For the record, I've always admired Uncle Nate but after tonight my respect for him has gone through the roof. When I got his e-mail last night telling me he was on the way to help deal with the monster who's been terrorizing our town, I was relieved. But when he showed up... no, wait. I need to take a few steps back. I've got to tell this story right.
Besides telling me he was on the way, the e-mail listed a time and place for us to meet tonight. It's an out of the way pub here in town called “Draughts“, which is where we normally get together. It's a nice little place run by a father and son who, like me, are part of Nate's extended family. Big Frank and Frank Jr. are good people and they know just about everyone here in town. They also know what you like to drink, so when I walked in a glass of my favorite brew appeared on the bar before I finished settling my ass down on the stool.
I started to pull out my wallet and Big Frank shook his head, “Nate's already got you covered tonight,” he told me with a knowing smile and wandered off to take care of some other patrons.
Glancing around the room I saw a number of familiar faces and a couple of others I didn't, like the pretty blonde down at the end of the bar. I knew she wasn't from around here, a face like that everyone would know and remember, but by the same token I could also tell she wasn't a 'working' girl either. For one thing she seemed absorbed in reading her Kindle, for another no one was hitting on her. A few of the guys I went to high school were looking her way and shaking their heads. Clearly they'd been shot down and were still trying to figure her out, but I had other things on my mind. Like where was Nate?
After about thirty minutes there was still no sign of Nate anywhere. So I pulled out my phone and dialed the number I had for him, but after four rings it went to voicemail. Looking over at Big Frank who was talking to the blonde at the end of the bar, I caught his eye and gestured to him. After sharing a laugh with the girl, he came over and asked, “Need a refill?”
Shaking my head I replied, “Nah, I'm good right now. You told me earlier Nate's covering my drinks, so that means you've seen him. Do you know where he is? He was supposed to meet me here I've been waiting and waiting, but there's no sign of him.”
“That's what you think,” he replied mysteriously.
For a moment I started to get annoyed and then I remembered, Nate can take many forms and might be keeping a low profile for reasons of his own. Immediately, I scanned the room again for anything unusual.
One or two people had left, and a young couple had appeared and were enjoying a quiet drink in one corner, but otherwise everything seemed the same. Then I started to take in the smaller details like was there any kind of hazy film in the air, or a “Red Mouse” (he loves to use those to spy on people or place), but there was nothing. Not even a black dog hanging around underneath the pool table, which he used one time which helped me and the team bust some drug dealers. But there was no joy in Mudville, once more it seemed I'd struck out.
Shaking my head, I turned back to talk to Frank only to find the pretty blonde from the end of the bar was now on the other side of the bar slipping the flash drive I'd brought for Nate into not a Kindle but a tablet.
I stared at her for a second and was about to protest when my eyes caught my reflection in the mirror of the bar behind her. I could see myself perfectly, but even though she was right in front of me there was no sign of blondie. Blinking I shook my head and muttered aloud, “Na...”
“-Dine,” he cut in without taking his/her eyes off the screen. In the mirror's reflection I could see he was flipping through the pages I'd scanned of the case at an incredible pace. It was like watching the character Quicksilver, from Marvel comics, going through a volume of “War and Peace”.
After my initial surprise passed I leaned in closer and hissed, “I know you're busy reading those files I scanned for you, but we might want to relocate to another area where there's not a mirror where everyone CANNOT see your reflection in!”
That got Nate. He/she... aw hell I'm going to call Nate her for the rest of this entry. It just makes things easier.
Nadine's eyes finally locked with mine and she muttered, “I thought we had that mirror replaced...” and quickly got out from behind the bar. We paused to retrieve her jacket and bag from the end of the bar. As we passed my old buddies shooting pool, I saw the looks of disbelief they were shooting me. I hung back briefly and leaned in to tell them, “Turns out she digs guys who wear uniforms.”
As they shook their heads I followed Nadine to a secluded booth in the corner. But as I did, I found myself checking 'her' out. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Now I'd known for years that my 'uncle' could change form, but what I was seeing before me was beyond words. The way her hair fell, how she walked, every little gesture... I could swear I was in the company of a real woman.
After we got settled in, she finished looking over the files and her face took on a troubled expression much like the ones I'd seen at work. “Now you know why I called you in,” I told her breaking the silence..
She nodded. “Yeah, this one's a real bastard.” Looking up at me she continued, “I think you're right about the military training. I don't know if he actually served or if the guy has been part of a para-military group, but he definitely knows what he's doing.”
“We've been thinking the same thing, much as everyone hates to admit it,” I told her. “The idea that someone we might know has been doing all this is just...”
“Sickening,” she finished, “I know. I've been down this road before. When I was a kid, before I 'changed' we had a psycho running loose back in Pointer. Turned out to be someone we all knew and thought the world of... but that's another story. From what I've seen in your files, this guy likes to abduct his victims and keep them alive for a few days before he's done with them. Tell me, is there anyone missing right now that you know of?”
“Not at the moment, which is why Terri tried acting as a decoy,” I explained. “We were hoping to lure him out. Our boss had people positioned all over the park, yet he still got to her and KNEW who she was!”
“Which is why he tried killing her right there on the spot instead of kidnapping her,” Nadine nodded. “And yet he still got past everyone... which makes me think he's a local. He must've known ways in and out of there to get away.”
“We're not that big a force,” I pointed out, “And things got chaotic when we saw how bad Terri had been hurt...” then stopped as she shook her head.
“Plus, someone was burning rubber leaving the area, which threw you all off.”
I nodded, “Turned out to be someone who'd heard her screams and instead of coming to help her, they took off while phoning it in. They had no idea we were already on the scene.”
My face must've betrayed something because Nadine reached over and gave my hand a reassuring squeeze. “We'll get this guy and put a stop to him once and for all, I promise.”
I smiled back at her. “I know you will.”
“WE will!” she corrected me and stood up. “Shall we get started? He's out there and I came all this way looking my best just for him.”
Standing up I followed her out of the bar and didn't say anything until we were outside and out of earshot. “Do you really think your 'disguise' is going to lure him out?”
“He has one type of girl he's been going after. Blonde, young, good-looking, and with a lot of self-confidence.”
I paused in mid-step. “Okay... we knew about the first three but what about that last part?”
Turning she replied, “A cheerleader, a local actress, two 'working' girls, all of them exude confidence and self-assurance. And so did your partner Terri.”
It suddenly dawned on me, “So you're thinking our boy has a thing against women who remind him of someone in particular. Who may be alive or already dead for all we know. And if she's dead, he might have even done it himself, but once wasn't enough.”
“Exactly,” Nadine agreed and gestured, “Now let's start with the park. He's struck there a few times including the other night. If nothing happens I'll spread myself out by mist or bat to see where else someone might be lurking. You keep your distance while I take the lead.”
“And how am I going to know if you find the bastard?”
She smiled and held up a closed hand. After a few seconds she opened it and there was a red mouse looking up at me expectantly. “Take him, he's our link.”
As I held out my hand, she transferred the critter into it and that's when I noticed she was missing a finger. Then I remembered, she couldn't make more of herself than there actually was. Her mass never changed when shape-shifting, so all she had a limited amount to work with.
She must've noticed the look on my face for a moment later a new finger grew.
As I put her little companion in my chest pocket, I gave her a questioning look.
“I took a little off the waist and thighs,” she told me.
Smiling I nodded and I let her lead the way. Of course I remembered to keep a good distance between us like she'd said. After all, we wanted our prey to come after her. And if he did, boy would he be in for a rude awakening. Nadine could handle herself and twenty of him even on a bad day. Still, we had to be careful. Even the best laid plans could go wrong.
She reached the park without incident which made me suspect if anything was going to happen, it would be in there. As it turned out I was right.
For she got no more than forty feet in before a figure leapt out of the shadows...