It'll Come Back Around, Part III



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Scene Title It'll Come Back Around, Part III
Synopsis Merlyn's job is not as advertised.
Date June 17, 2021

The streets of Manhattan are crowded with people. A sea of people, surging like swollen rivers during a rainy season. There are yellow cabs, box trucks, personal vehicles, and all the pedestrians moving forward with their daily lives. On the street, it simply looks like life. A microcosm; people living their lives and their individual stories. From higher up — from a different perspective — the shape of things starts to change.

From a farther perspective, the individual stories start to blur. It becomes harder to see the personal struggles, but the bigger picture becomes evident. New York City is home to nearly 8 million people, more than the ancient city of Rome at its height, more than it can realistically sustain itself. For something like New York to survive, it requires the sustenance and support of thousands of other cities, of distant farms, of a complex network of agriculture and finance. A support structure so delicate that should it collapse, the city itself could not support itself, nor the millions within.

This is the rainy season of mankind. But one day, some day, drought will surely come.

Standing by the tall windows of his penthouse office, Daniel Linderman cuts a dark silhouette against the rainy sky turning the horizon to a matte field of pale gray. The dark lines of skyscrapers rise up like cemetery monuments, stark and cold things. Rain streaks down the windows, splitting into forking paths that inexorably travel from view; ever changing in their journey.

"I'm glad you could come and see me, Doctor Morrison." Linderman says to the reflection of a man visible in the window. Daniel's own muted reflection in that same vision reminds him of his own forking journey down the rainy glass of life; the wrinkles and scars that serve to show where he'd been on the way.

Not far into the office, across the room from Linderman, Doctor Morrison approaches with noticeable hesitation. He's taller and thinner than Daniel, several years his junior. Stefan's sleek midnight blue suit gives him a narrow silhouette, accented by his height and his long face. Dark hair is swept to one side atop his head, hands folded behind his back but posture ever so slightly stooped, as if in a constant state of near apologetic prostration.

"It isn't every day one of the most powerful men in New York asks for me by name," Doctor Morrison says with a raise of one brow. "That said, your people weren't very clear over the phone as to why my uh, presence was requested?" One corner of Stefan's mouth twitches up into a nervous tic. "I don't presume this is about your blood pressure."

Linderman laughs, softly, unexpectedly. He regards Stefan with a newfound fondness, shaking his head and trying to minimize his amused smile. "No, Doctor Morrison, I assure you I am in perfect health." Turning his back to the windows, Mr. Linderman walks with a casual gait over to his desk and makes a motion for Stefan to join him. The taller man does, stooping to sit as his attention anxiously flits around the room. He'd heard enough rumors of the Linderman Group's dealings to be rightfully nervous in this situation.

"Then…" Stefan shifts nervously, and Daniel raises a hand to stall whatever further line of questioning he'd had.

"Tomorrow, the Baltimore Police and the FBI are going to raid your home." Daniel's delivery of that is matter-of-fact. It is something unavoidable, a milestone in the road unmovable by either man. Stafen's expression shifts to confusion, but before he can stammer out a query Linerman continues. "The private work you do with your company Tetradyne is about to become public knowledge. The FBI has been quietly building a case against you for some weeks now, and they're ready to bring you in on charges."

Stefan covers his mouth with one hand and slouches back into his seat, trembling. Disbelief is evident now, a flash of anger, too. Daniel continues to press down on him with information, though. "You may wonder how I came to know this, or why I am inviting you here to my place of business in spite of that. You don't need to, and will not ever, know the answers to those questions." Mr. Linderman folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. "I need you to focus on the future."

"What do you want?" Stefan barks out, as if this were all somehow an extortion tactic. Linderman laughs again in return, wagging a finger at Doctor Morrison.

"Now, now, Stefan. I'm here to help, not bully you." Linderman's brows raise as he regards the wiry doctor. "Your work in genetics is outstanding, and under any other circumstances on any other day I might have recruited you to a different organization. But, now is not the time, and now is not the place." From his desk, Linderman retrieves a business card and slides it across the table to Stefan. It sits there, awkward and disregarded for too long, so Linderman raises his brows imploringly and motions to Stefan. "Do be a dear and look at that, please."

Stefan's eyes flick down to the card, then back up. His gaze doesn't leave Linderman as he slowly leans in and takes the card, sliding it up off the desktop.

Biomere Corporation
Doctor Stefan Ford
Medical Consultant

"Who is this?" Stefan asks, looking up to Daniel.

"You," Mr. Linderman says with a satisfied smile, leaning back into his chair. "We're going to help you disappear, we're going to keep you out of prison and ensure your silence in a way mutually beneficial to us." One of Linderman's brows rises, and he watches Stefan just stare at the card vacantly.

Stefan swallows, anxiously, then looks up to Linderman again. "You— you can do— " He shakes his head. "Why?"

"All in due time," Linderman says quietly. "You're going to become a consultant from Biomere Corporation, advising us on certain medical research practices. Your genius is… well, it would be wasted elsewhere." Linderman folds his hands in his lap, watching the array of emotions flash across Stefan's face. "I'm going to assign you a handler, Paul Oaks, who will be able to answer more of your questions. Of course, you won't be leaving the building today, and… do you like it warm or cold?"

"E-Excuse me?" Stefan stammers.

"We're going to get you out of the country for a little while," Daniel says as he picks up the receiver of his desk phone, holding it between his shoulder and chin as he dials an internal number. Stefan's blank stare implies that isn't a question he's capable of answering right now. "Well, let's just say temperate then, shall we? Germany is wonderful this time of year."

Then, to the voice on the other end of the line, Daniel makes a simple request. "Celine, would you please send Mr. Zarek up?"

"I have someone he needs to meet."

The double doors to Daniel Linderman’s office slowly open and through walks a tall, gaunt man with piercing blue eyes and high cheekbones, hair swept back from his face. He offers a knife-like smile across the room to Mr. Linderman, then turns his attention down to Stefan. “Well, y’all ain’t told me there’d be no suit an’ tie needed…” he says in a thick, creole accent. Mr. Zarek isn’t dressed for the occasion or for the room, his olive-drab jacket hangs loose off of his shoulders, the tanktop beneath isn’t even tucked in. His jeans have holes in them, boots partly unlaced.

Mr. Linderman manages a patient smile, gesturing toward Stefan with a layer of decorum his new guest does not deserve. “Mr. Zarek,” Daniel says, “this is Stefan Morrison, soon to be Stefan Ford. I’d like you to head back to New Orleans and… clean up the Ford family, make some room for new identities among them. You’ll be paid well for your time.”

“Fords,” Zarek says with a roll of his tongue over the inside of his cheek, “yeah, they ain’t got a lot of connections. Stefan lives with his brother. Y’all want me t’clean all’a that up?” Daniel nods, as if frustrated by the fact he had to over-emphasize the point. All the while, Stefan looks nervous about being party to what sounds like murder and identity theft.

“I’m not sure all of this is nn— ” is about as far as Ford gets before Linderman cuts him off with a shushing gesture.

“Stefan,” Linderman says patiently, “let us focus on the value you can bring to our organization and how we can help one-another, and rest well knowing that a professional like Mr. Zarek here will have you in good hands… and be nearby whenever you need him.”

Mr. Zarek steps over, his smile spreading to reveal a missing tooth near his molars. “Pleased t’meet’cha,” he says with a hand offered out. Stefan eyes the hand and nervously takes it, if only because he doesn’t know what else to do. “Ah’ ain’t much fer’ formalities,” he admits, “so y’all can go’n call me Jon.

“An’ Ah’m gonna’ make you a whole new life.”

Eighteen Years Later

Staten Island
New Chinatown

June 17th
3:13 am

While much of what was once the Rookery has been gentrified into the fresh coat of paint that is New Chinatown the southernmost reaches of the neighborhood have seen little to no improvement yet. Here, rows of abandoned homes are marked for demolition with bright neon pink X’s on their roofs and doors. Every so often a holdout resident remains behind, surrounded by what will eventually be years worth of active construction designed to drive them from their homes and open up space for new renters willing to pay top dollar for renovated homes in a market that is booming against expectation.

Bay Street and Wadsworth meet at a sleepy and overgrown intersection of suburban communities in the looming shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. A matte black military police APC rolls down the street, sweeping the sidewalks with a floodlight as it continues on patrol. But even the military police fail to notice the shadow weaving between the buildings, hopping fences and taking shortcuts through wildly overgrown backyards.

The two story single-family home on the corner of Bay and Wadsworth, the one with the empty swimming pool covered in graffiti and the burned-out hulk of an SUV in the driveway is this stealthy shadow’s destination. In spite of looking abandoned, the home isn’t marked for demolition like so many others. And, much like the slinking shadow of Merlyn Hitchens herself, it is much more than meets the eye.

Given the crossroads of gentrification and abandonment, Merlyn has decided to blend for both worlds. She wears black yoga pants and a top that looks like she might be going to the gym, all covered with a grey zip-up hoodie. For the casual observer, she could either be a jogger or a squatter. It's hard to tell. As she passes the SUV she frowns, approaching the front to get an assessment if the place is actually abandoned–despite the promise it would be, there's always a concern with new 'clients', especially ones who specifically seek her out. She glances towards the backyard briefly before leaning casually to check for movement and light in the panes of textured glass next to the doorframe.

Angling to catch the interior through the glass, all Merlyn sees is a dusty living room that shows signs of squatters at some point in its past, but nothing that looks recent. Newspaper is plastered to the floor, empty cans littered around the makeshift bedding. Furniture is torn open and the wood frame partly removed, likely for burning in the cold winter months. Curiously, the roof is intact, most of the other houses on this street are in far worse condition.

Maybe nobody lives here now, but someone could, and that feels like it fits the description her erstwhile employer gave of the safehouse. Even if it would supposedly be unoccupied in the present, the sense of danger still raises the hairs on the back of her neck.

Even with the present appearance of abandonment, the back seems like it might be a wiser point of entry and provide cover from view with what's left of the fence. She leans against the stair railing, eyes scanning for an easy way to pass into the backyard. Merlyn pauses, however, mid scan to simply test to make sure the door is locked.

It is and it isn’t. The knob turns but the door doesn’t open. Judging from how loose the doorknob is, it can’t lock. It feels like the door was forced open at least once. There’s no deadbolt either. But Merlyn isn’t a stranger to these kinds of things. Crouching down quickly, she looks at the gap under the front door, noticing a tell-tale glimmer of metal near the middle. It’s a floor bolt. Very secure, can only be lifted from the inside, makes the door a beast to knock down.

If she was unsure before, Merlyn's absolutely certain now that it's a safehouse. Good defenses, and there's no way for her to just get right in through the front. Somehow that's a relief. Stepping back from the door, she flashes half a glance over her shoulder before she begins to make her way towards the side of the house so she can approach from the back. The front door was an escape, not an entrance, but there was an entrance to the safehouse somewhere.

The back of the house looks much like the front, a display of dirty dereliction that was once so common here on Staten Island, but is beginning to become the exception rather than the norm. Around the side of the house there’s a large concrete patio, cracked from frost heaves of many untended winters, and an empty swimming pool with a dark scum ring around the bottom. Graffiti mars nearly every flat or nearly flat surface.

Notably, the patio raises in shallow concrete steps up to a pair of french doors serving as a side entrance to the house. The windows of the french doors are all blown out, but sheets of plywood have been nailed to the door’s interior to cover them up and block any view of what’s inside the house from this angle. Likewise, windows on this side of the house are similarly boarded up.

This feels like an entrance.

Details of the area are taken in with a quick scan, though the graffiti doesn't merit too much of a lingering glance as Merlyn approaches the steps and makes her way to the french doors. The lack of a sightline into the house makes things trickier for her, but she can just take it slow. Careful. No need to rush on this. Again she reaches up to the handle, carefully testing it to see what kind of defenses the door holds between her, her objective, and getting the hell out.

Locked, but in a way she can do something about. The doorknob doesn’t turn, and there’s no deadbolt in the french doors, meaning just one lock between her and the rest of the house.

Reaching into her pocket, Merlyn pulls the tiny set of tools from a pocket hidden in her jacket. They’ve seen little use—this is not normally her bag of tricks. The necessary knowledge is there, she even double checked to make sure she knew what she was doing beforehand. Just a brush up, shake off the rust a little bit. She slides the tools into the lock, quietly moving them around by feel, not by look. Merlyn is trying to stay as alert as possible.

The last thing she wants is a surprise from behind.

Thankfully, the only surprise she gets is how easy the lock is. The french doors open into a spacious dining room and kitchen. At one point in time this house used to be nice, expensive even. But the bomb, the exodus from New Nersey during the fallout, and all the years since have left it in a state of decay.

It’s obvious from the inside that the ceiling isn’t intact. There’s a gaping hole on the side of the house she hasn’t been on with a branch coming straight through the roof, probably from Hurricane Sandy several years ago. The floor is water-stained, littered with dead leaves and trash, and warped from the elements. There’s no heat and the hole in the ceiling would stop even a fire from keeping it warm in the wintertime.

An old, threadbare sleeping bag on the floor in the kitchen doesn’t look like it’s been used in years. Every single drawer is not only open but pulled out and either on the floor or missing. The refrigerator has been stripped of copper and left disassembled. If she didn’t know any better, this place feels long-abandoned.

Someone there to rob the place might be deterred by the appearance of the house. It’s picked clean for a reason. She steps inside, tucking the tools back away and double checking that the knife Elliot gifted her was still where she could get to it if necessary. The safehouse occupants weren't supposed to be there, which meant that, hopefully, it'd be even more abandoned than it looked. Merlyn steps over the debris and trash that prevent her from moving further inside, taking careful steps. There was something in her gut about this not being right, so things could progress slowly. One step at a time.

She kicks the sleeping bag lightly with a toe, checking to see if there's any hint of dust or that there are contents tucked in there as a hidden-in-plain-sight ploy. She resists the urge to talk to herself, to make a quip about real estate values or the comforts of 'home', the humor she usually turns to in order to anxiety being useless in an abandoned house.

The sleeping bag is empty, the small camp around it abandoned for at least a year, possibly more judging from the rust on the tin cans left behind. A circuit of the downstairs finds the kitchen devoid of anything suspicious, the living room about as demolished as she was able to spot when she was creeping around the front door with furniture dismantled for firewood. The stairs to the second floor are partly-collapsed and looking up them Merlyn can see more of the tree that came through the roof with branches extending down the various hallways

There’s a mudroom off the living room, and a garage off that. The garage is mostly empty, save for some discarded beer cans and shelves stripped of valuables. Very little space for anyone to hide or anything to be stashed.

Finishing her circuit of the downstairs, the only thing Merlyn sees that could be anything is a set of stairs off the kitchen that leads down into the pitch-black basement.

Merlyn mouths the word 'crap', unwilling to break the silence for the necessary swear as she glances towards the basement. Grateful for the small penlight she brought with the tools, she pulls it from the kit but doesn't turn it on. She descends the stairs, one step at a time to make sure they actually hold as she lets her eyes adjust to the darkness. She can, perhaps, get a vague idea of the layout before she has to use the light. So far, it certainly has seemed like it had been abandoned for some time. She idly wonders why Zarek didn't handle it himself at this point.

The penlight stays tucked in her pocket, ready in case it's too dark to even see when her eyes adjust, but also serving as a worry stone, her fingers tracing over it to hide any hint of nerves. This will be fine.

The basement looks just as deserted as the rest of the house. There’s a rusty, musty smell down here from a ruptured boiler and the subsequent flooding and mold. There’s more empty cans down here, a blackened skillet, a moldy mess of blankets and about four inches of standing black-brown water covering it all.

The basement is an absolute disaster and next to no light comes through the grimy basement windows, leaving Merlyn’s tiny penlight to sweep away the gloom. It doesn’t take long to do a circuit of moldy boxes, ruptured pipes, and conduits stripped of copper to call this an entire loss. Kain had to have gotten his details wrong. There’s nothing h—ello.

Just as Merlyn is making her way back to the stairs, something catches her eye. It’s an inconsistency. Standing at the foot of the stairs she can estimate the size of the upstairs and its footprint, but the left side of the basement doesn’t go out far enough to fit under the whole of the house. Maybe it’s a bad foundation, or maybe it’s something more.

Another cursory sweep of her flashlight reveals something that Merlyn had overlooked before. Between the ruptured hot water heater and the boiler there’s a two foot wide gap in the concrete. It looked like an alcove where pipes or electrical conduits might run, but now… it’s looking more like a crawl-space.

Quite the safehouse. If anything, whatever it's hiding is well tucked away. Caution has been her friend as she's continued, but she's finding that the light is more necessary than hiding without it. Merlyn makes an unhappy face at the idea of shimmying into the gap, but at this point it's the only place left to go. It's the only place something could be hiding.

Taking in a breath, she moves towards the gap, penlight aimed to illuminate where she's pretty sure she's going to have to go.

And where she has to go sucks.

The crawl space is exactly as comfortable as it appears on a first glance: claustrophobic, narrow, and deep. Merlyn has to shuffle sideways into it and then down for about four feet before it opens up into a small five-by-five concrete cell with a door on the opposite side. The door is six feet tall and three feet wide, solid steel all the way through. There’s a latch handle on the outside and the door is left slightly ajar. It isn’t just a safehouse, that’s a panic room.

Whatever rich asshole lived here must have installed it when the house was built. Considering that panic rooms only lock from the inside, it means it has to be left open to be used as a safehouse when unoccupied. Good news for Merlyn, it means nobody’s home.

Mentally, Merlyn's starting to think she should have haggled a bit higher on the payment. Hazard pay seems like it's warranted–or at least, creepy fucking crawlspace pay. As she makes it towards the doorway, the sight of it being open is actually a relief. The question is if she can find anything. She reaches for the handle, bracing her feet as she's expecting the weight of the door to take a bit of heft to pull open.

Unlike the rest of this shithole of a ruin, the panic room looks recently used. It’s dry, it’s clean, and it’s got furnishings. All told the panic room is only a 20-by-20 concrete block with an intercom and a (now useless) landline phone on the wall. But someone has opted to set up a bench in here with a lockbox on top of it. There’s three handguns set beside the bench, several magazines of 9mm ammunition, and hooks pounded into the wall have several zippered drycleaning bags, likely containing changes of clothes.

On a chair by the door there’s a dog-eared copy of a paperback about Julius Cesar, beside which a shotgun is leaning. Merlyn can’t tell whether it’s loaded or not at a glance.

This has to be it. Merlyn heads towards the chair to pick up the shotgun. Force of habit, having all the weapons she can see in the room within arm's reach is something she's learned well. The dog-eared book is what interests her first. With one hand, she flips it open. Notes, diaries, laptops, Kain had said, so the more personal information the better–she checks quickly for highlights, notes, anything that might hint that someone used this for more than reading. Regardless of her findings, she moves towards the lockbox. That has to have something. She sets the book on the bench as she fishes out her lockpicks again–there's no way that'll be unlocked.

The book on Caesar has a short passage highlighted, but it’s just one of Caesar’s speeches. It doesn’t seem immediately important. The lockbox is certainly more tantalizing, and it’s only secured by a padlock. She could break that open with a pair of wrenches if she can’t pick it. But any assessment of that is cut short by the sound of something unsettling.

A creaking floorboard.

It echoes through the door to the panic room, coming from somewhere else inside the house.

Someone is here.

Merlyn freezes. There was the possibility someone saw her come in and thought the place might have something left to loot. It doesn't mean that anyone might be on their way down here. She holds her breath, straining to hear if there's another creak, if there's anything indicating where they are. She's safe so long as she makes no noise and they don't know to look down here.

But what if they were looking to head to the panic room? Her options if that happened felt uncomfortably slim, so she hesitates in her attempt at the lock to make certain she's comfortable with the presence being far enough away that she's safe down there.

Thump, thump, thump. The footsteps are heavy and slow, but not cautiously so. It’s the gait of someone tired but purposefully moving through the house. They come in through the back door, straight through the kitchen and to the door to the basement. Merlyn can feel her heart starting to race, whoever this is isn’t searching the house. They know exactly where to go.

Shit shit shit. This was not supposed to happen. Her choices are limited. There's no way she can get out right now, the passage was certainly a dead end. Merlyn sucks in a deep breath. Stuffing the book away in her bag, she takes a hold of the shotgun, checking to make sure it doesn't have bullets. Empty. Fuck.

She creeps up, trying to find the easiest bit of wall to back against so that she can slam the metal of the barrel down on someone's head as soon as they come in. That, assuming that she can't somehow sweet-talk them. Oddly, in this situation she's starting to think the fast talking is the last resort.

Merlyn can hear the footsteps come down into the basement, shoes scuff against concrete, making a slow approach to the door. They stop, just shy of the vault door opening, and Merlyn can hear a jingle of keys and smell tobacco smoke. The footsteps get closer, slow when they move through the narrow space near the panic room. They’re coming right for her. Then her heart leaps into her throat as she sees movement, a man entering the panic room; a dark jacket, short blonde hair—

There's no other option. Bracing herself, Merlyn lifts the shotgun with both hands, and swings it like a bat directly at the man's head. If she can knock him out, she can finish the job and get out. If not, she'll have to rely on him wanting to have a chat after all this.

The shotgun connects, hard, but Merlyn’s target doesn’t go down. He jerks to the side, stumbles a step away, and what she feels next is as shocking as it is terrifying as the shotgun bends at the middle and snaps in half, and she is lifted up off of her feet and pressed against the side of the panic room.

Standing there in front of her, blood running from a gash in his head that is already bruising, is a man whose face means nothing to her. Just as Jason Mines is confused by the stranger in his safehouse.


“Who the fuck are you?” Mines asks, and all Merlyn can feel is an immense pressure on her chest keeping her a few feet off the ground and pinned to the wall. There’s a low, harmonic buzz accompanying the telekinetic feat.

A breath escapes Merlyn when her back meets the wall, and she spends a second kicking her legs before she realizes that's not going to help her get down. "Christ on a cracker, who the fuck are you?" She's not giving up her name, not unless she has to. Kain did say she could blame the whole thing on him, though.

"Can you put me down and we can have a civil conversation?" She suggests, trying a smile.

“Maybe.” Mines says through his teeth, but he leaves Merlyn hanging for the time being. “First, answer the question. Who the fuck are you and what’re you doing here?” He looks Merlyn up and down, squinting, not recognizing her from anywhere. He’s confused by her presence here, distracted by the incongruity of it all.

Talk,” Mines urges, curling the fingers on his right hand which exerts pressure on Merlyn’s chest, “before I squeeze you out like a fucking tube of toothpaste.

Merlyn grits her teeth at the feel of the pressure on her chest, and she waves a hand in an ‘okay okay’ motion. “Okay, hard to talk if I can’t breathe. I was just told that there was a safehouse and to grab anything that looks personal. I’m small potatoes. If you’re looking for who to blame this all on, that’s Kain Zarek. He even said if somehow this went sideways to blame him.”

She swallows hard, but attempts a smile. “Don’t shoot the messenger, alright? Can we talk more civilly now? I kind of like being able to breathe.”

Zarek?” Mines’ eyes widen. “Kain Zarek is—”


That would be the next word, if Mines’ head didn’t just jerk to the side and explode from a gunshot. The sound leaves Merlyn’s ears ringing as she unceremoniously drops to the floor at the same times Mines’ lifeless body does. The tinnitus ring masks the sound of someone making their way into the safehouse, and through bleary vision Merlyn makes out a blonde man in a dark coat step over Mines and fire twice more into his body.


Kain Zarek turns, looking down at Merlyn as he lowers his gun to his side. He says something, but it’s muffled by the tinnitus until he repeats, “Y’alright?”

It takes a moment for Merlyn to both catch her breath and her senses, and she pushes herself up from where she’d been half-slumped against the wall. “Jesus, yeah, I’m alright. Not squeezed like a tube of toothpaste but… fuck. Why the fuck did you send me in here if you planned on showing up yourself?”

She avoids looking at Mines’ body, instead fixing her gaze on his killer.

“Decoy.” Kain says, checking his handgun and putting the safety on before tucking it in his jacket. “Mines had the place being watched. He got a call as soon as you started circling the block. I had no other way to lure his nasty ass out into the open.”

Kain then steps over Mines’ corpse to approach the lockbox. “Plus, two birds with one stone. I wanna know what the fuck he was up to.” He glances back at Merlyn, one brow raised, as if making sure she’s in one piece, then goes about examining the lockbox.

“Thanks for the fucking warning. You know I still could have played decoy if you told me what the fuck you were doing,” Merlyn snaps, carefully avoiding what was left of Mines as she approaches the lockbox as well. She might as well see what she was almost strangled for.

That or it’s a better distraction than thinking about the sight of a man getting shot in the head in front of her.

“And if Mines had a pet telepath, we’d be up shit’s creek.” Kain observes, withdrawing lockpicks from his jacket pocket. “Ah’m not gonna’ say it weren’t shitty of me t’do,” he admits, starting to pick the lock, “but Ah’m not gonna say there weren’t reasons, neither.”

Kain glances over his shoulder at Merlyn, heedless of the corpse bleeding out at his feet. “Next time y’get offered a job that’s too good t’be true with payment, you’ll consider it more.” He says, as if he views this situation that could’ve gotten her killed as a teaching moment. Kain’s attention is drawn back to the lockbox when it clicks, and he quickly tucks his tools away and pops the box open.

Inside there’s a disconnected hard drive, photocopies of road atlas pages, and some photographs of what looks like an old compass. Kain squints, rifling through the box.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Merlyn glances briefly at the lockbox, but its contents mean little to her. “Might I remind you, you came to me. Me specifically. You knew who I was enough to know of me, so you should have even known that this isn’t even the kind of job I’d take.” Anger is a nice distraction from the body. “Seriously, maybe next time you need some blonde decoy you’ll do your actual research and pick someone—“ She cuts herself off, narrowing her eyes at him before she just goes to look more closely at the box.

“This shit really worth nearly getting me killed over?”

“Dunno yet,” Kain belatedly answers in a distracted tone, turning the maps and other items over in his hands. “And… Ah’ picked who Ah’ picked.” Kain says assuredly. It wasn’t a mistake, but he doesn’t elaborate on his intention. Then he glances down at Mines’ corpse, brows furrowed. Something didn’t add up.

Looking at the photocopies, Kain shuffles through them, trying to get an idea of what they’re pointing to. He stops when he sees a destination circled. “You gotta be fuckin’ kiddin’ me…” he whispers, setting aside the other maps save for this one. There were dozens of circled locations, but one—this one—holds specific meaning for Kain.

The Corinthian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Kain glances up at Merlyn, then sets that page aside. “What the fuck’s this?” Kain murmurs to himself, more confused now than he was before as he looks at the hard drive, then the pictures of the compass. “Fucking—fuck.” None of it was the answers he was hoping for.

Pocketing the hard drive and the photos of the compass, Kain looks over at Merlyn and produces two thick rolls of cash from his pocket, offering both out to her. “This is twice what we agreed.” He says flatly. “An’ if you take those,” he nods to the photocopies he left behind, “and dump them where Ah’ said, you’ll find more taped right where Ah’ said it would be.”

The money is pocketed without a second thought, and Merlyn rests a hand on her hip as she narrows her eyes and watches Kain. "Okay, hazard pay is fair," she says, then reaches over to scoop up the photocopies. "You don't particularly sound so happy about what you found, but that's none of my business. You told me in the first place, the less I know the better." If there's anything she's learned to practice it's when to open up and when to shut up. The photocopies are tucked into her bag, not bothering to rifle through them as she scans the room briefly. When Merlyn looks back to Kain, she squints in his direction, sizing him up.

"I don't like the fact you almost got me killed, but I respect that you sort of tried to make it right. I also don't like the fact that you picked me for some damn reason, but I'm finishing the job I was hired to do. Sorry if you didn't find what you were hoping for. That's some shit, but you're a big boy. You'll get over it." Her eyes briefly land on the corpse and almost immediately shift to the door instead. "You good, or do you need me to be a decoy for something else while I'm here?"

“Na,” Kain says with a long look down at the body, rather than making eye contact with Merlyn. “You get on outta here, Ah’m gonna take care’f business, make sure nobody traces this back t’either of us.” Holstering his gun in his jacket, Kain crouches over Mines’ corpse, brows furrowed. He says nothing.

The panic room is dead silent now, save for the south of Merlyn’s breathing. The money in hand is heavy, but so is the memory of what happened here.

Merlyn’s eyes fix on Kain for a long moment, the loose ends and unanswered questions about what the fuck just happened lingering in her mouth. They end up swallowed down, shoved aside to where she hopes she won’t have to think about them for a while. She steps carefully around the body, giving Mines’ corpse a wide berth with a pace that quickly carries her to the heavy safe room door.

“I’d say it was a pleasure doing business with you, but it wasn’t. Thanks for the cash,” she says as she leaves, not bothering to look back behind her at the memory of that room.

Kain doesn’t say anything as Merlyn leaves. Instead, he just stares into Mines’ dead eyes. Something Kain’s father told him once rattles around in the back of his mind, looking into Mines’ eyes much the way he looked into his own father’s when he died.

It’ll come back around.

Some Time Later

Great Kills Harbor
Staten Island

The hour is dark. There are no lights this far out on Staten Island’s south coast. Great Kills Harbor is still a ghost of years’ past, with ramshackle houses dotting the beaches and the slanting remains of the Lighthouse on the peninsula.

But a block away from the dive bar known as the Crooked Point there’s a Salvation Army drop box. One Merlyn Hitchens has already visited and claimed her payday from. It’s an old, rusted thing. The hinged door was long ago ripped off by looters looking for clothes. Now, a manila envelope sits on the bottom of the bin, far enough in that anyone interested in reaching for it has to lean fully into the container.

A slim, black-jacketed man standing by the bin considers just that. He looks around, coast clear, and leans into the bin to stretch for the envelope. He paws at the corner, dragging it closer to himself when he hears the clink-tink-clink of something metal bouncing off the street. Jerking his head toward the sound, he reflexively activates an ability that should—does—make him impossible to detect by the human eye.


Then however, Silas Redd sees what the source of the noise was. A metal canister with black and yellow stripes on it. “Oh fuck,” he hisses a split second before the canister explodes in a cloud of mustard yellow miasma, then begins to spin like a wild top, spewing negation gas in a rapidly-expanding cloud.

Redd coughs, chokes and gags, stumbling around in the gas until he’s able to navigate his way out one side of it. The greasy particles cling to his skin, sting his nose and eyes, make his vision blurry. Which makes the sight of a man in a gas mask standing just outside of the cloud all the more terrifying.

Wait,” Redd rasps in time with the crack of a taser.

Kain Zarek does not wait.

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