There is nothing like the roar of a souped up gasoline combustion fuel engine as it growls to life. The vibration of the steering wheel due to the V-8 5.0 liter 302 beast beneath the hood teases my hands.
Such a sweet sound.
I rebuilt this girl from the ground up. Her classic beauty caught my eye when out shopping for car parts with my grandfather. Junkyards are a rarity these days but they still exist if you know where to look.
We found the chassis at one of his favorite haunts. It was in solid condition. We set it up on the auto rotisserie for restoration to bring it back to prime condition. Even the floors are original. My grandfather and I painted it a solid deep indigo blue, which was his favorite color.
I replaced the center console between the front bucket seats to hold the electronics for my computer rig and hacking equipment. Electrons runs through my veins and I stay hooked up to the lifeline called the ‘net.
I’m a hacker. It’s what I do.
I ease the Mustang on the road and rumble off to meet with the guys at the shop.
Varos called earlier in the morning while I was in the middle of a work project to tell me that Annika is back in town and wants to meet with us this evening after the shop closes.
I’m not really sure how I got drawn into this crazy situation. It’s not like I was forced or anything but somehow I fell backward into it. This is not a complaint, mind you. My best friend Austin is a mythical shifter. He and those like him, the other mythical shifters in Stell, are being threatened by a shadow.
I take that really personal.
The information we keep uncovering draws us all deeper and deeper. The specter of implications weighs on us all heavily. Everyone mentions how it feels like we’re all holding our breath, waiting for the next thing to happen that will take us that much closer to knowing the truth.
My phone rings and I tick the heads up display on the dashboard. Just because the car’s an antique doesn’t mean I don’t ride in style. I have a portable computer rig set up for when I’m on the move.
The display tells me it’s Varos.
“Hey, man. I’m on my way,” I say, easing across the lanes to get into the HOV. Traffic is really light this late in the evening so the HOV isn’t for two or more occupants.
“We’re still waiting on Rayne and Kuras.”
“Do I need to swing by and get them?”
There’s a pause. I can tell he’s on his phone tracking their GPS location. I created that app and he is my tester. “Judging by this, they’re en route.”
“All right. I have another ten minutes before I’m at the point where it’s not feasible for me to turn around.”
“You know, you’d be here faster if you called a regular car.” There’s amusement in Varo’s voice. “It’d cost you less to run, too. I’ve seen the prices for fossil fuel.”
All the cars these days are electric and driverless and it makes me uncomfortable. Apparently he doesn’t see the need to feel in control on the road.
To be fair, I feel the need to be in control most of the time. Being a fox shifter, it’s sort of natural. We’re one of the smaller shifter kind in the city. We take our control where we can get it.
“If you’d come for a drive with me, you’d see why. Even Austin agrees.”
“Whatever. See you soon. Be safe.” He kills the line and I stare at the call ended indicator.
He tells me to be safe. I’m sure he means nothing by it, but it feels warm in my chest all the same.
In twenty minutes, I’m pulling up in front of the shop. Rayne and Goldie are running across the street at the light as I drag my laptop out of the car. I lock and alarm it, waiting for them before going in the shop.
“Are you glad to hear Annika’s back?” I ask Goldie as she hugs me. She hugs everyone. So does her sister, although in getting to know Rayne and Goldie it’s hard to believe they’re sisters. They’re as different as night and day.
But they’re both great people. Austin says they’re unicorns. I would be skeptical if it weren’t for the fact that Goldie just looks like a unicorn. She’s bright and fluffy, or at least her hair is, and always positive. If I took a picture, I would bet my car that you would see a rainbow halo around her or something.
“I was so worried!” Goldie says, breathless. She hooks her arm in mine. Rayne gives me a good natured roll of her eyes and heads into the shop ahead of us.
“But from what Austin says, you did great in the shop on your own.”
“Maybe. But still. I’m so glad she’s back.”
“Lock the door,” Taran calls from the back of the shop.
I drop Goldie’s arm as she heads to the meeting, lock the door, and turn off the OPEN sign.
Bronaz silently counts heads. “Everyone’s here, Taran.”
Annika is sitting cross legged on Nyve’s chair as it’s centrally located in the group.
And Bronaz wasn’t lying. Everyone’s there. All the guys from the shop, their mates. Even the babies are there. It’s a little weird to consider them all part of one huge nonrelated family but that’s what they are.
They’re family, even if they’re not blood related.
That’s kind of cool.
I wade through the people to get comfortable on the stool next to Varos. He lifts his chin to his work station which has a spot cleared for my laptop. I set it up while Annika talks.
“This won’t take long,” she says after clearing her throat. She holds up a thumb drive, then gives it a toss. Varos snatches it out of the air and sets it on the station next to my laptop.
“That’s not a very sophisticated report, Ronnie. Sorry. But I dictated everything I saw, stream of consciousness. I leave it up to you to tease out of it what you need.”
“No problem. I have some software that will transcribe almost one hundred percent accurately.” I plug the thumb drive in and get that running while she gives her briefing.
“It’s fine, Annika.” Taran gives her a friendly pat on the knee. “Give us the highlights.”
“It’s very remote, hidden in the dense brush of a forest area. From the air, you’ll hardly see it unless you know what you’re looking for.”
I pull up the area maps. “That explains why we can’t get good sat images of it.”
“There’s definitely a building out there and it sees a lot of activity. The biggest thing I discovered is that this building is definitely where they’re centrally located. From what I can tell, it’s not a territory wide organization. They’re small and so far, self contained.”
“That follows with what we’ve discovered so far,” Varos continues. “They don’t seem to be gaining widespread support yet.”
Carlo clears his throat. “Exactly. From what I’m remembering, recruitment was hard because they couldn’t just come out with their hate rhetoric. They had to be careful who they talked to. Once they figured out someone may be sympathetic, that’s when they give the hard sell.”
Sako shifts their baby in his arm and takes Carlo’s hand. Carlo is our biggest source of information into the group. He’s been a huge asset. He still gets weird about it, feeling guilty that he was even a part of it, but the guys have all been super great, not holding it against him.
Even Rayne, who has the biggest reason to not trust him, considers him part of the group. That says a lot for the kind of person she is.
Annika nods in agreement. “So, it’s my guess, remembering that I’m not some big fighter or anything, that if we can dismantle the organization at the source, it will all fall apart and this group is done.”
Bronaz sits with his arms crossed over his chest. “And we can count on the wolf pack?”
“They’re just waiting for word from us.”
Varos slaps at my arm with his phone. “Anything you compile, let’s go over before we send to them to make sure it’s thorough. We’re going to be depending—”
“—on them heavily. I know.” I smile and rub at where he whacked me.
Maybe it’s stupid, but I like it when he does that. It’s a friendly little gesture and I’m sure he doesn’t mean anything by it. Varos is a great guy. A really great guy and the more I work with him the more I realize just how great he is. Anytime he calls, or contacts me, or even just talks to me is a time that makes my day brighter.
I wouldn’t mind getting to know him better but he’s so standoffish. Sure, he’s friendly and we get on like a house on fire. A couple of times, we even finish each other’s sentences, but he’s so closed off.
We’re friendly but I don’t know if we can be considered friends. As much as I’d like otherwise.
The noise level rises in the room as everyone starts to chat in excitement. The energy of the room is jazzed.
“…finally can stop this.”
“…feel safe again.”
“…one final move and it’s done.”
Taran holds his hand out. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If we strike too early, we risk giving them ammunition against us.”
Annika nods in agreement. “Or worse, driving them to ground where we can’t find them at all.”
“Our best course of action is to let Ronnie do his magic,” Varos says. “Austin, myself, and Carlo can go over it to make sure we have everything in order and give it to the wolves. Once the information is distributed, then come up with a plan.”
“No pressure, Ronnie.” Austin laughs. “Just everything is riding on you.”
“Gee, thanks.” I can laugh with Austin about it. This really is my forte. I love to be given a puzzle to unravel.
This one just so happens to have long reaching effects. I can’t afford to screw it up.
Is there pressure? Absolutely.
Am I up for it? Absolutely.
I glance over at Varos and catch him looking at me. “Ronnie’s got it covered.” He winks.
It tickles my insides with giddiness and my inner fox wants to bask in the warmth.