This is the continuing story of the Succubi called Storm Clouds…
Chapter 12 begins this week, not in the Succubi Realm but in the world of human darkness…
Storm Clouds XLV
Tom leaned against a tree watching as Brent played with his children next to a small fountain with a soaring angel in the center. He was puzzled by what the fountain was supposed to mean, and that showed on his face. After all, who would expect an angel motif in a place that didn’t seem to have a lot of angel-looking beings in it?
Camilla came around from behind the fountain, carrying a small box in her hands. When she came close to Tom, she asked if he had eaten anything. When he didn’t answer, she simply put a wrapped sandwich in his hands and, with a nod of her head, directed him to have a seat at a picnic table nearby.
After getting settled, Tom watched as she began to pick at a salad. As he unwrapped the sandwich, he asked, “Something bothering you?”
She paused and then began, “What bothers me, Thomas, is that I have lost a Sister. I suffer for that. But that’s nothing compared to Brent and his children.”
Tom picked out a slice of tomato, “How bad is it for Brent?”
She poked the fork into the salad with some force, “If he didn’t have the children, I am sure that he would … be no more.”
Tom considered that as he took a bite, “He’s still here. So are the kids. And you. He doesn’t strike me as the type to put a bullet to his head and end it all. Sorry, Camilla, I’m not going to dwell on that.”
“Heartless, aren’t you Thomas? Or is that just a means to protect yourself?”
Tom reached into a pocket of his jacket and tossed a small notebook onto the table between them: “Haven’t the time to dwell right now Camilla. Brent gave me a list of people that had something against him. I can look into the ones who are people. You game to grill the ones who aren’t?”
She turned the notebook around and opened the cover. After a moment she whistled: “I would not have guessed at any of these.”
Tom wiped his lips with a napkin, “How bad are the names you recognize? The ones I do are lousy, but I can take most of them from the list. I’m looking for a killer, and most of them are playboys, play-toys and thrill seekers. They don’t qualify.”
Another bite. “Three of them I’ll have to grill.”
She considered him, “At least your list is a short one. From this side I can see ten times that many creatures and things who would have loved to be the one to have done this…”
Tom shook his head, “Not love, Camilla. Need.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Tom explained, “Some people would love to get an advantage over someone else. That’s a wish, a hope and nothing more. Then there are those that need to get that revenge or whatever else they see it as. They have the power to do so, and more so, they wouldn’t be stopped by anything to get it. That’s need.”
She started back at the beginning of the list again, her fingers tracing down the names. Then she said, “Two that we can get to; one that I would not touch with a ten foot pole and an army of hellhounds behind me.”
Arching an eyebrow, he asked, “That bad?”
She shrugged, “Worse. We’ll need help to see that one.”
Tom considered his sandwich, “You know something? I am more inclined to believe that whoever did this is on your turf rather than mine.”
Raising her fork, she explained, “It can be that someone, as you say, on our turf started this, but you don’t understand how things work in your world. You see, Thomas, while some creatures like us can exist there and interact with your people, there are so many more that need an anchor, something or someone to believe in them and give them purchase in your world. Without that they can’t do anything physical.”
Confused, Tom just nodded for her to continue.
“Magic is thin in your world now. Creatures that once thrived in your world now can’t exist there. Oh they can look in, try to whisper thoughts and ideas into people’s minds and see what happens, but, without someone who believes, like a wizard, mage, or witch… they can’t actually do anything there.”
“Then how do you all manage to be there?”
She smiled, “Sex is a powerful thing. Love more so. If you are intimately connected with both of those, then crossing over isn’t a hard thing to do.”
He nodded slowly, “Base desires and overwhelming needs are the gateway to the soul or something?”
They were quiet for a time until Tom said, “I need to get back, get on and see those names. Can you check your list and … ?”
She shook her head, “No. You are stuck with me for the moment, Thomas. You can do your investigating there and then we’ll both see what happens.”
He frowned, “Are you telling me that I am going to have to go with you to see what you are afraid of seeing?”
“Afraid doesn’t mean I will not go there. But here’s the thing: you are a detective. You know how to ask questions and, moreover, you see more than I do. I think that you asking the questions of them will get us further than I can alone. Besides which, you have one power over them that I don’t.”
Tom looked shocked: “Power? I got nothing.”
Camilla gave a small shake of her head, “You have free will. You have the ability to choose. Most of the creatures we will have to see do not have that luxury. They are connected to other beings in ways that make them what they are. You however … you don’t have that flaw.”
He sighed, “No. I have the flaw that makes me always do the right thing.”
She munched on her salad, “That’s not a flaw. It’s a gift.”
A small smile, “Some gift.”
She just prodded her salad, “Better than most. Count your blessings Thomas.”
Tom chewed on that, and on his sandwich before asking, “Tell me something. Why is it that you always speak to me so formally? It’s always Thomas, not Tom. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard any of you use nicknames or shortened names, for that matter.”
“Manners count, Thomas.”
He gave her a look, “Well I can understand that, Mom always said that having a civil tongue was timportant, but…”
She shook her head, “No buts about it. You can get further with a kind word than with a foul one.”
Tom’s smile was just this side of wicked, “You can get further still with a kind word and a two-by-four.”
“Oh so you have met Tera before, then?”
A similar smile appeared, “You sound a lot like her when she’s in a mood, you know.”
Tom stuck the last of the sandwich in his mouth and mumbled, “Probably why she liked me.”
Taking the list back from Camilla, Tom reviewed it again trying to decide who he would try to see first. Running his finger down the list he tapped one name, “Okay. I think I want to start to get on the bad side of the big names in the city.”
Camilla put her fork down and opened her purse. Taking out a small business card, she handed it to him, “Take this. Some places, your badge won’t get you far. This will open those doors for you.”
Tom considered the card. It wasn’t made of paper. It was a solid piece of silver made into a business card. Written on it was a short line of gold text: He’s doing me a favour. And then a single handwritten letter “T”.
“You can’t be serious.”
Camilla finished the last of her salad with the reply, “Try it. But only as a last resort, okay?”
Deciding that this wasn’t a card to be thrust into a pocket to be crushed, he took out the billfold that held his badge and placed the card into the pocket on the other side of it. Snapping it shut, he replied, “Well, it might as well be next to that piece of tin, to keep it company.”
Camilla picked up what was left of the meal they had shared and tossed it into a bin nearby. Motioning to Tom, she led him to Brent and the children where she said her goodbyes to them. She spoke with Brent quietly for a moment before turning to the kids and giving them a long loving hug.
Tom knelt down to look into the kids eyes and said, “Look after your Dad, okay, kids?” The answer was just a shy nod from them both before they ran over to their father and hid behind him. Tom stood up and offered his hand to Brent, “Do her proud right?”
Brent shook the offered hand with a firm grip, “I will. Watch your back out there, Thomas. Not all things are exactly what they seem.”
Releasing his grip, Tom said, “Rarely is. But sometimes you see exactly what is there, Brent.”
He then turned away and walked to Camilla: “Let’s go. Time’s a-wastin.”
It was a short walk until they were out of sight of Brent and the children. Then Camilla’s horns and tail reappeared as she drew a pattern in the air. Moments later and a portal appeared.
“I don’t think I will ever get used to that.”
She laughed, “Be happy you don’t have to deal with a Tail.”
“Seriously: what exactly does that mean?”
Camilla just smiled as they passed through the portal and it closed after them, leaving a small whirlwind of dust in their wake.
Leaves fluttered around in the afternoon breeze moving here and there aimlessly until finally they came to rest on the green lawn beneath them. The chairs had long been taken away, the place where people had gathered to say goodbye was a plain open space once again.
Then, with a flash of light, a portal opened there, once again making the leaves spin and fly around until it vanished, revealing two figures standing there. Tom and Camilla had returned to the place their journey had begun earlier that day.
Tom looked around, “Looks like they all left without us.”
Camilla brushed some leaves from her hair, “What needed to be said was. Tera would have thanked them, comforted some of them, and reminded them that life needed to be lived.”
“She’s a theologian, too?”
A small giggle, “She is who she is.”
Tom paused for a moment to look at the scene around him, still not quite believing all that he had seen before offering his arm to Camilla, “We’d better get going.”
She held up a finger towards him to wait and then, to Tom’s surprise, her body and clothing shimmered. If looked as if she was underwater for a moment and then it vanished. Camilla stood there, no horns, no tail, and now wearing a blue sweater and jeans.
“You must save a lot of money on clothes with that stunt.”
As she took his arm, a wink and the words, “Well fashion is important to a girl you know.”
Together they walked side by side from the backyard, through the ground level, and out the front doors of the brownstone building.
As they passed through the front yard, they could see Tera, sitting on a balcony, high up on the third floor of the building. She was in the same dress she had worn for the ceremony that morning, looking concerned with what was going on and why someone would threaten her own. She rested on a wrought iron chair, a small table with some papers upon it beside that.
She watched as Tom and Camilla hailed a passing cab and then entered it. Tom was the last to enter, pausing for a moment to look back at Tera.
He touched two fingers to his left temple and then nodded to her. Tera’s reply was the raising of the tea cup towards him and a nod in return. As the cab left, she continued to pick apart what she had learned from those that had attended this morning, and, even more so, those that had not.
Someone was threatening her own, that was concerning, but, more over, the reason why escaped her for the moment. Still, she had found someone to search the mortal realm, and she had placed with him someone that could help to protect him.
She hoped that wouldn’t be necessary …
As she sipped the cup of tea in her hand, a voice broke her thoughts: “Why are we doing nothing?”
Placing the cup on the table, she answered, “We are doing something. The old ways are long gone, we cannot simply strike without aim. Our kind is better and smarter than that. Come here, Daughter … It is not seemly to hide in the shadows and seethe in anger …”
A snort of derision was the only answer until Jane came into view. She walked past Tera and stared off into the city around them. Crossing her arms over her chest, she began to rant, “You place your trust in a human, someone who has no idea what he faces. You ask one of your own to look after that human and, moreover, you tell her to submit to his will. How can you do this?”
“I can …”
“That is not an answer.”
“Of course it is, Daughter. It is the very first lesson I learned, so long ago. I can believe in others. I can trust in others. That is the first lesson in knowing yourself and what you can do.”
Jane gripped the railing until her knuckles were white, the anger within her so very clear as she twisted her hands against the cold steel. Looking over towards Tera, she remarked, “I don’t believe that Brent told us the truth.”
“I know he has. For what reason would be lie about his Eternal? Just because you do not understand does not make his words false…”
“You have trust, Tera. I do not. I buried my twin today. I have lost a part of myself that … I should have known she was in danger and helped her … I couldn’t. I want someone to pay for this. I want to be there to strip skin from bones and cause an eternity of suffering for this.”
Tera’s sigh was long and sad, “Have you forgotten all that you have learned Jane? Are you really so willing to fall into darkness for this? You are still young in our ways, but you know well that what you ask for… cannot be.”
Jane didn’t look towards Tera, “I should have been there.”
“You could not, Daughter … You were not in a place to help her. No one was. She was targeted by someone or something that wants something from us.”
Jane continued to fume, “Then strike back against them… All of them… Tera, just send out the Syreen. They are hunters, they will find the ones responsible and make them pay.”
Tera picked up the cup, “All right Daughter. Who shall we send them against? The humans for being here? Those beneath that wish us harm? Those above that cannot understand us?”
A sip of the tea and then, “Being vague would mean that you condemn all around you to the same fate. A fate that they do not deserve. The ones that did this? They will be found and then taught the error of their attack on us. But not a moment before I have proof of that, and not a moment sooner.”
That made Jane pause for a moment, her thoughts putting what Tera had said together with something she had read that morning. Looking to the grass below, she whispered, “I saw a story in the newspaper today. It mentioned the place where Brent had been. It said that a man had been seen leaving the place before the fire started.”
Tera shook her head slightly as if to say no, but then she brushed a finger over her lips before answering, “That would mean someone else was there, obviously. Then the question to be asked is: what was he there for and what, if anything, does he have to do with what happened there?”
Another whisper from Jane: “Or Brent is lying about what happened.”
Jane heard the cup settle upon the table and then… silence.
The silence that followed those words extended for a time and then, to Jane’s surprise, she felt a hand take hold of her right wrist and begin to pull her into the building, the tea cup on the table tumbling into space as she was forced inside and out of sight of the surrounding world.
When she turned around, she saw Tera standing there with her red horns and tail visible. The tail pointed at Jane as harsh words passed through the air: “If you see an error in my ways, Daughter, say so. If you feel that I am wrong, prove it. If you have a better idea, show me. If all you have is opinion and anger, you do me and your Sister not a single bit of good.”
Tera closed the distance between them, pressing Jane against the wall behind her in fear of her Queen’s wrath. She closed her eyes, waiting for the strike of a hand against her cheek and the words of displeasure she knew were to come.
But instead, she felt a brush of fingertips against that cheek and then, for a moment, all she could do was listen to Tera’s words as her body refused to move under that touch …
“How do you think I feel, Jane? How do you think I feel when one of you is harmed? How much more do I suffer when one of you dies? How much worse is it when that is for no good reason? You talk of the pain you have for Patricia’s passing in your heart. As her mother, do you not think I share that?”
Jane couldn’t look at her. For the first time since she had become one of Tera’s she felt ashamed for disappointing her. A tremble in her voice revealed her fear as she asked, “Mother… have… have I disappointed you?”
She found her head turned towards Tera, and could not resist the power behind that. Tera’s voice was soft again, “You have not disappointed me Daughter… Am I worried? Yes. Do I fear for you? Always. But you have not disappointed me. That would take far more than some anger towards me.”
Jane’s eyes fell upon Tera, seeing a soft smile on her lips and the love of a mother in her eyes. She felt Tera’s fingers stroke against her skin and then, unbidden, tears began to fall across that cheek, wetting the fingers that remained there. Jane managed a sob, “I …”
The sob was answered by a soft hush and the words, “Do not let the need for revenge or the hate that comes with it cloud your judgment …”
Jane whimpered the truth, “I can’t, Tera … I just can’t …”
“I know… I’ve been there before…”
She felt a tail wrap around her legs, and then she was in Tera’s embrace, the tears coming without end …
… and Tera just telling her to let it all out …
The cab ride was a quiet one for Camilla and Tom. When he started to ask her a question she would either shake her head slightly or give his arm a little poke with a finger trying to get him to stop asking the question. Tom understood why she wouldn’t want to talk about her kind, or world, or anything else that was related to things normal people wouldn’t understand. But he couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t talk about her job, her life in the city or anything else except the weather.
The cab eventually stopped in front of a old broken-down looking warehouse on the south side of the city. It was placed on the edge of the piers and shipping port there, a place that Tom didn’t know that well…
…but he knew of the group they were going to see.
The cab left after Camilla paid the fare. She was very insistent on getting a receipt for it and when Tom asked her why, the answer was: “I am on company time after all. They can pay for it.”
Seeing the practicality in that view, Tom nodded and then looked towards their destination, “Right. Welcome to the seedy underbelly of our fine city. In here you will find an assortment of motley characters that would be happy stabbing you in the back or chest, whichever was closer to them.”
“How nice… I shall have to send them a pie sometime…”
Tom just looked at Camilla: was she kidding? Then he realized that she was putting up a good front for him so that he wouldn’t worry about her. Taking the lead he replied, “Let me do the talking here okay?”
She just nodded and followed one step behind and to Tom’s right…
Opening the door and entering the warehouse, the pair found themselves in a small open area with a low railing surrounding it. It was large enough to have a couple of chairs by the door, a water cooler next to that, and taking up almost all of the rest was a single large old wooden desk that faced the door. Beyond the railing, the interior of the warehouse was shaded in darkness save for the few places that overhead lights burned with a low buzzing sound illuminating the rows and aisles within.
Behind the desk was a red-headed young man. He wore a pair of overalls with the name Billy stitched onto a patch over his heart. He was more interested in the newspaper on his desk than the people that had entered and for a few moments he just continued to read it and ignore them.
Seeing a bell on the desk, Tom struck it once, the sound being swallowed up in the depths of the warehouse. Billy looked up then, “Yah? You here ta pick somethin’ up?”
“We’d like to speak to the owner please.”
“He tiant in. Mebby next month you’ll have more luck.”
Tom was about to get a bit rough when he heard Camilla move behind him and then, to his surprise, the sound of the water cooler bubbling as water was taken from it. He turned to see Camilla taking one of the seats and sipping at the paper cup she now held in her hand. Tom had a small smile on his face then as he answered, “Well, that’ll be fine. My associate will wait here and I’ll just step outside and tell the paddy wagon boys to start coming in.”
With that, Tom turned and strode to the door. His hand had begun to turn the handle when he heard a new, gruff voice behind him, “Y’all don’t need be getting out of hand here ‘tective. The boy’s juz doing his job.”
Tom’s smile became larger when he had turned back and saw the newcomer. With a chuckle he greeted them with, “Nice to know that I’m remembered old friend.”
From the shadows appeared a man that didn’t fit the voice. He was dressed to the nines in a three piece black suit that looked to be worth a small fortune on its own. A slender man, looking almost frail, but Tom knew that under that exterior was a fighter. Grey haired, his piercing grey eyes belied the intelligence held in them that many missed in dealing with him. He passed through a gate and then stopped in front of Tom, offering his hand: “Nice ta see ya Tommy. Been what? Five years?”
Tom took the hand in his and gave it a firm shake, “Seven. You left the force and turned into a man around town Bill. Just don’t run in those circles.” Tom released the hand and then motioned Camilla to join them. He explained, “This is Camilla. She’s new.”
She smiled and offered her hand, “Very nice to meet a friend of Thomas’.”
Bill took the hand and, to Tom’s surprise, kissed it in the old-fashioned way before releasing it, “I’m sure Tommy dun know how lucky he is. Com’ on in,Lil Billy can watch the store while we talk.”
After passing through the gate, Tom struck up a conversation: “That’s Billy? Really? How old is he now?”
“Eighteen. Smart lil bugger. Mebby smarter than me at that age. Boy’s been running this place for the last coupla years. Proud of ’em.”
“You should be. Wish I would have known that I would have found him here, wouldn’t have been such a hardass.”
“Good for the boy. Builds character ‘n all that crap. Sorry Ma’am.”
Camilla laughed softly, “No offense taken I promise.”
The three of them walked the length of the warehouse until they ended their walk in a large glassed-in office space there. It looked like the typical business office, computers, filing cabinets, rows of desks within cubicles. As they passed through, the occasional “Good morning Sir.” was greeted with a nod or a gruff “Mornin'” from Billy. The three entered a large office that had a nameplate on the door declaring to the world that: Mr. Shipping, was within.
Bill took his leather chair behind the desk as he motioned to Tom and Camilla to have a seat on the leather sofa there. After cracking his knuckles, Bill asked: “So what’s gotcha in here Tommy?”
“I’m looking into a murder. Happened a couple of days ago. I hate to say it Bill but, you are one of the people under investigation.”
The look of surprise was followed by: “Funny. Now fer real. why ya here?”
“I’m not joking Bill. The wife of a reporter was killed last night. Stabbed in the back. Brutal, ugly mess. The investigation so far points at a small number of names and you are on it.”
Bill rocked back in his chair and then tapped his right hand against the arm of the chair before saying, “Ya mean that rag reporter that goes around pokin into other people’s business right?”
Tom nodded, “Read about it?”
A grunt, “Ya. Decided that going to the funeral waz no good. Me and that hack dun like each other. Pissed me off coupla years ago. Still am.”
“Have to tell me about it. You know the drill.”
Another grunt: “Right. Traci died after Billy was born. Didn’t think about anything but Billy till he got out of school. Managed that coupla years ago. Billy gave me a yellin’ to and told me ta get out there and find somebody cause I waz a mess. Waz right. Had put everythin into the business for so long after I left tha force. Couldn’t stay in the force cause of, ya know.”
Tom nodded, “Still don’t believe that was your fault Bill. Never have.”
He smiled, “I remember. Never forgot either. Met a girl. Nice, proper, classy. Was doin’ well and finally I was gonna pop the question to her. Was in that old barbershop on 22nd, you know the one, talking to the barber about why I wanted ta look pruty, and in the next chair waz that hack. Spilled the beans in his rag the next day. Took her to a nice place that night and when I asked her, the newshounds were there, snapping pictures and shoving questions at us. Made a mess of it. Pissed me off. She ran off and I took a swing at him, knocked him to the floor, gave ’em a busted nose, and that got into the papers too.”
Tom sighed, “You always had a shot fuse buddy.”
“Ya. Spent the next year suing the tag, him, coupla others. Called in some favors and made his life, rough.”
Bill leaned forward in the chair and brushed the top of his desk before answering, “I wanted him to know that I was pissed. So some of the boyz in the docks followed him and tried to scare him. Didn’t work. Tough bastard.”
“Did you kill her?”
The look of hurt in Bill’s eyes spoke volumes before the words did, “Nah. Tommy, I couldn’t, wouldn’t ever raise a hand to hurt a lady. Any lady. If one of the boyz did this. they know that I’d hurt them and then, if they lived, they’d be in jail where friends of mine would make sure that they’d never get out alive.”
Tom looked over at Camilla to see that she had a look of shock and disbelief in her eyes.
Bill continued, “Ma’am, ya need to understand that in this business you have to look touch and be tough or they walk over ya. I am a hardass, i can be a bastard and more, but I got honor in me. Some stuff is sacred.”
Camilla asked, “Did you ever see her again?”
Bill looked at the desk, “Still talkin’ to her. She’s shy, pretty n stuff, see her in quiet places so that she dun have that happen again.”
“But you did not give up? Even after two years?”
Pointing to his head, Bill replied: “Too hard-headed Ma’am.
Camilla smiled, “Not that… you love her, so… Do not give up on her please?”
“Only if she gives up on me Ma’am”
Tom broke in, “Bill, have to ask you something. Of all of your people, is there anyone that might have done this?”
Billy’s voice came into the room from behind, “Me. Y’all better talk to me too.”