The Chauffeur

1:15pm | various locales | outfit

The dash temperature read twenty-eight degrees, but the cab of the Chevy Suburban was a balmy sixty-two. Morgan sat behind the wheel, seat pulled forward and cranked up. She drove predominantly with the right hand, the left pried from the windowsill to occasionally slap the blinker. The radio was tuned low to a local FM station and the pop-static dispatches interrupted the background noise.

Filtering through the running account of Cordova’s finest was commonplace and Morgan keyed in on alert codes, tensing occasionally. She glanced to Agent Squall in the passenger seat beside her, terminal turned towards him. Eyes back to the road, she slowed the Suburban at a red light. The SUV idled and she wrapped her fingers on the steering wheel somewhat to the music.

She checked the dash navigation. "Next one sir, a block past the light." This would be the third visited today and Morgan left a little bit of hope behind at each site, but she kept the doubt from her tone. The list dwindled and their investigation had eliminated each property visited.

 Just when the last bit of snow had melted from his boot, they were destined to be ushered into the elements again. Squall sighed at the sound of the news, and did not reply further. His eyes burned through the frost on his window to watch Avondale as they patrolled its streets. Even this neighborhood was made inhospitable by cold. The melange coat of carded flannel helped to trap in precious heat, and while the thermos he clutched provided little warmth through his gloves, the scalding coffee he sipped heated him from within.
 "Incident report filed in August of this year," he recited to bring the facts of the case to memory. "Anonymous witness claims to have seen a person, possibly female, throwing ‘Molotov cocktails’ into a building." The information available became less exciting when considering the underwhelming nature of their evidence. An anonymous 9-1-1 call was nothing they could take to court, particularly when charging someone not only with murder, but murder by a potentially supernatural nature. This was their task.
 Instead of fishing for the file on this property, he turned to Morgan for answers. "Did you take arson dogs to the scene?" As usual, he mumbled and glowered in his neutral way. Unusually he’d opted for glasses, because the cold had dried his eyes and made the contacts irritating.

It was on a warm August night she almost died. Wonderland was a milestone she couldn't forget. Thinking others had shit happen that month seemed obvious in hindsight, but it hadn't occurred to Morgan before now. Cris had mentioned nothing about arson when she visited the hospital. Morgan smirked and shook her head as she drove; it was probably for the best. But just went to show how little she really knew about her would be supernatural sensei.

"Fire Marshal did their investigation like any other case of suspected arson. Not sure if they brought dogs in." She glanced to the passenger seat. "Had plans in August, sir." Morgan managed a weak smile at her joke.

 He did not know at first what she’d meant. It was a queer thing to say without context, and Squall contemplated her words with consternation out the window. Eventually the suspicion came to him, followed by realization, but he refused to be embarrassed even though he was disquieted. The summer had been a hard time for everyone.
 "Consider this a little payback," he mumbled. Perhaps such words were too telling to be appropriate, but damn if he said them anyway. His time in Cordova had made him bold. Progress in the right direction bolstered him with confidence. As much as he tried to stay level-headed, he could not keep himself from the unnecessary comment in the wake of her disaster, and his own that it brought to light.

Payback; Morgan sneered as she drove. She wasn't about that life but give her a flare and put her in a room with that nosferasshole… she huffed an irritated breath. Better a strong front than a cracked shell. Shrouded in vengeance like a cloak, she gripped the wheel tighter to prevent her hands from shaking. Coming face to face with that vampire again terrified her.

"Yeah, payback." She agreed, glowering at the road. The destination was just ahead and Morgan rolled the suburban to the curb. She put the SUV into park and left the engine running. Case details filtered her thoughts, distracting from the terrors that lurked in her nightmares. "Think this is the one Stroop alluded to, sir?"

  He watched as the building came into view. It was a beautiful home, though clearly damaged and under repair. It looked like much of the living space had been left intact, and largely a separate building around the back that had sustained the worst of the fire. Debris and scarification had already been cleared away, with scaffolding erected around the building.
 "It’s hard to say." He answers immediately, but then tried to put himself into that position. What if he knew there was a vampire who meant him and his harm inside? He would douse every square foot in gasoline to set it alight, even if it meant going up in cinder himself.
 His lips tighten and he frowns. "It doesn’t feel right." It looked like the occupants inside were home, at least some of them, judging by the lights in the windows.

Morgan leant forward, peering through the windshield at the fire damaged home. White smoke curled from the chimney and she watched a silhouette pass one of the illuminated windows. Pushing away from the steering wheel, Morgan huffed as she settled back into the driver's seat. She adjusted the seatbelt and took in the street. Nice neighborhood; not what she'd imagine for a creature of the night. But then what did she know?

"Sir? What doesn't feel right about it?" She peered back at the house, trying to see the property through Squall's eyes. She studied the burn patterns snaking up the exterior… did that match a Molotov? Rule of thumb was to smash a window and start the fire inside, let it spread. It was the habitation that snagged in her mind.

"How long have they lived there?" The follow up was soft, more a thought spoken aloud than a question for Squall. Would humans live side by side with a vampire?

  He thought about the answer while he tore open his briefcase to pull out a folder with the addresses they were meant to visit on the list. There was sparse information about each home, but on there was the purchase date of the most recent owner. "Fourteen months." Allegedly, there was no telling if the person living in the home was the same as whose name was on title.
 Squall tapped on the door before finally voicing his reservations, "If Yahn wanted to exterminate this person, that takes a lot of disgust. I would have done a more thorough job."

Agreed. If this was Yahn's handiwork, she must have been interrupted. That contradicted Stroop's testimony. Either he lied or Cris hadn't told him the truth. Or this wasn't the house. Morgan hadn't known her long, but it was doubtful Yahn had half-assed anything in her life. She quirked a smile, remembering Cris saying how she'd borrow powers until passing out.

"She was driven, sir." Morgan replied as she stared at the house, then turned to Squall. "Want to knock or move on to the next?"

 They had to consider the possibility that the house was inhabited by vampires, and considering the circumstances, vampires with hostile intent. Squall squinted after the house and thought their options over carefully. Under what pretense would they go up and knock on the door? They could tell the truth, but that would be revealing, and information was a valuable commodity.
 "Maybe not," he considered, his answer indecisive. He thought about it moment’s longer before offering a suggestion, "We can compile a list of anyone we want to talk to further and start there." Until then, there were more properties on their horizon.

"Right. Next one it is." Morgan plugged a Lavender Heights address into the onboard GPS and waited as the route plotted. She looked back at the house while the computer worked; expression thoughtful. They weren't getting anywhere here. Yahn's killer still walked free and they were house hunting.

Once the GPS resolve their course, Morgan put the SUV into drive and followed the route. Passing through greater Cordova, Morgan looked to Squall as she drove. "Sir, once we find the house… what next?"

  Next on the list. He looked over the sheet in his hand and read the Lavender Heights address. His thoughts were like a hinterland he became lost in, and he was slow to emerge when she spoke. Squall stared at her a few moments, blinked heavily, and seemed as if he did not know how to respond.
 "We follow the lead," he suggested. "Find out who the occupant was at the time. Then we have a name, which is more than we have now." They were potentially very close. If they were lucky, the occupant and the owner on title were the same, and also their culprit. It was possible, but at the very least they’d come up with a person to hunt and question not simply ideas.
 "And then… we make the arrest." He held up his hand in a gesture meant to imply it was just that simple, but his tone was dry and without an ounce of weight behind it.

Morgan scowled as she turned the corner. Christ, she knew how police investigation worked even if her question implied otherwise. "No, sir, I mean after that."

She stopped at a light. "Say we find this fuck and manage to arrest them. The DA decides to prosecute. How can we put a vampire in the same room as the judge and jury?" She let that sit a moment. "Then say we get a conviction…" Morgan laughed.

"Unless we have some black site to contain these… things… no federal facility could house them." Unspoken was the natural conclusion to her question, the end state where all Morgan's concerns melted away. The dead didn't get a trial.

  The implications had occurred to him time and time again. He thought of the burns on his body, and the incendiary rounds in his sidearm, and the cigarettes in his breast pocket. Christ, how he wanted one between his lips now, but could not bring himself to light up in her car right in front of her. He’d have to soothe his nerves on his own, without the aid of nicotine, and that required a deep breath.
 He covered his mouth with his hand, his elbow propped on the door and his eyes glowering out the window as he watched Mountainside pass them by.
 Their jail was not equipped to house a vampire. Perhaps they could rig an isolation chamber with UV lights outside the door, and armed guard? If they had to do something tonight that would be the option, but he knew it was not a long-term solution, and that it would take time and processing and convincing for funding to get the necessary personnel, equipment and procedures in place.
 "We need to focus on the task at hand, Morgan," he grumbled back to be difficult, with his words obscured by a pensive palm over his lips.

"Sir, yes, sir." Morgan frowned, knowing when to drop the subject. Squall didn't have the answers and that didn't sit easy with her. They wrote the procedure as they went; the rules for the use of force were still in draft. But how could they hold a suspect who could convince the officer to set them free with a glance? She supposed they'd take that hill when they came to it.

Question time over, Morgan drove in silence now, only dispatch's staticky back and forth from the radio between them.

  Turned out, deep breaths didn’t do shit to nicotine fits. He’d still been irate as ever judging by her reaction to him. What thoughtful meditation could not bring, Catholic guilt delivered: his rage was dampened beneath the static and garbled voices on the radio. He let it fill the void that might have become deathly silence, and when his nerves had finally cooled he muttered, "I’m being a dick." The observation was a matter of fact, and sailed upon his usual deadpan, without hint of apology or spite.

Just eyeing him as she drove, Morgan neither confirmed nor denied he was a dick. It wasn't her place to judge a superior officer. Focus on the task at hand and the theorizing could wait until they had one in the tank. Until then it was all academic and no plan survived first contact with the enemy. Morgan offered little in terms of conversation and took the next exit for Lavender Heights.

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