Astoria: In Chaos – Part Two

DAY 8

Another day, another bloody great hole in the ground – this time slap-bang in the middle of an elementary school playground. Miho knew this, because she’d managed to snap a few photographs of the scene, and then of the suit- wearing sweepers who blew in like the wind and cordoned everything off.

Triumphant, she returned to her office, set on stirring the pot with enough vigour to force the ‘cover-up squad’ to reveal something.

But, it wasn’t an especially clever tactic.

“Fujiwara,” came a shape bark across the top of the cubicles in the news room, and Miho paused the furious tapping of her fingers against the keyboard.

A ripple of whispers rushed to meet her when she stood to find several uniformed police officers, followed by the woman she knew only as Agent Mann and a somewhat nervous looking man in similar attire, stalking in her direction.

“This is an order for the seizure of all your work materials,” Agent Mann told Miho in a business-like manner, “along with your cell phone, laptop and any storage devices.”

“What?” Miho blinked in utter shock. “You can’t do that!”

Agent Mann’s eyebrow raised, but rather than argue, she simply handed the piece of paper to Miho who frantically began to study it.

“This,” Agent Mann continued, producing another piece of paper, “is an intervention order preventing you from approaching any clearly signposted crime scenes. Failure to adhere fully to both will be considered contempt of court, and will attract the full weight of penalties that apply.”

“You’re banning me from doing my job?” Miho snarled, snatching the second piece of paper but not even looking at it – the first was legitimate. “Where’s Hades?” she snapped, even as the police began to empty Miho’s cubicle into boxes. “Did he not have the courage to carry out this gag order himself? What is he so afraid of hm?”

Her teeth gnashed at Agent Mann before her eyes flashed at the man standing beside her.

“Not you,” Agent Mann responded dryly. “You’re also required to delete any data you have stored in the cloud, and surrender any notes and materials in storage at your place of residence.”

No matter what Miho said, Agent Mann would not relent, and in the end she was told to wait in the editor’s office while the police did their thing.

Working her jaw painfully, her knuckles popping in tight fists, she glowered out the window. Outrage grated against her skin, itching and burning.

“Think this will stop me getting to the truth?” she hissed, and it just so happened her editor walked in as she said it.

“Yes it will,” her editor declared curtly. “What use do you think I have for a reporter who will land herself in jail if she so much as looks at a crime scene?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Miho exclaimed. “Editor, I’m the best you’ve got.”

“Not anymore. Go home, Fujiwara.”

“What?” Miho blurted.

The editor sighed.

“I’ll get legal onto this intervention thing, but when the feds are involved…”

“Did you see a badge? FBI? NSA? Homeland Security?” Miho balked, face getting more and more red. “Of course not, because they’re none of those things!”

“Whatever they are, those orders against you are legitimate, so until this is resolved, you’re suspended.”

Slack jawed with disbelief, Miho stared at him until he shooed her from his office. On her desk she found her mobile phone, and when she checked she discovered not just those pertaining to her investigation of the mysterious damage had been deleted, but all images and videos. It wasn’t until he cleared his throat, that Miho realised the suited man was still standing by her cubicle.

“I’m here to oversee the removal of data from your cloud accounts,” he explained, and Miho narrowed wrathful eyes at him.

This caused him to squirm a little uncomfortably.

“Um, really, you have to, so, don’t say you don’t have any or…”

Miho interjected.

“Or what?”

Her teeth chewed through both words, and she looked like she was about to chew through him.

“Or, or Agent Mann said Hades will handle it,” he replied, seeming like he wanted to take a very big step away from her.

“That arrogant toss,” she snorted bitterly.

The man’s eyes widened – a little bit shocked, a little more fearful.

“I wouldn’t speak about him like that,” he warned, the word tumbling from his mouth.

Or… what?” Miho repeated, leaning toward him. “He’ll drag him into the Underworld and torment me for all eternity?”

It was difficult for Miho to imagine the man’s eyes getting any wider without his eyeballs dropping from their sockets, and she couldn’t tell if it was just because he felt affronted on his boss’ behalf, or was thrown off by her gall.

Either way, Miho didn’t back down.

“In fact, why don’t you scurry on back to whatever rock you lot crawled out from under, and tell him exactly that,” she hissed, snatching her phone and her handbag before stalking from the office.

The agent didn’t stop her.

It was as Miho stomped across the foyer that it occurred to her.

That rock they crawled out from under… if she wanted to know who they were, she should just follow Agent Uncertain back to it.

Twenty minutes later she stood before the building Agent Unsure had disappeared into: the Grand Olympian. Miho debated the merits of making a frontal assault, of walking right in like she belonged there on the chance she could bluff her way to the information she sought, but that was fraught with pitfalls.

“Seriously,” she muttered to herself. “Who do these people think they are? Hades and the Grand Olympian? Hmph.”

Several people walked in and out, allowing her a glimpse of the foyer, and the several black-clad, stoic suits standing guard.

“After what they pulled,” Miho growled to herself, losing the battle with her anger and storming across the street.

Into the foyer she stalked, eyes filled with determined balefire, posture set with get the fuck out of my way, and in the middle she stopped to glare from blank face to blank face.

“I want to speak to Hades,” she declared flatly, locking eyes with the nearest man.

The only movement he made was the slight twitch of his eyebrow and his lips as he spoke in the expected monotone.

“Ma’am,” he began, and that only enraged Miho more. “This…”

“This is about to be a really unpleasant scene,” she snapped, her hands flailing about in an animated fashion. “Because I don’t care what excuse you give me, this front doesn’t fool me. So get yourself on the phone, intercom, radio, whatever, and get that underworld princess down here to face me.”

That got more of a reaction. She may not have known what she said, her comments based purely upon his name, but just as Agent Stutterpants, the suits in the foyer looked startled.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’re going to have to leave,” a second suit told her when he emerged from his bewilderment, and he reached for her arm.

“I will drop you,” she warned ferociously. “Keep your hands to yourself.”

“If you won’t leave willingly, Ma’am, we have no choice.”

A moment later Miho was manhandled from the building and propelled toward the pavement, but what might have actually caused her to fall most inelegantly actually resulted in a most serendipitous collision.

“Sir!” Suit #1 exclaimed, when Miho was practically thrown into his arms.

Equally as surprised, Hades looked down at the woman he’d reflexively caught in his arms as she was flung in his direction.

A little panicked perhaps, Suit #2 and Suit #3 moved up to them, #2 grasping Miho’s shoulder. Though Hades’ grip was light enough that she was drawn away from his chest, a moment later the offending suit hit the pavement with a heavy thud, his arm pulled behind him by the wrist, before Miho leaned her knee in between his shoulder blades.

“I warned you what would happened if you laid a hand on me again,” she hissed. “I was an assassin in a past life!”

“Miss Fujiwara,” Hades’ stern voice rumbled, and her blazing eyes snapped to him. “Please unhand Agent Trevaughn.”

“When I have his word he won’t touch me,” she grated.

“Agent?” Hades prompted, deciding it was best to quickly resolve the situation there on the footpath – even if it meant giving Miho some of what she wanted.

“You have my word,” Agent Trevaughn croaked, cheek pressed against the rough concrete.

Instantly Miho rocked back and released her hold, putting a few paces between she and the man before looking to Hades again.

“Fancy running into you here,” she exhaled, her smile the vicious injury he’d perpetrated against her. “Just the god I’m after.”

Like the suits before him, Hades raised an eyebrow.

“You want me to roast you out here, or inside?” she asked.

“Hm, I have a better idea,” Hades responded. “Why don’t you calm down and join me for a cup of coffee?”

“Are you really sure you want me in possession of hot liquids?” Miho challenged stubbornly.

“I seldom get what I want,” Hades told her calmly. “But, if you are in any part the reporter you are reputed to be, you would not turn down the opportunity to converse with the subject of your…”

Ire,” Miho filled in frostily, and Hades merely accepted it and inclined his head.

The suits looked at each other.

“So, is it coffee?” Hades prompted.

“Tea,” Miho sniffed defiantly, but she turned her body to indicate she was ready to move out.

“As you were,” Hades nodded to the suits, and with curt recognition they headed back into the building.

A short time later, Hades placed a cup of Lady Grey tea before Miho, before sitting down opposite with his freshly squeezed juice.

She considered his choice of beverage, still clinging to her scowl, determined not to be pacified and yet the grass-shot juice Hades lifted to his lips seemed somehow incongruous with his presence.

“Something wrong?” he enquired, putting the glass down.

“I’d write you a list, but you’d only have your lackies swoop in here and confiscate it,” she charged, but Hades remained unaffected.

“You were warned,” he pointed out, aware the remark would win no favour with her.

“Oh well then, a warning makes it all just peachy,” she snapped, leaning forward. “What are you hiding you’d ruin my career like it was nothing?”

“Actually, Miss Fujiwara, only you are responsible for your actions and their consequences,” he told her, an Miho’s grip tightened around her tea cup.

He watched as she struggled to hold in another unseemly public outburst, that could flip the table and spatter the green rage of vitamised fruit all over the café. But trembling she slowly rose from her seat.

“Thanks for the tea,” she dropped icily and turned to move, but the command – or perhaps something else in Hades’ voice – caused her to freeze.

“Sit down, Miss Fujiwara.”

Before she could comply or tell him to fuck off, Miho made eye contact with a familiar person.

“Oh, hey Miho,” Mieke grinned at her best friend, then slid her gaze to the man behind her. “And… Hades… uh, I mean, Sir.”

“Hades… Sir?” Miho repeated, processing Mieke’s greeting carefully. “You work in an office?”

“Uh… yeah, I do,” Mieke cringed.

His, office?” Miho pressed on, and she didn’t miss Mieke’s pleading glance at Hades.

“Miss Fujiwara,” he prompted, but this time her resistance was decisive.

“Rabbit holes,” she chuckled mirthlessly as she stepped in beside Mieke. “You really never know what you’ll find.”

She then stalked on out of the café.

“You and Miss Fujiwara are acquainted,” Hades stated, and with shoulders slumped, Mieke sighed out her answer.

“Best friends, Sir,” she breathed, “though probably not anymore.”

“Perhaps you could soften the blow of her recent employment crisis,” he suggested, but Mieke was already shaking her head.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but if there is one thing Miho really can’t tolerate, it’s lies, and I’ve been playing dumb as she poured out her frustration over not being able to get anything on HERA – ugh – if she ever speaks to me again it’ll be a miracle.”

Avoiding the confines of her apartment, Miho strapped on her sneakers and began a steady lap around Astoria park. If she couldn’t work, she’d lose her apartment, but that was the furthest thing from her mind – there was no one she could trust now: not her boss, not city law enforcement, not even her best friend.

She was on her own.

And where there were lies, there was something to hide.

“I – will – find – out,” she vowed, words panted out to the rhythm of her footfalls, but her cheeks were wet with distress.

Mieke’s betrayal hurt so deeply, Miho lost sight of what she’d been pursuing and just ran, so much so it was dark by the time she finally stopped.

“Now what?” she exhaled, looking down at her hands where she sat on a park bench.

Feeble fists clenched.

“Ugh!” she shouted, jumping to her feet. “This is bullshit.”

Scratching at her aggravation rather than allowing herself to sink into misery, she picked up her feet again and headed to her local gym to take a shower and change her clothing. But she didn’t go home after that she didn’t go home.

Swathed in brash indignation, she caught a cab a little way before getting out a block from the first crime scene she’d investigated where Hades and his band of merry suits had shown up – she would check them all again, slip through the black fencing and look for clues, anything that could give her a story worth her boss putting his ass on the line.

Sticking to the shadows she slunk with practiced silence and dexterity, but suddenly she stopped her advance.

It must have been her day for familiar people showing up at inopportune times.

“What the fuck is Agent Moron up to?” she murmured to herself, watching him acting very suspicious as he approached his own barrier.

With tailing skills even Kaga would be proud of, Miho drew closer, slipping with almost ridiculous ease past the couple of guards posted, and into the obstructed area. Hiding, she crept closer to see what Agent Hopeless was up to.

She found him examining the deep hole in the sidewalk, much like the others she’d seen, waving over it with a little device with flashing lights.

“What are you doing, Agent Dipshit?” she whispered under her breath.

The answer that came wasn’t really an answer at all… two bodies suddenly flew overhead, limbs flailing and faces pinched in painful grimaces. Their impact with a nearby building was so solid some of the render cracked and flaked away, and when the pair of suits hit the ground – they didn’t move.

“What the?” Agent Stupid blinked, turning sharply from his fallen compatriots to look in the direction from which they’d come.

Scrambling to stay hidden, Miho narrowed missed being hit by… a car… that soared several metres into the air before barreling in Agent Idiot’s direction. He dove to one side, drawing a handgun as he did and taking aim at…

“You HERA guys,” a low, slow voice rumbled, as a real lump of a man came into view on one side of the crater, “so squishy.”

“Minotaur?” Agent Dumbass grunted. “You’re back in the States?”

It was a stupid question, because clearly the guy was right there.

“You gonna shoot me?” Minotaur sneered, and Miho inhaled a sharp breath while fumbling to get out her phone and start recording.

“That depends if you’re willing to cooperate or not,” Agent Sideways replied, but his gun hand was trembling and he seemed to be in considerable pain.

“Unlikely,” Minotaur chuckled, slamming his balled fist into his palm, and for a second there was an orange flash.

Miho swore there was an orange flash in the shape of an angry bull.

“If… if you’re responsible for this,” Agent Retreat stammered, scuttling back, digging for his phone with his free hand.

“And imagine what I’m about ta do ta ya head,” Minotaur leered.

Raging to life, the orange bull, surrounded by irritated sparks, rushed from behind Minotaur and snatched Agent Hapless off the ground. Much to Miho’s amazement and in no small part horror, Agent Ragdoll was shaken violently in the luminescent bull’s grasp, so hard his keys and loose change were flung from his pockets and his phone was thrown across the crater and landed close to where Miho was hiding.

“Agent Schmit?” a voice called from the asphalt, more urgently the second time when Agent Schmit, let out a cry coinciding with his own solid path to the ground.

“Fuck,” Miho gasped, twitching in indecision before finally darting out and snatching up the phone. “Agent Schmit is down!” she hissed. “27th Avenue near St. Margaret Mary – there’s a… mino…”

Despite the questions flung at her Miho stalled as the rampant, glowing bull stomped up to Agent Schmit and look set to crush him underfoot, all while the man himself grinned sadistically.

“Fuck,” Miho exclaimed once more, dropping the agent’s phone and turning her own around. “Hey asshole!” she shouted, setting her phone’s flash on strobe.

In the darkness she might have been little more than a silhouette, a faint shape flashing brightly that divided the creature’s attention long enough for Agent Schmit to crawl to where his colleagues were beginning to rouse.

“Who the hell are you?” Minotaur huffed, and as he turned his body to fully face her, the towering bulls did the same, pulsing with furious energy.

“I… am…” she stammered, eyes stretching even wider as the apparitious bull’s approaching footfalls somehow made the ground shake. “I’m not with them,” she exhaled. “I’ve been tracking your trail of… of awesome destruction looking for an interview! This lot keep cock blocking.”

The bull stopped, and Minotaur narrowed his eyes on Miho as she lowered her phone to her side. He appeared to be processing what she’d said… slowly.

“You ain’t HERA?”

“These suits? Are you kidding me? They ruined my career!” she told him, and well it was the truth.

So she kept talking, talking while Agent Schmit and the other two struggled out of injurious grogginess.

“These… three-piece twits stormed my office and confiscated everything I’ve worked so hard on,” she rushed on, hoping to keep his attention for as long as possible. “But here you are, the very one I’ve been… I’ve been searching for, ha ha, right in front of me.”

“Miss Fujiwara get back!” Agent Schmit shouted, and as if he’d waved a red rag, Minotaur’s attention snapped back to him as bullets were fired.

The next few seconds seemed to move in slow motion.

Thunder seemed to explode from the ground that heaved so hard with the impact of the luminous bull’s hoof, that Miho pitched backward at speed. She soared, glimpsing the night sky above just briefly before even the brightest stars were consumed by an all-encompassing black.

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