“Less attitude, more information,” growled a disguised and intimidating Jamie.
I stared at the young gang-banger, Tyrel, dangling from Conor’s iron grip in the dark bedroom. “Break it down for me, T.”
He shook his head. “It’s yo’ , 23.”
That rocked me back. My Boss? No, there’s no way God would be…
Then it dawned on me. Not my Boss, but my .
I’m sure the surprise was clear on my face. “Brandon?”
Tyrel nodded. “He paid us good bank to get rid of those bodies. Dunno who for – he’s just the M&M.”
I just stared for a long moment. I rasped out the next question, unsure if I wanted to know the answer. “How long…?”
He shrugged. “Dunno. Two, three years?”
Oh, my dear Lord…
Brandon Holton, the coordinator of the downtown office greeted me warmly at the door the day of my interview, but I had an odd feeling about him that I couldn’t place at the time. Our interview went smoothly, all things considered, but I thought for sure he didn’t want me for the job. So I was quite surprised when the job offer came a month later. Decent salary, and I worked out that they’d let me live in the small apartment over the LINC office.
After graduation, I started in almost immediately. Brandon gave me about a week to get acclimated, meet the two other staff members, and then he started sending me out. I was sent to small churches all over Dallas, mostly in the really rough neighborhoods like Oak Cliff and Pleasant Grove. To start with, I mainly stuck to the churches themselves, finding out what support they needed, doing odd jobs here and there, that sort of thing.
As I became a more frequent visitor, I started to get to know the people. There are good people in those areas, and good kids that have gotten caught up in the gang culture. It took me a while to make inroads, but with time, learning the slang (better than most realize), and playing some street ball, I worked up to a level of respect, if not complete trust, with the lower-level gang members.
I’d return from my forays, mostly successful, and submit my reports to Brandon. Aside from complaining that they were handwritten (computers and I don’t always get along, but I have very good handwriting), he would always try to find fault with my activities – and almost always failed. It seemed that he was more temperamental after each time I was out, but I wasn’t sure what to attribute it to. He didn’t talk about his personal life much, and after awhile, it got to the point where the less I interacted with him, the better. I got into the habit of sending off a copy of my report to the main LINC office in Carrolton in my own defense, so that Brandon couldn’t spin my activities against me. I could tell that it bothered him, but he always stormed out before really yelling at me – it was one of the few things he did that gave me hope that he’d get through whatever was bothering him.
Another thing that started to nag at the back of my mind was that I seemed to be near or in the middle of some kind of gang fight wherever I went, especially in Pleasant Grove and Oak Cliff. Given the high levels of violent crime in those neighborhoods, it wouldn’t be unheard of, but in retrospect seems a bit coincidental.
With all our field work, it was rare that the other two employees and I would see each other, and both of them left LINC within a year after I started. I didn’t begrudge them that – the outreach from this office was tough to begin with, and Brandon didn’t make it any easier. He never did replace them – something about budget cuts. But I carried on, knowing my work was important, and that I could insulate myself from Brandon somewhat through my interactions and reputation farther up the chain of command. So generally, we avoided each other, and the mission went on.
Or so I thought.
I didn’t think much of it earlier this evening when I was approached by a former banger at Joe Mama’s BBQ. He’d been dragged out of the OC by his mother years before, and was well on his way to getting a nursing degree, but he was worried about an good friend back in the OC that he’d heard was getting involved in bad stuff. I knew that it was serious when Ren sat down beside me and said that Uncle had sent her to find me and help her track down an artifact. We compared notes, and figuring that the artifact must be connected to the kidnappings, headed into the OC shortly after that.
I tracked down Tyrel, but only ended up with intuition and suspicion after talking to him. That’s when Conor, Jamie, and Elena showed up, so it confirmed for me that something big was going on. Of course, that’s also when the Orcs arrived.
We somehow managed to stave off a major altercation with the Orcs, and regrouped at a restaurant. Jamie found bodies in Tyrel’s garage that tied him back to Red Court activity, which was another wrinkle in the puzzle. The OCT/Orcs, the artifact, and now the Red Court? Tyrel was the common factor, so we stalked his house later and applied the old “good cop/bad cop” technique to him. That’s when he dropped the bomb on me about Brandon.
I honestly don’t remember a lot of the rest of that conversation, but apparently we got Tyrel to agree to call up the Texas Rangers and narc on the body-disappearing operation that he’d been a part of. Elena stayed around to make sure Tyrel did what he said he would and that he got into the Rangers’ custody. My new worry was about confronting Brandon, so the rest of us headed back to LINC. He wouldn’t be there, of course, but that was the best place I knew of to try and find his home address.
The conversation during the drive led us (through Ren’s insights, amazingly) to the conclusion that the Red Court was using Brandon as the middleman (“M&M”) to dispose of the dead bodies – their “food.” More critical (to me, at least) is the fact that Brandon is most likely the owner of the artifact that Ren’s uncle was having us look for – a Hexenwulf belt.
A Hexenwulf belt basically makes its wearer a werewolf. The catch is that the transformation is enabled by binding a “spirit of rage” to the belt, and the wearer controls the spirit (in theory). History has shown that in practice, the spirit eventually overwhelms the wearer. It completely explains the change in Brandon’s demeanor over the last few years. I’m so angry with him right now – regardless of how much of his current actions are really him and how much is from the belt – this all started before the belt could have influenced him, and I had to wonder how much of the information I’d brought back from my forays was used to further his… darker interests.
I only know that we have to get to him before the Rangers do. In the back of my mind, I know that the confrontation with Brandon is but another step in this situation – the Red Court still lingers in the background. But this situation has hit me more deeply than I thought it would, and I wonder how I’ll come out on the far side of it.
This scenario is shaping up to be a big turning point for Matthew – at the least, the potential is there for changing my trouble aspect in some form or fashion, and perhaps some other changes as well. This introspection and flashback is setting some of that up for me. We’ll see where it leads…