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Dead Endings Book 2 (Dead Leads): Chapter 9

A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf and .mobi) is available in Sparkler Monthly Issue #072 (free).

They were making their way past a derelict-looking office building when the call Cailen was praying for finally came. Or the text, rather. It was brief–just an address–but it was from Everett, and she relayed the good news to Gabriella.

“It’s less than half a mile away,” Gabriella said, checking on her phone. “Thank the Lord.”

Cailen would have thanked the Lord, too, but Gabriella was already off and running, and she had no breath left to do it.

They reached a large, single-unit warehouse without encountering another soul. Of Everett, there was no sign. Gabriella scanned the sky but must have seen nothing, since she whipped out her phone again to double-check the address. It seemed they were at the right place, but if the kid was present, he was hiding himself pretty well.

Gabriella bit her lip and retreated to an alleyway across the street. She waved for Cailen to join her, and they crouched behind a dumpster in the waning daylight to figure out their next move.

“The kid doesn’t seem to be here yet,” Gabriella said.

“But if Isley got hooked, it must mean he’s near.”

Gabriella nodded. “We probably don’t have much time, but it’ll give us a chance to get in place before he shows up. Can you text Ev and see what’s going on inside? I’ll watch for the kid.”

Cailen shot off a few brief texts. She stared intently at the battered screen until the phone beeped with his equally brief replies.

“3 INSIDE. C+2 OTHERS. NO KID.”

“Like we thought, then,” Gabriella murmured. “But we’ll have to get closer. I can’t do anything meaningful at this range.”

“Even cut Isley free?”

“I could when he shows, but then we’d lose our jump on the kid.”

Cailen mulled it over. “Shouldn’t we just bust Isley loose and worry about that later? I don’t really know how the whole black aura thing works, but it sounded bad.”

“If he’s left like that, his real body’s never waking up. I think I can cut him loose and slip the tie over the kid, though. If I have the element of surprise.”

Gabriella put her hand on Cailen’s shoulder. “The professor is my priority, one hundred percent. If it looks uncertain in the slightest, I’ll free him and just put the kid in a headlock. Now, how do we get in…?”

“Apparently there’s a gap in the wall by some crates,” Cailen said, looking at her phone.

“Let’s get moving, then.”

They crept around the building until they found the spot Everett had indicated. There, obscured by rotted palisades, was a narrow opening where the corrugated steel sheets that made up the walls intersected. It was a squeeze for Gabriella, but Cailen slithered through easily. Once inside, they found themselves in a small corner of the warehouse littered with plastic barrels, haphazardly stacked nearly to ceiling height. They located Everett almost immediately.

He pressed a finger to his lips, cautioning them to be silent. Cailen rolled her eyes.

Silently, she and Gabriella edged as far forward as they could and peeked over a barrel.

In the center of the warehouse, Conner and two other men (who Cailen guessed were the masked helpers from the first video) fiddled with various pieces of equipment on a long fold-out table. Instead of jugs of water and lamps, though, it seemed this video would use more scientific means to prove that ghosts were real. Cailen could barely identify a third of what they’d set out, but there was no mistaking the video rig and computer set up to broadcast the footage.

“All ready to go,” said a man around their own age with short brown hair. “Everything checks out. We can start the stream whenever.”

“Good,” Conner said. “How many eyes have we got?”

The brown-haired man hunched over the computer attached to the rig. “We’ve got…oh! Almost two thousand now!”

Conner sniffed. “That’s it? This is a LIVE demonstration. You said we’d get way more if it was live.”

The brown-haired man shrugged. “That’s pretty good, to be honest. Just wait till we start. If it’s anything like last time, it’ll blow up.” He laughed.

“You’re an idiot, Selwitz,” the other man said.

The third member of the group stopped what he was doing with some wires and shook his shaggy head. He was taller than Conner and the cameraman and had a face like a slab of stone.

Cailen heard Gabriella hiss.

“That’s Jonah Ahlstrom!”

“Who?”

Gabriella grimaced. “He’s a sensitive with psychometry. We’re screwed if he touches anything we touched. Maybe even stuff we didn’t…”

“It’s fine,” Cailen whispered back. “If they knew about this spot, they’d have blocked it off or something. Unless he makes out with that dumpster from the alleyway, we’re gold. Nobody touched anything, right?”

The silence to her left was deafening. She glanced over at Everett. He was looking at his hands unhappily.

“Whatever, Jonah,” the one named Selwitz said. “We’re gonna be famous. The Bare Witch Project’s got nothing on this!”

Blair Witch Project…” The bigger man sighed.

While the three men bickered about the state of the equipment, Gabriella rocked back and forth on her heels while muttering.

“Eric Selwitz, Jonah Ahlstrom, and Conner Abblet… Not the company I was expecting.”

“Do we have a problem?” Cailen asked, eyes still on Everett’s unhappy face.

Gabriella pursed her lips. “Potentially. Selwitz is a punk and Conner I can handle any day of the week, but Jonah Ahlstrom isn’t just a powerful sensitive, he’s…”

“Big,” Cailen finished for her.

“Yeah. And he knows how to fight.”

“Not everything has to be a throwdown, Benitez.”

“You think they’re going to be happy we’re wrecking their show?”

Everett snuck a glance through one of the gaps between the barrels. “We’ll just have to be smart about this,” he murmured.

“Uh-huh,” Cailen replied. She noticed that he had taken off his shoulder pack and tucked his wallet deeper into his shorts, regardless.

“All right,” said Gabriella. “Here’s the plan: if the kid shows and we still have the advantage, I’ll cut the professor loose and then immediately throw the binding around his aura. With any luck, he’ll be so shocked to lose one of his toys that he won’t notice what I’m doing right away.”

“And if we aren’t lucky?” Cailen asked.

“Then I’ll need a distraction. Can I count on you guys to get their attention?”

Everett eyed some of the rusted scrap metal strewn across the ground around them. “I could go back out and start making a racket on the far wall with this stuff once you give the signal. Would that work?”

Gabriella nodded. “That sounds perfect. Cailen, do you think you could hit their camera from here? I can’t imagine anything worse for Conner than losing his audience. It might be enough to occupy at least one of them.”

“I wasn’t the Dodgeball Queen of our high school for nothing.” Cailen grinned, hefting her sock of quarters. “I could also peg Conner’s big nose if you wanted me to…”

“Just the camera for now, thanks.” Gabriella softly clapped her hands together. “That’s the general plan. Now if–”

“Hey!” yelled Selwitz.

Everyone froze.

“Catch!”

There was a startled sound from Jonah, then a curse. Cailen peeked through the cracks between the barrels to see what had happened.

Selwitz was laughing. “The look on your face!” he crowed.

Something heavy and metal dropped from Jonah’s outstretched hand.

Cailen didn’t recognize what it was at first, but she heard Everett groan beside her.

“You asshole…” Jonah growled. “I’m gonna put my gloves back on, and then beat the shit out of you for that.”

“Guys, guys,” Conner pleaded. “C’mon, do this later.”

“He knew I wasn’t wearing my gloves,” Jonah said. “He knew I’d–”

“It’s just a doorknob, you big wimp. You’d think you got attacked by a bear from your whining!”

Conner sighed. “Selwitz, stop acting like an idiot. You know why he doesn’t touch stuff. Can we just finish getting everything set up before the kid arrives? He’s a pain if he has to stand around.”

“Wait,” Jonah said. He crouched by the handle he’d dropped to the earthen floor. “Wait a sec.”

He pressed a meaty finger to the dull metal.

“Change!” Everett suddenly hissed into Cailen’s ear. “Gimme some change!”

“What?”

“Hurry!”

Baffled but spurred on by the urgency in his voice, Cailen shoved over a few quarters from her sock.

“What is it?” Conner asked.

Jonah straightened and looked right at the barrels. “Company.”

All three men stared at their hiding spot.

“Gabriella?” Conner asked.

Cailen held her breath.

Jonah shook his shaggy head. “No… Some Asian kid.”

“Jung,” Conner sneered. “The ghost sniffer. Get out here, dog.”

To her horror, Cailen watched Everett stand.

“Yeah, it’s me,” he said. He walked to the end of the barrels concealing their hiding spot and squeezed past.

“What’s that idiot doing?!” Gabriella whispered.

Cailen frowned down at the pack he’d left. His notepad and cell phone had been crammed hastily into a side pocket, but she had no clue what his plan was.

Conner motioned Everett forward. “Is Gabriella with you? She just can’t mind her own business, can she?”

“No,” Everett said. “I came on my own.”

“Bullshit.”

Everett shook his head.

“I don’t have time for this,” Conner said impatiently. “Jonah, pat him down. We’ll figure out what you’re up to easy enough.”

Jonah gave Conner a long look before looming over Everett. He motioned for Everett to make a full turn and empty his pockets.

“No phone,” Jonah said disbelievingly as he looked at the keys, wallet, lip balm, and quarters on Everett’s upturned palms.

Everett sighed as if he couldn’t believe it, either. “I left it in a cab this weekend. Told Gabriella I’d call her from a pay phone if I found anything.”

“Yeah, right,” Selwitz butted in. “Real convenient. Who uses a pay phone? Like those things even exist anymore. This guy’s full of it.”

“There’s one just up the block…” Everett and Jonah said in unison. They looked at each other.

Conner stalked forward and slapped the quarters from Everett’s hand. “I knew she was involved somehow! Well, she’s not getting her way tonight. Sit your ass in the corner until we’re done.”

“Like heck I will!” Everett shouted. “You can’t keep me here!” He suddenly ducked under Jonah’s reach and sprinted for the door.

Selwitz moved to block him, but Everett spun on his heel and dashed to the right. He easily evaded the other man’s grasping hands and made it to the exit before Conner or Selwitz could react.

Not Jonah, though. The third man moved with a speed at odds with his large size. Cailen watched in astonishment as Jonah blew past Conner and whipped out one long arm to grasp the tail of Everett’s shirt as he ran through the door.

With a powerful yank, he pulled Everett clear off his feet and sent him flying back into the warehouse. Before the smaller man could even stand, Jonah was on him, shoving his face into the hard-packed floor and twisting an arm behind his back.

Gabriella shot to her feet. Cailen tackled her. They wrestled on the ground, once again safely out of sight.

Luckily, none of Conner’s party seemed to notice the scuffle going on behind the barrels, instead focused on Everett’s squirming form.

“Chill!” Cailen furiously whispered into Gabriella’s ear. “He’s playing it up! Like Everett would give up a front row seat to this thing. Just wait!”

Gabriella stopped struggling.

Over her hammering heart, Cailen heard Selwitz swear. The thin man kicked out, catching Everett on the chin.

“Enough,” Jonah said, shoving Selwitz. They’d managed to bind Everett’s hands with his belt, and the big man yanked him to his feet and dragged him over to a spot out of the way.

“Stay,” he warned.

Everett drew back his bloody lips and glared, but he stayed.

Proceed to Chapter 9, page 2–>

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