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All That Glitters (IC)


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7:15 AM, August 4th.


In Bedlam’s halls of power, nothing ever changed. On the streets, little ever stayed the same.


It was about six in the morning that the first early commuters noticed that the front windows of Rothstein’s Jewelers were, for the first time in living memory, totally empty. Most of them just put their gaze right back down on the pavement; not their problem, not when they couldn’t afford breakfast and wouldn’t get dinner either if they missed their shifts. A few dared to wonder if the place had gone out of business, but that seemed odd. Not even the youth gangs spray painting swastikas on the façade had been able to drive Saul Rothstein out, and a man who at eighty-one could still pressure-wash them off personally seemed too lively to just up and die.


It wasn’t until seven that someone thought it was odd enough to bother calling the police, and then only by dumb luck. Adam McConnell, who taught at Thaddeus Grissom High, had been saving up for almost seven months to buy that wedding ring in the center window display, and he came by every morning like clockwork to remind himself why he kept trying in a job that was killing him. He knew Saul personally; the old man had a grandkid at Grissom, and had cut almost half off the ring’s price just for Adam. He knew that Saul would die in that store if he had his way. Nothing else would make him close up.


Police response time in Stark Hill, even at the edges, was about five minutes; the Bedlam PD actually cared about white folks, if no one else. But as far as they were concerned, Rothstein didn’t really qualify. They saw no reason to hurry if some Jew got himself robbed. So at 7:15 Adam was still the only person who had bothered to stop outside the store, increasingly worried not just about Saul but about losing his job if he didn’t show up by eight.


The question kept running through his mind, though: why hadn’t any of Saul’s alarms been tripped?

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Luthor Lexington was starting to regret not sitting in traffic.


The new construction site was out in the Meadows, because of course it was out in the Meadows. That was the only place people were still pouring money into the city, at least money that didn't end up in the pockets of crooked cops and politicians while accountants made the numbers chase themselves. Even then, there'd be no reason for him to get anywhere near Stark Hill except for the construction/repair work happening on Greely Bridge. Cars were already backed up to Ash Street when he drove past, which lead him to consider that it would be a lot faster to drive up to Woerner Bridge or M-5 than try to fight the construction traffic. That was the only reason he was driving past Stark Hill, the only reason he saw the broken window, the only reason he mentioned to his sister over his cell, the only reason she mentioned going out to investigate...


Now his dirty truck was parked in front of a loaded meter in Downtown and he was hulking in an alleyway, a six foot black man trying to be inconspicuous in Stark Hill, waiting and watching to make sure his little sister didn't run afoul of the city's corrupt police force. He was worried about losing his place on the construction crew, but not nearly as much as he worried about his little sister tangling with the officers of the Second Precinct.

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It went without saying that Lena Lexington didn't like Stark Hill.


The entire neighborhood was like one giant, twisted labyrinth that seemed as though it could have been deliberately designed to confuse visitors. But that wasn't why she didn't like it. It also wasn't because of the aura of shabbiness and decay projected by the jumbles of bars and rowhouses. Hell, it wasn't even because of the entire goddamn place being run by the mob.


It was the way everybody looked at her whenever she was there. They never said anything - nobody ever did - but she didn't need psychic abilities to know what the first thing through their minds was the moment they saw her. Sideways glances, quickly-averted eyes, and pursed lips said a lot more than words ever did. It used to bother her, but at some point you just had to stop giving a @#$%. And it wasn't as if she wasn't going to get those looks no matter where she went in Bedlam.


For most of her life, she never set foot in Stark Hill if she could help it. She'd heard - and been witness to - enough horror stories to know why that was not conductive to a long and healthy life. But once you found out you were pretty much bulletproof, a lot of places suddenly became a lot safer. And once you found out you could lift a car, you didn't shy away from dirty looks anymore. Which was why, when her brother Luthor had called her about a mysteriously empty storefront, she hadn't been worried about going to investigate it. Jewelry store break-ins weren't her wheelhouse, but when you picked up the mask, you didn't pick-and-choose. Everybody running this city picked and chose what to care about, and look how that turned out.


Lena stepped off the bus into a cloud of heat and stinking exhaust. She was simply dressed in a navy blue polo shirt and jeans, with her bag slung over her shoulder and her dreadlocks tied back in a loose knot. Scanning the street, her eyes quickly landed on Luthor's truck, and on Luthor a moment later. She repressed a snort at the site of him trying to blend in with the scenery - her brother had never been much good at blending in anywhere, least of all in Stark Hill. Both of them stuck out like sore thumbs here, and they knew it. She gave a curt nod in his direction, making eye contact, then twitched her chin at the store. I'll check it out


A worried-looking man stood outside the storefront - a storefront that was, Lena saw, just as suspiciously empty as Luthor had described it as. The place had probably just closed up overnight, but since she was already there she might as well poke around. She approached the man, one hand on the strap of her book bag, keeping a safe distance. Didn't want to scare the daylights out of the guy. "Hey," she said, opening with a nonchalant question. "What time's this place open up?"

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Osla had just wanted to go to sleep. She'd already been up all night, criss-crossing back and forth across Stark Hill, darting across rooftops and down alleyways, weaving and chasing. And, with daylight approaching, she'd returned to her quarters for a bite to eat, before bedding down for the morning. Unfortunately, she'd turned on the police scanner and thus, grumbling, had to head back out once more to investigate this robbery. She recognised the name, she'd seen an old man washing some distinctly unsavoury graffiti from that store. 


To Arrowhawk's eyes, the gems on her belt were glowing gently. To everyone else, they were not. Indeed, there was no one there at all. At best, a whisper of a footstep and a murmur of air. A harried looking young man was there, being approached by a young woman. Another man, trying and utterly failing at the basic precepts of stealth, looked on. Strange. They clearly were not thieves, for this store had already been robbed. So who were they?


Osla pushed back her hood and tilted her head to listen in to the conversation, keeping a solid hundred yards between her and them, in case she was accidentally jostled or made a noise.

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Adam McConnell looked up as Lena approached, surprise mixing with the worry on his features. He clearly wasn't expecting to see someone like her at the edge of Stark Hill, but his face stayed open rather than contorting into the all-too-common sneer. He fiddled with his boxy glasses as he turned his gaze back toward the storefront, as though hoping that all would be well again when he looked a second time. "Normally in a little under an hour," he said, his voice mousy and unassuming. "But... Well, I think the place has been robbed! I just can't imagine how. Saul is always so careful to set the alarms."


Stepping gingerly forward, Adam tried the door. It swung lightly open at his touch, revealing the darkened interior. Although all of the lights had been turned out, the rising sun cast enough of a glow over the scene to reveal perhaps two dozen large display cases of steel and reinforced glass, each one locked with a combination lock - and each one completely empty but for the velvet stands on which jewelry had until recently been displayed. The cash register was open, its tray equally empty. Nothing was broken or askew. The quiet whirr of the air conditioning was the only sound inside - until, a second after the door opened, a shrill alarm began to blare.


Adam took a startled step back, nearly tumbling into the dirty gutter as he missed the step down from the door. "That's what should have happened if anyone but Saul went in at night," he shouted to Lena over the noise, his face red with embarrassment. "Only he knew how to turn it off." He put his hands over his ears, wincing. "I just hope the police get here soon. I want to help Saul, I do, but I have to get to work." As if in answer, a siren began to wail some distance away, slowly drawing closer.


From his position in the alleyway, Luthor could tell that the store had no other entrance - if someone had robbed Rothstein's, they either had some freaky abilities or they'd done it through the front door. 


From her vantage point, Arrowhawk could see the approaching police car as it came down the hill. It was perhaps two minutes away. Their chatter, picked up over the scanner, was bored and unconcerned.

Edited by Kaige
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The distant wailing of the sirens set Lena's nerves on edge, and the blaring alarm didn't help. Cops never helped any situation, not in this city. Especially not for people like her and her brother. Momentarily caught by indecision, she looked up at her brother, watching her from the alley. Robbed, she mouthed. She wasn't sure what he wanted to do - and it wasn't like there had ever been much she could do to change his mind - but it couldn't hurt to clue him in as much as was possible.


Making a sudden decision, she ducked into the store. "I'm just going to look around and make sure he's all right. Maybe he fell down or something," she said over her shoulder to the guy with the glasses. Not that that'll matter when the cops get here, but might as well try to establish that.


Inside, she could feel her heart speeding up. Those sirens weren't getting any quieter, and she didn't want to be around when they arrived. Whatever she was going to do, she needed to do it fast. "Mr. Rothstein?" she called out, not expecting an answer. "Are you all right?"


Even as she spoke, she was going into action, striding through the room, wincing at the volume of the alarm as she cast her eyes all around her in search of anything that seemed amiss. More amiss than it already was. She had minutes at most - she needed to make the most of her time. Her eyes lighted upon the door to the backroom, and she hurried towards it, testing the doorknob.

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Luthor shook his head at Lena's quick question, not even trusting himself to speak this near to Stark Hill. He didn't want to be here, he didn't want his baby sister her, he could only think about all the horrible ways this could go wrong. He hung back when she tried to get closer and investigate, keeping an eye out for flashing lights or screaming sirens.


And there they were. He fairly ran across the road, not caring at this point if they impounded his truck. "Lena, we got to get out of here," he hissed at her as he stepped into the store, glass crunching under his boots. "C'mon, we've got to see if there's a way out in the back." The sirens were so close that he could almost feel the cuffs on his arms. He picked the nearest door and put his substantial shoulder against it, pushing his way in.

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Osla sighed, and pulled her hood back over her head as she began to briskly walk towards the store, breaking into a light jog. She didn't foresee this going well. Why did they immediately rush inside, knowing what the officers of the law here were like? She quickly caught up to the three, breathing not even quickening from the activity.


She stepped into the store, elbowing the door rather than touching it with her fingers. Not that any database or registry on this plane would have them on record. Arrowhawk dropped her glamour, appearing as if she'd stepped out of thin air, a dark clad figure, piercing blue eyes staring out from under her hood, bow slung over her shoulder. Wrinkling her nose at the man immediately trying to disrupt the scene by battering down a door, she turned her words instead to the young woman who'd first stopped to help. "You have at best two minutes before they arrive. Whatever it is you plan on doing, I would do it, and quickly." The young woman's accent was strange, sounding a little Scandinavian, although not of any discernible country. Her tone was precise and formal.

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Adam hung back as first Lena and then her brother rushed into the store, past row upon row of empty jewelry cabinets. Everything was peaceful, undamaged, pristine except for its emptiness. But Lena, taking it all in, noticed something odd: it smelled like chocolate. Not air freshener chocolate, if they even came in that scent. More like processed sugar, as if someone in the room had eaten a huge stack of candy bars. There was no apparent source for the glass crunching beneath Luthor's boots, either; the windows, cases, and countertops didn't even show signs of wear, much less cracks or breaks.


As brother and sister crossed to the back of the store, they found the door locked. Luthor wrenched it open with one mighty heave, revealing the small back room beyond. Rows of shelves lined with cardboard boxes took up three of the walls. A few of the boxes were open, filled with tissue paper and the first jewelry that had not been taken. Most of it looked to be scratched or otherwise damaged, though still pretty. A workbench covered in jeweler's tools sat against the back wall, set up for the next day and undisturbed. Beside it, still running, a security monitor with about twelve different camera feeds of the store.


As Osla entered the store as well, her words were proving true. The wail of sirens was drawing closer.

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Luthor hurried Lena into the room, following her in and pulling the door closed. He kept his hand on the knob and put his ear to the door, listening intently. "This is why we don't come into Stark Hill," he said to her. "This is why we don't hang around crime scenes and this is really, really why we don't just walk into stores that have just been robbed!" He sighed, leaning against the wood. "Just... take a look around. There's got to be another way out of here." He didn't want to think about what they'd have to do to fight their way out.

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"Guy who owns the place isn't here," Lena said quickly as she darted into the room. "The cops get here, they stomp all over everything before shelving the case. Detectives in this city couldn't catch a cold, so the guy doesn't get found unless we find him." She paused just long enough to jab a finger in her brother's face. "And don't blame me - you were the one who called me here, man! You think I hang out in Stark Hill for my health?"


She scanned the room quickly, her eyes resting momentarily on the security monitor, also noting the remaining jewelry. Wonder why they didn't take that too. "There's no way out back here. We just locked ourselves in a closet." She rushed over to examine the monitor, acutely aware of the impending danger. "If we can take this with us, we can look at it later. Cops won't like it, but..." she hesitated as something belatedly registered with her. "...wait. Was there somebody out there?" She pointed to the door Luthor had just slammed shut. "You just shut the door on some Robin Hood-looking chick."

Edited by R. Bluefish
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"Robin Hood chick is white," Luthor shot back. "The cops aren't going to bother her. And I didn't ask you to come out here, you thought it was a great f---ing idea." He took a deep breath and let it out. "Lena, Rothstein ain't gonna thank you for finding his stuff. No one is going to thank you for that. No one wants you here. I don't know why you think you're going to change the world by finding some smash-and-grab thieves. Now just..." He sighed and put his ear against the door again, listening. "Just be quiet, okay? If we're lucky the cops will be in and out and gone."

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Arrowhawk frowned, and cocked her head. She looked to the harried looking man in the store, then to the door, then back at him, with an expression which screamed 'did they just do that?'. She lightly raised her hand up, and rapped on the door with her gauntlets, with a light metallic chnking. "Hello in there," she said, slowly and patiently. "I understand the thief-takers in this city aren't thorough or particularly skilled, but I'm confident when they arrive here, which they will in a short, short while, they do possess the wherewithal to open a door.


She took a deep breath. "If you will stop cowering like a child under a bed, I promise you, I will do everything in my power to aid you in not being falsely confined. But if you insist on what is frankly a foolish course of action!" Arrowhawk's voice had grown frustrated and a little heated. She audibly took a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. "If you insist, then what I can do is limited without directly assaulting these officers, and to be frank, that would be impolitic."

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Even as the argument raged, Lena spotted what she'd been looking for. Rothstein had definitely been careful; neatly labeled security tapes sat stacked on a shelf beside the computer, and a fresh DvD was spinning in the tray, full of the previous night's footage. It would be easy to take, though its absence would be easily noted - if the cops bothered to check the back room, and weren't drunk or high. It would also be pretty easy to rapidly rewind through the footage and check the events of the previous night, but there was no guarantee as to whether they would be able to manage it before the police arrived.


Luthor, keeping a vigilant ear on the sirens due to his concern, couldn't be entirely sure how long it would be until they showed. But he was pretty sure that, if he and Lena (and maybe Robyn Hood there) left now, they could slip away before any patrol cars pulled up, even through the front entrance.


Arrowhawk's impossibly keen hearing enabled her to guess that only one patrol car was en route. It would probably just be the beat cops arriving to secure the scene, and maybe steal whatever was left over if they thought it wouldn't be missed. Detectives from Burglary Squad, which was notorious for its low success rate and lower officer morale, would show up later - if the beat cops decided that this was even a crime worth investigating, given that the only concrete evidence of a break-in was the fact that everything was gone. They might look into it - or they might decide that there were other explanations and drop it altogether.


It was Stark Hill, but the place was not of Stark Hill, so who knew for sure?

Edited by Kaige
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Lena barely hesitated for an instant before snatching the DVD from the tray and shoving it into her book bag. Rothstein was presumably Jewish - which meant the cops weren't exactly likely to strain themselves looking for him. They wouldn't miss one little disc of security footage. And even if they did...well, her and Luthor would make far better use of it than the cops would.


As a precaution, she also grabbed her mask from her bag and tied it around her face as she rushed back to stand by the door, behind Luthor. "I've got the security footage. Time to go." The sound of the approaching sirens was making the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "We can argue about whose fault this is once we get out of here, yeah?"


She leaned closer to the door to shout through it over the sound of the alarm. "I think we've got what we came for here, so I vote we all make ourselves scarce before the 'thief-takers' show up!" Though Lena had no idea who the hell this woman was, she seemed to want to help them. Lena wasn't one to trust easily, but they also weren't in a position to turn away aid at the moment. "If we leave now, we might not have to fight our way out."

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Luthor shook his head when his little sister so brazenly stole the security DVD. "You better hope the cops just do a walk-through," he said, "and not try to dust for prints or something." He opened the door a crack and glanced at the front windows, only opening it more when he was sure that there weren't any cops in the store already. Satisfied that they weren't going to be nabbed the moment they stuck their heads out, he opened the door all the way and stepped out, sizing up the hooded woman. She was smaller than him, but armored, and someone in Bedlam wearing armor wasn't usually a good idea. "Let's get going, sis," he said, moving to keep himself between Lena and the woman. "We should get out of the way before the cops show up. In fact, we should be far, far away before the cops arrive." He broke for the front door and started crossing towards his truck.

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Arrowhawk sighed, and strode out after the siblings. She liked the woman, but wasn't sure the man being obstructive was going to particularly further their cause. Especially if they planned to just drive off with the evidence. She wasn't entirely confident she'd be able to acquire the footage from the disc, unless it was set so she could just hit Play.


She paused just outside the door, shrugging off the fact the man who'd stood guard by the store hadn't actually seen her go in. She roughly patted him on the shoulder. "It would be helpful if you would speak briefly to the authorities on our behalf. Thank you for standing guard for the owner, I am sure he will appreciate your act of kindness." Arrowhawk tugged on the brim of her hood, before following after the Lexingtons, not waiting for an invitation to do so, and pretty confident that the brother wouldn't give one.

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Adam's heard jerked up as Arrowhawk touched him, eyes wide with shock. "Y... yes, ma'am," he managed. "You're... welcome?"


The trio managed to exit Rothstein's perhaps thirty seconds before a BCPD car rolled leisurely up beside the store. A single officer sat in the battered vehicle - the Bedlam police were supposed to patrol in pairs, but staffing issues and lack of funds meant that was rarely the reality. The cop rolled down his window and leaned over. He had to be over three hundred pounds, with a ratty goatee and greasy hair. Raising one meaty hand, he beckoned to Adam, who hurried over. The morning was relatively still on this less-trafficked street, and their words carried easily. "So what's the big deal?" The officer asked, his tone utterly bored.


"Everything's gone," Adam said, his voice a torrent of pressured speech. "Someone must've robbed the place last night!" The cop leaned a little further out of his window; the inside of his squad car was an utter mess of crushed soda cans and fast food wrappers, which was probably another part of the reason he had to patrol alone. "I don't see any damage," he finally said, his little eyes squinting hard out of his fat face. "The old [slur] probably just finally called it quits. Good riddance, really." Adam stood in disbelief. "Aren't you at least going to get out and look?" The cop answered with nothing but an icy glare.


As the fat man started to roll up his window, his call in to the precinct could be distantly heard. "Blick here. Just people getting worked up over nothing. I'm going back to patrol."


The police car pulled away. Adam stood and stared after it, looking as though he'd been slapped - he seemed almost on the verge of tears, overwhelmed by the morning's series of disasters. It was clear that no help was coming from the BCPD. The only hope for finding out what had really become of Saul Rothstein and his shop lay in Lena's hand.

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Luthor watched the police cruiser drive away and felt the knot in his stomach ease just a touch. They hadn't been picked up, they hadn't needed to fight off a bunch of cops, they could just go home. With any luck the CD would be encrypted or something and Lena would even have to drop the trail right there and then. He climbed into the truck and shut the driver side door, but didn't turn on the key yet. "Listen, uh, lady," he said, calling out to the muscular woman. "Thanks you, you know, not ratting us out. And... I'm sorry I closed a door in your face. Just didn't want to get picked up by the fuzz, not in Bedlam. You know?"

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Lena's breathing was slowing to a more measured rate once more. She felt her lips quirk in a bitter smile - if Bedlam cops weren't such bigots, they might be in a lot of trouble right now. Funny how that worked out. Grunting, she pulled her mask away from her face and tucked it back in her bag as she climbed into the truck cab beside her brother. "You know the cops in this city," she said to the hooded woman. "'Shoot first so you don't have to ask questions later' is their motto." Though you might not have to worry about that so much, she added silently.


She hesitated, unsure of what to say. Trusting people immediately upon meeting them was generally a pretty bad idea, especially in Bedlam. But it also didn't seem quite right to just grab the disc and high-tail it, cutting the hooded woman out. Lena settled on, "You...need a ride out of here or something? Cops might still be sniffing around."

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Arrowhawk peered curiously into the cab of the pickup truck. She'd have to learn to operate one some day, they looked fun. It was also a welcome distraction from the expression on the faces of those inside. It shouldn't inspire such fear, the idea of even being met by the authorities. "They will not come around. The officer did not even care," Osla said matter-of-factly.


She fixed her gaze on Luthor, although she addressed both of them. "The only hope there is of finding the store owner is with the disc you have. The police won't look for him, and I can't access what's on it. What I need isn't a ride, but your help."

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It took a bit of negotiation, but the three vigilantes managed to agree to meet and view the footage. Finding a working public computer was a challenge in Bedlam, and finding one that wasn't in line of sight of people who might become suspicious was even trickier. But there was one place that was a pretty good bet - at least for the brave.


The Endler Library was widely considered one of the City Redevlopment Commission's biggest mistakes, which was saying something given the number and scale of disasters it had achieved. The building was a neo-brutalist travesty of architecture, often mistaken for the Bedlam City Jail. Inside, it was dark and run down, perpetually prowled by winos, drug dealers, and hookers who lurked in the bathrooms. But there were a few banks of public computers tucked into isolated corners of each floor, favorite spots for teenagers and dirty old men with no home internet access to look up adult entertainment but were otherwise undisturbed; no one came to the library to look for books. It was also easy to enter and leave unseen through the building's maze of riot-proof corridors, and even if the vigilantes were spotted they were hardly the most strangely-dressed people there.


The disk fit easily into the shaky drive, and the video footage started up easily - all sorts of video player programs had been downloaded for less savory purposes. It took a little time to find the previous night and scan through it, but it yielded results. At five in the morning, a white van with tinted windows pulled up outside Rothstein's Jewelers. Five men in ski masks got out, duffel bags slung over their shoulders. They walked to the front door, fitted the key, and entered. Internal cameras showed them walk straight to the counter and reach for a series of buttons beneath it, pressing them in careful sequence. They then used keys to quickly open the cases, cleared the contents into their duffels, and walked calmly back out to pile into the van. It had all been done with ease, as if the men had been there before - or had studied the floor plan and security systems carefully.


Only the van's front plate was visible, and it didn't have a number. But the three had been inside the building, and they remembered one other detail: the strong smell of chocolate.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Luthor split his attention between watching the footage and watching everyone else, making sure no one was sneaking up on them or -- potentially worse in this city -- paying them too much attention. So it took him a couple of viewings before he realized why the lettering on the van was bothering him. "Stop it here for a second, Lena." He reached out and tapped a blunt fingertip on the computer screen. "S-N-A-C, and you remember that smell that was inside the jewelry store? It smelled of chocolate. Does anyone else remember that candy company that used to be out on Industrial Drive? Snacking Candies, or something like that. These folks might be camped out in the old factory."

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Arrowhawk looked a little closer, tilting her head silently in thought. Eventually she reached out, lightly tapping the screen with her finger over one of the men, his sleeves rolled up over the elbow. "Their tattoos, they match." She tapped at another man's similar ink. "Maybe it is some company or band using this factory as their base camp. I see no other reason why their markings would be so similar to one another."


She glanced at the two siblings. "Is that plausible? I am not familiar with organisations of this nature and their manners of operating." Osla didn't particularly know much about Midgard street gangs, but her father had mentioned their prevalence in the manner of crime he often combated.

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Lena leaned in close to the screen as she scrutinized the footage, unconsciously twisting one of her dreads around her finger. "Wait, I recognize that ink," she said. Raising one finger, she traced the distinctive shape of the tattoo. "Bikers. Skinheads, I think." Ought to be fun. "It's a gang tat for sure. This isn't something you just get from some corner ink parlor. Not if you've got any sense in your damn head." She sat back in the flimsy swivel chair, considering. "Adds up. Robbing some old Jewish guy's store certainly seems like something a bunch of skinhead assholes would do."


There was something else that looked like it could make things interesting. "Tell you one other thing," she said, jabbing a finger at the monitor. "They aren't Brotherhood. Wrong ink. Out-of-towners would be my guess - probably doing business without the Mafia's okay." She hesitated, then looked at their strange new acquaintance, who didn't seem to have much of a working understanding of the city. "Brotherhood are the only ones the Mafia say get to ride in this city. Anybody else gets shut down or put down." She turned back to the monitor, her eyes drawn to the "SNAC" visible on the side of the van. "If they are laying their heads in the old candy factory, that might explain it. New in town, no other place to hole up."


They had their lead. She rose, grabbing her book bag with one hand and slinging it around her shoulders. "Think we've got a candy factory to scope out. If they're in there, we'll just go have a conversation with them, yeah?" Glancing again at the hooded woman, she jerked her head. "Coming?"

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