Saturday, July 23, 2016

Maywitch Chapter 4: Shadows in the Alley

Previous Chapter: Contracts
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Five hours and two bathroom breaks later, the white van was still barreling along, its headlights cutting pale swatches in the dusk. Kay felt like she could see the neon glow of Las Vegas’ lights already, but perhaps that was just her imagination. She set her paperwork aside just as Juan finished a phone call and turned around, facing the others from the passenger seat.
“We actually just finalized the plan, so listen up,” he said. “Advance team has confirmed that he’s alone, and they will contact Holly and I directly if that changes. Holly, you and Kay are getting out first and going to stake out the target. Six feet tall, white, male, dark hair in a ponytail. Non-mage, as far as we know, but it’s fishy as hell that he just happens to live at the exact epicenter of some of these tremors. Holly, you’re possessing him, as planned, but you’re also responsible for making and drinking the memory potion, and then getting the fuck out before the potion kicks in. Not too soon, though, because we want this guy to be wobbly enough that he can’t call 911 before he passes out. Wait for my signal and then wait one minute.”

Holly nodded confidently, and Kay wondered if she had spent the entire car ride playing out the scenario in her head. The plan was fairly simple, but since possession required the mage to have the target in her sight, they could be staking out the house for a while as they waited for him to come near a window.
“Nadia, head over to the house with me about two minutes after Holly and Kay. You’re responsible for searching the first floor, as we discussed. Kay, your sole job is to stay by Holly’s body outside and be prepared to haul her out of there if things go south somehow. Let us know if you spot anyone fishy, if the situation allows. But Holly is your first priority, and leave us if you need to.” Juan nodded firmly to Holly, who smiled back. “Emergency rendezvous point has been sent to your phones. Otherwise, meet at the cafe at Winston and North when we’re done. Let’s do this.”
Though she had some lingering questions – why didn’t they know for sure whether or not he was a mage? And what were they looking for? - Kay figured she should let the others finish getting ready instead of asking. They had given her an easy job, so she didn’t need to know details right away. Nadia and Holly glanced at their Maywitch-issued smartphones to get a basic grasp of where the emergency rendezvous point was, but seemed generally unconcerned with the mission at hand.
The van pulled into a parking spot behind a dilapidated store, and Holly jumped out, followed by Kay. They strolled across the parking lot to an alley, where Holly glanced over her shoulder for an instant before walking into the violet shadows.
Kay could feel her heart pounding against her lungs, but somehow, she was more concerned for Holly than herself. What was Maywitch doing trusting someone so young with something like this? Was this the best possessor they had – or the only one?
They cautiously crossed a side street and walked into an alley even darker than the first one. Holly abruptly stopped and glanced at Kay. “The lights are on,” she whispered.
Kay squinted ahead, where the back of the white, two-story house was visible through chain-link fencing. Since it was a duplex, they could likely sneak up to the side of the house and feign ignorance if they were caught - just say that they were there to see the person upstairs, and got confused about where the door to that unit was. But Kay didn’t want to play that card unless necessary, since it meant that Holly’s possession-induced fainting would occur dangerously close to the house.
And what if the person Holly possessed wasn’t alone, or she possessed the wrong person in her haste? Kay found herself regretting not asking about the intel and reasoning that had brought them to this point. It all seemed more dangerous than it was worth.
Holly, though, seemed nonplussed as she took a few steps closer, trying to act casual as she squinted at the house. Kay glanced around, knowing that while their target probably wouldn’t spot them from such a distance, other nosy neighbors could.
Holly took several steps closer. Kay tiptoed behind her, about to encourage her to slow down, when a door slammed somewhere ahead of them. Holly craned her head to the right before glancing over her shoulder and nodding to Kay. She turned back around, and a second later, her body was falling to the ground.
Kay barely had time to react, and she strained her arms as she caught Holly’s petite form. She scrambled backward and dragged Holly over to a neighbor’s garage just out of sight of the target’s house. This whole possessor-babysitting thing would take some getting used to, she mused as she pulled out her phone.
H in, she texted to Juan.
There was no response, but a few minutes later, she heard a door open and close again in the target’s yard. She had no choice but to wait for them to be done. Asking them for a progress report would only slow them down.
Holly was still breathing, so Kay focused on keeping an eye out for nosy neighbors and trying to act casual. There wasn’t necessarily anything weird about two college-age girls loitering in a back alley, and one of them being unconscious, she told herself. They could be drunk and waiting on a ride. They could be waiting on a roommate to get home because they locked themselves out.
Or, she thought, they could be weirdos trying to cause trouble. It was Las Vegas, after all. What was her cover story if someone called the police? And what would they do if they figured out Holly was unconscious - but not because of alcohol?
For a moment, Kay considered trying to take Holly back to the van, but then there was a loud, clanging noise in the target’s yard. It sounded like a gate being closed.
Kay glanced around the corner of the garage, and was relieved when she saw Nadia. There was something glowing in her hand. It took Kay only a second to realize that it was an old, obsolete flip phone.
That’s odd, Kay thought as she watched Nadia type something into the phone. Maywitch’s phones, including the one Nadia had with her in the car, were all smartphones. Had Nadia found a phone in the house?
But as Nadia continued typing for over a minute, Kay realized that it had to be her personal phone. They had been ordered to leave their personal phones behind - mostly for external security reasons, but also to ensure that staff couldn’t do anything without Maywitch having a record of it.
Kay watched as Nadia went to the trash bin just outside the fence, looked inside, and walked back to the house. Juan had probably asked her to check the trash for anything weird, Kay thought.
As Nadia reached the top of the back steps, she turned and glanced around the yard, and Kay pulled back out of sight. There was no way that Nadia wasn’t up to something. She had lost Kay’s trust a long time ago, and now, Kay was in a position to do something about it.
Kay peeked around the corner again, and when she saw that Nadia had disappeared again, she crept toward the house. A light popped on behind one first-floor window, and her heart leapt into her throat.
A shadow passed in front of the window, but disappeared shortly after. It was too tall to be Nadia - it had to be the target, possessed by Holly. Kay froze at the edge of the yard, wondering if she should turn back before someone caught her there and started asking questions.
A few minutes later, the light in the window turned off, and Kay decided to tiptoe back to her post. She quietly latched the gate behind her as she left the yard, turned right, and nearly ran directly into Holly.
Holly’s expression was impossible to read in the evening darkness, but Kay could sense her anger. “There you are,” Holly said as she brushed off her jeans. “Let’s go.”
Kay bit her lip as color rushed to her cheeks. She wanted to say something - explain, apologize for leaving her alone, tell her about Nadia, something - but Holly turned and walked toward North Avenue, her footsteps seeming louder than usual. Kay followed, wondering if her young charge would say something to the others when they got to the cafe.

Nadia and Juan had left through the front of the house, and when they met Kay and Holly a few minutes later, they seemed to have no idea that Kay had left her post. They walked through the half-lit streets back to the van, where their driver hurried them back to the base.
Holly was silent on the ride home. As Kay stared out the window, she felt a nauseating feeling of dread sink into her stomach. Not only was Nadia up to something shady, but Holly was pissed off - rightfully so - and might not care to hear Kay’s explanation of the situation.
When they got back to the base, Juan held a debriefing: nothing of interest was found, and they would be leaving this person alone for a while. Their surveillance team indicated that the target had called 911 after waking up from his amnesia-inducing slumber, but other than that, the mission had been completed without any hiccups. Kay thought about asking more questions about next steps, but she doubted they had been decided upon yet. Juan seemed to get information constantly and change his plans accordingly.
As they headed to the cafeteria to grab dinner, Nadia offered Kay a quick smile. “Did you get bored back there?” Nadia asked.
Kay froze before trying to disguise her nervousness with a shrug. Had Nadia spotted her after all? “Sure did,” she said. “But it’s all good. Comes with the job, right?”
“Yeah. Once we get you trained a bit better, maybe you’ll get to do something more interesting, huh?”
Kay shrugged again. Nadia’s expression held no hint of that familiar suspicion that Kay knew so well. Then again, she thought, maybe Nadia had gotten a little more poker-faced over the years.

They grabbed their food from the cafeteria, but since it was about to close, they took their food back to their respective rooms to eat instead. Kay stared at her meal for nearly twenty minutes before eating. It was more than just concern about what Holly would or wouldn’t say - it was fear of what Nadia would or wouldn’t do. That, she knew, was her own experience warning her to sleep with one eye open.

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