Chapter 104

                The sound of something snapping brought Randolph around, a primal part of his mind certain he’d heard his own bones breaking before the pain reached him. After a long moment, he realized that nothing on his body hurt that badly, although there was no shortage of bruises and sore spots, which meant the sound hadn’t been bodily harm. Not to him, at least. His eyes darted around the inside of the black sack, searching for any sign of light even as he strained to keep his breathing steady. So long as his kidnapper thought he was still out, there was the chance he might overhear something useful.

                “You can skip the theatrics, we know you’re awake.” The voice was cold, distant, and oddly professional. Randolph disliked it immediately. If the voice had been angry, that spoke to someone protecting a person they cared about. Those were folks who could be misguided, point them at a new target for their fury and they’d call Randolph an ally. The professionals, on the other hand, only ever wanted information. And they were rarely shy about how they got it.

                Suddenly, the bag was ripped off Randolph’s head, revealing four people in almost perfectly matching suits. The shortest of them was looking at him from a folding chair, icy blue eyes staring like they could see the foundations of Randolph’s soul. To his left was a tall man with dark skin and a perfectly shaved head, and on the right was a brunette woman wearing a off-putting grin. The sound of shoes on concrete (where in the hell was he?) echoed as the fourth person, holding the dark bag, stepped into view. Randolph felt his stomach sink as he recognized the tall man; this was the gentleman Sally had been seen on dates with. If he was willing to show his face, that meant Randolph wasn’t going to be walking away from this one. Jail had just become his best case scenario.

                “You’re not as good as you think you are,” said the tall man, walking over to join his friends. “Sally noticed you three days ago, when you were at the same supermarket. She called a telepath from two doors over to do some snooping, and they had you made as a spy before dinner. You really should have picked an easier target.”

                “Guess we should have gone after the ex-husband after all.” Randolph was trying a risky play, making them aware of another potential target. If they didn’t know everyone his people were looking at, they couldn’t protect them all. That might lead to bargaining chips later in the discussion. Unfortunately, his words were not met with the expected reaction of worry, or outright fear.

                Instead, all four people just stared at him, eyes wide, until the bald man started laughing, burying the mirth in his hands as he tried to pretend it was a coughing fit.

                “Mr. Stop, if you would please keep a professional demeanor,” scolded the short one.

                “Sorry Mr. Numbers. It’s just… come on, tell me that wouldn’t have been hilarious,” Mr. Stop said, barely getting the words out between faux coughs.

                “I don’t know, something tells me the clean-up on that would have been a biiiiiiitch,” the woman replied. She met Randolph’s eye for a moment, offering him a quick wink. Despite the fact that it was normally a friendly gesture, Randolph felt something in his stomach turn.

                “You were pretty much fucked the minute you decided to mess with this family,” the tall man said. “But let’s not dwell on the awful, idiotic decisions that brought you here. Let’s focus on the new, smarter choices you’re about to start making. The sort that will allow us to hand you over to the proper authorities.”

                “For what? Shopping at the same store as someone? Volunteering for charity? I hope you have something more substantial than that.” Being aggressive was a dangerous strategy at this point, but Randolph was short on options. Assuming these were good people, he could ideally convince them that the crimes were a misunderstanding. Telepaths weren’t infallible; if he conceived a good excuse for whatever was supposedly picked up then he might plant the seed of doubt.

                “Oh my, Randolph, we have so very much more than that. I’m sure you thought that changing your name and face as often as you did would keep you concealed, but we have very motivated researchers, and ample resources to supply them with.” Mr. Numbers’ voice didn’t so much as lilt upward in triumph, it was just more of the same dead tone and icy stare. “We’ve got you on counts of fraud, embezzlement, and assault across half the United States. You’ve swindled a lot of people with that charm of yours. Pity, I think you’ll find we’re largely immune to it.”

                That threw a wrench into things. If they really had proof, and those charges had been pretty accurate for guesses, then Randolph was going to spend a lot of years in prison by the time all his crimes came to light. If he were dealing with the Crispin of last year, it might be more prudent to still stay silent, but the Sons of Progress had lost a lot of their sway after the attack on Lander. Randolph was just a contractor, and while he prided himself on his confidentiality with clients, it wasn’t a reputation he was willing to throw his freedom away for.

                “What’s the offer? I tell you who hired me and you let me skip out of here?”

                “Certainly not. If you’re very lucky and forthcoming, we’ll send you and all evidence of your crimes to a local police station where you can answer to the justice system,” Mr. Numbers said. “However, if you don’t want to talk to us, then we’ll simply let you face a more direct justice.”

                “Talk or die? Pretty extreme for Heroes or the DVA,” Randolph said. He had to call the bluff, had to assume it was one, because if not he was fucked all the way around.

                “But we’re neither Heroes nor the DVA.” The tall one took a long step forward, until he was leaning down only inches from Randolph’s face. “We’re the wetwork people. The clean-up. The people that get called when a task needs doing that the good ones can’t dirty their hands with. No one wears our faces on t-shirts, or puts our names on lunch boxes. We don’t get to be beloved and famous. All we do is get results. And you do not want to underestimate what we’ll do to achieve that goal. Usually, it involves a lot of knowledge about the human anatomy and what it can endure that we’d rather not have, but this time it’s actually quite an easy fix. Mr. Numbers, alphabetically, who’s the first person we’d be stopping by to see?”

                “Well, Mr. Transport, that would be Alvin Acebedo. Randolph stole ten thousand dollars from his mother shortly after his father passed. Admittedly, as an active biker and small-time drug runner he’s not an ideal son, however he did love her enough to buy out her condo so she’d have a place to live. One has to imagine he would be more than happy to have a crack at the man who broke her heart and robbed her checking account.”

                “And that’s one of how many?”

                “Two hundred and forty-two,” Mr. Numbers replied. “Some of the victims had more family than others.”

                “Two hundred and forty-two people, all with great, justifiable reason to do you harm,” Mr. Transport repeated, making sure that Randolph was looking him in the eye. “And we’ve got access to enough healers to ensure you get face time with each and every one of them. We won’t let them kill you, don’t worry about that. But if you do manage to make it through the gauntlet without talking, then I’ll have to allow Mr. Numbers to take a turn at you. As I recall, the record is three hours; that’s the longest anyone lasted under his questioning.”

                “Three hours and twelve minutes,” Mr. Numbers corrected. “Though that was when I was much younger, and more squeamish.”

                “There you go. So you pick, Randolph.” Mr. Transport reached down and grabbed his jaw, twisting it up roughly so that Randolph couldn’t look away. “Tell us everything about who the fuck sent you after Sally Daniels, or remember this moment fondly as the last time your body was whole and functional.”

                Randolph had made a career out of reading people, in seeing what was buried below the surface. He could usually twist it, or at least use it, to serve his own means. The trouble with that sort of skill was that he couldn’t turn it off, though. And as he stared into Mr. Transport’s eyes, Randolph knew with absolute certainty that if anything, he was underselling just how much hell Randolph was in for.

                “The man who approached me is named Sherman, he’s the right hand of Crispin, head of the Sons of Progress,” Randolph said, enunciating as best he could through the iron grip on his face.

                Mr. Transport turned his head slightly. “Mr. Numbers?”

                “All true, so far.”

                “Good.” The grip on Randolph’s face released, and Mr. Transport took a small step back. “Keep talking. Tell us everything.”