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Kaige

Through the Cracks (IC)

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GM

4:00 PM, August 3rd.

 

Ross Haywood had seen better days, but he’d seen worse ones too.

 

The mark of those darker times was still on him. He was underweight for his considerable height, and a spider angioma extended its tendrils along the right side of his neck and the base of his chin, harsh purple-red against the soft brown of his skin. But he was walking more steadily than he used to, and the shaking of his hands was so slight that it was hardly noticeable. Smiling at the thought, he patted the little iron crucifix he carried in his jacket pocket, close to his heart. Twelve steps had seemed an awful long way a year ago, but he’d walked them.

 

That kind, honest smile faded as he remembered his purpose. He’d worn his best suit, secondhand and faded but still possessed of a reserved elegance, in the hopes of gaining an air of respectability. Maybe it was stupid to think of hiring a PI as an occasion, but Ross had been turned down in enough interviews to know that first impressions mattered in any deal. One hand in his pocket, he ran his fingertips across his daughter’s picture and said a little prayer in the back of his mind. He was running out of options, and out of time to make this right.

 

They said that Xavier Steadman was honest. In a town like Bedlam, that was either said derisively or with a vague sense of awe. Ross clung onto the hope that it was true like a drowning man to the edge of a raft. He didn’t have much, but he had learned the hard way what really mattered in life, and he would spend every penny he’d ever scraped together for this if he had to.

 

He’d walked several miles to Steadman’s building; it’d been a long time since he’d been able to afford a car, the buses were dismal, and it would crush his soul to be one taxi fare short of whatever price the PI named. As the building loomed up before him, he took a deep, steadying breath that came out shakier than he’d meant to let it. “Okay, Susie,” he whispered, his voice a deep, rich baritone. “Here we go.”

 

Reaching the office door, he forced one trembling hand to knock.

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The plaque on the door declaring this to be Excelsior Investigations was much like hte building that housed it, decidedly underwhelming the self adhesive letters that made up the name had a generically formal appearance without seeming in any way classy.  The building itself the kind of low rent office space that doubled often as not as residence.  The city didn't ask many questions and the landlord just wanted rent on time.  Almost before the knock sounded the replay rang out in a deep tone, "Come in." almost as if Ross had been expected.

 

When the swung open at his touch Ross was greeted with the sight of a small and even crowded office space lined with bookshelves and filing cabinets.  There was a small couch and coffee table with an assortment of long outdated magazines fanned out on the table in an exacting manner that suggested they had not been touched in a long long time.  Dominating the back wall in front of a frosted window was a large and sturdy steel desk the chipped enamel carefully matched and painted over almost like new.  The room was clean and ordered even the desks vague disarray seemed more a practiced facade to evoke the appearance of work being done than any work in actual process,  almost more like a movie set of a PI's office.  Behind the desk in a clean but rumpled tweed suit sat Steadman himself his posture was rigid but he rose with an easy smooth motion as Ross entered, "Good morning, I'm Xavier Steadman, How can I help?"  he asked dark eyes bright with inquisitive fervor as he examined the potential client.

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GM

Ross swallowed hard as he stepped into the office. He hadn't been sure what to expect; he'd never hired a PI before. But the room seemed to look the part, at least.

 

"Mister Steadman, sir," he said, crossing the room with what confidence he could muster and extending a hand, then half retracting it, unsure if that was what he was supposed to do. He had several inches on the detective, but still somehow felt small in comparison. His hand was calloused and scarred but his grip was strong, the souvenirs of a virtually unregulated Bedlam manufacturing job. Casting around for a chair, Ross sat down gingerly, staring at Steadman the entire time to make sure that he was allowed to sit. "I, ah... I'm looking for Susan," he blurted out, "and the police won't help anymore."

 

Mentally he kicked himself; if he looked like some kind of lunatic, the guy would think he couldn't pay and wouldn't take the case. Or would just take his money and run, knowing he could get away with it. This was Bedlam, and everyone was a shark. You had to show that you were too big to take a bite out of, even when you were asking for something. Clearing his throat, Ross mentally reset. "What I mean is that my daughter, Susan, ran away from home about a month ago." Reaching into his breast pocket, he ran his fingers over the crucifix with a little whispered prayer, then produced the photo he kept beside it and laid it gently on the desk.

 

Susan Haywood looked to be about seventeen or eighteen, and very pretty. She had her father's slightly-curved nose and high cheekbones, but her bright amber eyes and the soft line of her jaw were clearly owed to someone else. A cloud of curly shoulder-length hair billowed around her face, framing a wide smile. "When I lost my job at the Greely Toy Company," Ross began, "I hit the bottle. God strike me down if I ever hurt anyone, but I couldn't find a job. Couldn't really even look. So they took Susie away, said I was an unfit parent. She went to foster care, and it was hell." Involuntarily his fists clenched, digging his fingernails into his palms. "They'll let anyone do it in this city."

 

"I'm almost a year sober," he said, half with pride and half as a warning not to try to pull one over on him, "and I want my little girl back. But the court systems, they're full and broken. Before I could get a court date, Susie ran away from that b@$t@rd they sent her to live with. He didn't even report her missing. I did. There was this one detective who seemed to actually care, but he got killed a week in and no one has taken over the case. Not killed over this, mind," he hastily amended, knowing all too well that he couldn't afford hazard pay. Then he launched the closer he'd rehearsed. "So I'm looking for a private solution to find Susan."

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Xaiviers grip was firm as he shook the man's hand with confidence taking the moment of the meeting to examine the man before him with a clinical eye.  slight yellowing of the sclera, tremors.  Alcoholism, no smell, speech not slurred, sober, months at least. A finger laid across the man's wrist as they clasped hands measured his pulse while the detective silently counted breaths and seconds, breathing halting but not labored, pulse regular and elevated, darkening under the eyes suggest lack of sleep, stress.  Motioning for the man to sit he poured a tall glass of water and offered it as Ross began to speak the investigators eyes darted around the man's face as he patiently listened to the man's story.

 

Steepling his fingers Xavier nodded as the sparse details emerged his face impassive not betraying the obvious likelihoods of a case such as this.  Looking down at the photo he committed the young womans features to memory and met her fathers eyes.  "She's been in touch with you since she was remanded to state care?"  he asked though seemed to know the answer already, "The photo is recent."  he assumed as if it predated the man's sobriety she was an adult putting it out of the foster system regardless.  "I'll need your name and contact information,"  the PI indicated with a small nod as he turned slightly to tap information into a laptop perched on his desk.  Most PIs used the credit report databases to track down hidden assets or cheating spouses malfeasance, less scrupulous might run a check to ensure a client could pay, Xavier tended to use it as a guidepost for what to charge.  Leaving the check to run as he continued to question the man after getting the requested information he paused delicately, "Sir, I am willing to take your case and will do all I can to reunite you with your daughter should that be her desire."  he looked the man in the eye once more as he added, "You however must be prepared for her being unwilling to do so."  left unsaid was the real possibility she would be unable to.

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GM

Ross took a deep, steadying breath. "Right, sure. I've got a card somewhere..." The business card he produced was ragged around the edges and starting to get dingy; Xavier had the distinct impression that it might be the only one the man had. NEat, simple letter spelled out Ross Haywood, Piano Tuning and Repair and a contact number. "I used to work with little instruments at the Greely factory," he explained. "Turns out that's still good for something. Not too many folks around here who own a piano and will let a black man into their house, though." He thought for a second, then looked worried. "I can pay, though. I have it saved up."

 

The credit check indicated that he probably could. The average rate for a Bedlam PI would clean him out if the case took longer than a few days, but if it was closed quickly he'd be good for full price. Asked about the photo, he nodded. "I've been talking to Susie all along. That was taken about three months ago at prom; she was a junior, but a senior took her." When Xavier announced that he would take the case, Ross's smile could have lit the city for a month. "Thank you, thank you, sir," he said, standing for another shake of the PI's hand. For a moment, he thought about the final warning. Then he said, more quietly, "I just want her to be safe."

 

"There might still be a case file open at the third precinct," he said, "but I doubt if they'll help people like us." He was ready to answer any other questions, or to depart and let Xavier work.

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Xavier nodded, "I do not take you for a fool that would make the journey here without means to pay sir."  he assured him as he glanced at the report and named a figure that was probably a near forty percent discount from the going rate.  No use in finding the man's daughter only to have them get evicted over his fee.  "I'll look into it, if they've closed the case already it will be accessible for a small fee through an FOIA request.  Otherwise I may know someone who can help."  he assured the man and handed him a small notebook from a drawer at his side, "Any contact information you had for Susan, friends, or her foster home will speed things along.  No need for me to retread well covered ground on your dime sir."

 

The information gathered and the client on his way Xavier sat and stared at the notebook for a long moment, the chances of this ending well in Bedlam were slim, but the man deserved to at least know what had happened to his daughter.  It was time to get to work.  A few calls to the precinct and a basic search for public records on the Haywood case and the death of the presiding detective was a start.  

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GM

There wasn't much on the Haywood case that was public record. The death of the detective wasn't much clearer, though it had more coverage.

 

Detective Jason Howle, son of the CEO of one of the companies of the Howle-Brandt Consortium, had been killed several weeks earlier. There wasn't much on how it had happened, except that he had been "killed in action". There was a lot of press speculation on how his death would affect the company and very little genuine sympathy. As for Susan Haywood, Xavier was able to confirm that she was in foster care, that she had been reported missing a month ago by her biological father, and that the case had been assigned to Detective Howle. Exactly who had the case after his death was unclear; it seemed to be sitting in limbo, but it was still open.

 

Susan had a lot of friends, and Ross had numbers for several of them. They could confirm that she had been unhappy in foster care, and that she had been thinking about running away, but they'd assumed she would go to her dad if she really did. The foster home didn't answer the phone. Susan's cell phone didn't pick up, either, though it definitely rang. A call to the third precinct produced a strangely different result: it was sent all the way up to the precinct captain.

 

Moses Runyon was one of the only African-Americans to reach any semblance of rank in the Bedlam PD, and word on the street was that he intended to use that position to improve community relations in Wolverton - which in Bedlam-ese meant reach out to the local gangs in order to secure new sources of graft. It was said that he was a personal friend of Rock Johnson, one of the two crime lords that ran the district, so he might just pull it off. Over the phone he was calm and collected, with a bright, eager voice. "Mr. Steadman," he began, "hello. I hear you're looking into the Haywood case. Trying to take our business?" He laughed.

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Xavier was not surprised information was thin on the ground, nor that the Foster home was less than interested in speaking to him.  If he really needed information he'd do as he had before and pose an overworked social worker covering a case that was slipping through the cracks but so far he had other leads to follow up on first.  Her friends told hte expected story, no reason to think otherwise it seemed her relationship with her father was as positive as could be expected considering.  Rather than further retread territory the police had doubtless covered he focused his energy on their investigation.

 

He'd expected stonewalling of course such was the nature of the Bedlam Police.  The escalation to a Captains attention however did not encourage him, petty bureaucrats and desk jockeys citing byzantine ordinances and policy to block access was one thing.  A Police Captain directing him to back off another thing entirely.  "Captain."  he greeted warmly as he was jumped up the chain of command, "Nothing of the sort, just helping a father find a runaway."  he demured though he had doubts anything so simple was behind this case if he'd garnered the personal attention of a Captain of Runyons acumen.

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GM

"So I hear," Runyon replied, "so I hear. Well, we had one of ours look into the Haywood case, and I'll tell you right now, it's a dead end. Girl probably skipped town; ended up on the street in Milwaukee, if I had to guess. Sad case, but hardly unique. We've sent what we have out at the state level, so we'll see if she turns up, but I doubt it. My advice: wait a couple of days, collect your fees, and then let daddy know she's left Bedlam. This one's a dead end."

 

That was about the extend of what Xavier could get out of the police, which even in Bedlam was a little suspicious; usually a clerk would grumble and give a PI the runaround to avoid work, but this personal touch was unusual. Not two minutes after Xavier put down the phone, though, a call came through for him - and went straight to voicemail. "I have the case file," said a distorted voice on the other end of the line. "Susan Haywood is still in town. She was seen at a bar called Barney's Place." The voice gave an address, then hung up - the whole call was over in less than twenty seconds. Caller ID just showed unrecognized.

 

Xavier had heard of Barney's Place. It was a real dive, but fights almost never happened there - it was an open secret that Rock Johnson, one of Wolverton's biggest crime lords, ran a loan sharking operation out of it.

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"Well I appreciate the tip Captain."  Xavier replied calmly, "Maybe I'll have to see if pops is good for travel expenses get out of town for a bit."  he replied playing to the cops usual expectations of a sleazy PI.  Why the cops wouldn't bother looking for the Haywood girl was simple.  A captain actively discouraging investigation on the other hand.  There was teeth to this case and the kind that would take more caution on continued investigation.  Someone with pull had a vested interest in this case going unsolved.  As he hung up the phone he considered calling and telling the father exactly that.  It'd be the safe bet, tell him his daughter got tangled in something above their paygrade.  But Ross wasn't going to be dissuaded by that and didn't have the tools to do this without getting killed.  No this was on Xavier, danger or no.

 

The ring of the phone interrupted his thoughts and as he raised it to his ear and listened to the cryptic message he frowned.  If Ross had this kind of access he'd not need Xavier.  That meant a fourth party interested in this case. Steepling his fingers he looked down to the clear space in front of him and went through the mental exercise to play the message back in his head, see what more he could make out as he focused.  Standing he shook his head, this wasn't going to be an easy one.  But nothing worth doing was.  He made his way down to the street and took a cab to the bar in question sizing it up briefly before stepping in and ordering a beer to nurse as he observed the patrons and staff.

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GM

Barney's Place was, to put it mildly, a dump.

 

The outside looked like a slightly enlarged World War II pillbox, all dingy grey concrete and even boasting a few genuine bullet holes to add to the illusion. The gutters outside were clogged with trash, and puddles of stagnant water filled the parking lot's many potholes. The inside was not a significant improvement. Dark and smoky, it was a maze of steel-walled booths, many of which boasted suspicious dark crimson stains. The floor was sticky, so much so that Xavier doubted it had ever felt the touch of a mop. It reeked of garbage, with a hint of blood and piss. If there was loan sharking done here, it was low level stuff, done for the desperate.

 

The patrons were secretive; many wore hooded sweatshirts with the hoods up in spite of the heat - there was no AC in the building, and the air was warm and stale - and all walked hunched over, their faces directed to the ground. The staff, two men and a woman, were all over six feet tall and built like linebackers. Xavier was pretty sure there was a shotgun under the counter, but he doubted they needed it very often. The beer he was given was cold, a generic brand that did not seem to have suffered too much from being stored in a dive like this, so that was something. The PI could feel many eyes on him as he drank it.

 

The woman was tending bar, wiping down the linoleum counter with a rag that didn't look any cleaner than the surface she was trying halfheartedly to clean. She wore her hair in long, thick dreadlocks, their dark color setting off the silver stud in her nose and the three piercings in her right ear. It looked like there had once been a fourth that someone had ripped out; the top of her ear was jagged, with a pale scar running through it. Tattoos of skulls and roses ran up and down her bare arms. "You're new," she said, her voice husky. Each word had a slight whistle to it, probably because of her two slightly crooked gold teeth. "What're you looking for?"

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Xavier tracked the layout of the dingy dive bar mapping exits and exit strategies as he sipped his beer and kept a wary eye on the patrons.  Ignoring them would be both dangerous and suspicious.  Setting his cup gently on his table as the woman asked after his business in the bar, "Just a little something to get me through the day."  he nodded to his cup.  He paused a moment and added, "Tracking a runaway."  he added with a casual shrug, "case pays expenses."  he smirked and raised the glass and met the woman's gaze, "I find people's memory is better for cases that pay expenses."

 

Pulling a neatly folded bill  and a copy of Susans prom picture from a pocket he slid it across the table and raised his glass to take another slow sip as he watched the staff for reaction.  These people were in Rocks pocket without a doubt.  Question was how far and whether or not Rock and his gang were involved with Susans disappearance.  Hopefully not far enough things got rough.

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GM

At the sight of the picture, the woman's face instantly tightened - it was a small thing, something few would have picked up on, but a deliberate blankness covering recognition joined the hardness in her eyes. With a lightning-fast swipe of her hand she took the bill, leaving the picture where it lay. "Never seen her," she lied through her teeth, "but I'll keep an eye out. Come back in a week, I'll tell you if she's come in." She moved away a little too quickly, too stiffly, to look natural as she did, sliding down the bar toward a customer who hadn't called for her. As she moved, her hand ran underneath the counter - probably caressing the shotgun Xavier suspected she kept there.

 

At that moment, a skinny Hispanic kid of not more than nineteen stumbled through the doors and down into the bar. He was filthy - matted hair, a grimy jacket, and dirt all over his track-marked arms. He'd clearly been sleeping outside for quite a while now. "I'll do it, Marshana," he said in a blur of pressured speech. He was probably very high. "I'll take the job, whatever it is." The woman at the bar looked up at him, over at Xavier, then back at him, silencing him with a hiss. "S... sorry," he squeaked, scuttling off to one of the back booths and sitting there alone. Even through the haze that covered his eyes, he looked deeply afraid.

 

Xavier had also noticed something: each booth was fitted with a camera pointing down into it. He'd bet that the footage was kept in the room behind the bar.

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Xavier watch with feigned nonchalance as she took the money with no useful information to return expressing only the mild dissatisfaction with the lack of leads on his mein.  She's nervous.  Too nervous to be covering for low grade hoods.  He took a slow sip of his drink and shrugged, "Well I'll finish my drink and look elsewhere then."  he intoned quietly and took a few more sips as he tracked the layout and positioning of the booths just in case.  The tension at the young addicts sudden and noisy entry was hard to cover but the destitute boy was distraction enough it was unlikely Xaviers reactions had been noted.  Street kid, addict, desperate, won't be missed and latino not one of Rocks people, expendable.  Whatever the job was it was unlikely Xavier would learn about it here and even less likely the poor kid would survive it.

 

Standing slowly he turned and walked purposefully out of the Bar and around the corner casually pausing to retie his shoe just out of sight to ensure he wasn't being tailed.  Standing he took a more leisurely stroll through the neighborhood pausing here and there to ask the locals if they had seen Susan to at the least keep up the facade of bored PI tailing a runaway.  But at the same time Xavier built a careful map of the surrounding streets in his mind committing fire escapes, alleys and bus schedules to memory as he passed.  He slowly looped back around prepared to intercept the desperate young man and get him a ticket to California, maybe Long Beach, and hopefully information about what Rock had him doing, even if it wasn't related to Susan it couldn't hurt to know a bit more of the ganglords business if he was going to find out what had happened to the girl.

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GM

Most detective work is a grind requiring more patience than investigative skill. As Xavier circled the neighborhood with his photograph, a man with a less perfect mind would have lost count of the number of people who brushed him off with a casual "haven't seen her" or simply refused to speak to him at all. But every so often, even the grind produces a breakthrough. For Xavier, it was an old homeless man on Kirby Avenue, propped up against a filthy brick wall with a battered banjo in his hands. He crooned the blues in a voice that must once have been magnificent, back before the now-empty packs of cigarettes scattered at his feet stole it from him. He rasped, he coughed, and his fingers slipped, but there was a glimmer of beauty beneath it all, like a first edition record that had been played too many years now.

 

"Yeah, I seen her," he said, stopping his playing a moment to pull the photograph closer. He stank of smoke and sour milk, and his helpful smile was missing several rotten teeth, but the smile itself was a first for Xavier that day. "Susie. Nice girl, big problems. Owes the wrong people money, know what I'm sayin?" He shook his head sadly. "She went in an' out of Barney's a buncha times, but after a while she didn't come back out. That big grey van drove away, though. Always does." Xavier had identified half a dozen vantage points in alleys and on fire escapes that overlooked Barney's Place, and he knew which streets anyone leaving might be likely to take by foot, bus, or car. The PI remembered a grey van with tinted windows parked at a back loading dock for Barney's Place. It was still there the last time he'd circled that way, and the junkie kid still hadn't come out.

Edited by Kaige

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"Thank you."  Xavier replied to the musician dropping a fifty in his hat with a nod, "Maybe find someplace quiet to hole up for a few days."  he suggested as his eyes wandered to Barneys once more, "Somewhere more worth your music maybe."  he added with a slight smile as he walked away to find a secure and hidden vantage to watch the bar and evaluate his best course of action.  Van is obvious in its utility for body disposal and worse.  Bar likely has police protection no good tipping them off.  Cameras, no access during operation.  Van most likely point of egress with restrained, or unresponsive person.  "Or dead."  he admitted in a whisper on the smog choked breeze where he huddled out of sight.

 

But patience was something Xavier did have, even if time may be short.  Time to watch the coming and going out the entrances and exits and make sure he could investigate undetected as he crept to the Van to find out where it had been.  He checked the tires for markings, the undercarriage, side panels and even tried to quietly examine the roof.   Inside was a greater risk but also perhaps greater reward he considered for a moment as his gloved hand lingered on the handle as he decided whether or not to risk even trying it.  In this neighborhood there was no reason for the property of the Rock and his gang to be locked, but still...

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Xavier slowly and methodically circled the van picking out details as he tried to piece together where it fit in the puzzle.  Old delivery van, anonymous, unremarkable, hard to trace.  he noted as he examined the locks, he might be able to gain entry but it would take time and risk noise, Not the kind of transport rock would need for local work, must leave Wolverton then, no highway ware and too unreliable for distance smuggling, no mud or dust from rural driving, no need to dump bodies in hidden locations anyway.  he darkly considered and shook his head.

 

Spotting the tag on the dash he nodded grimly, Liberty Shoppes, Have to cross Hardwick without the Mara noticing and intercepting.  he considered, it could of course be drugs but this wasn't a good front for those too public, something else to transport then.  People.  He hated to consider ti but it made all to much sense.  Regardless it was clear where his next stop was as he took the long way to a more distant buss stop and the trip downtown.  Liberty Shoppes would be dangerous of course, but also not under Rocks control, that meant someone might be willing to talk.

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GM

Liberty Shoppes was a great subterranean maze. It had been planned as a destination that would draw in shoppers from north and south, making Bedlam into a real destination. But like so much in the city, its good intentions had quickly been devoured whole by corruption and mismanagement. Its cavernous halls had collapsed into warrens of iniquity divided between brutal security forces and vicious gangs. Half empty, covered in graffiti and ankle-deep litter, it sat as another testament to the city's ability to drag anything down to the lowest common denominator. And now it was where Xavier would have to continue his search.

 

A parking stub wasn't much to go on; the mall was big enough to have its own police substation, practically a precinct unto itself. It boasted apartments, restaurants, and now all manner of stores that could not easily exist in the public eye. Drug paraphernalia sat openly in cracked windows, and discount tattoo parlors with below-minimum hygiene standards (but unbeatable prices!) were a dime a dozen. If Xavier wanted to find out where the van was dropping off its human cargo, he would either need some kind of guide or to wait until the van made one of its deliveries. Either possibility held certain dangers.

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Xavier tugged his hat low over his brow as he stepped off the bus into the dilapidated mall of the millennium.  Sharply alert he scanned the people he passed as he made his way into the shops.  Parking stub means delivery through the parking structure not loading docks,  he mused as he tried to map out where the parking access points were located, even here a body or unconscious girl will attract some attention, too risky even for expendables  Xavier made his way to the nearest parking access and began to pay particular attention to the people.  He'd need a guide, someone capable but not already on the payroll of another gang.

 

Strung out, no gang tats, possible, but risky.  too clean, too well fed, new kid runaway from the burbs.  Older, limp suggests old injury, shirt is ragged but factory uniform, survivor, Possible less risky.  He moved through the area analyzing until he found a likely target and began his approach, "I'm looking for something."  he said quietly as he approached, "And someone who knows the area to help me find it." 

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Xavier's trained eyes passed over many possibilities, dismissing most of them in turn. Squatters in the parking garage at Liberty Shoppes had to be tough, or at least to look it. It wasn't that there was a lack of space; the parking garage was huge and largely empty. It was more that anyone who showed weakness was a target. The weakest gangs stayed together and kept morale high by finding someone weaker to beat the tar out of, and with no one much motivated to stop them, it wasn't uncommon that the ambulance that came for the victim headed straight to the morgue. Hard eyes followed Xavier - if he'd looked less capable, he'd certainly have been mugged.

 

His gaze finally settled on a young woman - a girl, even, probably not much older than Susan - who lounged against one of the concrete pillars, warming her hands by a barrel fire. The summer heat outside didn't penetrate far into the thick concrete slabs, and the breeze from overactive ventilation systems kept the place late-Autumn cold. She wore fingerless gloves, jeans that had probably been bought distressed but were doubly so now, and a faded, dirty Minnie Mouse sweatshirt. A silver ring pierced her lower lip and left eyebrow. Her hair, dyed black but starting to grow back to its natural blonde at the roots, lay in a pixie cut just long enough to shadow her steel-colored eyes.

 

"Alright," she said, straightening and stretching her lean, wiry form with the feigned carelessness of an alley cat. "I'll show you around, old man. I want twenty bucks and a burger that ain't fast food, and I want one of them upfront." She walked toward Xavier, then circled slightly to the side, keeping a carefully counted distance between them. With one bony hand she patted a bulge in the pocket of her hoodie. "I carry a glock and a rape whistle," she told him, "and I'm faster with the glock." No matter how the two of them moved, she managed to adjust so that Xavier was slightly in front of her and her back was covered by a wall. People learned quickly down here.

 

"So, what are we looking for?" She asked, her tone at once casual and guarded.

Edited by Kaige

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"Grey Panel van."  xavier replied cagily, "That actually pays for parking."  he noted as in the dilapidated remnants of the mall that had to be unusual.  He nodded to her terms and gestured for her to lead the way, "You can tell me anything pertinent on the way to your burger."  he invited and fell in careful step behind her.

 

"The men with the van."  he disclosed carefully, "they are probably dangerous."  not that danger wasn't a given down here, "But I need to find where they go."  he explained not elucidating further.  He followed her to the burger stop and payed for her food and an extra serving of fries he positioned on the distressed table within her easy reach ostensibly for himself but the invitation to eat more was clear.  "So have you seen anything like that?"  he asked quietly as he awaited a response.

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