Some Suspicious Buildings Are Just Asking to Be Broken into
“Hi,” Cal said, crouching down in front of the footsteps that were approaching him.
The footsteps slowed, then stopped. And slowly, a very young boy, no more than five years old, came into focus. He blinked at Cal. “Hello, mister.”
“My name’s Cal,” Cal said. “What’s yours?”
“Daddy says I shouldn’t tell my name to strangers in case they’re bad people,” the boy said, thumbnail in his mouth as he rocked from side to side.
“Okay. Where is your daddy?”
“He’s at the harbour looking at the boats,” the boy told him. “He told me to wait here until he came to get me.”
“When is he coming to get you?”
“Tonight. He said he wouldn’t be very long.” The boy looked at Cal from the corner of his eyes, apparently too shy to make proper eye contact.
Cal nodded. “How long have you been waiting for him?”
“Um…” The boy thought about it. “Not very long, I think. Just since the sun went down. I’m not allowed to go outside after the sun goes down, but daddy says it’s safe to wait inside a church, and Brother Tyler said I can play here.”
There was no priest at this church named Tyler. “Okay. Can you tell me your name? I’d like to go find your daddy and tell him you’re waiting for him.”
The ghost shook his head. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he said. And he started running again, right through Cal. He disappeared.
“Fuck,” Cal said, standing up and pulling his hand through his hair. “I don’t know how to help him if he won’t even tell us who he is.”
“He didn’t say anything?” Mick asked, as Cal headed over to them.
“He’s not supposed to talk to strangers.” Cal stuck his hands in his pockets. “He mentioned a priest named Tyler. We might be able to find out how long ago he was here, at least get a sense of when the kid died.”
“Not to be a bitch,” said Beatrice, leaning on the wall near the door. “But is that really our responsibility?”
“Someone has to help him,” Cal said, shaking his head.
“And Cal has a soft spot for sad ghost boys.”
“I had a traumatic experience,” Cal said, watching Darby, who was saying something. He’d been kind of hiding behind Wes a bit when the ghost had appeared.
“He wants to know if there was really a ghost,” Sully told them, hands moving quickly as he translated for Darby. He’d turned out to be fluent in sign, which was better than Cal, who knew three phrases in northern sign, and Mick, who was about halfway there.
“Yeah,” Cal said, knowing Sully would translate. “He wouldn’t say anything.”
“Was he big and gross and scary?” Sully asked for Darby.
Cal smiled. Darby looked just a little pale. He headed for the exit, patting his head on the way. “No bigger or grosser or scarier than you.”
Cal could practically hear Darby pout as they left the church, but it was quickly run over by a child’s giggle and the sound of footsteps. This had been a bad idea. He was already attached. This ended with him finding that kid’s skeleton somewhere, and he didn’t want that.
The tunnels in the Shell District had turned out to just be some old sewers, which had been gross enough that Cal had decided against exploring them. “All right,” he said, once they were outside. “Let’s head for the naval base.”
“And if there’s nothing there?” Beatrice asked as they went.
Cal shrugged. “Then we go home and try to figure out how to help a ghost.”
“And also maybe get arrested,” Travis added.
“I’ve never been arrested before,” said Lillian. “Is it fun?”
“Not really,” Cal said.
“It blows,” Beatrice agreed.
“Sometimes literally,” said Sully.
“It’s mostly cold. Jails are cold.” Mick sounded annoyed even though this had been two years ago and even then hadn’t been Cal’s fault.
“And small,” Wes added.
“Darby wants to know how it is that we’ve all been arrested before,” Sully told them.
Cal looked over his shoulder at him as they walked. “It’s because we suck at doing crimes.”
“I don’t think that’s going to comfort him.”
“Did you know that you can go to jail for having sex where people can see?” Joey asked. “But then they’ll also kick you out of jail for having sex in it? Humans are so weird.”
“Yeah, they fucking are.”
“Was that you or Darby?” Joey asked.
“Both of us.”
“I refuse to believe that Darby swears.”
“Not yet,” Sully said. “But he will by the time I’m done with him.”
“Please don’t corrupt the prince’s kid,” Cal pleaded.
“Please, as if he needs corrupting.”
The walk from the cathedral to the naval base was easy, just twenty minutes or so down Lobster Street towards the bay. Lillian had left Carrie at home, but there were still nine of them, which made them awfully conspicuous, but oh well. At least Darby and Joey were wearing clothes.
Estane Naval Base was a sprawling complex of buildings, not all of them having direct access to the bay. It had a big, thick wall surrounding it, fifteen feet high and Cal wasn’t sure how thick. It didn’t matter. They got off Lobster Street and went around to a side road, where there was just a bare stretch of wall, unguarded. Wes took him and Mick by the hands. “The rest of you stay here until Wes comes back,” Cal told them.
He held his breath, though he probably didn’t have to, and Wes walked them two, five steps through the wall. Cal let it out on the other side, looking around. No guards or patrols in sight, though there would be some around. “Go get the rest of them,” he said, taking stock.
Wes nodded and left, and Cal stood with Mick, who had his hand out. “Anything?”
“There’s definitely magic around,” Mick said, eyes shut. “Give me two seconds.”
Cal gave him more than two seconds. Wes brought Joey and Travis next, then Sully and Darby, then Beatrice and Lillian. Once he was through, Mick opened his eyes, pointed. “Over there, I think on the far side of the complex.”
“Don’t suppose anyone knows the layout of this place?” Beatrice asked as they headed that way.
“No,” Cal said, making sure they stuck near the wall, which was mostly in shadow. “Which is why today is only the preliminary break-in, and we’re coming back tomorrow to actually break in.”
“You know, you’re an awfully thoughtful thief for someone who spent years criticizing my former methods,” Beatrice said, eyeing Cal suspiciously.
“No confirmation yet that we’re stealing anything,” Cal told her. “And I criticized your former methods because you were bad at them and because they were often directed at me. And because you misrepresented what kind of business you were running, and I just don’t deal with that kind of untruthfulness.”
“Untruthfulness is not a real word.”
“Darby wants to know if you guys are going to have sex,” Sully told them.
Cal gave Darby the finger over his shoulder, since Sully was already corrupting him anyway.
There were a few patrols, and they had to stop a few times to hide, and once had to scatter to avoid being seen. But all in all it wasn’t the worst sneaking experience Cal had had, which considering how many of them there were didn’t say much about the state of Dolovai’s navy. “Okay, I feel we learned something from this,” he said, as they approached what looked like a warehouse on the southern end of the base.
“Which is that the boat guys suck at catching thieves?” Sully translated for Darby.
“Yes, but also that they don’t know that they’re hiding something in here,” Cal said. “Or else the security would be tighter. This building isn’t even guarded.”
“Not by humans,” Lillian said, looking at it.
“She’s right,” Mick agreed. “It’s warded to hell and back. By sorcery, if I don’t miss my guess.”
“You don’t,” Lillian told him. “And that’s not all.”
“There’s something inside,” Sully muttered, glaring at the building. “Something big.”
“It’s really big,” Arky agreed on Cal’s shoulder.
“Well, what the fuck is it?” Wes demanded.
The magic types all looked at each other, and gave no answer. So Cal gestured to Travis. “Go see if there’s a window or anything. Don’t touch the building.”
Travis nodded, slipping across the way to the building. He wasn’t as invisible as he could be since he had clothes on, but they were black clothes. Really any of them could have worn black clothes and done this, but Cal wanted Travis to get used to being the sneaky one on the team. “I’m really going to need a working hypothesis, guys.”
“The wards on the building are so powerful it hides any sense of whatever’s in there,” Lillian told him. “Breaking through them shouldn’t be too hard.”
“They’re wards to keep stuff in, primarily,” Mick agreed. “But we also probably don’t want to be trapped inside with whatever’s in there.”
“The wards themselves can give a hint about what they’re hiding,” Sully said. “What the fuck is that powerful that it needs to be behind such a big fucking wall?”
Travis was coming back, and the wind shifted as he did. A growl suddenly went up, and Cal glanced at Darby, who was glaring at the building. “What’s wrong?”
Sully had to wave at him for a few seconds to get his attention, then signed at him. While he did that, Travis came back. “Nothing, sorry. The whole building is buzzing, though.”
Travis nodded. “Don’t know what else to call it. It felt like something crawling on my skin.”
“Darby says it smells like the monsters,” Sully said. “I…I think he means the Citadel.”
Cal felt a chill, and it wasn’t the wind from the bay.
“Are your guys doing more shady experiments here?” Joey asked, growling himself now.
“No. Or at least if they are, they haven’t told me about it.”
“The wards aren’t demon magic, Cal,” Mick said.
“He’s right. It’s plain sorcery.” Lillian hesitated. “I think we should go.”
“Me too,” said Wes. “All we wanted was to see if there was something here. Now that we know there is, we should get out of here before we do something we’re not ready for.”
Cal was annoyed, but they were right. “Okay. Let’s get lost. We’re bringing in the heavy weaponry when we come back.”
They had to drag Darby away from the building, but they got out of the base without any hassle. Before they went back to the manor, Cal took them all to a tavern for a drink to calm their nerves. And they sat there and talked while they planned out how they were going to get into that warehouse.
Whoever had hidden something in that building had made the most beginner mistake in the book. All the wards and scary shit were just a big, glowing sign telling anyone curious that there was something worth finding in that building. And now Cal wasn’t going to rest until he knew what it was.