Chapter Twenty-One: Mal
One Step Closer
As soon as they'd stopped asking him questions Mal had lit into them about the proper procedures when caring for a foreign visitor's dragon, none of which had been followed by their staff.
They'd let them go quick smart as soon as Mal paused to catch his breath before he started again.
Kaden chuckled as they walked away.
"What the hell's so funny?" Mal asked still pissed as all get out.
"Did you see the way you had them trembling and squirming?"
"I did not!" Mal said indignantly.
"You totally did. I thought that one guy was gonna faint."
"No, he wasn't," Mal scoffed.
"Totally was." Kaden smiled and leaned in to kiss Mal on the cheek. "My big bad Ranger," he said like he was talking to a baby.
Mal pushed Kaden away, the other man stumbling as he laughed heartily. Mal couldn't help but smile, the sound of Kaden's laughter soothing a piece of his soul in all this current darkness.
They quickly headed back to their rooms where they showered and changed. Mal had a feeling they were in for a very long night.
Mal stood on the sidewalk, Kaden by his side and stared up at the building in front of them. The Drowsing Tree hotel. It looked nice from the outside; Mal had certainly seen worse in his days. With what Nootau had told them earlier he doubted they cared much about their accommodations right now, just so long as they had a safe place to rest.
They walked into the dimly lit entrance, a kind-faced dryad manned the reception desk. Mal had no idea what room they were in so they headed over to ask.
"Hi." Mal smiled at the woman.
She sat there, chewed a couple of times before blowing a large purple bubble. Mal leaned back a little as the bubble just seemed to keep getting bigger and bigger. Finally, it burst, the gum breaking apart and sticking to the dryad's face. She quickly swiped her tongue out to gather up all the loose pieces and started chewing again.
"So…" Kaden said as he eyed her warily.
She glanced at Kaden and smiled warmly, "Hey, doll." She leaned forward, placing her elbow on the bench in front of her then resting her chin in her hand. Her mouth still moving continuously with the chewing motions. Her bright green eyes sparkled as she eyed Mal's companion.
Kaden looked at Mal, then shrugged. His features transformed as he grinned right back at her.
"Hey, we were looking for some friends of ours. There's three of them. Nootau, Aegeus, and Edwige. They're staying here, but the poor dear forgot to give us their room number." Kaden shook his head like he thought the three of them were the most forgetful beings on the planet. "It was a long flight."
The girl grinned, then straightened and started tapping away on her computer. "Of course, won't take me but a minute."
"Room 224, second floor, stairs are right over there."
Kaden grinned, placed his palms on the counter and hoisted himself up, then kissed the dryad on the cheek. "You're the best."
Mal didn't like the little surge of jealously that curled in his belly at the image of Kaden kissing another person. They left the reception and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Checking the plaques on the wall, Mal turned to the left, and he and Kaden took off down the corridor in search of the right room.
When they found room 224, Mal knocked.
They didn’t have to wait long before the door cracked open. Mal could see Edwige's red hair peek out from behind the door.
"Hey Edwige, it's us." Mal didn't think she was going to open the door for a moment then she closed it, the chain rattled and the door reopened, admitting both him and Kaden into their room.
"Come in," Edwige said as she stood to the side and waited for them to enter.
"Thank you, how's Nootau doing?" Kaden asked as he stepped inside.
Edwige's expression turned stony, and her voice rose. "He's a stubborn bastard who needs to stay here so he can rest and heal, but he refuses!” A bag of blood was hanging off the wall mounted light, tubing running down to a needle in Nootau’s arm. Needles and thread were laid out on the bedside table. It looked to Mal like Edwide was about to start stitching Nootau up.
It was obvious Nootau was driving poor Edwige mad. She turned and walked down the short passage to the bedroom, Mal and Kaden followed along after closing and securing the door.
"Would you lie back down!" Edwige huffed as she hurried over to the side of the bed and pressed gently on Nootau's shoulder. Aegeus gently pulled Nootau back against his body, where he was lying on the bed next to the other man. "Be still and stop moving or you're not coming with us when we go in a couple of days." Edwige said as she placed her hands over Nootau's injured side.
Nootau's pinched features eased a little and Mal realised Edwige was a healer. The extent of her abilities he had no idea.
"So, what's going on, and how can we help?" Kaden asked as he sat down on the corner of the bed, facing the other three.
"How do you feel about a little B & E?" Aegeus asked them.
Personally, Mal didn't like the idea, but with everything going on at the moment he was smart enough to realise that it might be the only way they were going to get answers.
"In the front pocket of my bag over there," Aegeus said as he pointed to a backpack propped up against the wall. "You'll find some pieces of paper, why don't you grab them and have a read and then we'll talk."
Mal nodded. He picked up the backpack and opened it up, finding several pieces of folded paper inside.
Kaden came and stood beside him as he opened them up and started to read.
At first, Mal had no idea what he was looking at, but the more he stared at it and read the more he started to understand. They seemed to be requisitions, orders, and accounts for a company called All the Bits & Pieces. The orders were stamped as having been received by Bureau of Skin Walker Affairs Chicago Division, signatures, dispatch dates and all sorts of accounting codes littered the paper. Mal thought he might be sick.
"Oh god," Kaden said as he covered his mouth, his eyes wide at what he'd just read.
"What is this company, All the Bits & Pieces?" Mal asked, having to swallow down the bile that desperately wanted to surface.
"They're an international company, they tout herbal medicines and magic treatments for ills and sicknesses," Nootau said quietly from where he lay against Aegeus's chest. Aegeus's large hand rubbed soothing circles along Nootau's belly and hip. "From what you have in your hands there it's obvious the company is a front for the illegal activities of trafficking in Beings and Walker parts."
"So what's the plan?"
"We've called the underground, and asked for a little help. They agreed to have someone meet us in three days time."
"That was good of them," Kaden said.
"What is taking place affects everyone. They want it stopped as much as we do." Aegeus said, Mal and Kaden both nodded in understanding.
"All the Bits & Pieces had a shop front here in the city; we want to break in and see if we can find information linking them to the sale of walker parts and the possibly the dragon experiments."
Mal glanced at Kaden, and arched an eyebrow in question; Kaden nodded at him, Mal wasn't expecting any other answer.
"So what time is this person from the underground meeting us in three days?'
"Midnight," Edwige replied as her hands continued to move over Nootau's body.
"Sounds good, until then, let’s make sure we have this covered from all angles."
Mal wrapped his jacket tighter around him as they stood on the street corner waiting for their contact from the underground. Kaden shivered slightly beside him. Mal wrapped his arm around Kaden's side and pulled him in close, Kaden's expression showed shock for a moment before he smiled at Mal.
Nootau was currently being held up between Aegeus and Edwige. Edwige had been right when she'd called the Walker stubborn earlier. The man had refused to stay behind even though he could barely stand upright by himself.
A light flickered down the road in short bursts.
"That's the signal, come on," Aegeus said. They all slowly made their way down the deserted street. Mal had only seen three people walk past them in the ten minuted they'd been waiting, and two of those had been drunk.
They rounded a corner and tall man with thin features, short spiky blond hair, and a beard stood leaning against the wall, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. He drew back on the cigarette, causing the end to light up, before exhaling a cloud of sweet smelling smoke.
"Bonjour," the man said as he pushed away from the wall. He eyed Mal and Kaden warily like they were unexpected. "Who are zese two?" he asked in very heavily accented French.
"They're with us," Nootau said.
"I don’t like it," the man said.
"We can go if you'd prefer, we just wanted to help," Mal offered. “We could catch up with you later."
"Oui," the man said.
"No," Aegeus said at the same time.
The blond man scowled but eventually shrugged. "Nils," he said pointing to himself. "Let's go."
They made their way down dark streets, for several minutes, none of them talking. Nootau winced every few steps. Aegeus hummed. Mal had his hands shoved so far into his pockets trying to keep them warm he thought he might rip the stitching.
Finally, they stopped at the back of a large building. There were several doors leading inside to all the different businesses housed inside.
"Hold," Nils said as he pulled a few items from his pockets. Mal had never broken into a place before and had no idea how they were going to accomplish it. He was kinda excited to see it.
Nils squatted down at the back door, he twisted a small torch and then placed it between his teeth as he pulled out a set of tools and inserted them into the first lock on the door. Two locks were apparently the extent of the security needed around here.
"What about alarms?" Mal asked quietly, "Surely a place like this would want to have state of the art security."
It made sense to Mal.
"From what we can tell, the front is trying to fit in with the neighbours, so no alarms, no massive security system."
Well, that was handy and stupid if you asked Mal.
Kaden shrugged at him when Mal glanced his way. It didn't look like it made much sense to him either.
Mal noticed Nils move to the second lock, and figured he must have already finished with the first. The man was quick. Mal hadn't even heard a thing.
Before he knew it, Nils was putting away his tools and standing back up again. He glanced back at them, motioned with his head for them to follow him, then his twisted the knob and opened the door, his little torch showing the way.
They all quickly crowded inside, closing the door again behind them.
"Night Patrol comes past every hour; we have fifty minutes before the next one. Let's get moving."
They slowly made their way through the back storage space, which seemed to be filled with boxes and boxes of herbs and medical remedies, obviously for their front company.
It didn't take them long before the found the large office. Three desks, a half a dozen filing cabinets, a photocopier and a shredder sat in the office.
"Who's good with computers?" Mal asked.
Edwige, Nootau, and Aegeus all looked at him a little sheepishly.
"I will see what I can find," Nils said as he grabbed a chair and pulled it up to one of the computers, he flicked the monitor on and started typing on the keyboard.
Mal grabbed one of the other chairs and wheeled it over to Nootau; the man looked decidedly pale.
"Thank you," he said as he sat with a sigh.
Edwige muttered something that sounded like "Foolish man." Causing Mal to smile.
"So, how about we search the files and see if we can't find something.
"Sounds good." Aegeus agreed. He reached for the top drawer in a four drawer cabinet; only the thing didn't move. "It's locked,” he whispered.
"Search the desk drawers for the keys. They do that at my work all the time," Kaden said.
Edwige, Aegeus, and Kaden set about searching the desks for keys.
"Found them," Edwige said as she straightened up, grinning.
"Me too," Kaden agreed, holding up his.
Aegeus nodded as he too held up a set.
"Just remember which sets came from which desks."
Everyone nodded as they started trying to fit keys into locks.
Nootau rolled himself over to the shredder and pulled out the bin, he looked up at them and grinned wide. "Jackpot," he whispered.
Mal wandered over to have a look, inside were long strips of paper that had clearly been cut lengthways. They would be easy enough to put back together, with a little patience.
"Only important stuff you don’t want people to see gets shredded," Mal said.
"My thoughts exactly."
Nootau reached into the bin and retrieved a large handful of paper then shoved it into the pocket of his jacket.
By now all the filing cabinets were open and the others each had a draw out searching.
"What are we looking for?" Kaden asked.
"Anything to do with the sale or purchase of Beings or Skin Walkers," Nootau replied.
Curses filled the room from Nils.
"Everything okay?" Mal asked.
The man continued cursing as his fingers kicked away on the keyboard.
"It's in fucking German," he spat again.
"What's in German?" Kaden asked.
"Everything." More curses followed. "It couldn't have been French, or Italian, or even fucking Danish? It had to be German!"
"Can we copy the info and translate it using Lux Translate?" Edwige asked.
Nil's expression brightened for a moment then his fingers started clicking again.
They searched for twenty minutes, taking advantage of the photocopier in the room to make copies of anything they thought might be of interest to them.
"How are we going for time?" Aegeus asked,
Mal checked his watch. "We need to start thinking about packing up and putting things back. We have maybe twenty minutes before the next patrol."
"You might want to look at this!" Nils said from his chair at the computer.
They all quickly abandoned what they were doing and crowded behind Nils.
He pointed to the screen to show them what he was talking about, then clicked on the next screen, which showed the English translation. Someone had placed a massive order for Skin Walker supplies to be delivered two days ago.
Nootau stiffened in his seat, both Aegeus's and Edwige's hands on him trying to soothe him.
"Is there a name, number or address of who placed the order?" Nootau asked through gritted teeth.
Nils clicked back to the previous screen, scanned the contents and pointed at the bottom corner of the order. The words "Dragon Aerospace Research Centre" were clearly visible, along with "Delivery Instructions".
The next piece of the very complicated puzzle had just fallen into place.
"Print it all," Mal said. "Let's get out of here; I have a feeling we have some very long days ahead of us."
"Agreed." Nootau nodded.
They set about putting the office back the way it had been, picked up all the print-outs they'd acquired and slipped back out the back door. They were half a dozen blocks away when the night patrol car did it's drive by.
"We're getting closer," Kaden whispered to him.
Mal nodded. He could feel it.