The Villain Wrangler, Chapter 1

Angelica Coffey sat in the far corner of the seedy bar, studying the room. This was the tenth night spent in seedy bars, and she was growing tired of the almost uniform reek of them, sweat and piss and desperation. Idly, she rubbed the twitching muscle in her thigh, willing the pain away. She regarded her beer thoughtfully. If she was unsuccessful tonight, she would give up and tell her boss she had failed. She was on a deadline, after all, and contingencies took time to plan.

The assorted toughs in the bar kept side-eying her. She didn’t particularly blame them. She was wearing a neat gray suit, opposed to the rest of the denizens’ torn and dirty jeans and shirts. They drank in a sullen silence, occasionally interspersed with the clack of the cue ball striking the others. There was tension in the smoke-thick air, but she ignored it, intent in maintaining her vigil.

She tapped a nail against the glass of the beer bottle, hoping that tonight wouldn’t be another waste. She flipped open the folder on the sticky table in front of her and studied the picture of the child within. Christa was a pretty girl, all rosy smiles and golden curls in the top photo. The second, taken only a year later, showed the destruction of the disease in her sunken cheeks and smooth bald head. She was the reason Angelica had spent every night over the past three weeks waiting.

She looked up as the door flung open, and the lights flickered as the door slammed off the wall. The mercenary known only as Reaper walked in as the bar fell silent. The man was intimidating, tall and muscular in a long black coat and bone-white mask, and when he moved, it was with the liquid grace of a top predator. Angelica squared her shoulders and approached the mercenary at the bar.

“Reaper? My name is Angelica Coffey, and I represent the Shooting Star Dream Fulfillment group. There is a little girl, Christa Morrison, who wants to spend her birthday with you. She-”

She broke off as Reaper began to laugh. “Are you serious?” the masked man asked, incredulous.

Angelica felt something snap in her mind. Grabbing the photos of Christa out of the folder, she reached around him to slap them down on the bar. “That little girl has approximately ten months left to live, and the one thing she wants most in this world is to meet her favorite villain. Now, you are going to shove that attitude back where it came from, and get your ass down to the hospital and make that little girl’s day!”

The bar was silent as Reaper stared at her, the full-face mask revealing nothing. After several long moments, he spoke. “Outside.” He loomed over her, his voice deep and echoing. Must have a voice modulator in the mask, she thought wildly. Keeping her back straight, refusing to show how terrified she was, she led the way out of the bar.

Once the door closed behind them, he dropped a gauntleted hand on her shoulder, steering her into a dirty alley a few short blocks from the bar. Angelica cooperated, mentally trying to prepare herself for what was coming. Reaper was known to be vicious, and the number of people who had angered him and lived was nonexistent. She stopped at the wall at the end of the alley, drawing a deep breath before turning to face him.

He stood a little ways back, far enough to give her some space, but close enough to still be threatening. He studied her through his mask, his stance showing his amusement.

“So, you were serious. I wonder,” he purred, gliding closer and running the back of one taloned finger down her cheek, “how far would you go? Would you trade your life for one visit?”

She swallowed, her mouth suddenly very dry. Her knees were shaking as she looked up into his masked face. She closed her eyes and nodded. “If you won’t hurt her, and will spend the time with her, fine.”

He chuckled darkly at her words. “I try not to hurt children. However, I need you to scream for the audience.” Her eyes flew open as something cold and undefinable slithered up her back, then the shadows slid around her. She screamed as she was jerked up by the shadow tendrils. They set her down with surprising gentleness on the roof of a warehouse nearby. She was still trying to catch her breath as Reaper formed out of the shadows.

He strode past her and stood at the edge of the roof, looking down. When she started to speak, he held out a hand. Unsure of what was happening, and deciding that cooperation was the best course, she closed her mouth. After a few minutes of waiting, Reaper seemed satisfied with what was happening below.

He turned his head to address her over his shoulder, “I apologize for that. I do have a reputation to maintain, after all.” He walked over to her, offering a gauntleted hand. She took it, and he helped her to her feet. “So. Christa. What hospital and what room? And when is her big day?”

Angelica looked stunned for a moment. “You aren’t going to kill me?” she asked, incredulous.

“I could, if it would make you feel better. But no, I hadn’t planned on it. That,” he waved toward the alley, “was simply a show for the thugs who were following us. Now. Where is the child?”

“Oh, right.” She fumbled with her briefcase. After a few tries, she got it open and handed him the file. She watched as Reaper flicked through it almost delicately.

“Why me?” Angelica looked at him, confused. “Why does she want to see me?” he elaborated.

She shrugged. “Kids are weird. She has a plushy dressed like you.” He turned to her, mask tilted in apparent confusion. She shrugged again. “Kids are weird,” she repeated.

Shaking his head, he turned back to the file. “Any relationship to Overwatch’s Strike Commander Morrison?” he asked. Angelica looked at him sharply. He asked it casually enough, but it seemed almost forced to her.

“No, not to my knowledge. The family never mentioned it, anyway,” she replied cautiously.

“Hmmm. I’ll visit. I won’t tell you when, you understand, but I’ll visit.” He tucked the folder into his coat.”Your card?” he asked, extending a hand. She handed him one, amused to see him tuck it into a separate pocket. “I’ll be back for you if this is a trap.” So saying, he turned into shadows again and sped off into the night.

Angelica looked around the roof, finally seeing a fire escape on the far side. She clattered down the metal staircase, cursing villains and thugs under her breath until she reached the street. Looking around, she sighed and prepared to hike the eight blocks to the closest main road where she could grab a taxi.

Later, as she was bandaging her blistered feet, she allowed herself a giddy smile. She had done it. Christa was going to get her wish.

The next morning, Angelica was dragged from sleep by the raucous sound of her alarm. Slapping it into silence, she blearily crawled out of bed and into the cramped kitchenette. She doctored her coffee, yawning hugely. She shuffled over to her computer and checked her e-mails. Eh, I can do all this from home, she decided. She sent an e-mail to her boss, informing him that she had found Reaper and he agreed to visit Christa at some unspecified point in the future. She knew that that wouldn’t satisfy him, God forbid something interfere with his schedules, but that was the best he was going to get. If he wanted better, then he could track down Reaper and demand it. She smiled at the thought, tucking one leg onto the chair as she e-mailed a handful of celebrity handlers for more meetups. She pulled her hair up into a messy bun while she caught up on the news and various social media. Lúcio had a new album coming out, which meant a new tour, which meant more kids wanting to meet him. She made a note of it, and continued half-working.

Her cell rang, and she answered it absently. “Hello?”

“Oh my god, Ange! I just met the most amazing guy! He’s so smart, and funny, and-” Sara groaned in delight. “So fucking hot. Oh my god. You have to meet him!”

“Sara. I’m working.”

“You are so boring. So, how are you and Brad doing?”

Angelica sighed and moved to the couch. “Fine. I mean, he’s kinda dodging my calls a bit, but he just started a big project a few weeks ago, so he’s been busy. He’s taking me to Bistro Voltaire for our anniversary, so I guess we’re doing good.”

“Hey, maybe we could make it a double date?”

She rolled her eyes. “Have you ever had a relationship last longer than a month, Sar?”

“Well, no, but-”

“Sara, anniversary dinner. At a fancy restaurant. Think for a second.”

There was a pause and Angelica held the phone at arm’s length. A few seconds later, there was a piercing shriek over the line.

“Ohmygod! You think he’s going to propose? Ange, I’m so happy for you!”

She smiled as she started pacing the apartment. “I mean, he hasn’t said anything, but he did mention dropping a lot of cash on something recently, so…” she trailed off, letting Sara chatter excitedly in her ear.

“Listen. I need to get back to work. Once this latest thing is settled, we’ll go have a girl’s night, OK?”

Sara agreed, and Angelica settled back at the computer. She spent the rest of the morning there, completing some paperwork she’d been avoiding and ignoring her boss’s demands for clarification, when something rattled against her window.

Startled, she looked at the window and drew back as oily black smoke poured in through the edges of the frame. She half fell out of the chair in her rush to get away when she was stopped by Reaper’s harsh voice behind her.

“Interesting choice of attire.”

She looked down at her old, ratty t-shirt and panties and yelped, running into her bedroom and slamming the door on Reaper’s chuckle. She fumbled through her drawers until she found an old pair of sweatpants and threw them on. Squaring her shoulders, she marched back out into the main room of her apartment and glared at the intruder.

“It’s early. I don’t need to go into the office today, and I wasn’t expecting company, so why shouldn’t I lounge around in my pajamas? And why are you here, anyway? Did you follow me?” she demanded, annoyed and just a touch afraid.

“Yes. I needed to know that you weren’t lying. I wanted to speak with you. And considering that it’s almost noon on a weekday, I would expect someone as professional as you to be dressed for the day. After all, don’t you usually have lunch with those you get to meet with the children?” She couldn’t tell for sure, but she was convinced he was laughing at her.

“Yes, I do have lunches with them, but they are arranged in advance and not at my home. And besides, most people consider it polite to knock.” She dropped onto the sofa, arms crossed and continued to glare at the villain in her living room.

“When have you ever heard of a polite terrorist?” Reaper asked archly.

She huffed out a breath, annoyed. “Why are you here?” she demanded again.

He reached into his coat, pulling out a phone. He tossed the phone at her and she caught it, confused.

“Burn phone. It’s programmed to only call me. In case you have another sick kid who wants to meet me, or if you need help. Dial pound-two-four, and it will delete all data, in case you wind up in legal trouble.”

She glanced up at him, surprised. He seemed almost sheepish.

“A fine, upstanding citizen spending time with the most wanted terrorist in the world? Hardly looks good for you.”

“Hmmmm. And you care, because…?” she asked, moving to place the phone next to her personal and work phones.

He stilled, even the flow of his coat seeming to freeze. “I have my reasons. Someday, you might even hear them,” he replied after a pause.

“Hmmmmm.” She replied, watching him. He stood for a while, meeting her gaze, then coughed.

“I should-” he began, then abruptly evaneced into his wraith form and flowed toward the window.

“Christa’s party is Friday, at noon. Meet me fifteen minutes early for a rundown!” she called after the retreating shadow, amused. She waited until the final tendrils were gone then walked into her kitchenette for lunch.

Outside, Reaper coalesced on her roof and began pacing. He was impressed with her courage, how she stood up to him in the bar and the alley, and again in her own home. He could almost- he shut that thought down quickly. He needed to focus on Talon, on tracking down those who ruined Overwatch. He couldn’t afford personal attachments. Not again. He could refuse, abandon this woman and her mission. He felt his heart twist at the thought. No. He would go, for who he was before, for J- for the memory of Overwatch. He sighed, and ghosted over the rooftops until he reached his safe house.

The man called Soldier 76 lowered the binoculars, growling softly. None of his contacts had said anything about a Talon operative in the area and was furious to learn of the lapse. But he knew the site now, and could plan to put the lone agent down. Later, though. Reaper was a priority. Reaper would always be the priority. He’d pay for the bombs that took his Gabe from him.

He tracked the wraith until he was out of sight, then retreated to his own safe house. He had some planning to do.

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Site re-design, etc.

As you can see, I’ve redone the site (keeping the old name because I can’t afford to change it yet (and when I can, I’ll probably torpedo this site and start new on the new domain. We’ll see.) I have links in the sidebar for my public social media stuff, if you want to check those out, as well as a link to my Patreon and a link to my Ko-fi. My patreon is currently host to all of my worldbuilding stuff for my upcoming novel, The Thief’s Lullaby, as well as various ramblings and cat pictures. The Ko-fi link is just a tip jar, if you feel like throwing a few dollars my way.

I’m back! (sorta)

So, I’m unlikely to go back to the trail, but I do want to keep the older posts, if only as a reminder. My health is such that attempting a complete thru would be a very bad idea.

 

So, since I’ve gone off-trail, I’ve gone back to work and am working on writing a novel, and will likely set this up to be about my writing from now on.

Journal Entry: March 14 & 15

March 14Home.
Drove a fun little Fiat home, made an appointment to talk to my neurologist. He can’t see me until June, so I’ll call back and see if his nurse can see me any sooner. I’m also going to make an appointment to see my eye doctor and my podiatrist tomorrow. Mostly spent the afternoon with my dog on my lap and my cat yelling at me from downstairs. Given that the dog is a hundred pounds, I wasn’t going anywhere.
March 15
Got an earlier appointment with the neurologist’s nurse, and got my eye and foot appointments tomorrow. I’m not physically healthy enough to hike the whole AT in one go, I know that. But I’m still looking to get out of my rut, so I’ll talk to a travel agent tomorrow and get some ideas.

Journal Entry: March 12 Evening, March 13

March 12, later
I started crying thinking about going back to the trail. I want to finish, but it’s physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. I think my MS is flaring up. I can’t do this anymore. I can go home, rest, and come back as a section hiker. I might do that.
I’m going to go home tomorrow, and see all my doctors before I think about coming back.

I really don’t want to quit, but I feel that if I keep pushing forward I’ll do serious damage to myself. And I’m worried about the change in my vision and what that could mean. I do want to hike the whole Appalachian Trail, but not at the expense of my health. 
Thanks to everyone who followed along, and I will update this blog again when I continue my section hikes of the AT, but this portion will end at mile 78.3, Bly Gap, NC.
March 13

2:40 pm
After sleeping on it, and talking to another outfitter about my feet, I’m still going home tomorrow, and I’m going to rest for a week or two, but then I’ll come back and do more. I plan on speaking with my neurologist and my podiatrist while home, too.
Also: I ran into Mama Bear and Little Foot while I was at the outfitter, and Dead Guy Ale made it down from Bly Gap alright. (He was the other hiker who was going down with us, but he still had to take down his tent and whatnot while we were leaving.) And apparently Boots went on ahead, and should be around Winding Stair Gap today. 

Journal Entry: March 12

March 128:12 am
Everything is covered in snow. I’m going to try and see if I can get a pickup at Deep Gap, which is 6 miles ahead, rather than Rock Gap, which is 27.
This sucks.
Noon

Franklin 
So, I found a shuttle driver that would do a pickup at the road near Bly Gap (there was a side trail leading down, and a forest service road after), so me and two others who were camping at the Gap got a ride into town. There was another guy, but he didn’t keep up, so the driver is going back to check on him and take him to Hiawassee.
I’m currently sitting in a Knights Inn out here and I’m going to try to figure things out. I might come back and muse some more here.

  • I only walked about five miles and it hurts to put weight on my feet.
  • I have bruises on my hips and arms from my pack.
  • My vision issue is still there.

Meh. I’m going to take a nap and come back later.

Journal Entry: March 11

March 115:19 pm
Not much happened today, really. I got a shuttle back to Dicks Creek Gap, hiked nine miles to Bly Gap, and am currently freezing my ass off in my hammock. It’s snowing.
I stopped at Plumorchard Gap shelter for lunch. I packed out a sandwich from Subway. I could have stayed there, or kept going another three to the next shelter, but I’m stubborn and wanted to stick to my plan, so now I’m freezing on a ridge.
Also, my feet feel like hamburger meat, and I can feel my plantar fasciitis getting worse with every mile. I’m going to make it to Franklin, then I am going to seriously assess this hike. I’m not really enjoying myself, I’m in pain daily, and I miss my comfort zone. 
Honestly, my plan for Franklin is to zero one day, and do nothing related to the trail. Just sit, read, write, watch tv. And try to decide what I do next. Depending on my finances, I could rent a car and drive myself home (it’s only two and a half hours, did you know?), or I could take the train ride around the country I was planning on. Or hell, I could go to Disney! I just don’t know.
I know everyone says to not quit on a bad day, but I haven’t really had any good days on trail. I mean, I enjoy the scenery, I enjoy the people (mostly), and I am somewhat enjoying myself, but ending every day in pain isn’t fun. I’m going to do a lot of thinking about it between here and Franklin, because I don’t want to make a rash decision about this. And if I do leave, I do want to come back as a section hiker, because, other than the pain, I’m having some fun.
Except for the part where I’m freezing in the snow right now. And my feet are in massive amounts of pain. And I think my MS is affecting my vision a bit.
Anyway. I’ve made it to North Carolina today, and I’ve got about 27.6 miles to go and think about everything.
Did I mention I’m cold? Because I’m cold.

Journal Entry: March 10

March 10
Started early, got my resupply for the next few days, and got a haircut. Cut about eight inches off, so I can still pull it into a ponytail, but it should be more manageable now.
I’m currently sitting in my long underwear doing a load of laundry. I’m in town, so I’ll wash everything. 
It’s supposed to snow tomorrow, so I’ll be hiking cold. 
Other than that, nothing exciting takes place while in town.
3:32
I got moon pies! I got enough that I can have one a day up to Franklin. I set up a smaller food bag per day, to lighten up my food bag. So, every day, I have two bagel thins, a small container of peanut butter (the JIF to go cups), three pouches of honey, a snickers bar, two honey buns, three oatmeal cream pies, a small baggie of trail mix, some wasabi peas, some bacon, and some cheese, as well as a dinner.
I’m probably going to eat the honey buns for breakfast, lunch will be bagels, honey, and peanut butter, and probably the snickers, then bacon and cheese with the dinner, and everything else will be snacks throughout the day.
For those wondering, I’m taking shelf-stable bacon, and I’m not opening the individual packets until I’m going to eat them. I also found some sheep milk cheddar, so I bought a chunk and quartered it so I have some each day.
I’ve also figured out how to pack everything more efficiently, so it’s not as badly balanced and closes more easily.

8:42pm

So, current plan is to get a shuttle to Dicks Creek Gap and hike to Bly Gap tomorrow,which is nine miles even. Then, hike 9.2 to Standing Indian Mountain summit on Sunday, then 9.8 to Betty Creek Gap on Monday, and finally the 8.5 to Rock Gap where I can grab a shuttle into Franklin, NC. The distances are doable, but the issue is the weather.
The website I’m using says it’s going to be a high of 47 tomorrow, and it will probably snow tomorrow night, and rain and snow on Sunday, and a mix of rain and snow on Monday and Tuesday. This is not going to be fun, at all.
I’m going to make sure my rain jacket is accessible, and that my bag liners are in good shape before bed.

Journal Entry: March 9

March 9

7:24am
I’m going back into town today. I need more real food than I have, and I want to soak some more. Going to finish packing up then hike to Dicks Creek Gap.
5:31

Hiawassee 
Got into Dicks Creek Gap, and had some trail magic around 3 or so. Lovely guy called Greeter, and Bigfoot’s wife were dishing out hotdogs, a lovely pasta dish, and cold sodas and chips. I had a little of everything, then my ride got in and I’m back in Hiawassee. Took a shower, gonna wash my clothes tomorrow, and probably get a haircut while I’m here. I like my hair long, but it’s becoming a hassle on the trail, so I’ll consider it. Or at least get one of the stylists to teach me how to French braid my hair.
Anyway, I’m going to go get dinner, and will keep you updated on the hair situation.