Chapter 1: A Friend in Need
The call came at three o’clock in the morning, from Marcus Abara’s old college roommate Chester Wilson. Marcus was roused from the deep, dreamless sleep of the hungover by his cellphone’s insistent bleating. Ordinarily, Marcus took offense at people who called him at odd hours. But he knew it would never even occur to Chester that it was rude. He had always been absent-minded and did everything at the last minute.
They spoke briefly, Marcus disconnected the call and smiled. He had no idea what his friend wanted. Whatever it was would be interesting. As a bounty hunter, Marcus found work came from some of the most unlikeliest sources. Regardless of Chester’s reason for wanting to meet, Marcus would be pleased to see his old friend. He rolled out of bed nude and made his way to the bathroom, securing his shoulder-length dreadlocks up off of his muscular ebony back with the ever rubber band on his wrist and stepped into the shower.
Predictably, Chester’s call had been cryptic. He really had not said much beyond, “meet me at our place. I have a proposition for you.” Marcus was intrigued. He arrived at the rundown Sit N’ Dine where they had been eating, since their years at university. The service was lackluster, the food questionable and the decor had not been updated since the seventies. But, it was their place. Marcus had been deliberately slow in getting ready and making his way to the diner. Chester was never the time for anything. He always got sidetracked and lost track of time.
Marcus strolled into the diner and was surprised to see Chester already seated in their booth. They hadn’t seen one another in over two years. Chester moved away after college and became a successful corporate lawyer. Since then, they only hung out on the rare occasions when he came to town. Gone were the worn jeans and faded t-shirts of their youth. Now, Chester always looked well put together in his smart suits, custom made shoes and Rolex watches.
Marcus made his way over to the booth and slid in across from his friend. Right away, he noticed how unkempt Chester looked in a wrinkled light blue oxford button down shirt and khaki trousers. Marcus hadn’t seen his friend’s hair mussed, since their college days of rolling out of bed after a bender and strolling into class late. Chester’s wasn’t even wearing one of his prized Rolex watches. Instead of his usual goofy grin, Chester looked anxious. Marcus was instantly concerned.
“What’s up man?”
“It’s my sister Cat. She’s been missing for a month now.”
“You mean Catherine? Have you called the police?”
“Yes of course, that was the first thing I did. That turned out to be a big waste of time. May as well have been talking to myself. Those idiots couldn’t find their own ass holes, if you drew them a map! To be honest, they don’t seem to be taking it seriously. I don’t hold out much hope of them finding anything useful. What I need is someone with skills.”
“I’m a bounty hunter Chester. I don’t do missing persons cases.”
“I don’t see how one is any different from the other.”
“Trust me, they’re completely different. Besides, I start hunting for people within a day or two of them skipping bail. If Cat went missing a month ago, then the trail has already gone cold. What makes you think I would have any more luck than the cops at this point?”
“You have something that none of them have.”
“Don’t look at me like that Chip. Just because my folks dabbled in the magical arts does not mean I have any of their talents. Besides, my old man was technically a witch hunter.”
“That’s why you’re perfect for the job. Cat has gotten herself tangled up with some real pros. It’ll take someone with a powerful gift of discernment and the skills of a bounty hunter to go toe-to-toe with those bastards and live to tell the tale.”
“You sound like you’re speaking from experience.”
Wordlessly, Chester rolled back his left sleeve to reveal a jagged scar extending from wrist to elbow. Marcus was stunned. He had not seen an injury like that since his childhood in Jamaica when customers would come to his shaman mother with injuries from magic battles. What kind of fix had Cat gotten herself into?
Marcus could feel Chester gazing at him expectantly, but he had a bad feeling about the whole situation. All at once, the weight of that expectation felt burdensome. He understood how much his friend was asking for and it rankled him. Marcus had left Jamaica, to escape that world and create a normal life for himself. The last thing he wanted to do was open Pandora’s box again. Chester saw his reluctance and hastened to sway him.
“Look Marcus, I wouldn’t be asking you to do this, if I could do it. I almost died trying.”
“So, you want me to put my life on the line too?”
“Of course not Marcus. I wouldn’t have brought this to you, if I wasn’t sure that you could handle it.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“You have the gift.”
“Stop saying that Chip! Whatever abilities I have aren’t developed enough for…whatever this is. I am not a spell caster. I don’t have a grimoire and wouldn’t even know the first thing about casting a spell.”
“You don’t need to recite some spell. You have raw talent. I watched you tap into it all through college, to give yourself an edge when you needed it.”
Marcus was taken aback. He had never given much thought to his abilities or how he used them. It hadn’t even occurred to him that giving things a mental nudge might be some form of magic. Even if that were true, his talents amounted to little more than parlor tricks, compared to what any experienced magic practitioner could do. Chester wasn’t being realistic.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start,” said Marcus doubtfully.
“Here are the keys to her place. Have a look around. I got her car out of impound, after the police found it abandoned. They’ve already dusted it for prints. So, you can check that out too.”
“Did they find anyone’s prints other than hers?”
“They didn’t even find her prints. Someone wiped the whole thing down. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find something useful. It’s parked in her assigned spot at the high rise apartments. The keys are on this ring with her apartment key. Look I know this is a lot to ask, but I’m really worried about Cat.”
“Fine, I’ll have a look around. I’m not making any promises though. Like I said, the trail has already gone cold.”