Section: 1.03 The Monster Maker Up Section: 1.03 The Monster Maker Subsection: Monday 23 September 2019 

Sunday 22 September 2019

Having spent Saturday evening at Jade’s concert, Natasha is woken at about two in the morning by the sound of someone levering one of her windows out of its frame.
She fetches a gun and confronts the burglar, who’s dressed in black and half-way through the window. He calls on “Jimmy” to pull him back out, but Jimmy runs off, and “Pete” doesn’t give any trouble, though he looks ready to make a break for it if Natasha’s attention wavers. While Natasha’s waiting for the police, she asks why he was going for this place, and his answer involves “herbs”, and not just the usual marijuana; Jimmy was the one who knew what to look for, and maybe there was something about power, but he’s barely coherent and it’s hard to be sure.
Which makes it interesting that twelve hours later there’s a report of an armed robbery at the Jacksonville branch of Whole Foods. The robbers have left (in a van, dumped half a mile away), but there’s still a substantial police presence, and Natasha’s able to learn that the four black-clad submachine-gun-armed thieves stole… bulk herbs and spices? The cost of what they got, even at full retail, is probably rather less than the cost of the submachine guns…
Jesus hasn’t heard anything about a sudden fashion for herbs among the lowlives of Jacksonville, and he feels that he really would have if there were any word out there.
Natasha scans for Whole Foods bulk sacks, and finds them… at the same time as news of a hostage situation at First Florida Credit Unit, a suburban bank, which is also where the sacks are. This turns out to be part of a small mall, and the police have surrounded the whole building while they wait for SWAT. Talking to a reporter reveals that there are about twenty hostages and four robbers, though the security cameras went out almost at once.
Natasha puts in a viewpoint near the bags, which are just outside the vault area. The vault is being emptied (money is already on a trolley, and two robbers are working on the safe deposit boxes, systematically breaking them open and looking for obvious valuables).
One of them says, presumably into a headset radio, “it’s time we did the thing”, and after a bit “yeah, I know, but it’s still time”. One of the two thieves keeping watch on the hostages and the police picks one of the hostages and walks him back towards the vault out of sight of the others; without ceremony, he cuts the man’s throat from behind, and there’s a pulse of magic.
Jade has already shifted into tiger form, and when she hears about this rushes in, jumping over the police line. The robber still in the front of the bank shoots, but she manages to evade the bullets, leaps on him and tears his throat. The police take a few seconds to react, but start to move in.
Natasha suppresses the primers in the guns of the three thieves near the vault. The hostage is now walking back out towards the main body of the bank, and one of the thieves is following behind him, not especially close. Jade charges towards and past him, aiming for the front robber, but as she’s leaping over the hostage he explodes, in a fireball that occupies much of the front of the bank. The front thief is blown off his feet by this and doesn’t move, and everyone’s at least a bit burned. That stops the police movement too.
Jade, injured but not too badly, claws down one of the remaining robbers, and when the other one faints she drags him to the front of the bank and drops him outside. There are a lot of guns pointed at her; she runs back inside, gets to the vault and shifts back, so that she can be processed and released with the rest of the hostages.
Natasha and Jesus spot a red SUV pulling into the alley across from the bank and departing; the driver might have come out of the Cosmic Church of Truth Inc. Natasha has time to throw a viewpoint onto the back window; the driver has long black hair and is probably female, and in the back seat there’s a long-arm that’s not one of the standard types. With a bit of thought, it appears to be a paintball gun, clearly a very high-end one, and the sight on it is probably worth more than the gun.
The SUV goes a mile or so west and is then parked; the driver gets out, zips the paintball gun into a carrying case, and walks round the corner.
Once Jade’s been released, Natasha fixes her injuries, and the team goes to where the SUV was parked. It’s still there, and Jade in tiger form tracks the driver’s scent round the corner onto the main road (causing a certain amount of panic) to a fire access zone, where it stops. Presumably there was another vehicle parked there.
(25 March 2020)
Natasha considers the effects of the stolen herbs. They all seem as though they might provide some slight benefit to magical workings, but nothing massive, even if they were all used together.
She tries to cast a viewpoint back in time to spot the second vehicle, but the ritual goes wrong; they leave, but it soon becomes apparent just how, as a thirty-foot plastic clown is tossing around cars in the nearby McDonald’s parking lot. Jade bails out as soon as the car stops, and shifts, rushing to the attack; both she and Juan can detect only a smell of plastic, so they work on the assumption that there isn’t a person inside there.
Jade moves in and takes a claw-swipe; she carves away swathes of plastic, but doesn’t seem to do the thing much harm. (It does drop the car it’s holding, and she gets out of the way.) She then climbs the creature’s back, and bites at its eyes; that does a bit more good, though up close they’re clearly just solid plastic. Juan grabs a mop bucket and runs to the pile of wrecked cars, gathering fuel from the leaking tanks; then he runs back to throw it at the creature’s feet, and set light to it.
Meanwhile Jesus has launched a drone to get pictures and possibly provide a distraction; Natasha has been working on a ritual to drain the thing’s strength, and when that’s combined with Jade’s tearing at its face, it collapses into the McDonald’s kitchen; Juan’s fuel is joined by burning gas, and it starts to melt. Jade shifts back and gets out by looking like an innocent bystander.
Both Jesus and Natasha notice a black SUV with tinted windows across the street (standard plates); it’s particularly of note because it wasn’t there until just now, and the traffic is so stalled by gawpers that there should be no way it could have got there. Jesus is fairly sure he’s spotted a camera lens behind one of the windows.
Jesus sends the drone over, but it’s hit by a jammer and goes into its automatic landing mode. Juan provides some first aid, but it looks as if nobody’s in serious danger. Natasha looks for magic in the SUV, and doesn’t find any. As the traffic starts to break up and the emergency services start to get closer, the group departs.
It’s now early evening. The stolen herbs are from different regions, and it’s unlikely they’d all be part of the same recipe. The police are finishing up at the bank; Natasha can’t spot the herb bags on the scene any more, and indeed it looks as if they’ve been taken to the regional crime lab in downtown Jacksonville. It’s not too hard to drive past the area (it’s in a complex with a lot of other government buildings), and Natasha’s able to run a detailed analysis… and they really are just herbs.
Natasha has another try at looking back into that parking bay, and this time it works; she spots an inconspicuous dark grey Jeep (of the “genuine off-road vehicle” rather than the “downtown poser” school), and a person coming round the corner and getting into it. With this better view, the subject appears female, very fit, and moves like a dancer or a martial artist; she’s wearing clothes that seem designed to blend in and be unmemorable. She unlocks the Jeep, puts the paintball gun bag into the back, gets in and drives off. Getting that plate looked up will take a few days.
The evening news names the bank robbers: the survivor is Jimmy Lopez, who has a long and unimpressive record of minor offences, never anything on this scale. Jesus talks with his contacts, and they know Jimmy and the others; they really wouldn’t expect any of them to be able to get it together enough even to try a job like this. Jimmy had been talking recently about a big score, though that wasn’t unusual for him; but when he started to mention the “new buddies” he was working with, he choked and changed the subject. He also hadn’t been out drinking as much, perhaps one night in three rather than every night.
Natasha isn’t happy with her sketch of the woman, so she tries projecting her mental image onto a Polaroid film sheet; that works rather better.
(8 April 2020)
Jesus gets hold of Jimmy’s home address – and his next of kin, a María Diaz, at the same address. They plan to call on her on next day, about noon, first taking some time to rest up.
The matter of the clown is completely absent from the news.
 Section: 1.03 The Monster Maker Up Section: 1.03 The Monster Maker Subsection: Monday 23 September 2019