Third Season Round Robin ~ Chapter 2

by Kuli und Heft

 

It was the smell Diana had noticed first as she was led down into the subway. The undercity scents of manmade tunnels and ventilation shafts and the indefinable amalgam of food-sweat-grime all gave way to something far more acrid. She felt it, sharp in the space between her eyes, rough in her lungs, bitter on her tongue. It wasn’t long after that that the walls told their story, a wide swath of black marring the top, and the beams of their flashlights were streaked with shifting dust. Some emergency lighting had been set up, enough to define the burnt-out leviathan sitting on the tracks, not enough to give her colors or certain dimension. Her guide was a maintenance man called Breon, pleasantly mellow and just talkative enough to give her some facts and figures without distracting her.

Not that there was really much to focus on, except a charred scene of devastation, twisted bits of debris to imply the inferno it must have been, but sheer chaos to her untrained eye. When the trainwrecks were people, she had all kinds of theories and conclusions. When the trainwreck was just a trainwreck, she could only wonder what Maxwell had been thinking, sending her out on a goose chase like this.

Breon had paused some little way ahead of her, his flashlight scanning the blown out windows at the end of the train. He whistled low. “Just a lucky thing no one was down here when it happened. Mm. Lord have mercy. Never seen a wreck like that in fifteen years.”

“Someone was down here,” Diana said. “Someone had to start all this.”

“Not easy, neither. Trains don’t burn like houses. Once you get ‘em started, it’s like the fires of hell, sure; but getting ‘em started’s the hard part.”

Diana turned and flicked the beam of her flashlight back the way they had come. “Is that the only way in and out?”

Breon considered. “This tunnel goes on back a ways, might be another door. We don’t keep much down here, you can see. You saw when we were in the shop, this isn’t where the action is. This rickety old thing, well, she’s been sitting a while. Not much of a loss, really. Bad press, maybe, but doesn’t hurt anyone much.”

“You’re thinking it was an inside job.”

“I’m not making any accusations, no suspicions. Just saying. If it was an inside job, makes no sense. I mean, you got to think, man gets it into his head he’s angry, maybe didn’t get the raise he wanted or the vacation time he scheduled or whatever. All these arson cases going on, anyway, maybe he thought he’d get a little revenge and no one would know. I’m just saying. No good way in without going through the shop, you know?”

Diana nodded vaguely, thinking how very much she knew, knowing that Vincent or Mouse or Jamie would be able to tell her all the possibilities. She wondered idly if the other buildings that had burned had tunnel access. That wouldn’t narrow it down much, since there were hundreds of buildings with access, but it was a dimension she’d learned to think along, one more angle on any given problem.

“I’m going to need a few minutes,” she said. “I need to have a look around. By myself.”

Breon looked her over, but then shrugged. “Sure. I’ll wait here. Shout if you need anything. And don’t try to get into the train. Parts of it are burned paper thin. Half of it might fall in on you, if you stepped wrong.”

She took the advice with another nod and began walking. The report said four separate cars had been targeted, and she could tell the first one she came to; the damage to the cars on either end sloped downward to a stretch that was less husk than bed of twisted, melted remains. She had read the forensic details enough to get a gist of what tied this fire to the others, but they weren’t her focus. Not beyond the emphasis put on how carefully these fires had been started, with far more care than most firebugs. She was more interested in the adjectives the report had used right now, anyway. Methodical. Highly proficient. Measured. Exacting. The accelerants, the spacing, the timing, put together, they all meant something about the person who had done this. Mostly, so far, they meant that person had experience with burning structures, knowledge of and access to each location, and at least one person to help. It was vague as hell, but it was a start.

Ten minutes later, and her mind had wandered to other things. There was only so much charred wreckage one could look at before curiosity began to ebb. Everything here was utterly destroyed. Maybe that was fitting, the whole point. Not to strike out at the owners of the property, but to cleanse the site. Had the arsonist focused on the train, or was the train merely a symbol, or perhaps just a means to an end. Maybe the place itself had meaning.

It was pure conjecture, but when money trails and personal vendettas failed to produce solid leads, passion was the next likely suspect. The arsonist clearly had a flare for the dramatic. He or she knew the city well, had some important connection to each place, and not only the background to mastermind and control such devastation, but also deep familiarity with the structures themselves.

Then again, she’d gotten that from the file. Being in the place just made the damage real and unsettling. It gnawed at her, how thick the air was, how low and close the walls seemed, how dead the train looked. Maxwell wasn’t going to be impressed with her analysis.

* * * * * * * * * *

Up Above, it was a brisk, breezy day, and the sunlight dazzled her eyes. She must have been more absorbed than she’d realized in the remains of the fire; now she was running late.

She spotted the restaurant up ahead and hurried in, stopping short just beyond the doorway. When Devin had said to meet him for lunch, she hadn’t quite imagined this, with obscenely polished floors and crisp, white table cloths and real flowers on every table. It was never her kind of place when the wait staff was dressed better than her church clothes. In jeans and a baseball cap, still smelling of subway fire, she definitely didn’t fit, and the maître d’ clearly felt the same; she could see him half way across the dining room, starting a gliding walk toward her.

“Miss Bennett, over here,” Devin called from a booth to her left. He looked entirely the part, his suit grey and his tie a deep red, a far cry from the leather jacket he’d been wearing while breaking and entering the night before.

The maître d’ paused, but continued to watch, so Diana made a point of keeping her own steps and expression confident. Devin stood and flashed her a charming smile as she approached. He even reached out and took her hand in both of his like they were old friends; his fingers were surprisingly warm.

“I’m so glad you could make it. I know it was short notice,” he said, only a hint louder than necessary. “Please, sit. I know you like to get straight to the point.”

She followed his gesture and slid into the booth. It was one of those tall, private ones she’d mostly seen in movies. She ran her fingers through her hair and straightened her blouse in deference to the surroundings.

Devin slid in toward the middle, his grin turning self-satisfied. “You’re speechless.”

“I’m underdressed to do the dishes.”

He waved this aside. “In this day and age? There’s a whole, new millennium just around the corner. No one cares what a few stuffed shirts say. Anyway, the chefs here are amazing, and I’m buying.”

“Is this what you needed the money for?”

“Indulging my outrageously good taste? It’s a perk. Anyway, I have a reputation to maintain with my colleagues. Money, success, pretty women. Well, one pretty woman, but it only takes one to be the right one.”

“This doesn’t count as part of my fee.”

“The thought never crossed my mind.”

It was ridiculous, how far he was going to flatter, and more ridiculous still that it was working on her, even a little. She knew a shameless charmer when she met one, and in Devin’s case, each pearly white tooth was inlaid with the word shameless. She hated to admit that he was growing on her.

“Anyway,” he continued breezily, “now that you’re not armed, I feel like we can have a real conversation.”

“Funny, now that you’re not invading my apartment and digging through my stuff, I don’t feel such a need to be armed. How did you get in, anyway?”

A waiter arrived with a bottle of wine, Mr. Sprague’s choice white, apparently, and after a disapproving look or two for the principle of the thing, Diana accepted a small glass and sipped slowly. It was annoyingly good, definitely expensive.

“Through the door,” Devin answered, and it took Diana a moment to remember her question. “I figured the roof’s the way Vincent comes and goes. At first I thought maybe you left a key someplace, but no luck there. You’ll be glad to know I had a hell of a time picking that lock.”

The investigator in her nearly had Diana asking how the hell he got up to the roof, but she realized it didn’t matter. In any case, she’d be getting a chain on that door at the first opportunity. It wasn’t like any cloaked nighttime visitors took her up on her repeated open invitations to just drop in, anyway.

Devin asked if she’d let him do the ordering, and she left him to it. It was his dime, after all.

“I haven’t had time to find much,” she informed him over stuffed mushrooms that gave her new respect for fungus as a culinary option. “Nothing you haven’t found on your own.”

“I didn’t think you would.” He poured himself another glass of wine, then topped up hers. “Really, I asked you here for another reason.” He met her suspicious gaze over his glass, and when he set down the wine, he nearly tipped the bottle. It was the first sign of nervousness she’d seen from him. “It’s nothing. I mean, I thought it’d be nice to have some company for lunch that didn’t talk about what friend of a friend they were trying to screw out of controlling shares. I thought maybe you could tell me how things are Below.”

“You’re not going to go down?”

“I…don’t know. Things are complicated between me and the old man. Now all this. Plus…”

“You haven’t been back since Cathy died.” She didn’t mean it to sound like an accusation, it certainly wasn’t any of her business, even if she could see a deep hurt in Vincent’s eyes every time he talked about his brother, but the words themselves, the fact of it, did the accusing all on their own.

“Yeah. Well. It’s complicated. By the time we found out…”

“There was a man you were helping,” she supplied in his silence.

“Charles. Yeah. He’s good. He’s real good. Doesn’t need old man Dev around so much anymore.”

The waiter brought salads to the table.

“How’s Vincent?” Devin asked.

“He’s . . . fine. Jacob keeps him busy.”

“Jacob. My nephew? What a kick in the shorts, me an uncle. And the old man?”

“Father?”

Devin nodded.

Diana hesitated over what to say. Devin noticed and leaned forward, all pretense of charm or grace forgotten. “He’s all right, isn’t he?”

“He’s fine,” she said quickly. “I mean . . . he’s healthy, as far as anyone knows.”

He didn’t respond, but his expression was expectant. Diana debated how much to say. Really, she had no reason to trust this man. She didn’t know him. He hadn’t been involved in life Below for more than twenty years, nor did he appear to be rushing out to make up for lost time. Then again, he hadn’t known his own lineage and birthright until he was well into his thirties. He had run away from the overbearing patriarch of a secret underground civilization after a fight with his half-lion-half-man of an adopted brother. “Complicated” didn’t begin to touch the situation. Anyway, all that aside, Jacob Wells was Devin’s actual, biological father. He needed to know.

So she summarized her last trip Below, the request they had made of her, the leads she’d at least begun to sniff out. There weren’t many.

“There’s a connection here,” Devin said when she’d finished.

It had certainly occurred to her, but she pretended to look blank, hoping he might have some perspective or piece of knowledge that would make things even begin to make sense.

“C’mon, Bennett, you’re a detective. Don’t tell me you don’t smell a connection here. Pops starts disappearing into, of all places, the Financial District, where we know… well, Andrew Devin Wells has got to be his twin brother, doesn’t he? I mean. Unless the old man’s been moonlighting as a hotshot lawyer for the last thirty years.”

“Have you thought about asking him about it?”

“Of course,” he answered with a shrug. “As soon as I have enough facts that he can’t wriggle out of an explanation or give me half an answer.”

And Diana thought that was fair enough, in the end. Vincent and the other tunnel folk were looking to do much the same, after all.

“Let me at least tell Vincent you’re here, and why. He might be able to help.”

Devin delayed his answer with a long sip of wine. “How is he? I mean, really?”

“He’s healing. But I don’t really know. I never knew him . . . before.”

He nodded. “He won’t talk about himself when he writes. Not much, anyway. He mostly writes about Jacob and the old man. And you.”

“Me?”

“You’ve been good for him. I can tell that much. I’m glad he’s got people watching out for him.”

Diana was too busy wondering what it meant, that Vincent spent a lot of time writing about her, to answer. Did that mean he thought about her more than he let on? Or was he simply being diligent about recording the goings on in his life for his brother? Or was she just grasping at anything that could be interpreted as a hopeful sign?

Devin didn’t seem to notice her silence, wrapped up in his own thoughts. After a few moments, he nodded. “Go ahead and tell Vincent I’m here. Is there a good way for us to get together? Maybe at your place? I’ll use the elevator.”

And once it was decided, Diana was left trying to figure out how to bring it up to Vincent.

 

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