Gates called the flat opened planned, Felhorn called it a dump. It occupied the top floor of a condemned building where demolition had ceased halfway through, leaving only front half standing and the rest as rubble. At night Felhorn would dream of the floor suddenly collapsing beneath her bed, the chipboard walls they’d thrown up as protection from the elements tumbling with her for the sixteen floor drop, before waking soaked in sweat in the very sheets she’d just been clinging to, her throat alight and aching.
Gates didn’t help much. After six hundred years of not needing to sleep he’d forgotten what it was like to have nightmares and couldn’t understand why she didn’t just change the story if it wasn’t going the way she wanted. Finding him standing above her with that frown on his face when she woke often ended with her sending him sprawling across the flat, magic burning in her veins as it jumped to the surface before she could quench it. It didn’t teach him, he still came whenever she started screaming and she kept blasting him away, over and over again. It was almost easier on the nights where she didn’t sleep at all.
‘Felhorn, come on, we’ve got something.’
It was morning and the sun was creeping into the flat between the cracks in the walls. Groaning, Felhorn shrugged away the covers and rolled herself off the mattress, stumbling to get her feet under her. The cracked mirror fixed to the wall between two boarded up windows showed the bruise along her cheek had turned green during the night, the cut through the middle of it scabbing over. When she scowled at her reflection it pulled, a small flicker of pain in the background of every other ache that plagued her body. Gates came up behind her and poked the mottle of purple and black decorating her right shoulder.
‘Does it hurt?’ he asked. In his other hand he held a bundle of papers struck through with red marker. His neat, precise handwriting highlighted words, phrases, and at times, whole paragraphs.
‘I’ll survive,’ she told him and turned to find a shirt she could pull over the patchwork of scrapes covering her torso. Unlike Gates she was susceptible to things like knives, guns, fists. When someone hit her it left a mark. When someone hit Gates he broke their neck and walked away like nothing had even happened. His lack of conscious made her wonder why he’d gone into business with her in the first place. His argument that he benefited from taking out competition didn’t hold up when she really thought about it, but then again she was hardly in the game out of the goodness of her own heart. People paid her to solve crimes and along the way she got to punch, kick, and maim as much as she wanted. It as a win, win situation.
She found a shirt balled up next to the dresser and dragged it over her head. The sleeves were inside out and required a little persuasion to unravel but it smelt clean. Smoothing the fabric Felhorn scanned the room for a pair of jeans to go with it and spotted them across the back of the settee. The jeans were less clean than the top but she made do.
‘What’s the case this time,’ she asked, zipping herself up and fixing the top button into place. Gates had followed her to the settee and settled himself on one of the arms, papers still in hand.
‘Missing kid,’ he said. He handed her the folder and pointed to the photo paper-clipped on top. ‘Eight years old, taken from his father’s house three days ago.’
‘That’s not that long, they normally call us when it’s been months and the police stop searching. Why do they want us now?’
Gates turned the pages in her hands and showed her a second photo, this one older and in black and white.
‘I see,’ she said. The photo showed Gates fifty years earlier, his arm slung around a young man’s shoulders, their bodies pressed in close as they raised their champagne classes to the photographer from the opposite side of a restaurant table. ‘Is this kid family?’
‘No, but I knew his great-grandfather for a while before he married.’
‘Of course you did,’ nodded Felhorn. ‘I bet you knew him really well.’
The rest of the documents detailed the boy’s kidnap and the ransom demand that had arrived two hours afterwards. The mother had paid it but the boy hadn’t been returned, instead another demand had arrived with the assurance that if the money wasn’t handed over with the week, the boy would die.
‘How do we know he’s not already dead?’ Felhorn asked, dumping the file on the kitchen counter and fumbling in the open cupboard for the coffee. She wanted nothing more than to climb back into bed and sleep for a year, but even if she did return to her sheets, sleep would have avoided her.
‘We don’t know. If he is we can return him to his mother, if he’s not then she gets the body back at least. Your lot like closure I hear.’
Felhorn measured out two spoons worth of powdery granules into what looked like a clean mug. The kettle was full so she flicked the switch and waited for it to boil.
‘Any ideas of where the boy’s being kept?’
‘A few. Whoever took him is new to the game, harder to track. However, a few questions here and there have turned up a couple of leads.’
‘How many is a couple?’
‘Five or six.’
‘Which one is it ,five or six?’
The kettle boiled and Felhorn filled her mug.
‘Five,’ said Gates, ‘almost certainly five.’
Felhorn nodded, brought the mug to her lips and blew across the murky looking coffee. ‘When do we start then?’
‘As soon as you feel up to it,’ he said and grabbed a newspaper from the coffee table. ‘I’m ready when you are.’
Felhorn eyed her coffee and then dumped it down the sink
‘I’ll get another on the way,’ she said and grabbed her coat. ‘You’re buying.’
The fifth lead turned out to be a run down council building that was closed for renovations. Inside, the smell of fresh paint made Felhorn’s nose wrinkle and the squeek of plastic sheeting beneath her feet left her feeling uneasy. Gates on the other hand strolled ahead, ducking into each room as they went, crying out happily as they passed one filled with old style filing cabinets and a telegram machine tucked away in a dusty corner.
So far there had been no sign of any kidnappers and no sign of the boy. Felhorn was starting to think that Gates had got it wrong.
That was until she heard the voices.
‘I told you we should have taken the money and gone! Why did you have to get greedy? We can still give the boy back, we could leave him here and tip them off!’
‘Shut up James, we are not tipping anyone off and we’re not giving the boy up. You saw how quick his mum gave up the cash first time around, what’s wrong with milking her for a little more? We deserve this okay. We deserve to be happy and rich!’
Felhorn glanced in Gates’ direction only to find him flicking through the top drawer of a plastic covered desk. He looked up when she waved, his eyebrows furrowed together as she jammed a thumb over her should in the direction that the voices were coming from. He shrugged and went back to the desk drawer.
Leaving him to his weird snooping, Felhorn carried on towards the voices.
‘Someone will catch us. Things always go tits up when the bad guys take it one step too far instead of getting what they want and getting gone,’ said the first voice.
‘Is that you think we are James? The bad guys? How are we the bad guys exactly? Yeah we took the kid but did we hurt him? Did we?’
The first voice muttered something in response that Felhorn did catch. She was close now, the kidnappers’ voices drifting from an open door a little further along the corridor.
‘Look James, stop being a pussy and check on the kid. He seems to like you for some reason.’
‘Maybe because I didn’t threaten to cut off his ear and post it to his mum.’
‘I was joking! The kid knew I was!’
Felhorn shrank back as someone, James she assumed, appeared in the doorway.
He was young, sixteen at most and dressed in jeans and a green hoodie stamped with tour dates for a band she didn’t recognise. Tall and lanky with a scattering of acne across his chin, he didn’t check the corridor. Instead he turned right, away from Felhorn, and headed off in that direction.
She let him leave, breathing slowly through her mouth to calm her nerves and the magic fizzing beneath the surface. She didn’t need it she reminded herself, there were two of them, easy enough on her own.
The second kidnapper was about the same age, shorter but wider, dressed all in back and supporting a weak, straggly attempt at a beard. He turned as Felhorn walked through the door, his mouth twisting up into a sneer as he started to ask what the hell James had forgotten now. Felhorn’s fist knocked the words back down his throat as well as a few teeth. The lad crumpled.
He spat blood and made a high pitch whine, the sort an animal might when stuck in a trap. Felhorn’s boot took the wind out of his lungs and the noise stopped. Another fist and the lad was unconscious.
James stood in the doorway, his hands loose at his sides, his skin ashen and tinged with a hint of green. They must have been really new to the game Felhorn decided, she hadn’t met a criminal who’s first reaction to her was puking.
‘I- I- I-‘ his words petered out as Felhorn’s hand closed over his shoulder.
‘The boy?’ she asked.
‘Two doors down,’ he squeaked.
‘Good. Now leave.’
He turned to head left, the same way Felhorn had come, she grabbed his arm and yanked him back. ‘Maybe go the other way,’ she advised. ‘My colleague is that direction and he’s not as nice as I am.’
The lad took her advice and sprinted off to the right as instructed.
‘Well that was easy,’ said Gates, rounding the corner as the lad disappeared. ‘Ready to head home, I was thinking we could pick up fish and chips on the way.’
‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ said Felhorn.
‘Of course, of course. Costa or Starbucks? Your choice.’
‘I meant the kidnapped child,’ she clarified.
‘Huh? Oh yes him. Where is he exactly?’
Felhorn sucked in an angry breath and held it, letting the tension seep from her slowly. At least that was the idea, in reality it was more like compacting the tension into a tiny ball of fury that lodged somewhere beneath her sternum.
‘This way,’ she said. ‘Let’s get him back to his mum.’
The boy was shaken but unharmed. He clung to Felhorn on the drive to his mother’s house and to her own surprise she didn’t pry him off. The moment the doors opened and he saw his parents stood on the other side he let go, leaving a complicated feeling gnawing away at her.
Gates was talking to the father in the way he always spoke to people. He rarely made eye contact and always seemed to get exactly what he wanted while the other person left the conversation feeling confused and a little flustered.
He flashed the cheque in Felhorn’s direction as they climbed back into the car.
‘A good day’s work I’d say.’ He grinned and slipped the car into first, pulling off from the curb and into traffic.
Felhorn nodded and fished in her jacket pocket for a cigarette. She’d given up months ago but she felt like there should still be one lurking around. Her pocket was empty so she clicked open the latch on the glove box.
She lurched back, hitting the seat with enough force to wind herself.
Gates flicked her a curious look for the driver’s seat, utterly calm based on appearances, despite the severed ear now rolling about in the foot well.
‘Not one of mine,’ he said and turned on his indicator to pull across into the next lane.
Felhorn was ready to explode, she could feel it.
‘Then who’s is it?’ she asked.
‘How would I know, I didn’t put it there.’
She stared at him. Her mouth moved but not words came out. He glanced across at the hand again and made a clicking noise with his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
‘That looks like it was messy, put it back in the box would you. It’s a bit distracting to hear it bumping around.’
Reaching between her feet, Felhorn gripped the hand and placed it back in the glove box.
‘If you didn’t put it there then who did?’ she said quietly, already aware of what Gates answer would be.
‘No idea,’ he replied, his face cracking into a grin. ‘Should be fun to try and find out though right?’
Felhorns heart clenched. Right, she thought, fun.
This week’s Flash Fiction Challenge is all about crime fighting. Chuck Wendig is sending if participants over to They Fight Crime to find two characters with which to write a thousand word piece of flash fiction. I may have gone a bit over that word limit this week and I’ve decided that I like these characters so much I’m probably going to go back to them as the prompt itself is a little too detailed for a single piece of flash fiction.
As some of you might know, I’m not great at keeping up momentum when writing serials on this site so if you liked this opening and want to see more then please let me know. Even better, have a go at the Flash Fiction Challenge and let me know what you come up with.
Thanks for reading.