Section: 1.01 In Which the Demon Up Section: 1.01 In Which the Demon Subsection: Sunday 16 September 2019 

Saturday 15 September 2019

Jesus gets an embarrassed call from a community leader – it seems that people have got the idea that there’s someone they can turn to who might actually do something. Anyway, if he and his people could go and meet Mr Vargas at the Emerson Amusement Center, that would be very kind…
Jesus does a bit of research first. The Amusement Center is one of a number of businesses owned by the Emerson Amusement Group, which does not number a Mr Vargas among its directors. Looking at Street View, it’s one of a series of businesses in a mini strip mall which also includes two strip clubs, a cocktail bar, a liquor store, a Chinese supermarket and a phone shop. Those of the group who know Jacksonville are aware that this is what passes for a red-light district.
Hector Vargas has overdone pimp style to the point that he looks like a parody of himself, with a purple-and-leopardskin hat and matching coat, dollar-sign medallion, and heavy cane. He explains that when young women come to the city they can sometimes change their minds about their careers, and go home again, and sometimes they’re not all that reliable so they don’t tell their friends where they’re going.
But he knows two sisters who arrived recently, and he’s letting them stay in a nice little apartment that he happens to have available, and one of them came to him this morning saying that the other one didn’t come home after last night. Something about her getting into a car when they’d agreed not to. And Angelina had the good sense to bring her problem to him, so you guys can look into it, right? (Ruth certainly notices that this means that he doesn’t have to do anything more about it.) He and Jesus swap cards; he’s a “talent agent” apparently.
The group goes a few blocks up the road to the “nice little apartment” which is at least two of those things. Angelina Alvarez is looking fraught, and explains that they were working at Wacko’s last night (one of the two strip clubs in the mini-mall, though this one’s also a bar and grill); they weren’t in constant contact, and she saw her sister Celestina (“Tina”) leaving with a man. That wasn’t entirely unexpected, but she got into a car with him, and they’d agreed not to do that; and she called out to her, but Tina didn’t even look round. And now Tina’s phone isn’t even ringing.
Angelina tries to describe the man, though his appearance is depressingly average: sandy hair, medium height, not noticeably fat or muscled. The car was a light-coloured SUV; she doesn’t remember the plate.
Angelina claims to be 25, and Tina two years younger; they’ve been in Jacksonville for about a month. She has a photo of the pair of them.
Back at the club, Juan and Ruth talk to the bouncer who’s now come on duty (“girls aren’t here till three”). He’s friendly to the big guy, but wasn’t around last night; the night crew come on around 7. Ruth spots that the security cameras over the door are reasonably competent fakes. The bouncer passes them on to Pete the barman, who should have been in a better position to notice any unusual behaviour inside – though he didn’t. He says that there hasn’t been any trouble since the “fire code violation” six months ago (reading between the lines it seems fairly clear that this was a drug bust). He turns out to be surprisingly fervent about drinks getting drugged, and everything they serve comes with a lockable lid. Ruth spent some time in clubs like this when she was with the FBI, and she reckons the place is mostly on the level; she’s also glad to see large mirrors behind the bar.
Meanwhile in the parking lot Jesus has been working on getting some tracking data off Tina’s phone. It’s definitely not on the network now; the towers that saw it last are a little way up the highway towards town. Natasha uses the photograph to try to find Tina; she gets a ping some five or so miles to the west or south-west, across the river in a suburban area but still inside the ring road.
(11 December 2019)
That area is Wesconnett, stil within the Jacksonville city limits, and checking again closer to the site suggests she’s on the grounds of the Jacksonville Church of Christ, a substantial property.
Checking the church’s web site shows it’s towards the acceptable end of fundamentalist; you probably wouldn’t show up if you were black or blatantly gay, but they do seem to do actual good things for the community. There are events scheduled on most days; last night there was a sewing circled that ended about 9pm, but nothing that Tina might have been rushing off to a little later. There’s also a dinner (“Good Shepherds Club”) scheduled for this evening, but no more services until tomorrow.
Natasha looks for any nearby magic, and doesn’t find any, then looks again for Tina; she’s in one of the buildings further back from the road, not currently conscious. Jesus looks at the security setup; it seems unusually competent, with overlapping fields of view on the cameras and no exposed wireless data.
The car rocks as something slams into the bottom of it. Ruth backs up, and sees a pallid alligator some twenty feed long, hauling itself out of the sewer hatch she’d parked over. It chases the car, and takes a big bite out of engine and undercarriage; Ruth keeps backing away, while Juan and Jesus shoot it with handguns, and Natasha breaks a charm to knock it senseless for a bit. Once it stops moving, Juan gets out to finish it off close-up; as he’s doing it, there’s a siren blip from a police car coming round the corner.
The cop who gets out starts giving Juan grief about hunting an endangered species; Ruth is able to talk him out of arresting anybody, but he watches as the car limps away.
The car could be repaired, but it’ll be cheaper to buy a new one; Ruth gets the specialised kit dismounted, then goes off to buy a cheap pickup. Jesus cobbles together a couple of pairs of thermal-imaging goggles. Natasha replaces the charms she used on the ’gator.
They go back after dark; one of the buildings near the car park is lit, and there’s clearly a dinner going on. (The alligator corpse has been removed. There are a lot of fried chicken trucks in North Florida.) Natasha detects no magic; Tina’s still there, and her surface thoughts are a mix of “it hurts” and “when is he coming back”.
Juan and Ruth walk openly across the car park… and are intercepted by the cop from before, coming out of the dinner, not in uniform but still with a gun at his belt. He clearly recognises them, and while Juan blathers in Spanish about a problem with the drains, other people start coming out of the dinner to see what’s going on; eventually Juan and Ruth are herded back to the car and invited to leave, and they pull round the corner and wait.
Because while that distraction was going on, Natasha cast a cloaking spell, and she and Jesus (using the goggles) went round the buildings to get to the target. This building has boards where its windows might be, and is padlocked… or not, as it turns out when Natasha moves to open it, as the lock looks closed but isn’t engaged. Inside the space is clearly soundproofed, and there are two warm bodies in cells, terrified young women in simple gowns perhaps made from sheets. They’re locked in, and each chained by an ankle to the bars; Jesus makes short work of the locks, and Natasha calms them and gets the cuffs off their legs. Jesus has a few seconds to look about, and spots a modern torture room (the sort of thing the smarter South American secret police use), as well as packets of what might well be drugs and a series of jars full of murky fluid; looking inside, they seem to contain folded leather or some such… hang on, those are eye holes…
Natasha improvises foot wrappings and gets everyone out, under more cloaking. Jesus closes the padlock and jams it shut, in the hope that this will slow down any destruction of the evidence. They get to the car, and drive away. The second woman, blonde, says that she’s Tiffany Adams, cheerleader at UNF, and a quick search reveals that such a person did indeed go missing… eight years ago. She does seem to think it’s still 2011; she knows she’s been captive for “a while”. (But she doesn’t look 26. She especially doesn’t look like someone who’s been chained up by a serial killer for eight years.)
Jesus tips off the DEA (the “narc on a narc” hotline), and Natasha asks to take Tiffany’s pulse. Under cover of that, she casts a ritual to find out how old this body is. “347 years”…
(8 January 2020)
She checks Tina the same way – she’s apparently about 22, as expected.
 Section: 1.01 In Which the Demon Up Section: 1.01 In Which the Demon Subsection: Sunday 16 September 2019