Josh shakes his head. “Seriously, man, you’re never going to win.”
“But, it’s so fun to watch him lose,” Roxy pipes in from the treadmill.
“Loser buys lunch,” Matthew calls from across the gym.
Ignoring them all, Alonzo demands, “Arm on the table.”
With a sigh, Eliana, who is sitting across from the insanely muscular man, does as he insists. She puts her elbow on the table and holds her palm out to him. Alonzo mimics her, slapping his palm against hers. “You’re going down this time.” Attempting to catch her by surprise, he immediately jerks at Eliana’s arm. Since this is not the first time he has insisted on arm wrestling, nor the first time he has tried to cheat, Eliana is not moved. Literally. As the large, insanely muscled man strains to put enough pressure against her arm to press it to the table, she barely needs to concentrate on what she’s doing. Instead, she focuses on the manual in front of her, flipping pages with her other hand as she reads.
Grabbing a chair, Kelly spins it around so she can sit down and folds her hands over the back of it. “So, did you tell them, yet?”
Eliana looks up from her book. “What?”
Kelly rolls her eyes. “About the apartment?” She waves her hand between Josh and Eliana. “About you two moving in together?”
Eliana blushes and narrows her eyes at Josh. He shakes his head. “I didn’t tell her.”
“I did,” Alonzo smirks. Annoyed that he shared something Josh told him in confidence, she slams his hand to the table. Pulling his arm back and rubbing his bruised knuckles, he complains, “I didn’t know it was a secret.”
Chuckling at his easy defeat, Josh tells him, “It’s not really a secret.” Glancing at Eliana with understanding eyes, he adds, “We just want to break it to our parents gently.”
“You’re nineteen, not twelve, they probably have a clue you’re having sex,” Roxy points out in her not-so-gentle gentle way. “Just tell them already, for god’s sake.”
Eliana sits back in her chair and grimaces. Roxy isn’t wrong; it is time to tell their parents. Summer has reached an end. She and Josh will not be returning to Egypt for college as they had originally planned. Instead, they have joined Homeland Security’s version of the X-files team and enrolled in a local college where Eliana is planning to major in pre-law and criminal justice, and Josh is majoring in cyber security. With professional jobs and a life plan in place, it’s time to move out of their parents’ houses.
At the beginning of the summer, Josh was staying in the apartment over the garage at Eliana’s. After his family was kidnapped and he was almost killed, Josh moved back home to help ease his parents’ worries. Two months later, things have calmed down and Eliana and Josh crave the closeness they had when they lived thousands of miles away in Egypt. They want to be together. When two souls are destined to intertwine for eternity, separation can be difficult. They both believe it is time to move into an apartment of their own to begin this new chapter of their lives. Technically, they will be renting a house with their best friends, Jenna and Sam, but still, they will be independent. And most importantly, together.
“I hate to interrupt when you are all working so hard,” a new voice says drolly. Liza Lesman, the leader of their team, walks out of the office at the back of the gym. The gym began as a place to test Eliana’s abilities and has now become their home base. “But, we have a case.”
Everyone gathers around the table as Liza approaches. Their team is new and very specialized, so this will be their first case. There is excitement filling the air around them. The past two months have been spent getting Eliana and Josh up to speed in their training in regards to Homeland Security field operations. The more seasoned members of their team have been bored senseless and are more than ready to get back into the field. But, Eliana’s nerves amp up as the tall, thin blonde woman sets a folder down on the table in front of her. Is she ready for this? She’s not sure.
Opening it, Liza pulls out several pictures of a crime scene. “I just received these from the local police. This happened last night.”
Eliana looks up at her in surprise. The local police sent these over? She expected their first case to involve travel to a larger, more densely populated city such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Someplace in the US where a terrorist attack is more likely than their mid-size, mid-western town of River Rapids. So did Liza when she tried to insist Eliana and Josh move to Chicago, her original home base. They flat out refused, but with the understanding they would need to travel to wherever the cases took them. As long as they are able to return home to their families and friends when their cases finish, Eliana could handle taking the job she didn’t really want. Since Eliana’s abilities are the focal point of their team, Liza had no choice but to agree.
Josh picks up one of the photos and peers more closely at it. Frowning, he says, “I know this place. It’s the old drive-in theater that closed down a few years back.”
Liza nods. “The owner went bankrupt. He still owns the land, though. At least, he did.” She glances down at the picture. “He doesn’t own anything, anymore.”
The photo is of a dead man. He is sprawled on the ground, several pools of blood surrounding his body. Peering closer, Alonzo asks, “What killed him?” Good question, Eliana thinks. There are no apparent gunshot or knife wounds on the body, and no apparent bruising. This is easy to see because the heavy set, middle-aged man is naked.
Liza shrugs. “Don’t know yet. We’re waiting on the coroner’s report.”
“Is that his blood?” Matthew asks.
Pressing her lips together, Liza shrugs. “We don’t know yet.”
Dan crosses his arms over his chest and scowls at his boss. “What do we know?”
Liza picks up another photo from the folder. “We know this man was found wandering near the body. He had no identification on him, but fingerprints show him to be a low level drug pusher. He was incoherent upon arrest, suspected of being under the influence. Whatever he’s on, it’s not wearing off. He’s combative, took five officers to bring him in. He is still in a holding cell blubbering to himself. He won’t make eye contact and screams bloody murder if anyone touches him. They’ve considered sedating him for his own safety, but without knowing what else he has in his system, they are leery of introducing anything else into his bloodstream.”
Wiping exercise sweat from her forehead with a towel, Roxy shrugs. “A drug dealer kills someone. There’s nothing unusual about that, so what makes this our case?”
With a sidelong glance at Eliana, Liza says, “We have been asked to question the suspect.”
Eliana tenses. She knew this was coming eventually. “You mean you want me to coerce information from him.”
“Who asked you?” Josh wonders, his voice suddenly filled with suspicion. “Who in the local police force would know what Eliana can do?”
Liza drags her eyes from the stare down she and Eliana began and confesses, “After the incident with your family, there were some holes in the story the police were told. Unfortunately, the local chief of police got his hands on some video surveillance before I could. He filled in some of those holes.”
Disgusted, Alonzo complains, “You’re just telling us about this now?”
Liza shrugs in discomfort. “I didn’t realize how much the chief picked up from the video.”
“Which video?” Eliana demands.
Sighing in defeat, Liza admits, “The one of you in the kitchen getting the guy to talk. Before Alonzo had a chance to black out the cameras.”
Thinking back, Eliana shakes her head. The chief couldn’t have gathered much from that video. All the interesting things happened after the cameras were blacked out. Raising her eyes to Josh, he reads her mind. “Audio,” he grimaces and Eliana groans aloud. The police chief didn’t see what she did, but he heard her coercing information from the guy. Again, he couldn’t have garnered much from the video, but it was enough for him to believe she might be able to do something with his suspect.
Shaking her head, Eliana declares, “I can’t walk into a police station and just use my power. There are cameras in all the interrogation rooms.”
“Agreed,” Liza nods.
After chugging water from a bottle, Dan wipes his mouth. “What’s the plan, then?”
“We have the prisoner transported to a safe location and question him there.”
Frowning, Kelly asks, “Is that feasible in his condition?”
Liza shrugs again. “I do not see an alternative.”
Alonzo leans back against his chair, arms tense and folded against his chest. He already has this figured out. “When does he get here?”
Her cheeks turning a distinct pink color, Liza admits, “Twenty minutes.”
This elicits groans from around the room. “Here?” Kelly demands. She glances around at the gym and its exercise equipment. “We’re not equipped to interrogate prisoners. Especially combative ones. What are we supposed to do, strap him to a treadmill?”
Defensive now, Liza insists, “It is the only place I could be certain there would be no eyes other than ours on the situation.”
When the gym became their permanent base, a number of safety measures were put in place. Among other things, there is a secure network for communications and web browsing, a comprehensive security system to detect and repel intruders, and signal scramblers to prevent the use of video and audio recordings within the building. Protecting Eliana’s secret is a condition of her employment, and Liza has gone to extremes to ensure no one finds out. Going forward. The past, it seems, still wants to haunt them.
“If we only have twenty minutes, I suggest we figure out how we’re going to contain a combative suspect,” Matthew notes. Glancing around the room, his eyes zoom in on the sparring area. “That’s the only clear spot we have.”
“The guy’s crazy, so maybe we should leave the mats in place,” Roxy snarks, following Matthew to the area. Despite her words, she helps him roll the mats into a corner of the room.
Kelly, Dan, Josh, Eliana and Alonzo move in different directions. The table and chairs are taken from near the front door to the newly cleared area. Limited tactical gear is removed from storage lockers and distributed. Eliana may be virtually indestructible, but the rest of them are not. Workout clothes are exchanged for more combat ready clothing, and accessories such as Tasers and guns are added to their ensembles. By the time they are done, the entire crew looks like the elite team they are. Even Eliana and Josh are wearing the Tasers and guns, having been certified, but Eliana knows she will never draw her weapons. She only wears them because she is not supposed to stand out from the rest of the team. It would be strange for her to participate in a raid or something of the like and not be armed.
“Here they come,” Dan calls across the room. He is monitoring the cameras outside the building. They have a 360-degree view of the area surrounding the gym. There are no blind spots.
Moving to the doors, Liza punches in the code to unlock the steel ones that replaced the glass doors when they upgraded the building, and opens them. Stepping outside with Alonzo and Roxy, she waits for the prisoner to be removed from the transport van. The guy is practically foaming at the mouth as he kicks and shouts at the four officers dragging him from it. When they are just a few feet from the door, Liza stops them. “We’ll take it from here.”
One of the officers steps forward. “We have orders to stay with the prisoner,” he insists.
Liza isn’t impressed by his orders. Her expression hardens. “This is as far as you go.”
Glancing over her shoulder and trying to see inside the building, the officer snipes, “Hiding something?”
With a blasé smile in the officer’s direction, Liza pulls her cell phone from her pocket. She punches in a number and her call is answered immediately. “You knew the deal. Tell your officer to stand down or take the prisoner back to his jail cell. You choose.”
Inside the building, Josh grins at the computer screen where they are watching the drama play out. “I like that she doesn’t take any crap,” he says quietly to Eliana.
“Wait until you want a raise, you’ll be less impressed then,” Dan smirks.
It does not take long for the situation outside to deescalate. After a word from their chief, the officers stand down and hand over the suspect. They retreat to their vehicle to wait, glowering the entire time but not offering any argument. Roxy and Alonzo struggle with the combative suspect, but manage to get him inside without injury to themselves or him. He is placed in a chair and his hands and ankles are handcuffed to it to keep him from hurting himself. Once they finally leave him be, the suspect calms. At least, he doesn’t fight against the restraints anymore. He still curses and shouts at nothing in particular. His eyes are unfocused, and when no one is touching him, he seems unaware there are others in the room with him. Others in the real world, anyway.
“This should be fun,” Eliana murmurs. Eager to get it over with, she crosses the room to the chair across from the suspect and sits down. When the others move in closer, she shakes her head. The fewer people they have around him at the moment, the better. No sense in agitating him more.
Calling upon the power of persuasion she gained when she melded with the essence of the Egyptian goddess Isis, Eliana feels the calmness and serenity flow within her. She takes several deep breaths and relaxes into it. When she is ready, she reaches out, touching the man’s flesh. He flinches, forcing her to grab his wrist and hold tight. After a few seconds, the serenity flows from Eliana to him, and he calms. The fight leaves him and he settles into the chair.
“Tell me about last night,” Eliana says in a soothing voice. “What happened to the man who died?”
When Eliana used this power in the past, the response was immediate. The other person calmed and either did as she suggested, or told her what she wanted to know, depending upon how she used the power. This time, nothing. The man simply stares at her with eyes still clouded in confusion. Eliana tries again. “Tell me your name.” The man remains silent. Considering the curses he was throwing around a moment ago, he certainly has the ability to speak. He is simply not exercising it.
Moving closer, Josh whispers, “What’s wrong?”
Eliana turns to him and shrugs. “I don’t know.”
“Try harder,” Liza insists.
Glaring at her, Eliana snarks, “Thanks for the advice.” Regardless, she turns back to the suspect and focuses even more intently on the power within her. “Do you know where you are?” she asks, pushing deeper into his psyche and hoping like hell that she’s not causing further damage to his mind.
Still, the man refuses to respond. Is he somehow immune? She is concerned about pushing any deeper into his psyche. She has no idea if she can damage someone’s mind with her power and she really doesn’t want to find out that not only can she, but it’s irrevocable damage. With a quick glance at Liza, she tries one more time. She watches as the suspect’s entire body relaxes to the point that he would slide out of the chair if not handcuffed to it. “Tell me your name,” she insists but knows it’s no use. For some reason, her power will simply not get through to him. She’s not hitting a wall or any type of psychic barrier that she can feel. It’s as if his mind is simply empty.
Magic. The word bubbles up from deep inside her. Startled by the voice she hasn’t heard in almost two months, Eliana frowns. In her mind, she repeats, “Magic?” When she doesn’t get a response, she closes her eyes and concentrates. She focuses again on the man in front of her, but not with her power of persuasion, just with her senses. It doesn’t take her long to feel it. The energy around him is different than the rest of the energy in the room. She has only felt this type of energy a handful of times. All around the time she met her friend Xandra, the Witch Fairy. What she is sensing is indeed magic.
With an audible groan, Eliana lets go of the man’s wrist and sits back. Opening her eyes, she grimaces at Josh before leaning around him to say to Liza, “You are not going to like this.” To Josh, she says, “Remember what we dealt with when we made new friends in Egypt?” She watches his expression change as he puts it together and realization hits him. He pales ever so slightly and curses under his breath.
Roxy shakes her head. “Damn, you scared Josh? This can’t be good.”
Glancing back at the man handcuffed to the chair, Eliana says, “Until we have more information about what happened to him and reverse it, we aren’t going to get anything from him.”
“Is he immune to your power?” Dan asks in surprise.
Pressing her lips together, Eliana admits, “I don’t know yet.”
Hands on her hips, Liza is growing frustrated. “What do you mean, you don’t know yet? Either you can question him or you can’t.”
Josh shakes his head. “If it’s what I think it is, there’s a little more to it this time.” Glancing at the suspect, he adds, “We should probably discuss this more in your office.”
“Good idea,” Eliana agrees. Away from the guy surrounded by magic that they know nothing about. She stands up and takes a few steps from him but her boss doesn’t move.
Liza studies them for a moment. Finally, she shakes her head. “If we can’t talk in front of him, I don’t want him in here.” To Matthew and Alonzo, she says, “Take him back outside to the officers.” They each give her a curt nod and move to do as she ordered. While the agents un-cuff the man, Liza walks to the door and keys in the code again. When it opens, she calls to the officers outside, “Hold him out here until we come back for him.” The officers are irritated both by her crisp tone and her command that they babysit the guy, but they don’t say anything. She has called their boss once already; they do not want her to do it again.
At least, they are quiet until they see the state of the suspect. Eliana may not have been able to question him, but her calming influence has stayed with the man. He is no longer combative, nor is he mumbling to himself. He is almost catatonic now. He can barely walk he is so out of it. “Did you sedate him?” one of the officers asks.
Liza waits for Alonzo and Matthew to reenter the building. Finally, she responds with a firm, “No.” She closes the door, leaving the officers in a state of confusion and general annoyance.