Interlude 1a

Raines stared at the darkness before him with ill-concealed contempt, at the man hidden there. Nothing could be seen of him save for the occasional movement and then only if he wished it. He wore darkness and cloaked himself in even more darkness, standing in shadows and moving now and again, leaving Raines to wonder if he was actually staring at the man or at the shadow of a shadow. He resolved not to think of it and spoke.

"He has stolen something of great value. We wish it returned." He rasped. "And him. We wish him returned as well."

That was this man's specialty. Retrieving lost or stolen items; be it property, people or information.

"Show me the picture." The voice, low and melodious came from his right and Raines stifled a flinch.


The man he spoke to reached into a breast pocket and offered a picture to the shadows. A hand appeared and the picture vanished back into the darkness.

"And his name?" The voice came this time from above.

"Unimportant. He uses many."

"But something stays the same. Initials, middle name. . ."

"First name. He always uses Jarod. With an O." Raines said reluctantly. "Your fee. . ." He nodded at Matthews and the man lifted the satchel he held. A hand appeared from above him and the satchel vanished. The sound of it being opened could be heard then another sound much like a sigh.

"More information. I need more information."

Raines smiled grimly and nodded at his henchman. Matthews drew a packet from a pocket and set it on a crate. Almost immediately, it vanished into darkness.

"You'll find him then?" It was half-question, half-statement.

"Yes. I will find him." The voice came from above, from high in the rafters near the ceiling.

"Good." Raines wheezed, smiling in quiet triumph. If this mystery man took the job, it got done, one way or another. "Alive preferably. If not, any way you can."

"I will find him. . ." Another sigh and then a sound that had Raines looking up. There was a brief glimpse of stars then the blackened-out skylight closed again. The mystery man was gone.

The man garbed in black perched on top on a burned-out church, watching as the car pulled away from the meeting place. The satchel was already discarded, the money safely in a black knapsack settled securely on his back. He had no real need for the money himself but a friend had advised he charge for his service and charge high. So he did. It never ceased to amaze him how many people hired him despite his five-figure fee.

He opened the packet, careful not to let the wind steal anything away and scanned what little it held. According to it, this Jarod Russell was a researcher working for the Chimera Organization who had, one day, walked out of the complex with a case full of research. The research was irreplaceable and, apparently, there were no backups. He wondered briefly if they had been complete idiots and not backed anything up or if the backups had been destroyed then shunted that thought aside. It wasn't important. At least not right now.

A notebook in the packet neatly listed the locations this Jarod Russell had been spotted in since leaving the Organization. Last place was Seattle, Washington. East Coast. Clear across the continent. Ah, well. It wasn't the first time he'd crossed a continent looking for something.

First things first though. He closed the packet and slipped it safely into the black sash he wore before taking off across the rooftops. He'd need more information on this Jarod Russell. And on this place called the Chimera Organization. And on this research he had supposedly stolen. For that he needed an expert.

An hour later he was slithering skillfully through a skylight, having already disabled the alarms. Alarms or no, the occupant of the warehouse apartment already knew he was there and was waiting for him, a highly-illegal experimental gun in her hands.

"One day, you are going to get yourself killed." She said, not lowering the weapon an inch.

"Ahhhh. . .but not today, dearest heart." He swung the pack from his back and opened it, casually flipping a bundle worth five thousand dollars to the woman. She caught it with one hand, the other finally lowering the weapon. "I need information, m'dear. Lots of it. And quickly."

She eyed the bundle dubiously. "How dangerous?"

Another bundle joined the first. "Very."

"Information on. . .?"

"On a man named Jarod Russell. On a place called the Chimera Organization. What's wrong?" For the woman had acquired an uneasy look.

"I've seen references to The Chimera Organization. It's a cover. You don't want to go there."

"Ahhhh, but I do."

"You're playing one of your games again, aren't you?"

"Oh surely not." His voice was amused as he threw yet another bundle at her feet. "There will be three more such bundles when I have the information."

The woman hesitated then sighed. "You're overpaying me, you know that don't you?"

"What need have I for money? I pay well for the services I need and it guarantees I continue to get that good service. Correct?"

"Correct." She scooped the bundles together. "Come back tomorrow morning. Use the front door, if you please."

"Spoilsport." And the man in black leapt up to grab the ledge of the skylight, slithering back out through it and away.

Chapter 2
Part One

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