Categories > Cartoons > M.A.S.K. > The Coming Storm

Chapter 3

by Clutch 0 reviews

Alone, in trouble and facing jail, Buddy Hawks is made an offer he can't refuse or can he?

Category: M.A.S.K. - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama - Published: 2006-07-31 - Updated: 2006-07-31 - 4963 words

The Coming Storm


Life settled into a routine, as far as Buddy was concerned. During the week, he worked at the gas station, both learning the ropes of the garage and also working on the state's requirements for inspection certification. As Earl had put it: "You're bright enough; no sense you not doing it."

At the weekend, all of Buddy's spare time was taken up renovating the truck, which he'd taken to calling Firecracker for its somewhat erratic behaviour - sometimes, it would start with no bother; other times, it produced all kind of fireworks! As Matt had said, the chassis was sound, but everything else, from brakes to steering to the transmission system to the wiring, needed work - and that was before even thinking about the bodywork. But it was a challenge and it was one that Buddy enjoyed.

Then in the evenings, after dinner, Buddy worked on vehicle design. It still felt like a vague project, but a conversation with Matt had helped considerably.

"Look at it this way," Matt had said. "MASK isn't, can't, be a huge organisation. There's no way for Duane Kennedy to finesse the funding for that." Buddy had nodded slowly. "So whatever we do needs to count for double."

Buddy nodded slowly again. "I think I get that."

"Lemme show you something," said Matt with a faint, almost pained, smile.

Bemused, Buddy once more followed Matt down to the parking garage. This time, though, the older man led Buddy towards the Camaro.

"What do you see?" Matt asked, waving a hand towards the vehicle.

"It's a car," Buddy answered, frowning.

"Yes and no," said Matt. "I told you, first day, there was more to her than just what you can see." He unlocked the Camaro and gestured to Buddy to get in. "Let me show you."

Buddy did as he was asked, and a few moments later, they were speeding along the twisting mountain road that led down into Boulder. It wasn't quite as unnerving as Cassidy's driving, but it did make him wonder exactly what it was that Matt was intending to show him; he already knew the Camaro had good suspension and great road holding - he didn't need it demonstrating in person!

Then, so far as Buddy was concerned, things took a turn for the worse. Rounding one particular bend, they found themselves at the top of a short piece of straight road that terminated with a hairpin bend so tight that the road appeared to just stop with a crash-barrier. And, to Buddy's complete horror, Matt speeded up.

There was no way, even allowing for the Camaro's superb handling, that they were going to be able to make that turn, but Buddy couldn't force an objection out around the sheer terror and panic now filling his mind.

The barrier hurtled towards them. Buddy closed his eyes and just waited for the crash. But it never came. Instead, there was a sudden roar of turbos, a whistle of wind, and then he found himself being slapped back against his seat.

"It's OK; you can look," said Matt, amusement all too audible in his voice.

Buddy risked opening his eyes, still half expecting to see them plummeting towards the canyon floor. He soon wished he hadn't. They weren't plummeting. Through the now open door, he could see the canyon road several hundred feet below, twisting like a piece of string through mountains that looked barely bigger than hills.

"The car is flying," he said flatly, at once aware of just how absurd that statement was.

"Yup," said Matt.

"This isn't possible." Buddy closed his eyes again. "I'm hallucinating. Or dead. Or---"

"Or Thunderhawk really does fly and neither of us have gone nuts," Matt finished, still amused.

Buddy opened his eyes and turned to look at Matt. "Why?"

"How many places can a car get that a plane can't?" Matt pushed the car, Thunderhawk, into a steep dive, once more flattening Buddy back against his seat. "How many places can a plane get that a car can't?"

Buddy gripped the edge of his seat. "I see." The flight levelled out as Matt sent Thunderhawk twisting and turning through the canyon. "Please don't do that again!"

Matt chuckled, landed Thunderhawk on the canyon's floor and shut off the engines. "It takes a bit of getting used to."

"I don't think I'd ever be 'used' to that," Buddy muttered. "It takes a special kind of idiot to fly anything like that. No offence."

"None taken." Matt pushed a button on the dashboard and the gull-wing doors slowly lowered back to a 'closed' position, returning Thunderhawk to its more normal appearance. "So what do you think?"

"One of us is insane," said Buddy. "I'm just not sure which one." Matt tipped his head back and laughed. "But I get what you're talking about now, though, I'm not sure I'm going to be much of a test pilot," he admitted ruefully.

"That's OK," said Matt, starting Thunderhawk's engine again and pulling the car up onto the canyon-bottom road. "We can cover that."

"All right, then." Buddy smiled, and tried not to grip the edge of his seat as Matt started to speed up and out of the canyon the conventional way this time. "You tell me what you want the vehicles to do and I can design them."

That night, after dinner, Buddy started work on a combined motorcycle/helicopter, which could be used for advanced scouting.

Two weeks, to the day, after starting at Boulder Hill Gas Station, Buddy was working on the transmission of an elderly Buick when Cassidy walked into the garage, her rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the concrete floor.

"Hey kid," she called.

Buddy slid out from under the Buick and pushed his cap back from his eyes. "Cassidy?"

She grinned down at him and held out a small brown envelope. "Congrats, kid; you've reached your first paycheck."

Sitting up, Buddy took the envelope from her and looked at it for a moment. Two weeks. A real paycheck. Not for the first time since meeting Matt, Buddy half wondered if he was about to wake up and find himself back in jail.

"Aren't you gonna open it?" Cassidy asked, amusement lighting her face.

Buddy looked at the envelope again. He was being dumb; it wasn't going to magically evaporate the moment he opened it. "Over lunch." He stuffed the envelope into his back pocket and lay back down on the board, preparing to get back to work.

Cassidy laughed. "Suit yourself." She turned to walk out, then stopped. "Oh, by the way; your sister called earlier."

Buddy froze. It was the first time Vanessa had been in touch since his first day, and Cassidy didn't exactly sound pleased. "Uh, sorry?"

"Matt said she'd probably be in touch through this place, at least to start; don't worry about it, kid." Cassidy grinned. "She just managed to call right in the middle of me running payroll."

Buddy managed a weak grin in response. "Her timing sucks sometimes."

"Big time," Cassidy agreed. "Anyway; she figured today was pay day, so she was calling to remind you about your plans after work." Cassidy grinned. "Hope you know what she means cuz that's all she said."

"I know what she means." This time, Buddy's grin was firmer. "Thanks Cassidy."

"De nada." Cassidy turned away again and headed out of the garage.

Buddy slid back under the Buick, a grin still on his face. When Earl came back from Moses Abrahams' motor parts store, he'd have to see if he could get off a little early; just this once.

Earl had been surprisingly compliant with Buddy's request to leave early, even going so far as to suggest he headed off at lunchtime to make it a full half-day off. When Buddy had questioned it, Earl had simply grinned. "It's your first pay day; I figure you got some plans. Just don't expect this every time you get paid."

So just after lunch, and after calling ahead to warn her of his arrival, Buddy was able to head over to Rax's apartment to pick Vanessa up. She was waiting on the sidewalk when he arrived and, to judge from her expression, she wasn't remotely impressed with Firecracker.

"And you have the nerve to call my car a museum piece!" she exclaimed.

Buddy just grinned. "I'm working on it."

Vanessa snorted as she gingerly climbed into the truck's cab. "I'd have to hope you were." She carefully closed the door behind her. "Is it safe?"

"Brakes all work and the steering's fine - now at least," Buddy answered, putting the truck into gear and pulling away from the sidewalk. "Believe me, I don't have a death wish any more than you do."

Vanessa snorted again. "You got a certificate to prove that?"

"Well you got in," Buddy said reasonably. "You didn't have to."

Vanessa snorted a third time. "So where are we going shopping?"

"Downtown," Buddy answered. "I know you're not supposed to go anywhere near the Crossfields Mall."

"Like that stops me."

"Right, but since neither of us is dressed for that," and here, Buddy grinned, "we're going downtown."

"You're no fun; you know that?" But Vanessa sounded amused. "Are you planning on keeping in practice, now you're going all respectable?"

"I don't know." Buddy paused to concentrate on driving for a moment as they passed through two complex intersections. Once the second one was behind them, he added, "Pretending to be someone else's fun and all, but I don't know how much chance I'll get to do it now."

"Well at least think about keeping it up," Vanessa urged. "I didn't spend all that time teaching you how to do it for nothing!"

Buddy laughed. "Guess not."

"'Sides, how do you know what you'll need in the future?" she added.

"There is that," Buddy admitted. He shook his head. "I hate it when you do that."


"When you're right." He glanced at her and grinned. "It's way too annoying."

It was Vanessa's turn to laugh.

A couple of hours later, Buddy was fairly sure that he had never been in quite so many shops in his entire life, and he had bags from most of them.

First had been the day-to-day necessities, like underwear and socks, which Buddy had been dreading buying with Vanessa present. She hadn't let him down, either; when the shop assistant had asked if he needed any help, Vanessa had responded in the positive and added, "He tried going commando, but it chafed!"

From there, they moved on to shirts, sweaters and jeans. Buddy had never owned all that much in the way of clothing; as far as he was concerned, clothing was just something to wear to stop you getting either frostbite or sunburn, and to prevent arrest, not that the latter worried him all that much. Most of what he had owned had come from Good Will or thrift stores, where you made do with the sizes you found. As a consequence, he had no real idea of what size to buy.

"How can you not know what size you are?" Vanessa had demanded, rolling her eyes.

Buddy had just shrugged. "If it fits, it's my size."

With a toss of her red hair, Vanessa had set to work, picking out items of clothing that she thought might be the right size. Then, when Buddy's arms were full, she dispatched him to the changing rooms to try things on.

"Knew I should have just gone to Good Will," Buddy had mumbled at the third trip to the changing rooms.

"Sooner or later, you'll have to own some grown-up clothes," Vanessa had retorted. "Ones that don't have holes in and don't look like someone's already tossed them out."

Can we make it later? Buddy had wondered, but he had wisely not voiced the question and, instead, had simply submitted to the third round of trying on.

By the time the process was finished, they had picked out a stack of t-shirts, button-down shirts and sweaters in various colours as well as several pairs of jeans and one pair of dress slacks.

"What do I want them for?" Buddy had demanded.

"You never know," Vanessa had replied. "You might want to go for a job interview, or take a girl out to dinner, or something." She shrugged.

Buddy couldn't imagine finding a girl willing to put up with him, much less taking her out to dinner!

"Trust me," Vanessa had added, "once you actually look like you might be a member of the human race, you'll be fighting the girls off."

"Yeah, right," Buddy had snorted.

He had given in, though, and the slacks had joined everything else being rung up by an all too amused shop assistant. The total, just over three hundred dollars, made Vanessa wince and Buddy pale, even despite knowing he could more than cover the cost. He'd never had that much money in his life, much less spent it in one go!

Once they'd finished in that store, Buddy had found himself being all but propelled into the nearest men's room by Vanessa.

"You now have jeans that aren't covered in grease and that don't have more holes than Swiss cheese," she had said sternly. "Go change."

And Buddy had, if only to stop Vanessa's complaints - though he did have to admit, it was a nice experience to pull on clothes that weren't either stiff with grease, or full of holes, or both.

"Better," Vanessa had remarked with a grin when he returned, dressed in new jeans and a new shirt. "But we need to fix your sneakers."

Buddy had looked down at his feet and regarded his sneakers for a moment. "What's wrong with my sneakers?"

Vanessa had just given him a look and more or less dragged him to the nearest Footlocker.

Footlocker provided a new pair of sneakers, while another store yielded a pair of dress shoes - "You can't wear sneakers with slacks," Vanessa had insisted - and a pair of tough work boots, and third store produced the much-needed coveralls - "No point getting your new stuff grungy," Vanessa had pointed out.

After a quick trip back to the truck to offload the bags, they then made for Barnes and Noble.

"What do you want in here?" Vanessa asked, a little bemused.

Buddy smiled lopsidedly. "Books?" he suggested.

Vanessa rolled her eyes. "Wiseass," she muttered. "What kind of books?"

Buddy came to a halt in front of the engineering books and started scanning the shelves. "Books," he replied vaguely.

"And maybe if you told me what you were looking for, I could help you look," said Vanessa acerbically.

Buddy paused and gave Vanessa a sheepish look. "Sorry."

"So?" Vanessa prompted with a wave of her hand. "What'm I looking for?"

"It's gonna sound weird."

"You taught yourself to read with the manual for a '55 Chevy," said Vanessa. "Nothing is going to surprise me."

"OK, then. Books on aircraft design," said Buddy.

"Bored with designing cars?" Vanessa asked, an eyebrow lifting.

"Just want a new challenge," Buddy replied, feeling a little guilty for the lie. "Said it was weird."

Vanessa snorted and started scanning the shelves. "Weird would be you wanting the newest Harlequin Romance," she said. "Here," she added, "how 'bout this one?" And she pulled a book entitled The Mechanics of Flight from the shelf.

Buddy flipped through the book and nodded. "Good place to start."

Between them, they found a couple of other books, including one filled with projects intended for engineering students to undertake.

"You realise you're gonna need math for this?" Vanessa asked.

Buddy shrugged. "I'll figure it out."

Vanessa just shook her head. "You're crazy."

"Probably," Buddy agreed. "But you love me anyway."

"Goofball," said Vanessa, smiling all the same. "C'mon. Let's get checked out - unless you do want the latest Harlequin Romance?"

Buddy stuck his tongue out at Vanessa. "When we're done here, do you want to grab some early dinner?"

"Sure. You're buying?"

"Of course." Buddy grinned. "Lemme get these books."

Vanessa winced once more as the total came in just under two hundred dollars. Buddy just shrugged; he was beginning to feel a little inured to the shock of spending that much money. As they left the store, Vanessa said,

"Just how much did you get paid, anyway?"

"Uh, nearly nine hundred dollars," Buddy answered, suddenly feeling self-conscious.

Vanessa whistled. "Just for being up to your neck in grease?" She shook her head. "Jeez; I think I'm in the wrong line of work."

Buddy stopped dead. "You got a job?"

Now it was Vanessa's turn to look self-conscious. "Uh, yeah."

"You didn't tell me!" Buddy felt mildly hurt.

"Well, I only really knew I got it yesterday so, and I'm telling you now," Vanessa added defensively. "And I was gonna tell you over dinner."

"Sorry." Buddy smiled. "So what're you doing?"

"Uh, troubleshooting, you might call it," Vanessa answered.

Buddy opened his mouth to ask for clarification, but at that moment a new voice broke in, "Buddy?"

Spinning round, Buddy found himself looking at Sarah who was regarding him quizzically. "Uh, hi!"

"Earl said you'd taken off early today," Sarah continued, smiling. "Pay day, huh?"

"Yeah." Buddy rubbed the back of his neck in a sheepish gesture. "Kinda needed to get some stuff."

"I see. You must be Vanessa," she added, smiling in Vanessa's direction. "Pleased to meet you."

For the first time in Buddy's life, he realised Vanessa was completely lost for words. "Uh, this is Sarah Trakker," he explained.

"Hi," Vanessa murmured shyly.

Buddy blinked. He hadn't thought it was possible for Vanessa to be shy. Apparently, he was wrong.

Sarah, for her part, smiled again. "Buddy's told me a lot about you, so it's nice to finally meet you. I'd love to stay and chat," she continued, "but I need to pick up my cleaning before the cleaners shut. I'll see you later, Buddy."

And with that, Sarah departed rapidly.

"Who," began Vanessa once Sarah was out of earshot, "is Sarah Trakker?"

"Uh, well." Buddy rubbed the back of his neck again. "The guy I'm working for, the guy I was paroled to, is Matt Trakker, and Sarah is his wife."

"Matt Trakker?" Vanessa stared a moment, then started to laugh. "I was right; you are like a damn cat, Buddy."

Buddy grinned. "Yeah, I guess I am." They started walking again. "So, dinner now?"

"Sure---" Vanessa stopped. "Wait. One more stop before dinner."


"In here." And Buddy found himself being literally dragged into the theatrical supplies store they had stopped outside of.

"What?" Buddy blinked. "What are we doing in here?"

Vanessa smiled. "Remember what we were talking about on the way down here?"

Buddy blinked again. "Uh, what?"

Lowering her voice and leading Buddy in the direction of the make-up department, Vanessa said, "Look; you've got a talent for acting and impersonation, Buddy. I know that you're doing OK right now. Better than OK, in fact. But who says that's gonna last? And, y'know, you never know when being able to disappear into a crowd's gonna come in handy." From the display she selected a comprehensive stage make-up kit. "And to do that---"

"I need my own make-up," Buddy finished. He sighed. "I'm trying to go respectable, Vanessa. I just, I can't see me ever needing it."

"Look at it this way, then," said Vanessa. "The kit is fifty bucks. If you add the bruise make-up, it's sixty. The amount you've just been paid for two weeks of work, you can afford it. And maybe you won't use it. But maybe you'll hit a situation when you're glad you did get it."

Buddy gave Vanessa a long look. "You seem awful convinced I need it."

"You worry about me, with Rax," said Vanessa. "And right now, I'm worrying about you with this whole deal. Maybe it's exactly what it seems. Maybe Matt Trakker's a real nice guy and all he wants to do is a good deed. And maybe it's not and he wants something else."

That was dangerously close to the truth, Buddy recognised. "So?"

"So, what I'm saying is shit can change. And I think you'd be dumb to dismiss it, just because it's something you did for shits 'n' giggles or you think it's somehow automatically wrong."

Buddy opened his mouth to disagree and to tell Vanessa to put the make-up kit back on the shelf when a new thought occurred to him. What was it Matt had said? Everything they did had to count double? Well, he wasn't a great driver or pilot; he wasn't much of a fighter. But he could sneak around and get into places he wasn't necessarily wanted. Maybe it wasn't something MASK would need, but Vanessa was right; he'd be dumb not to keep it up.

"You're right," he finally murmured.

"I always am," Vanessa retorted, a small grin on her face as she handed the kit over. "You'd think you'd know that by now."

Buddy rolled his eyes. "You know what; you'd get on great with Cassidy up at the gas station. She always reckons she's right."

"I don't reckon I'm always right," Vanessa shot back, poking her tongue out at him, "I know I am!"

Buddy rolled his eyes again and shook his head. "Yeah, yeah. C'mon; I'm starving."

After dinner in McDonalds, where they had both teased the lobby staff by using their straws as blow-pipes and bits of chewed up napkin as ammunition, they walked slowly back through the mall, heading for the truck.

"It's been fun," Vanessa mused.

"When you haven't been trying to turn me into a human fashion doll," Buddy griped.

"Aw." Vanessa patted him on the head and ruffled his hair. "It's a tough life having someone help you out, huh?"

Buddy ducked away from her. "Quit that!" Vanessa laughed. "All right; yes. You've helped a lot."

Vanessa turned to face him and bowed. "You're welcome."

It was Buddy's turn to laugh. "Thank you." They resumed walking. "I do mean that, though."

"It's what I'm here for," Vanessa replied. "You can always pay me back by giving my car a tune up sometime."

"Done," Buddy promised. "You just say when."

"It won't be for a couple of weeks," said Vanessa. "The folks I'm working for are sending me to LA for training."

"Training?" Buddy lifted his eyebrows. "What is it you're doing again?"

"Troubleshooting." Vanessa's tone suggested that Buddy ought to just drop the matter there.

"Troubleshooting what?" Buddy asked, ignoring the hint.

"Stuff," said Vanessa.

"Is Rax involved?" Buddy asked feeling his previous happiness draining away in a rush.

"Does it matter?"

"I don't trust Rax."

"I'll be fine." Vanessa sighed. "Please, don't wreck a perfectly good day by being an ass over this. It's my life. You're doing what you wanna do; lemme do what I wanna do."

Now Buddy knew Rax was involved. "Vanessa---"

"End of discussion, Buddy," she said, cutting him off. "I'll be fine. I'm only gone for two weeks, anyway. And when I get back, I'm gonna collect on that tune up."

Buddy sighed. "All right."

They walked on in silence for a few moments, Buddy thinking furiously, trying to come up with a way to stop Vanessa from leaving. And then the answer hit him: Matt was going to need to hire a test driver for MASK, who better than Vanessa? Since it had been Mac who'd told Matt about Buddy, Matt was bound to have heard about Vanessa, and Alex could certainly vouch for Vanessa's driving skills if Matt hadn't seen any of the racer competition they'd won. It was perfect.

"What time do you leave?" he asked.

"Tomorrow morning," Vanessa answered, frowning. "Why?"

"How 'bout I come to see you off?"

"Only if you're not hatching some plot to stop me leaving," said Vanessa. "I'm warning you; I'll kick your butt from here to next Christmas."

Buddy held up his hands and feigned innocence. "You're going away for two weeks. I may not like who you're going with but I wanna say goodbye."

"Your girlfriend's going away?" enquired a voice. Looking round, Buddy spotted the speaker. It was one of the kiosk vendors nearby whose kiosk was filled with jewellery of various different types. He opened his mouth to correct the automatic assumption, but the vendor got in first: "Why not buy her something to remember you by?" And the vendor gestured at the impressed array of bracelets.

Buddy glanced at Vanessa. "Do you want one?"

"I'd love one," Vanessa replied, smiling. "You pick."

Buddy surveyed the display, looking for one that would suit Vanessa. The gold ones were too showy while the woven bracelets all looked far too garish. At the end of the display were a small handful of silver bracelets, which was definitely more Vanessa's style. One of them was a narrow band of silver, carved with a sort of scrolling, knotty design. At the centre of each knot was set a tiny chip of gemstone. Some of the gemstones were purple and sparkling while the rest were clear and almost diamond-like.

"That," said the vendor, seeing Buddy's interest, "is a bracelet designed to protect the wearer from evil spirits. The knot work and the amethyst chips ward off the spirits while the quartz chips boost the amethyst's power."

Buddy smiled. It was perfect. "I'll take it."

"For someone who's going travelling, you've made a very good choice," said the vendor.

Buddy paid for the bracelet and then handed it to Vanessa.

"It's beautiful," she said, sliding it on her wrist. "Now will you stop worrying about me?"

"I'll try," said Buddy.

It was nearly dark by the time Buddy returned to the mansion. The drive back, after dropping Vanessa back at Rax's apartment, had mostly been spent chewing over his plan. If he went through with it, and Matt agreed, would Vanessa go for it? Probably not, he realised. But I can't just let her go. Can I?

Mac had been convinced Vanessa was getting herself deep in trouble and the fact that she wouldn't now tell him what this job involved just seemed to confirm Mac's gloomy prediction that she was already lost. But that couldn't be right. Hadn't she promised nothing was going to change their relationship; that he'd always be her big brother?

As he finally parked Firecracker in the underground parking garage, Buddy recognised he was no nearer to actually deciding what to do. Maybe I should just talk to Matt, he wondered as he started to gather his various bags together. He'd probably know what to do. It felt like an intimidating idea, though he recognised that whatever he did, he still needed to talk to Matt.

Maybe it would be better to ask his advice before demanding he recruit Vanessa!

Decision finally made, Buddy carried his purchases up to his apartment, dumped them in the living room and then headed back down to see if he could find Matt. He knew that if he didn't do this now, he'd probably lose his nerve and spend the next two weeks kicking himself for not having done anything.

At the bottom of the stairs, he started to turn towards the rooms the Trakker family used, but voices coming from the opposite direction told him that Matt wasn't there. Following the murmur of chat, Buddy headed through the entrance hall and into the corridor on the opposite side. Just beyond the entrance hall, he found a door partially open, with light streaming out through the gap and into the otherwise dark hallway. The voices were coming from here.

"The good news," an unfamiliar voice was saying, "is that Bruce Sato has security clearance. He is who he says he is and what he says he is. I've even been able to obtain transcripts from MIT and AIT. Go ahead and bring him in; he looks like exactly what you were looking for."

"Good to know, Duane," Matt answered. "Thanks."

"If that's the good news, though," said Alex, "what's the bad news?"

Buddy reached up to knock, not wishing to eavesdrop any further. Then Duane spoke again: "Buddy Hawks is a whole other can of fish."

Buddy froze. Matt had done a security check on him?

"If you're going to tell me about his criminal record," said Matt, "don't bother. I already know all about that from the authorities here in Boulder."

"I wasn't going to," said Duane. "I know he's been paroled to you. You asked me to look into his associates, though, and that's where you've got trouble."

The hallway suddenly seemed airless. What had they unearthed? From the way Duane was speaking, whatever it was, it was bad. Buddy couldn't have moved now if his life depended on it.

"First up, Sylvester Rax - Sly, to his friends," Duane was continuing. "He's a nasty piece of work. Before he moved to Colorado two years ago, he was arrested on suspicion of assault. That was in Nevada. He wasn't charged; not enough evidence for it. His bail in that case was paid off by one Miles Mayhem."

"VENOM!" Alex exclaimed.

Matt swore fluently. "Damn. Not good."

"It gets better," said Duane, in a tone of voice that implied the opposite. "The other person you wanted me to check into, Vanessa Warfield, is Rax's girlfriend."

"I knew that much," said Matt. "That doesn't necessarily mean anything, though. I'm positive Buddy didn't know about Rax."

"Maybe, maybe not. Vanessa has, though, been living with Rax for the last eight months and has been seen in the company of Bruno Sheppard and, yesterday, she met Mayhem." Duane paused. "She's in, Matt. In deep."

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