Chapter 1- The Robbery
It was, in her centuries on the planet, quite possibly the most comfortable chair the woman now known as Misty Johnson had ever sat in. In the top three, at least. The four hours she’d spent on the Scottish throne a few hundred years ago might come fairly close, but then again, thrones couldn’t swivel 360 degrees. Nor could a throne lean back so you could put your feet up on the desk, which was how Misty was sitting now. Her booted feet and habitually messy blue jeans were most certainly leaving minute traces of dirt on the spotless blotter at the center of the well-organized, immaculate desktop. If only her own desk were so tidy, she thought. She’d only had it for a few weeks and it was already strewn with papers, empty soda cans and an admittedly bloated collection of knickknacks and curiosities. One tended to accumulate quite a few mementos over the centuries.
In contrast, the desk before her was the definition of minimalism. She knew this, of course, because she had already examined it carefully the moment she’d entered the room. Well, perhaps not until after sweeping the area for traps, spies and other assorted dangers, natural or otherwise. Her well-honed instincts usually took control in situations such as this, a trait which had served her well more than once, as that incident at the Bastille had certainly proved. The desk itself held nothing more than seemingly standard office supplies- notepads, post-its, personalized pens and the like. Seemingly normal, that is, for in Misty’s experience- and in her line of work- nothing could be considered ordinary until put to the utmost scrutiny. And perhaps not even then, as a speck of doubt would usually linger in her mind- another longstanding habit. She supposed, then, that the cabinets in the office’s waiting room could possibly hold rare and significant artifacts. They were locked, though, and since she was a guest in this office- though a paid one- she regretfully opted to keep her snooping to a minimum- for the time being, at least. But if nothing happened in the next hour or so, then surely no one could fault her for investigating further her reason for being here. That’s what she did, after all- investigate. At least that’s what it would say in the yellow page ad, Dru had assured her.
And she felt like she could use the publicity. She’d been reluctant to enter her new calling a few months ago, coerced into it as she was. But the more she worked at it the better it felt, and the closer she came to finding truth for people, which was the point of it, after all. Somehow, though, she didn’t seem to fit a typical client’s view of a private dick. Distraught wives and jealous husbands didn’t expect a freckle-faced, green-eyed woman with shoulder-length, curly red hair as much as, say, a grizzled gray man in a rumpled gray suit. Misty blamed the movies for that one. Of course, it didn’t help that she appeared to be in her mid-twenties- something which hadn’t been remotely true for centuries.
The woman known as Misty Johnson was taller than most women, especially those born in her time. Currently she was almost 5’ 10”, although the whims of magic had caused that number to fluctuate over the centuries. She constantly wore a pair of black leather boots, which added another couple of inches to her height, but that she swore were the most comfortable item of footwear she’d ever known, and of course she’d known many. Along with the boots, she always wore a pair of nondescript blue jeans and a plain white blouse. Whether she had one set of clothing that she washed daily, or a closet full of identical items, like Charlie Brown with his zigzag tee, she would never tell. Her only accent to this standard outfit was her vest- her most prized possession. Right now it was a sensible black, all the better for this stealth mission. Still, he hadn’t gone the full nine yards with black clothing, as Dru had. He was so dressed for stealth he hardly even needed the Shadow Stone she had given him.
Thinking about her partner, she almost felt sorry for him- almost, but not quite. He’d certainly drawn the short straw on this assignment, and, as it seemed, most assignments since she’d brought him into her nascent agency a few weeks ago. Right now she could picture him, crouched in a dark corner as he undoubtedly was, camera ready to videotape the necessary evidence the client required. And he didn’t even have an extra door between himself and the would-be ne’er-do-well they were expecting. For a moment, Misty considered going into the other room to check on him, but ultimately decided to sit and wait for a sign…
…like, for instance, an iridescent teal glow shooting under the door crack and through the frosted glass pane. It was coming from the waiting room, where Dru was stationed. And it meant the wait was over. It was time to act.
Misty slid the chair back and popped to her feet, striding purposefully to the door. She adjusted the long sleeves of her white blouse, patted her black vest, assuring herself that it was there, as it always was. Her boots clicked on the hardwood, but she paid no heed. Things would move quickly in a moment, and by then stealth wouldn’t matter. Following the plan she had developed and explained to Dru, the two detectives would give the intruder minimal time to begin his nefarious deed-whatever it happened to be. Knowing the why of this particular event was almost as important as stopping it- almost. If all went well, Dru would capture the electronic evidence that would be the chocolate on the investigative éclair and they could begin counting their ducats within hours. Hopefully.
She kicked the door in.
With the blinds drawn and the lights off, the room should have been cloaked in a blanket of darkness at this time of night- well, early morning, to be precise. But as soon as the door flew open, Misty immediately identified the source of the mysterious, colorful glow that suffused the room. Looking opposite the office from which she was emerging she could see that the door to the washroom lay wide open. That doorway glowed brightly, emanating a blazing teal radiance. This light, whatever it was, served to illuminate the one figure who did not belong in that room- the thief who was currently rooting through the metal supply cabinet that lay against the southern wall.
The intruder jumped, reacting to Misty’s not-so-subtle entrance, which, in point of fact, had been her intention. She believed that getting the drop on an enemy was the second key to victory. Misty hadn’t known Sun-Tzu personally, of course, but she saw him as a kindred spirit. As she entered the room, the intruder dropped the fistful of pens and pads he held in his hands and spun back toward the glowing bathroom. He made it only a few steps before a black-clad leg darted out from the darkness in the corner, tripping the thief mid-stride.
“Got him!” cried the owner of the leg, training the glaring light of his video camera on the fallen intruder in the criminal’s moment of vulnerability.
Springing into second gear, Misty crossed the room in three quick strides, intending to pounce on the prone subject, and ending this case right then and there. It seemed that the thief did not have the same intentions, however, for, instead of passively complying with the will of his would-be captors, he did something unexpected. He reacted quickly, executing a perfect somersault, his right hand gripping a necklace he wore, and tumbled through the teal glow of the bathroom doorway. Misty’s fingers just missed the hem of the thief’s black pants and, crouching, she looked up toward his method of egress. For an instant, she caught a glimpse of boxy brick building covered in scaffolding through the arch of the bathroom doorway. The moment the image resolved on her retina, though, it was gone, along with the thief and the teal light. Then all she saw was the toilet.
The one who inhabited the shadowy corner, the one with the fortuitously placed leg, the one known as Dru Chance, stood up from his position of observation and recording, emerging from a cloud of darkness as his left hand opened, revealing a small obsidian pebble. The pebble quickly faded to white, and he slipped it into his pocket. “That thing worked like a charm, Mist. Better stock up on those.” He let his camera fall to his chest, hanging by the strap, and looked at Misty. “I’m sorry he got away, but that guy moved so-“
“Save it!” she barked, cutting him off. “Downstairs. Now! I know where to find him.”
Misty covered the distance to the main door of the office at a dead sprint. She flung it open and dashed into the hall. Dru could barely see the back of her vest as he tore down the stairs after her, heading toward the front door of the building.
Emerging into the pre-dawn morning, Misty immediately turned left and, sure enough, spotted the fugitive intruder. Next to the office building she had just exited was an under-construction elementary school, a brick structure replete with scaffolding and equipment. The same one she had seen through the bathroom door moments ago. Alongside the building, the thief was rising to his feet and dusting himself off in front of a porto-potty whose door was lit by a now familiar and rapidly fading teal glow.
Before the criminal could notice her arrival, Misty put a hand to her vest pocket. There was a quick purple flash and suddenly her once-empty hand was holding a baseball. Seeing that the intruder was on the move, she wound up, delivered and…
…the ball smashed directly into the thief’s temple, ricocheting off and bouncing out into the street. But the intruder merely shook his head, glared briefly at his assailant, and sprinted in the opposite direction.
At that moment, Dru emerged from the front door, ready with an excuse for his slowness. “Sorry, boss, but I-“
“Get the ball,” was her only reply, her finger pointing in the direction of the baseball, which was skipping toward a sewer grate.
“But what about-”
Dru opted not to complete that thought, as the target of his missive was at that instant dashing after her prey, who was rounding the corner with surprising alacrity. She grabbed onto the chain link fence that surrounded the school to protect it from, well, from intruders like her. Misty vaulted over the fence in one swift motion and sprinted diagonally through the poor, crumbling playground, hurtling a springy purple hippo in the process. She reached the fence on the opposite side just as the intruder came into view, hurrying around the corner. Seeing her, the thief skidded to a stop and changed direction. Cursing under her breath, Misty whipped her head around the playground, looking for a potential weapon. Spotting a pile of construction materials, she reached down, grabbed a brick, and only briefly wondered what kind of city would allow a pile of bricks to sit in a playground. Taking quick aim, she hurled the brick on a parabolic arc toward her prey.
The brick sailed through the air, landing sharply at the base of the thief’s neck. Unlike the baseball, upon the brick’s impact the intruder tumbled to the ground like a sack of potatoes, crumpled in a motionless heap. Silently congratulating herself on her excellent aim, Misty vaulted over the second fence, reaching her prey just as Dru Chance stumbled in beside her.
Dru hovered over the sidewalk for a moment, in apparent shock. The motionless body that lay on the sidewalk filled his vision. After a moment, his capacity for speech returned to him. “What the hell, Misty?! I- I think you killed him!”
Misty gritted her teeth in frustration. She had created the opportunity for this kind of second-guessing by getting herself a partner, but after several weeks she had still not acclimated to it. “Just take the video, Dru- I’ll do the rest.” She bent down and examined the back of the prone figure’s head, while Dru dutifully captured the puzzling act on camera. After a moment, she stood up, holding a six-inch jagged shard of orange pottery in her hand. “Zuggers!” She swore. She reached down to the man’s neck and gave quick tug. “It looks like this thing is almost recharged.” She held up a silver chain with what appeared to be a small charm in the shape of an open book- the same chain the intruder had been grasping when he made his bright and colorful escape from the office. She looped the chain around her own neck and began scanning the immediate area, searching for whatever it was she needed. Dropping the camera to his chest again, Dru finally got a good look at the thief’s entire body.He pointed feebly.
“What- what did you do to him?”
“I’ll explain everything later. Don’t I always?” She continued scanning the horizon and, finally locating what she hoped to find, she pointed at the body. “Pick him up, please, Dru,” she commanded, gently but firmly. With that, she took off, striding purposefully toward the 24-hour Pyra-Mart convenience store on the corner.
Trying to decide how best to carry the body, Dru looked up, hoping to get some assistance from Misty, but by now she was nearly half a block away, “What, do you need a Red Bull or something? How am I supposed to carry-” Dru reached down to grab the arm of the prone figure and immediately dropped the appendage. He had not felt warm flesh as he had anticipated- nor even slowly cooling flesh as he had feared. Instead it felt as if the man’s arm was composed of the same hard, clay-like substance as the shard that Misty had shown him seconds ago. “Misty- what the hell is this thing?”
Almost a block away now, she called back. “Just grab him, Dru. I’ll explain later. But be careful with his head. Don’t let anything fall out.” Finally, she reached the front door of the 24-hour Pyra-Mart and peered inside and along the edges of the doorframe. Dru, for one, always felt a bit awkward entering into any kind of establishment at this time of night. He sported a thick black beard, and a mane of wild curly hair. Coupled with his dusky skin tone and his propensity to wear sweatpants and t-shirts most of the time, he usually received some pretty odd looks in situations where people were naturally paranoid. But he hadn’t stuck up a joint yet, despite appearances to the contrary.
Misty finished her quick examination and, satisfied by what she’d seen, reached up to her neck. She put her hand around the necklace that she had just lifted from the thief and gripped its strange charm, concentrating mightily. After a moment, she swung the door open and, instead of seeing the candy rack or slushy machine that had been there seconds before, a familiar teal glow emanated from the open rectangle.
Gesturing to the glowing doorway as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Misty waited as Dru stared at her for a moment. Not getting a response of any kind from his fellow detective, he shrugged (or attempted to. Having a man who was apparently made of clay draped across his shoulders made that particular gesture a bit difficult) and then stumbled through the rectangle, disappearing from sight into a brief glimpse of a black leather couch. Misty followed, grasping the convenience store door and closing it behind her, while the glow faded to night. Interestingly enough, none of the 4am patrons of the Pyra-Mart seemed to give any of this a second thought.