taking some pains to make sure he was unobserved, supposedly relaxing out of the spotlight but Benjamin found a number of telltales that led him to believe that his mark was staying in a small private rental about a half mile from the main street of Julian.
A lucky break showed Fuchs through a window as a curtain was clumsily moved while Benjamin happened to be watching through a set of infrared binoculars a while back.
Fuchs was light-skinned with a short, conservative haircut and glasses. There also appeared to be at least one person in a black government goon-suit.
Now that his target was confirmed, he could get to work. His investigative skills and instincts began taking over as he contemplated the situation. The place was a two-story house with a fenced off property and an automatic front gate. The neighborhood was quiet, with similarly fenced residences on either side and a street light that seemed more an affectation than a convenience over the flood lights of the property.
He took down the makes, models and license plates of the cars on the premises and entered them into his smartphone and sent them back to the office for some cyber sleuthing in DMV records. One unremarkable black sedan had the sort of government plates that are only subtle if you don’t know what you are looking for, but the other two vehicles could belong to anyone.
He got out of his car and pulled a rolled cigarette from a case and lit it, then closed his car door quietly.
This was his favorite part, besides nailing the bastards; his first drag on the case. There will be many more, but the only one sweeter is the final drag of the case.
Casually, he strolled down the street and pulled out his phone once more noting that there was a signal coming from a wireless router on the house as he neared it.
Smartphones are useful tools in the right hands and can replace all kinds of quasi-legal spy equipment—with quasi-legal spy apps.
Networks are only as strong as money can buy and it is always cheaper to break in. Within two minutes Benjamin had broken into the houses wifi network and was perusing the remarkably open computers and devices attached, soon coming across an active video chat session taking place. He set his phone to record as much of the video as possible while he continued to browse for the perfect spot to leave them a gift; a gift that will allow him more in-depth access from something other than a phone in some place more comfortable than a street corner.
Cigarette almost burnt down to a nub, Ben put his phone away and continued walking, slightly worried he was spending too much time in front of the house. He happily noted that no one appeared to be on outside guard duty as he walked back towards his car.
Any thoughts about things being too easy were definitely offset by his impending meeting with Domingo. Night was their time. All the roads and avenues of egress would be watched until morning, otherwise he would be hauling ass home, like, right-freaking-now, man. Well, there was some hope.
Sometimes it is hard not to laugh, especially when your life is in danger.
Domingo is a scary guy, and couple that with the fact that he is a scary werewolf and it truly becomes a spicy meatball.
“Scott, I didn’t think you were gonna show your face around here voluntarily. Thought I might have to send some boys out to convince you to come.” Domingo’s canines were visible with each word.
“And miss out on your hospitality? Look, man, I know we didn’t part company on the best of terms—“
“You got to leave with your hair. Man, you’ve got about fifteen seconds to explain yourself.” Benjamin Scott certainly disliked the manner in which the angry werewolf toothed the word, ‘man.’
“Domingo, first off, that was a hell of a night. Who would’ve thought those Setter bastards could drink so much? They weren’t just fooling around, they really were Irish.”
“Ben, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”
“Would you believe I was trying to save you and your brothers from killer ticks?”
Domingo’s eyes narrowed dangerously and he took a step forward.
Fainting seemed like a valid solution to this issue, but he knew that was only a temporary solution. It was time to bring the sincerity.
“Look, Domingo, I was hot on a case chasing a sorcerer from Arizona to San Diego and he made a stop near your group and released a mutated tick strain. I was able to call in a favor and contain most of it, but I did not have the resources to quarantine them, nor was I about to convince an army of drunk werewolves that they need a close cut shave. Real close-cut.” Domingo had a thoughtful look on his face. Ben took a second to reflect on how much more attractive that look is than the ravening death-beast look, then continued his explanation.
“The Setters and the Mongrels were right in the line of fire of those fat little mutated bastard-bugs. I did what I had to do. And it wasn’t just for your pretty mug, if those things had gotten loose, laid eggs on you and your boys and spread it around, there would have been serious hell to pay.”
Domingo definitely seemed mollified. Then he slowly smiled, a big toothy grin. Ben felt like a rabbit beside a wolf. Then he heard the hair-clippers behind him. Oh well, he’ll look alright bald.
An hour later and a few inches of hair shorter, Ben left the campsite frequented by the Mongrels and headed down the road back towards San Diego and the headquarters of his company, .45 Cal.
The wind started to pick up and the horizon began to darken with clouds. Ben could smell the rain coming; wet dust has a distinct odor, especially in dry Southern California. Ben decided right then and there that the wind feels weird on a freshly shaven heard.
“Scott, you got a hair cut.” Jericho doesn’t miss much.
“You know me boss, riding the ragged edge of fashion.” Ben ran his hand over his freshly shaved head. “Incidentally, for being covered in it, werewolf barbers do not seem to have any special skill when it comes to cutting it.”
Jericho blew out a ring of smoke from his characteristic stogie. “You were looking shaggy anyways. Just be thankful they didn’t hump your leg; I don’t think you would’ve made it.”
Ben held a thoughtful expression on his face for a few seconds, then said: “There’s a lovely image.” He shook his read as if to rid himself of the thought. “We didn’t exactly find the jackpot, but it wasn’t fruitless either. Joshua has got a lot of potential. He’s a natural journalist.”
“You mean he’s a natural at getting into places where no one is supposed to be and to expose things no one wants to hear about?”
When Ben surveyed Fuchs’ safehouse in Julian he left behind a digital back door that he would be able to find and enter at a later, much more comfortable time. Such a time was now, and the place was the basement of the .45 Cal headquarters in Downtown San Diego.
The building sat across from the Main Post Office and served as the Central Library building until it moved to an ultra-modern nine floor citadel several blocks away. A building that stood for truth and knowledge has a way of choosing its tenants.
The tech intern at .45 Cal was an incredibly bright young fellow named Joshua who had a bright career as a hacker if things didn’t work out in the quasi-legal journalism department.
After several minutes of snooping around the target network, several promising leads came to light. The names of a few prominent local politicians cropped up in promising places, as did references to a ‘Project iBall.’
Ben turned to Joshua, “What, did those fruity geniuses not iKill that damn gimmick yet?”
Joshua chuckled, pointedly looking at his own smartphone. “it was a pretty successful ad campaign. Hey, what are we looking for, anyways?”
“Things that look interesting. Pretty much a motto to live by.”
Ben shifted in his seat, getting comfortable and taking a long pull of his coffee. “Welcome to journalism, Joshua. Paranoia is our best friend. Ever notice how things in real life tend to be real messy, but stuff in fiction just works out like a carpet unrolling? Good rule of thumb, if things fit together a little too cleanly, all you need is an angry journalist with a raging truth-on for his fellow man and voila! Instant, messy-truth. Just add water!”
The duo got down to serious, caffeine-fueled sleuthing. After several hours filled with eye rubbing, they began to feel a glimmer of hope. A series of transactions that seemed innocuous, but when viewed with the greater picture in mind, they were much less innocent. Scott began formulating a theory in his mind, a small one at first but it was gaining momentum.
San Diego had had a series of bad fires centered around it in the last decade. Shortly before the Cedar fire broke out in 2004 the city signed a new contract for fire engines. Right around the same time, a number of power issues started that culminated in a mass power out in 2011, supposedly caused by a substation failure from Arizona. The city changed their contract workers who began a third-party monitor of the grid, and who were constantly recommending changes to the system.
Fuchs' name shows up in a scary number of documents pertaining to all these events. Almost like he knew what was going to happen before it happened, or worse yet, he was pulling strings. Though the pattern was becoming more solidified in his mind, Scott still couldn't figure out the motivations behind it all. What was the payoff? Was it political power? Industry monopoly? Who stood to win or lose? Too many questions without answers. Time to eliminate some of them.
"Let's do some monstering. Time to go out."
Scott was having a coffee in downtown when he caught sight of a familiar pedicab. Paying quickly he headed out and down towards the convention center, with it's distinctive sail-like shape. Scott knew the routes of man of the pedicabs nearby and wanted to catch his old friend Barrett for a friendly chat.
Crossing over the trolley tracks near the convention center, Scott briefly mused about the station signs, and the fact that they actually swap them for genuine klingon-language signs during comic-con. Fantastic. He caught sight of Barrett's yellow pedicab as he came down the street with a young couple, then dropped them off near the trolley tracks where Scott had been a moment earlier. Barrett continued his loop and caught sight of Scott a moment later and pedaled towards him.
"Scott! Haven't seen you in a while, how's it going?"
"Hey, Barrett. Great, I've been catching up with a lot of old acquaintances recently; Just last weekend I bumped into Domingo and his boys and we had such a...pleasant...reunion. We were laughing, he was snarling, we joked about shaving him."
Barrett seemed to take that in for second before fully reacting.
"You shaved a werewolf?" Barretts voice rose almost a full octave towards the end of his sentence. "And you are still around? Now that impresses, dude, that impresses."
As much as Scott loved small talk with Barrett, it wasn't his personality that made the pedicab driver such an asset but the fact that he saw a lot of San Diego and he had a great memory for faces.
"Barrett, I want to show you a couple of photos of people I'm interested in." Scott handed Barrett his phone and showed him how to flip through the images. "Seen any of these fine specimens down here?"
Barrett looked through the images, staring at each briefly. "This handsome fella, and this other not-so-lucky-in-the-face dude; they've been staying at the Andaz, I've seen them coming in and out of there several times. And this one lady, she seems familiar but I can't place her. If I do, I'll send you a message."
Scott thanked the pedicab driver and paid him for the information, declining the offer to ride. It was time to plan a kidnapping.
TO BE CONTINUED…