I shouldered my messenger bag as I walked out of the library and out onto campus. I could feel a migraine forming behind my eyes, and the sweltering, humid weather was not helping. I looked at the students lounging in the courtyard, talking on phones or goofing off with friends, as I walked to the parking structure. Lucky brats.
I couldn’t help feeling more than a twinge of irritation as I caught their thoughts. This one worried about his girlfriend, a girl deeply contemplated the pros and cons of a nose job, and another moped about how much she hated working.
Join the club, kid, I thought, rolling my eyes. I wasn’t much older than most of the underclassmen I passed, but I felt as if I’d lived whole lives longer than they had.
I stopped, as always, near the bulletin board just before I crossed Anthony Wayne Drive to the parking structures. Scanned it. A mix of job postings, recruitment notices, lost dog/car keys/book notices. Two fliers of missing girls. The first I’d already seen. I’d be taking care of that later that night. The second was new to me.
Marja Szymanski, 19, of Hamtramck. I pulled out my phone and took a picture of the flier. I would have liked something a little more detailed, but I’d research it when I had a minute. I shook my head. Impossible to keep up with them all.
When I got to the parking structure, I waved to the attendant, who waved at me with a hearty “hey, Molly!” just like he did every day, and climbed the four flights to where I was parked. By the time I got to my car, I was sweating as if I’d run a marathon.
I looked at my car, a pitch-black 1970 Barracuda I’d bought off of a little old man at a steal after I’d found his granddaughter and brought her home safe. I ran my hands along the trunk lovingly. I knew it was ridiculous. It was a car. A method of transportation. But it was mine, and it was bad ass.
I got in, rolled the window down, and turned up the stereo. AC/DC blared. Screw the migraine.
I sped out of the parking structure and headed toward Cass, then snaked toward Gratiot and toward home. I noticed people giving me weird, worried looks. Easy to catch their thoughts: young chick, in an expensive car, with the windows down, in this neighborhood? I smirked. I was the scariest thing out here.
I drove through the east side, finally reaching my neighborhood. “Neighborhood” was being generous. The houses on the blocks immediately surrounding mine, as well as on my block, had been leveled years ago. I lived on a vast urban prairie. Tall grass and ghetto palm as far as the eyes could see, except for the six lots I’d claimed as my own over the years. Mine. I pulled the car up into the garage, parked, and got out. I shut the garage doors behind me, and my two German shepherds loped up to me, tongues lolling, tails wagging. Kurt and Courtney. I was a 90s brat, after all.
I scratched them both behind the ears, patted them on their sides, and headed up the back steps to the kitchen door. When I got inside, I took a deep breath. Home. Finally.
I made a salad and grabbed some iced tea, sat at my 50s Formica table and ate it, listening to the Tigers on the radio. The quiet calm that surrounded my house was like an ointment that soothed away the irritations of my day job, the stresses of my night job. Hopefully, I wouldn’t need the day job much longer. I’d paid cash for the house and car. I just wanted to build up a nest egg so I could afford basic expenses for a while, and then I would quit. And have time for more important things. I spent the next few hours napping and doing research for that evening’s jobs.
At around ten, I started suiting up. Black top, long sleeves. Black cargo pants. Black Chucks. I brushed my long nearly-black hair mechanically, almost in a trance as I plotted that night’s business. I put a variety of things into my pockets. Zip ties, tear gas, a pearl-handled switchblade. A prepaid cell phone. I sighed and looked at the mirror on my dresser. Not at my reflection; I knew what I’d see there; lots of pale skin and dark circles. But at the photograph taped to the upper left-hand corner. Forced myself to really look. The reason I did what I did, the shame I wouldn’t let myself forget.
Time to go save some lost girls,” I murmured to the photograph. Then I patted it, gently, four times with my fingertips. Four taps, four lost girls who needed to be found. And that’s what I would do.
I drove down Gratiot, to a neighborhood that looked a lot like mine, but, impossibly enough, even deader. Desolate.
I parked a few blocks away from where I needed to be, pulling into a garage that was leaning precariously, its wooden clapboards rotting, showing just a few remaining stubborn specks of white paint. Then I got out, stood at the window and lifted the pocket binoculars to my eyes, watched the corner on the next block. I’d picked up this location snooping around where one of the suspects in the kidnapping hung out. He wouldn’t be alone. And the girls were alive, and relatively alright, so far. Of course, I’d known they’d still be alive. There was money to be made.
I could hear the squeak of a storm door’s hinges creaking as the wind blew. A Detroit version of an Old West ghost town.
I watched a dark blue van pull up to the corner and three men got out. Early, eager for a payday. My cue.
I stalked out of the garage, not rushing, but purposeful. The three men were tense, watching in the opposite direction. Not talking. Feet shuffling, arms crossed over their chests.
“Hey, assholes,” I said, my voice cutting the silence of the night. I could feel my power coursing through me, welcomed it. My invisible armor, my weapon.
There was a lot of fumbling, some swearing, and when I reached them, I had three guns pointed at my face.
It wasn’t anything personal, of course. I would be pissed, too, if someone interrupted a nice paying deal like this one.
They stood there, guns pointed, breath ragged. Nervous, angry. In the distance, I could hear the typical night noises: cars, sirens, the occasional pop-pop-pop of someone shooting a gun. Hopefully into the air.
I sighed. “You hate guns,” I said, feeling the power roll off of my body toward the men. “You are afraid of guns. More than anything, you want to put the guns down.” Glazed looks in their eyes, then they did just that, looks of disgust contorting their features as they dropped the guns, as if they’d been holding steaming piles of shit instead of metal. “Now. Hand over the girls.” Power still emanating from my voice.
“No fuckin’ way,” the largest of the men said, shaking off my power and aiming a punch at my face. I ducked it easily, kicked out and heard a satisfying squish as my heel came into contact with his groin. He fell down, whimpering. His comrades were on me. The short one was more vicious, reaching for a knife tucked into his waistband. But he was overconfident. He came too close, and I kicked out hard at the side of his knee. Heard a crack, then a scream, and he fell. I kicked his knife into the tall grass nearby.
“Okay. Your turn,” I said, moving closer to the third man, who had backed away. He took one look at his buddies writhing on the concrete, put his hands into the air, and shook his head.
“This was their deal, lady. They just brought me along for back up,” he said, a bright sheen of sweat across his forehead. “I don’t want any trouble from you.”
“You pussy,” the little one shouted from his spot on the ground. I kicked him in the stomach and he went back to whimpering.
“Are you going to hand over the girls, then?” I asked, as if we hadn’t been interrupted at all. I wished they could hurry this along. It was hot, and I hated every abandoned neighborhood that wasn’t my abandoned neighborhood. They gave me the creeps, no matter how much time I spent in them. Their loneliness, the sense of desolation and desperation, of being forgotten, was overwhelming. It was almost a physical thing, and it weighed on me.
He nodded, walked over to the van, and opened the back doors. The little guy started yelling at him again, and I kicked him in the ribs.
“Shut the hell up,” I muttered, power lacing my words.
The guy led three teenage girls out of the back of the van, wrists tied behind their backs, duct tape over their mouths. Two black girls, one Latina. Pretty, thin girls who would have made someone lots of money. I felt relief mingled with disgust. It took everything in my power not to kill the two men whimpering on the ground. As it was, I gave them each a well-aimed kick to the groin, as much for the girls’ benefit as my own. I gestured for the girls to come toward me, and they did, slowly, dazed, as if they weren’t sure this was for real.
I looked at the guy who had let them go. “You did the right thing tonight,” I said, pushing as much power as I could into my voice. “You want to stay out of this business. You want to get a job, go back to school. Stay away from these assholes,” I said, giving the loudmouth one another kick. “If I hear about you involved in anything like this again, I will find you.” I paused, felt the fear rolling off of him. “And you really don’t want that to happen.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. He got into the van and drove off after one more glance at me. Didn’t even look at the guys on the ground. Loyalty.
I looked at the two remaining thugs. “And you two,” I said, filling my voice, my eyes, with power. I watched their eyes glaze over. “You two are going to stay right the fuck where you are until morning. Once the sun comes up, you can move again. And when you do get up, you are going to the nearest Detroit police precinct, and you’re going to turn yourselves in for the abduction of Amber Johnson, Shanti Williams, and Maria Alvarez. And you are going to tell the police who you were going to sell them to. It will be done,” I finished, and power thrummed in the air around me.
They both nodded.
I shook my head and turned to the girls, who were looking at me in shock. I walked over to them and tried, as gently as possible, to remove the duct tape from their mouths, then I cut the ties confining their hands. I could sense intense fear, disbelief, and a glimmer of hope coming off of them.
“Are you alright?” I asked softly.
They all nodded. “Thank you so much. Thank you,” the petite one, Shanti, started saying. She made the sign of the cross with her hand and bowed her head. Praying.
“I have a car nearby. I can drive you home.” By now, all three were crying in relief. I started walking down the block, where I’d parked earlier. The three girls followed, hands clasped as if they were afraid to let go of each other. I could hear their soft sobs. I kept my eyes peeled for any trouble. Relief when we got back to the car without any incident. I opened the doors and looked back at the two would-be salesmen. They were still laying right where I’d left them. I could have ordered them to go to the precinct right away, but I wanted them to suffer. Pissing themselves and getting bitten by mosquitoes was nothing compared to what I wanted to do to them.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed my door. Maria and Amber were in the back, and Shanti rode shotgun. I started the car, and AC/DC blared from the speakers. I turned it down with a grimace. “Sorry,” I said, tossing a smile at Shanti.
“This music suits you, I think,” Shanti said, turning the radio back up. “Back in Black” echoed through the night.
As we drove toward the Southwest side, where the girls had been taken on their way home from softball practice, I caught Shanti peeking at me every once in a while. Maria and Amber were doing the same thing from the back seat. Their thoughts were a jumble of being thankful they were going home and wondering who the hell the crazy lady was. All three, in the past five minutes, had told themselves they had to take self-defense classes. I just drove on.
I wasn’t much for conversation. Besides, I had a couple of other things on my mind. Currently, it was the asshole in the black pickup who had been following us since we’d left the neighborhood where I’d found the girls. I kept an eye on him in the rearview. He didn’t seem to be trying to catch me, but he was definitely tailing the car. I circled aimlessly through a few neighborhoods, just to make sure. He stayed with us. I sighed. Great. One more thing to deal with. Looked at my watch. I was behind schedule already.
“How did you do that?” Shanti finally asked.
“I knew a few things from self-defense classes,” I said, shrugging, hoping it would be enough. But I knew better. Shanti shook her head.
“No, I mean all of that. How did you know where we were? How did you beat the crap out of those two guys? How did you just convince them to let us go? Are you FBI or something?”
I was silent for a minute. “Let’s go with ‘something.’” I saw Shanti shake her head, and I threw a small smile in the girl’s direction.
We reached the Southwest side, streets flanked with old brick bungalows. Virgin Mary statues dotted front lawns, and somewhere in the night, I could hear bass thumping and a dog barking. I dropped Amber off first, then Maria, and the amazed squeals that greeted each girl’s appearance went right to my heart.
When I pulled up to the curb in front of Shanti’s house, the girl hesitated. We both looked up at the house. Every window was lit. A candle burned on the front porch.
“Thank you,” Shanti finally said. “You’re the one who’s been finding the lost girls, aren’t you?” I was silent. Shanti watched me, and smiled. “I don’t know how you did that, but thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Go on, now,” I said softly. “You’ve got people waiting for you.”
The girl nodded, then leaned over, and, to my surprise, folded me in a big, strong hug that nearly took my breath away. “Thank you so much,” she whispered again.
I hugged her back. Our eyes met for just a second, then Shanti bounded out of the car with a smile. As soon as she stepped on the bottom porch step, screams erupted from the house, and about a dozen people came running out. I smiled to myself and pulled away.
Of course, now I had to deal with the asshole in the pickup truck.
He was still there, not even a car length behind me. He wanted me to notice him. It was obvious the driver didn’t want the girls. I figured he had a score to settle with me. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have any enemies.
I drove through downtown on my way toward my next stop, and the truck tailed me the whole way. Finally, I pulled up to a curb near Campus Martius, slammed the ‘Cuda into park, and got out of the car. The truck pulled up behind me and the driver turned off the engine.
I leaned against my door, arms crossed over my chest, glaring at the truck. A few cars drove by. I could hear the noise from whatever concert was going on over at Comerica Park in the distance.
Finally, the driver’s side door opened, and a mountain emerged from the truck. At least, “mountain” was the best way I could describe the man that stepped out and slammed the door. He was tall, easily six six or so. Broad. Dark brown hair, cut short. Strong chin, covered with dark stubble. Piercing blue eyes that, with just one glance, made me feel as if he saw much more than he should. He walked toward me with a very “don’t fuck with me” attitude, one I could appreciate from my own method. He reached me, and stood still in front of me. We just watched each other, like two wolves sizing each other up. I knew it was immature, but I refused to say the first word. He was following me, he could damn well talk first. I hated people who didn’t mind their own business.
And this guy was even more disturbing. I could feel power freaking rolling off of him. Power to rival my own. Dangerous.
He seemed just as stubborn as I was, but more patient. He just stood there, arms crossed like mine, watching me. Silence, the sizing up between the two of us dragged on for several slow minutes as life went on around us.
I let out an irritated sigh. “Okay, fine. What do you want?” I finally said.
“That was some work you did back there,” he said, his voice a low rumble, two stones grating against one another. It sent a shiver up my spine, and I tried to ignore it.
“Who are you?”
“Mind control is a very dangerous skill, Molly,” he said, as if he hadn’t heard my question.
Fuck. “You never saw me,” I said, pushing power into my voice.
He shook his head. “That doesn’t work on me. You’ll have to try something else.”
“Who. Are. You?” I asked again, standing up straight. My hands flexed into fists. Habit.
“You going to beat me up? I’m not some street thug,” he said.
“Am I going to have to?”
“The last thing I want to do is get into a fight with you.”
“You can start by telling me your name then, and why you were following me,” I said, lowering my hand and grasping the canister of tear gas in my pocket.
“You’re not going to need that. My name is Nain.”
I looked up at him, narrowing my eyes. “Is that your real name?”
“Close enough. Le Nain Rouge, Red Dwarf, Red Gnome, Lutin. I prefer Nain.”
“Right. Oookay. I don’t believe in fairy tales.”
“It’s not any more far-fetched than someone controlling people with her mind,” he said, meeting my eyes. Pretty eyes, a deep sapphire, practically glowing under the street lights.
“You don’t look particularly red, or, you know, gnome-like, to me,” I said.
“That’s one of my forms. I don’t do that anymore.” Anger, regret.
“Right,” I said again. Dude was a complete nutcase. “You cause trouble. Harbinger of doom, all that shit.”
“People always get that fucked up. Where does it say that the harbinger of doom is the one that actually caused the doom? Maybe the so-called harbinger is there because he saw it coming and is trying to stop the doom.”
“Uh-huh. So you’re saying you had nothing to do with the ‘67 riots?”
“Trying to stop the fighting.”
“Or with burning the city to the ground in 1805?”
“Chasing the guy who actually did it.”
“And you didn’t, in fact, curse Cadillac?”
“That, I did. And he had it coming,” he said. Snarled, to be more accurate.
“Right. So you’re claiming to be over three hundred years old, and you can change into a little red dwarf. And I’m supposed to believe that you’re not completely insane?” I hissed, feeling my power spike in response to my emotions.
He just watched me. He was so serious looking I almost wanted to believe him. Almost.
“Okay. I don’t know how you found me, or what you think I can do. You stay away from me or you’re going to be wearing your balls as earrings. Do you understand?” I started getting into my car.
Crazy people, I thought as I slammed the door behind me. He was still standing there, next to the car.
Or we can just converse telepathically, he thought at me.
I got out of the car again, looked up at him. “Shit.”
He gave a short bark of a laugh, crossed his arms over his chest.
You can really read my thoughts?
Yes, I really can.
How did you find me? I could feel a headache coming on, always a side effect of reading thoughts, never mind actually conversing telepathically.
“We can just talk,” he said, seeming to understand my discomfort. “Once you’ve had more practice with it, it will hurt less.”
“You’re a telepath, too, then?” I asked, annoyed with myself for continuing to converse with this crazy person.
He nodded. “In some ways, I’m a lot like you. I can read thoughts. I can converse telepathically with someone who has the same skill, though it’s been awhile since I’ve come across another.”
“Are there many?”
He shrugged. “It’s always safe to assume that there are others around. Most don’t quite realize what it is that they can do.” He stopped talking, met my eyes again. “It would be a good idea to learn to shield your thoughts. You are wide open, Molly. That can be dangerous.”
I looked at him. Concentrated. “I can’t pick yours up.”
“I have a lot of practice shielding. It’s automatic at this point.”
“So someone can only hear your thoughts if you want them to?” I asked, interest piqued.
Yes. And then, only that person. No one else.
I thought about that. Any telepath around could hear everything I thought. Dangerous, for sure, if any of them were like me. I looked around, watching the shadows, as always.
“But, there is at least one big difference between you and I,” he said, as if he’d never stopped talking. “I can’t control thoughts. I can’t put my thoughts in other people’s heads, make them act on my command. That’s a whole different level of power.”
“And you want something from me, is that it?’ I asked.
“No. All I want from you is to help you learn to control your telepathy. Learn to shield yourself.”
“There’s no such thing as something for nothing,” I murmured, mostly to myself.
He was quiet for a bit. I was starting to think he hadn’t heard me. “You’re right. I do want something,” he finally said. I felt my stomach twist. My power was reacting weirdly around him, and it was only helping to throw me off even more.
“I want you to come and work for me.”
“I work alone,” I said.
“Just come, meet with me and some of my associates,” he said.
“I work alone,” I said again, slowly and deliberately, stopping and looking him dead in the eyes. “I am not a team player. I don’t even like most people. I’m not interested.”
I felt irritation rolling off of him in waves. The first time he’d lost his cool at all, I realized. Most people lost their patience with me much quicker than that.
“Holy shit,” he said, staring at me.
“What?” I asked, my stomach turning in response to the spike of surprise I’d picked up from him.
“What was that?” he asked. “You can sense emotions?”
“Stay the fuck out of my mind,” I said, stomping my foot.
“Then learn to shield yourself,” he shot back.
“It’s a real violation, that you keep doing that,” I said to him, irritated and stalking back to the car. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
I felt a tiny bit of guilt coming from him. But then he said, “Yes, and putting thoughts in someone’s mind, making them do what you want, isn’t a violation at all.”
I spun on him, glared up into his face. “You know what? Screw you. I do that, and I save lives. You followed me tonight. Those three girls would have been out on a corner in a week. I saved them from that.” I stopped, seething. I pointed at him. “And if it requires putting a fear of guns, a hatred of crime, and a terror of ever meeting me in a dark alley into any of these assholes, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Easy to abuse that power,” he said mildly, “once you decide you’ve got something to prove.”
“I don’t have anything to prove. I have a skill, and I use it. Stay away from me,” I said again, getting into the car. I slammed the door behind me, cranked up the stereo, and took off, tires screeching for good effect, into the night.
I looked at my watch. Fuck. I was way behind. I better not have failed my other lost girl, or he was going to pay. I sped toward the east side again. Checked the gas gauge. I really should get a more fuel-efficient car. Gas prices were killing me.
Interested in reading more? Lost Girl: Hidden, Book One is now available on Amazon.