The Spider’s Seven #16: The Dearly Departed

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series The Spider's Seven Vol 2
Aidan Beck sat on the cot he’d been afforded in his cell, head low between his shoulders, hands on his knees. Anansi and his people had outfitted him with clothes; mostly black wife-beaters and simple khaki pants with the kind of slippers nurses wore in hospitals.
His eyes were closed, but his ears and nose were working just fine, as was everything else. Whatever Anansi had done to steal his vampric strength and speed, he’d missed the senses. Even through the door, he smelled his dinner arriving before it left the kitchen. He also smelled the one bearing it, who he would much preferred having for dinner.
After what felt far too long, the door opened and Susan appeared in front of his cell, holding a tray.
“Rare steak.” he said dryly, trying to get back some of the rasp he’d gained in his throat with his transformation and subsequently lost in his encounter with Anansi. “Are you trying to be funny?”
Susan slid the tray, containing said steak, boiled potatoes, green beans, and a carton of milk through the slot in the barred doors and went to lean on the wall opposite the cell door. “Coyote said you’d still have the craving for blood, but it won’t keep you alive now.”
“So you keep reminding me.” He grabbed the steak off the plate, ignoring the heat and the mess and torn into it ravenously. Though Susan had used the word craving, it was more like an addiction and cow blood only served to take the edge off. The scent of warm, circulating blood just in front of him was tantalizing.
He forced himself to pause between bites. “Usually it’s the part black guy that comes down here. What? They figure there’s fewer places on you I can bite?” The subtle change in her expression, only visible in a predator’s eyes, made him grin cruelly. “I can smell your prosthetics. You’re what? Sixty percent rubber and ceramic at this point? Ha. And they call me inhuman.”
When Susan didn’t respond, he tore off another gob of steak and ate it before pressing. “I can also smell the old blood. Usually doesn’t stay on people; they flake off skin constantly and eventually it’s gone, but that bloods in your…your… gears and cogs and things, yeah? And you can’t get it out.”
He sniffed, loudly and dramatically. “Ten people? Maybe more. Maybe a lot of them were related; that’d throw off my nose some…”
Susan stared at him all the harder, though her micro-expressions gave away to Aidan that he’d hit a nerve. And even if they hadn’t, it was clear when she tried to change the subject.
“Anansi wanted you for something.” She said, trying to sound detached. If she’d been talking to almost anyone else, she would have succeeded. “Something important to do with what’s going on; so important that he was willing to go completely out of his character. I knew it wasn’t like him to just kidnap someone.”
Aidan laughed harshly. “Capture. You kidnap people, you capture monsters. And that’s what I am. That’s what he is too. I know all about psionics and he’s not one. Psionics have… kinds of rules, but he doesn’t. He’s like me: he breaks he rules.”
“He’s nothing like you.” Susan said without a second thought. “That’s why this isn’t sitting right. Anansi asked us to join. He picked up based on what we could do. He pays us and it’s been made clear that he won’t stop us if we decide to leave.” She leaned forward as if to get a better look at Aidan. “So what’s so special about you that he needs you in a way that he can’t risk you not buying in?”
“Can’t be to kill something.” Aidan chuckled, a bit too lightly for his taste. “He’s already got you.”
Susan’s fists clenched and she took a step toward him.
At just that moment, Terrell appeared in the doorway out to the hall. He was shuffling his deck of cards as he’d been earlier with Wendell and he was pretending that he hadn’t seen or heard anything transpiring between the two. “Thanks for feeding the animal, Susan.”
Aidan growled low in his throat at him.
Terrell ignored him. “Wendell wanted to talk to you.” He added. “About what we’re going to do now.”
Still glaring at Aidan, Susan nodded. “Right. I guess I have to talk him into staying on this then.”
“Less than you’d think.” Terrell said cryptically. “It’s best you talk to him about it.” He inclined his head toward Aidan. “I’ve got a few questions for Beck.”
Susan shrugged and squeezed past him at the door. “Don’t expect much. Whether he’s a real vampire or not, he’s an asshole regardless, and he doesn’t want to be helpful.”
Terrell only nodded at that and waited until she was out of sight up the hall before stepping into the room and closing the door. There, he settled into the same space Susan had vacated and stowed his cards in a pocked before folding his arms.
“Anansi says you’re a vampire. This thing called a ‘strigoi’. You ever hear of that?”
“He says a lot of things. He’s insane.” Aidan spat.
“Maybe, but there’s a lot of that going around right now. You’ve been out of the loop, Beck: even if you were as big and bad as Anansi says you were before he and Coyote caught up to you, you’re not the biggest and baddest thing out there. And one of those things is what we’re staring down the barrel of now.”
Thin lips curled back from teeth that remained unnaturally white even after weeks of poor hygiene. “And you’re begging for my help?”
“I think Anansi considered it.” said Terrell. “But after hearing about this Adversarial Force thing, I know it’s a waste. Even with all your powers, you’d be nothing to this thing.”
Aidan’s grin disappeared, replaced by a defiant stare that could have caught tinder on fire. “You really think so? Because you have no idea what I was capable of until your damn spider attacked me.”
Terrell forced down a smirk of his own, remaining deadpan. “Then enlighten me.”
“Come in.” Wendell said instantly at the sound of the knock. He was still in his office chair, but the bank of screens before him had changed to show his research on Anansi instead of the mission at hand.
“Terrell said…” said Susan, trailing off as she entered and came face to face with what was on the screens. “What’s this? Still trying to prove he’s a fraud?”
Turning from the screen to face her, Wendell didn’t bother explaining. “I’m still in. So’s Terrell and I know you are. Coyote will be too, I’m pretty sure, and Flo will do anything as long as she gets to show off her grenades. Tommy… he’s the only one of us that’s really got something to lose—did you know he was going to propose to his girlfriend before this happened?
“I found jewelers in the Atlantic City area in his browser history dating to the weeks before Anansi first contacted him. I’m not sure it’s even right to ask him now. We’ll need the best wheel man ever for this, but with what we’re up against…”
Susan gave him a level look as she pushed the door closed behind her. “What? You’re suddenly growing a conscience now?”
He made a noncommittal gesture with the hand not holding his remote. “Look: I’ve burned partners before for money, but there’s no extra money in this. Plus prison’s not death. These cultists are nihilists of the highest order. They will kill us if they think we’re going to be a problem for their evil god thing.”
Susan nodded slowly and moved across the room to sit on the bed. “So you’re in. I’m sensing a ‘but’ here.”
“We don’t know what the plan was.” he said without preamble. “Anansi was setting something up: setting us up. Whatever his is, he’s a crazy bastard and he at least thought he knew what he was doing: we don’t. Even Coyote was cut out of what he had in mind.”
He slumped in his seat. “He made a puzzle; this insanely complex puzzle; and now we’re just left with the pieces: a guy that thinks he was a vampire before Anansi got to him, a crazy woman who is right now building a ‘joy grenade’ and a lit of other weird crap, a teenaged girl who is convinced that she’s merged with a Native trickster god, and four folks whose only commonality is being in various degrees of trouble with the law.
“All to save a boy who might have the power to reduce things to ash from a cult dedicated to some kind of uber-Satan.” He put down the remote and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “That’s what I’m working with. Trying to plan a rescue mission like a heist using all these pieces.”
When Susan didn’t reply, he looked up to find her deep in thought.
Like Aidan, he was a predator. The difference was that he hunted for money instead of blood. The similarity was that both of them were hyper-aware of people’s moods and inner monologues via micro-expressions. Susan’s were nothing positive.
“Something wrong?” He asked, trying to make the question sound tactful. “Something I said?”
She looked up at him with a look that lowered the temperature in the room several degrees. “This is why you’re a bastard, Wendell.”
“We’re not ‘pieces’. We’re supposed to be partners in this, working together. That’s what Anansi’s been trying to do all this time: make us into a team for this purpose. But you still see us as…as… chess pieces to move around the board to get the result you want.”
“Okay, maybe it was a bad analogy…” Wendell said, but he could tell that wasn’t the problem and stopped before it got any farther. “No, you’re right. But that’s not really what’s got you wound up either. You were on edge before I opened my mouth.”
He glanced over at his screens. “Is it about that?”
Susan followed his gaze. “You don’t just have files on him. You make the biggest deal of not believing what he says and does, but you don’t trust any of us.” Noticing that he didn’t deny it, she continued, “So what does your file say on me?”
To her surprised, Wendell gave her a soft look and spoke with a softer voice. “Do you want the facts, or the extrapolation?”
“Just tell me what you’ve pieced together.”
“Alright.” He sat the remote down, not willing to actually call up images for her. “Your husband, Allen; he ran a chain of dry cleaners in Jersey—from the bi-monthly transactions, he’d been paying protection money since before you were married. Next logical step then was that when he decided to expand after two years of marriage, he got the seed money from the Vencetti family, the same people he was paying protection to.”
He paused there and tried to catch her eye. “Is that enough? You’ve told me more than once before that I’m not supposed to talk about this with you.”
Susan didn’t look away from the screen and the various Anansi stories displayed there. “Go on.”
Wendell nodded and continued his rundown. “Business didn’t go so well, and about two years later, the Vencettis decided he’d defaulted on the loan. I… have your hospital records. You know you’re lucky to be alive after that.”
“Yeah.” She flexed a cybernetic fist. “Lucky.”
Clearing his throat, Wendell continued. “Allen was a good husband. He didn’t just stand for them doing that to the woman he loved. I’ve got an ATM withdrawal for twelve hundred dollars; about the right price for a cheap piece from a mob fence. He went after them, didn’t he?”
Susan’s throat had gone dry, leaving her voice reduced to a croak. “It’s how he died. They… did to him what they did to me: cut off his arms and legs. Only I had him to call an ambulance for me. They…” She swallowed, trying to bring up something to remove the dryness from her throat. “They left him in a dumpster out back of a seafood restaurant. The goddamn garbage man’s the one that found him.”
Quietly, Wendell got up and went to the sink in his bathroom, returning with a dixie cup of water, which he handed to Susan. Standing by as she drank, he tucked his hands under his armpit and faced the far wall. “Your medical bills tell me what happened next. The Fontaine Families picked up your tab two months later: physical therapy, advanced prosthetics—everything for eighteen months. Did you go to them, or did they come to you?”
Susan drained the cup and fiddled with it as she stared into its shallow depths. “I saw a news report; one of those special investigations things that was talking about the turf wars the Fontaines and the Vencettis had in Trenton. I offered to be an enforcer if they made me a spark jockey.”
Wendell frowned. “You hadn’t had any contact with any of the families or anyone else in the criminal world at that point. Did you even know what an enforcer was at that point?”
“I knew enough from TV. I meant I’d get to kill Vencettis—hopefully the ones that killed Allen and did this to me. I didn’t care beyond that.” Susan crushed the cup in her palm. “I did you. I found the three whose faces I remembered, and I beat them to death.”
“Only…” Wendell sank down onto the bed, sitting beside her. “The mob doesn’t work like that. They don’t just hurt and kill other dirt-bags. An enforcer’s got to enforce. Protection rackets, witnesses, politicians and lawyers that get too far off the chain.” He turned to her and this time succeeded in catching her gaze. “They made you into the same kind of person that ruined your life.”
Susan broke eye contact, staring down at the carpet. “I did it to myself. I wanted to get back at the Vencettis and never considered what it meant; what I was doing to myself.”
Redemption.” Wendell said as a bolt of understanding hit him. On impulse, he grabbed Susan’s shoulders and turned her to face him again. Months ago, he’d been afraid of her, a dark part of him mused, now he was trying to get the dangerous spark back into her.
“That’s how Anansi roped us all into this: redemption. He was preaching all about how we could be more than what we were and all that jazz. When he got us here, he mentioned all our crimes. It was the narrative he was trying to sell us, remember?”
Susan shrugged his hands off her easily. “No. I meant ‘what does that have to do with anything?’”
He drew in a deep breath, giving him time to assemble his whirlwind thoughts. It came together like a confidence line, except he meant it this time. “Because what you’re worried about is that this is all headed to a place where you’re going to have to kill the kid, or a bunch of cultists. That after you’ve bought into what Anansi said, you’re going to end up at the same damn rock bottom you started at when you were going to kill me for cash.”
When he got no confirmation stronger than he continued lack of eye contact, he knew he was right. “Except it’s just like Terrell and I were talking about earlier: Anansi believes in stories. This whole thing was put together by him to tell a story: redemption stories for you, me, Terrell, Tommy—probably even Vlad down in the cell.”
One more time, he reached out and took her chin in his hand, turning her so that she could see his sincerity. “There is no way that his plan was going to make you go back down that road. You’re better than that. He believed it; I believe it. And my plan’s not going to put you in that place in it. I promise. If you want that redemption, I’m going to help you make that happen. I promise.”
Susan looked at him for a long moment and he wasn’t sure if she believed him. Without understanding what he was doing beyond acting on instinct, he let go of her chin and instead put his arms around her. Both stiffened at the unfamiliar action, by after an awkward moment, Wendell felt her relax and felt her arms tighten slightly around him.
To Be Continued…
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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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