Sarah Died: Chapter 2: The Starting Line
Michael C. Davis walked slowly down the abandoned street. In reality, the street was not empty, but its normal residents had been ushered outside the perimeter for their safety and the safety of secrecy. It was not that Michael approved of dishonesty. On the contrary, he was a strict advocate for plain and truthful words. However, sometimes words needed to be avoided. It was like yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre. Once word got around that there was a raging flame, it would never be controlled, despite the fact that it was simply a tiny spark to begin with. There was a raging fire on this street, and the firemen were there to clean it up.
It was not a literal fire, of course, but it made for a good explanation. “What’s going on in there? Oh yes, it’s just a fire raging out of control.” Then everyone assumed the word “fire” was meant literally, when really you were referring to a figurative fire of rebellion. On this particular street, the signs of it could be seen in every windowsill and on every balcony and roof. The men and women who took such care to protect themselves from the police seemed quite content to sit in their places all day, and Michael would not have it.
Michael was a private detective who was called in on all of the police’s tough cases. This was the worst. True, the people they were tracking down could clearly be seen. They had been found. And yet, they didn’t want to find the men who were causing the rebellion. If that were their only goal, they wouldn’t need a detective. The very word “rebellion” implied a desire to be found.
The group had arisen from nowhere, seemingly overnight. They called themselves the “Order of the Dragon” and were looked on originally as just another cult. They were a very vocal cult, but still a harmless group of individuals with strange ideas. Personally, Michael didn’t approve of them from the start, but they weren’t a threat and thus he had nothing to say about them. And then they began to take control.
When the group finally organized, about six years ago, there had been rumors about a mysterious leader with eyes that glowed, a voice that roared, and wings that flowed from his back. Supposedly, no one had ever seen his face. This man was the true prize. He was the one Michael was after. He had begun the active threat which caused people to mistrust all their neighbors. Anyone could be a part of the order. Even Michael wondered if his brother, his best friend, or his next-door neighbor might be one of them.
Of course, nothing truly horrible had happened so far. That is to say, no one had died yet. However, in Michael’s mind it was just a matter of time before a member got gun-happy and shot someone or an accident caused irreparable and deadly injury. Mostly, they had spent their time breaking into top secret facilities or government information centers. They had never gone for anything but the hard copies, but no one could tell Michael why.
He had a theory. Their leader was very careful to hide his location and his identity, so it didn’t make sense to take information that could easily be tracked. Sure, he could cover his tracks, but just one mistake with a computer document would be the end of them, while one piece of paper dropped along the side of the road would not necessarily lead the police to their doors. Still, there was something else to it. Michael suspected it had something to do with what documents were needed, but the order always took every document so that they had no idea which one was the real target.
Now, though, Michael paced the street and knew that the Dragon had made a mistake. He had messed up. One mistake was all Michael needed, and now he knew he had a fighting chance. He would find the Dragon’s head and cut it off. Looking up at the roofs and windows dotted with partially hidden dragons, Michael thought how well the name fit. The Dragon breathed, and the flames spread. These little people fading in and out of view on the rooftops were the sparks left behind when the flames were sucked back into the Dragon’s throat. One single thought was all it took, and they would return. But sometimes, the flickers of fire would catch on something and remain. They were unable to return to the Dragon, and they would have to burn out eventually. Michael shivered in the cold wet weather and knew it was only a matter of time. The sizzling of the dying flames filled the street with a sense that victory was at hand.
Three hours later, the first flame dropped. This man was one of only four perched on the roofs who wore masks. It made sense. Send out the one without a face to talk, the others would save their names and hide behind their trees and watch to see what would happen. He moved towards Michael, hands in the air. The officers around Michael immediately tensed and aimed their guns at the man. They had been sitting in boredom for hours now and some had taken a break for coffee, so one or two of them held steaming cups in front of them instead of guns. This amused Michael, but he was too professional to show it. Instead, he hardened his face and signaled to the others to keep their weapons ready, but put them aside. Michael stepped forward to greet the man, watching him carefully and noticing everything about him that could be seen. His detective’s brain went into overload, as the man’s walk and attitude were completely contradictory. Obviously, he was trying to mask his true nature, but which one was the mask and which was the nature? It was hard to tell.
The man swept one arm behind him in a fluid motion as he pulled his feet together, flourished his other arm out in front of him, and bent his head in a slight bow. Both the greeting and the bow confused Michael. Neither of them fit with the possible profiles he had already deduced. This man was experienced, probably a former officer or detective himself. Actually, he probably still was. And he was a pretty good one too. Michael was satisfied that he had narrowed the man down that far. Perhaps he could get the man to reveal more.
“I’m private detective Michael C. Davis. Might I have the pleasure of learning your name?”
“Indeed, it would be a pleasure for you to learn it. But I’m sure you’ll understand my desire for secrecy.”
“And I’m sure you’ll understand my need for something to call you.”
“Indeed. Perhaps we can reach a compromise. You may call me Thanatos.”
“Thanatos? Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that name mean death.”
“You are correct.”
“I hope this does not mean death is involved in this situation.”
“Death is always involved, but so is life.”
“I think we both know that is not what I meant.”
“Indeed. Fortunately, we hope no one will die today due to our endeavors.”
“I don’t believe that such a vague answer is satisfactory. We would like to be assured that you will not cause any death before we proceed at all. Perhaps your friends could drop their guns to the ground?”
“Ah, that would be a fine solution for you. However, then we would have no assurance that we would not find our number in the grips of death. So, as you can see, we have a dilemma.”
Michael stroked his thin beard as he thought about the situation. Normally, he was very good at digging clues from one’s mind without the subject even knowing it. However, this man was different. Somehow, Thanatos seemed very capable of dodging the questions lying beneath the external questions and only giving what information would help him. This was going to cause a problem. He needed a more direct route. Perhaps it would shock Thanatos into revealing something. Anything. All he needed was a foothold.
“Clearly you have come down here with the intention of talking. May I ask what it is you hope to accomplish.”
“I’m sorry? You wish to accomplish nothing?”
“Actually, I am accomplishing something, but not by talking. My conversation with you was just a happy byproduct of my mission.”
“And your mission is?”
“Why, to distract you, of course.”
Michael glanced instinctively up at the roofs and windows. They were empty. All of them were empty. How could they have missed it? The officers had also noticed the absence of flames and pulled their guns out to keep Thanatos in front of them, before he too disappeared. Half of the men barged into the houses in hopes that the flames were still there, simply hiding inside. They would find nothing, Michael knew. He didn’t know how they had managed it, but they had and they were gone. Still, they had left something behind. They had Thanatos.
“Smooth. I’ve got to hand it to you, I did not expect that. Perhaps you could tell me how you pulled it off?”
“Well, normally a magician will not reveal his tricks to the audience.”
“Indeed. Perhaps you could make an exception?”
“No, the magician never makes exceptions. However, I am not the magician, so I’ll give you a hint.”
“Misdirection. Take, for instance, that tree over there.”
Michael suspected Thanatos’ intention, and only slightly turned his head, keeping one eye on the man but using the other to glance at the tree slightly behind him and to his side.
“Do you remember? Was there anyone there?”
“No, of course not.”
“Ah, but there was.”
“This is some hint. Perhaps you could tell me a bit more?”
“Oh, but that was not the trick, only the tool. Take, for instance, the man you are talking to.”
“That’s the wonderful thing about masks. You can never tell who you’re speaking to.”
There was a scratchy sound that reminded Michael of static on a radio, but it was coming from Thanatos’ throat. He took a step closer, and Thanatos did not move. He took another step, and was close enough to see the sweat boiling on the ridge of the man’s nose and the fear in his eyes. Michael closed the distance between him and the masked man quickly and ripped the mask off of his head. Underneath, Michael recognized an officer named Benjamin. In his mouth was a phone which was taped to his head so that it kept his mouth gagged. From the phone came the noise of interference and then Thanatos’ voice returned at Michael pulled the phone out of Benjamin’s mouth.
“What did I tell you, Michael? Misdirection.”
The phone flashed to show him that the call had been ended and Michael quickly memorized the number that popped up on the screen for a brief moment. Then he turned the phone over to the police for them to begin tracing it, even though he already knew they would find nothing. This man was too good. Still, now they had a name, even if it was a fake one. It was a clue, a foothold, a starting line. Let the race begin.