Subsection: Friday 6 September 2019 Up Section: 0.01 Pilot

Saturday 7 September 2019

Everyone gets back together again in the small hours and they do some quick research: there don’t seem to be unusually high numbers of missing homeless people, or clusters.
Later in the day: there’s a news story about the deadly panther stalking the airport, and people are advised to be on the lookout. (A very fast postscript reminds them that Florida panthers are a protected species.)
Natasha looks for the two licence plates: the Dodge Ram that she saw on Thursday night is in a University of North Florida parking lot, while the Silverado is in the suburb of Sunbeam.
It’s not hard to get a look at the Ram, and Ruth breaks in to check further. Information gained:
(16 October 2019)
The group goes over to Sunbeam, where the Silverado is parked. It’s a suburban area, and the truck is standing on a driveway outside a single-storey house – facing outwards, which is slightly unusual. A quick glance over the house reveals no blatant white-supremacist connections; there’s a flag outside, but many of the houses have that. The house number plate suggests that the owner’s a military veteran, or wants to be thought of as such. The place is being maintained reasonably well, though perhaps not quite often enough. Juan can’t make out any smell of big cat.
There are kids on bicycles and a few other people about, so the group pulls round the corner and Natasha sends in magicalviewpoints. The cab of the truck is clean and tidy, though clearly in regular use; the lock of the glove-box has been upgraded, and there’s a cannon ornament hanging from the mirror. The truck bed appears to be empty; there’s a plastic liner with some scratches on it matching the cage. There’s no sign of magic, nor of animal scratches. A look in the garage reveals clutter and a workbench with some tools; there’s no sign of a large animal cage, or of a coffin.
While she’s working on this in the back of the car, Ruth and Juan notice that three high-school-aged girls (aged about 15-16, black clothes, pale skin, black hair, black backpacks) are loitering across the street and looking at the car. Ruth goes over to talk to them; their first question is “are you a witch? You don’t look like one”, though when asked why they asked that they dissolve into defensive giggling. They look at the FBI suit and black SUV and carry on with “in that case you must be an undercover cop”.
Ruth does manage to get out of them that nothing ever happens round here… more specifically, no sightings of the ghost cat. As for the homeowner, he’s old (over 30), and they think his wife left him a few years ago. He mows the lawn, but he’s out most of the day; they think he’s an air-conditioner repairman or something like that.
Ruth asks about the leather-covered book one of them is holding (black, obviously), and they explain that it’s their Book of Shadows, where they write down the spells they’ve learned. When asked if any of them have worked, they giggle, and the name “Chad” is mentioned.
It’s mid-afternoon, and the group goes to City Hall to dig through property records. Mark Gabriel, age 33, bought that house eight years ago, with some kind of preferential loan arrangement for former military people; the divorce from his wife Kristina was three years ago. Digging a bit further reveals that Gabriel was in the 18th Field Artillery, and doesn’t appear to have left the Army on good terms.
Lewis Russell has a criminal record with minor disturbances (it looks as if he causes trouble on White Pride marches) but no serious jail time, and no military record. The group finds a home address for him, near UNF.
His truck is no longer in the UNF lot by the time they get over there, so they go to his home, a motel converted for long-term residence. Ruth knocks on the door, with Juan as visible backup, not actually claiming to be police but saying she’s investigating a sighting of the panther in the back of his truck; Russell, who hasn’t turned down the loud rock, says “it wasn’t me, man” and, ultimately, “come back with a warrant” and something about admiralty law. As she walks away, Juan moves up and presses an ear to the door; under the music, he can hear the sound of a phone call. “Yeah, man, they were here… it’s cool, I sent them away.” Jesus tries to pick up the mobile signal, but gets encrypted IP traffic.
Keeping up with the news, Jesus notices that there’s a distinct subclass of panther-hunters: in very expensive sports cars, wearing a lot of gold jewellery, and carrying tranquiliser rifles. Perhaps they’re after an exotic pet?
The team stakes out Russell’s apartment, rotating between the truck (Ruth learns from the police scanner that a Lamborghini driver had warrants out on him in Miami, which the cop is very happy about) and the local Denny’s, where Juan and Jesus desultorily flirt with the waitress. Around 10pm Russell walks to his truck (carrying a small bag, not big enough for a rifle, at least not ready to use); the group tails him.
He takes I-295 north across the river, then turns off towards the Timucuan Preserve; then off onto a dirt road (with headlights off; Ruth snuffs her own car’s lights, as there’s enough moon to see by if one’s careful); then off onto a track. He pulls up by a cluster of small and crude but well-camouflaged buildings; the Silverado is already there. Someone, perhaps Gabriel, comes out of the large building, and they talk; Jesus has rigged a parabolic microphone, and gets something about “we need to move up the plan” and “OK, it’ll be just a few more hours cooking”. Russell unlocks one of the smaller buildings, but as the door opens something humanoid leaps out at him, bearing him to the ground and worrying at his throat. While the party’s considering how to react to this, there’s a small explosion in that same building, and a hissing and bubbling sound…