Over the past few weeks we’ve seen Dallas stumble across some mysterious things going on in the organization that he works for.
We’ve seen our jobless Wolfgang get a mysterious note and keychain in the mail, then proceed to investigate.
Now, this week let’s take both of them and venture into a whole new adventurous realm.
Of WATCHING CHILDREN.
Thank goodness Wolfgang and Dallas have experience with this sort of thing.
If you’re new, catch up here:
And, enjoy part 4, everyone!
I was woken early the next morning by the ringing of my phone.
It buzzed on the side table next to my bed insistently until I fumbled a hand over to pick it up. I sat up and squinted at the screen through my bleary eyes.
The realization that she probably thought I was on my way to work woke me up considerably. I straightened up, clearing my throat, blinking hard and running a hand over my hair to smooth it down.
The phone buzzed again insistently. Lucius’s head popped up as he woke on his perch and he blinked at me.
I hit the answer button and put it to my ear as I stood up out of bed. “Hello?”
“Hi, Wolfgang,” her voice came over the line. “Sorry, are you busy right now?”
I shook my head a little before realizing she couldn’t see that. “I . . . no, you’re fine.”
“Alright, I wasn’t sure on the timing with work and everything.” She let out a breath. “Anyway, Leif wanted me to call you.”
If my little brother wanted me contacted, I was surprised he hadn’t just stolen the phone and called me himself. A smile tugged at the side of my mouth.
“Charles and I are going out for a lunch date this afternoon,” Angela continued.
“Meeting up with the Hales . . . a couple we knew from when the superhero program was up and running . . . and just catching up a bit. Dallas just got back from that business trip he was on and was going to watch the kids while we went, but Leif was begging that we should get you to come too.” There was a doubtful pause before she spoke again. “Dallas said . . . he thought you had work off today?”
I bit my tongue for a second and nodded. “I do, actually.”
“Oh,” Angela sounded quite surprised. “Well then. Would you . . . be interested in helping babysit? Mainly for Leif’s benefit? I think Dallas was just planning on taking them to a playground nearby. It wouldn’t be for much more than a couple hours, at most.”
Actually, I’d been planning on calling Dallas today. Something about this weird organization was ringing a bell on the front of the SPI work he’d been doing regarding Mansley. And with how closely I’d worked with Mansley . . . you never knew. Maybe Dallas knew something about this that I didn’t.
I looked over at the clock. “What time?”
“I’ll be there.”
It was usually a full week of unpleasantness before I headed back to the shelter of the Fernsby household. It was kind of nice visiting this soon again, even if it was just for a bit and I was still keeping up the front of “having a job”.
I noted as I pulled into the drive that Leif had replaced his little sign at the end of the driveway.
+ 1 Dankworth
He’d learned how to spell it at least. I wondered how long he’d manage to stay proud of that name with all of the dragging it through the mud that I’d done.
I shook the thought away and pulled the car up to my usual spot by the house. I hadn’t even cut the engine before a cowlicked little kid was sprinting out of the house and heading for me.
Usually he called my name or something, but this time he just let out an Indian war-whoop as I got out of the car.
Leif tackled me from the side, getting me to stumble a step before getting my balance back. He popped up to grin at me. “Hi.”
I ruffled his already messy hair. “Hey. I heard somebody wanted to be babysat?”
“Yep,” he grabbed my hand and started dragging me towards the house. “Dallas usually watches us. But he doesn’t do anything funny.”
Hopefully that meant my wit, not my accident proneness. “Oh, I don’t know. Dallas could be funny guy if he wanted to, I bet.”
“But he doesn’t want to,” Leif finished flatly as he pushed in the door to inside.
I could hear Jilly and Beckett in the other room. Charles came around the corner into the entry just as I shut the door behind us.
“Well, there’s the big brother we’ve been waiting for.” He smiled, walking over.
I saluted. “Here and ready to babysit.”
“Good, good.” Charles nodded and stuck his hands in his pockets. His hair was as perfectly combed as ever and he wore a dark green, collared shirt. Just a little nicer than his usual for the weekend. With his job as a doctor, I guessed that it wasn’t quite his weekday usual either.
I tilted my head a little, looking into the living room. “You guys taking off soon?” It looked like Angela was giving her little hooligans the “be good for your metaphorical uncles” speech before following her husband.
Charles nodded again. “We’re meeting at a coffee shop in town with one of the former-Heroes I used to work with.” He looked thoughtful for a second, pointing to me. “You remember Hales? Terrific Man, from New Mexico?”
“He’s the one that nearly strangled me right before the bomb went off, right?”
“Ah, yes. That would be him.” Charles winced a little, but laughed. “He always took his job quite . . . zealously. But he’s a good man. Had a bit of a hard time adjusting back to civilian life.” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I mean, all of us did, to an extent. But he took it a little harder than the rest. It’s been a tough year for a lot of us.”
Ain’t it the truth.
And the media couldn’t seem to let the Heroes catch a break either. Lately they’d been taking a more sinister turn with their stories of interviewing grouchy neighbors and showing how the old superheroes thought they were “so much better than the rest of us”.
Up until last year, I would have agreed. But really, anyone who knew at least Charles personally could never call him stuck-up with a straight face.
Leif poked me in the ribs. I poked him back as Angela came out into the entryway, taking a deep breath. She looked over at me and gave a somewhat tired smile. “Nice to see you made it on time, Wolfgang.”
“Don’t I always, though?” I raised my eyebrows.
Angela didn’t see fit to answer that. “Well, we’ll be back in an hour or two. Have fun and don’t do anything dangerous while we’re gone.” She said the last part with a pointed look at Leif and me.
Dallas, Jilly and Beckett emerged out of the living room to join the rest of the group. Jilly carried her stuffed pig, as always. Beckett had decided to dress up in a Batman hoodie. And Dallas had on his well-worn Captain America t-shirt. I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and just how tired he looked surprised me. And even with how rail-thin he was already, he seemed to have lost weight.
Charles and Angela started for the door and the kids waved.
“Bye! See you later!”
The chorus stopped as the door closed, but, according to ritual, all the kids crowded to the big dining room window and waved until the car was out of sight.
Dallas straightened up, glancing over at me. “It was nice that you could take the day off work,” he remarked flatly.
I shot him a look, but didn’t say anything.
He raised his eyebrows at me and kept quiet as well as the kids finished their waving and ran back over to us.
I had a feeling Dallas wasn’t going to leave the topic alone, but I just forced a smile and looked back down to the kids. “Who’s ready to go to the park?”
The park trip was very quiet on the front of interactions between Dallas and me.
I wasn’t sure whether to blame the fact that he looked half-dead from exhaustion or the growing passive-aggressiveness of trying to get me back into a job.
Dallas had only really approached me about the whole topic of going back to work for has dad a couple of times. He was polite enough to leave it alone after that, but seemed to telepathically emit the idea whenever I came around him without ever saying a word. Just occasional side-glances and wincing looks when the topic of money or employment came up.
We stood there next to each other, me pushing Leif on a swing while he pushed Jilly and watched Beckett scamper around to go down the slide over and over again.
“Hey Wolf,” Leif piped for the hundredth time since we’d arrived. “Did you know you can light water on fire? You just put oil on top. I saw it in a video.”
“Cool,” I replied, mentally filing that information away in the same box with all the facts about frogs, lizards, calcite and hippos he’d just told me. A bit of a smile tugged at the side of my mouth. Peter used to spout this sort of stuff like crazy when he was Leif’s age.
I glanced sideways to Leif’s swingmate and her official pushing man.
Dallas kept steadily pushing Jilly at the same rhythm, not looking over at us.
Well, this was just fantastic. How was I going to learn anything if Dallas wouldn’t even talk to me?
I pushed Leif with one hand for a bit, unconsciously reaching in my pocket and feeling for the waterlogged business card and keychain to make sure they were still there. Even though I didn’t really plan on . . . telling Dallas about those. Just acting really interested in what he was working on all of a sudden . . .
“Hey, Jilly,” Leif piped. “I’ll race you to climb that tree over there.”
Jilly pushed her wispy hair out of her eyes and squinted over at the tree Leif pointed out, then nodded. I stepped back just as they both launched out of their swings and ran at a full sprint towards the short, twisty little tree in the corner of the park area.
Dallas opened his mouth and put up a hand, starting to protest, but they were already squealing and clambering for a hold on the branches.
“Ah, they’ll be fine,” I assured him. “It’s a short tree. Couldn’t do much more than bruise if they fell anyway.”
He closed his mouth, frowning, but didn’t speak.
Whole new level of quiet here.
I tugged at my hair a little, absently watching Beckett on his slide-rounds for another few seconds before turning back to Dallas. “So. How was that gala thing you went to the other day? With Kaity?”
Dallas blinked. “I . . . it was alright. Lots of people.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I suppose you saw in the papers the promotion of Agent Maxine Wellington to assistant director of the SPI?”
“I think I remember seeing that go by.”
Dallas nodded and swallowed a yawn. “That was . . . what the gala was for. I got to talk to her a little bit.”
“Nice.” I watched him. “Hey, are you . . . getting enough sleep at this job? You look seriously wiped out, Dall.”
“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Dallas shook his head, rubbing a hand over his face again. “It’s mainly what I’m doing on my own time. Not the SPI job. There have been a few new developments in the thing I’m investigating and I’ve been staying up a little late.”
I shifted my stance a little. “That thing with Mansley?”
“Whatever organization he was involved in . . .” Dallas lifted his head to look over and make sure Leif and Jilly weren’t breaking any bones. “I-I know there’s something. There are so many things that point to that conclusion. He couldn’t have made and planted those bombs himself. There were others working with him, I know it. It’s the only logical . . .”
He trailed off and sighed.
“ . . . conclusion?” I finished, trying to prompt him to say more.
Dallas looked over at me and just shook his head tiredly, craning his neck back to stretch it out a little. “I have clues. That’s all they are though. No conclusive evidence and no leads that don’t just go to dead ends. If there’s a way into this organization . . . this cult or whatever it is . . . it’s very, very well hidden. Only getting in by exclusive invitation, then staying under deep cover, by my best guess.” He twisted his hands together a little, then rubbed them against his jeans.
Exclusive invitation. Sort of like that thing I’d gotten in the mail. Only that was a follow up to a supposed “joining” I did last year.
He’d talked to me a little about this before. Just some sort of club group made up of money mongers like Mansley, as far as he’d told me. That, and they’d remained very secret.
“So what . . .” I gestured a little as I searched for the right words. Ask just the right questions so I didn’t have to keep him talking for longer than necessary. “What exactly are your clues? Are these guys really a threat to society? I mean, obviously Mansley was, but would that make all of them dangerous?”
“Judge a tree by its fruit,” Dallas muttered. He ran a hand through his hair, making the usual attempted neatness fluff out to one side. “And even from the very limited communications I’ve been able to find on these people, it looks like they’re planning something big. They’ve been planning something big for a long time, and the dates on any documents I’ve found all seem to set June 2023 as an end date.”
That’s what they’d said in the letter. Something about the next big step. Holy smoke, I was right . . . it’s the same thing . . .
“Well, I . . . Hey Leif!” I cut myself off as my younger brother positioned himself on the highest tree branch like it was a highdive. “No, kid. Don’t. Get down.”
“But there are woodchips down on the ground!” Leif protested. “Woodchips are soft!”
“Great. Come down out of the tree and enjoy their softness at low-impact.”
He huffed at me, but climbed down to a lower branch before jumping.
Dallas watched the exchange absently, twisting his hands again and frowning thoughtfully like he wasn’t even seeing it. For someone usually more mentally present than anyone I’d met, it was almost disturbing seeing Dallas this tired and spaced out. But at least it got him a little more talkative.
The tree crisis averted, I stuck my hands in my jacket pockets. “So. Your clues, you were saying?”
“Barely any,” Dallas sighed. “Something to do with rising. There’s something with . . . wings . . .”
The keychain bumped against my fingers in my pocket, feeling molten.
“And in the burned papers, there was the name . . . Max.” Dallas stopped for a second and rubbed at his neck. “I’ve probably been researching it too much lately. But the gala put me on edge a little bit because . . . well . . . Maxine getting promoted. Sort of like rising. And then she has these wing tattoos . . .” he shook his head, the front of his hair partly flopping against his forehead. “I’m just really nervous and seeing it everywhere. With the date coming up . . . I need to figure out a way in before something else happens. Something like th-the Twin Bombing . . .”
Dallas swallowed hard, his face getting a little paler and making the circles under his eyes stand out like a raccoon’s.
My stomach twisted into a knot and I felt my heartbeat pound in my ears.
This could be something like . . . something like the bombing again. And I’d possibly just gotten a ticket into the thing Dallas had been poring over for months trying to figure out.
But slowly, a realization broke over the sick feeling inside. I’d been wanting to do good for society. And I could stop this thing. I could get in there and get Dallas just as much information as he’d ever wanted. Get right into the guts of this mysterious organization and kill it from the inside.
All I had to do was join. Accept the invitation.
I nodded slowly.
Dallas still stood there with his brow furrowed and his shoulders hunched like he had some huge weight being held up by his skinny self.
I elbowed him gently. “You’ll get it figured out, kid. It’ll be okay.”
He let out a breath and rubbed his hands on his jeans again. “That’s what I’m praying for.”
What do you know? I was about to become an answer to prayer.
The kids played for a while more before I drove the paddy wagon back to the Fernsbys’ house.
Dallas actually fell asleep in the car for a little bit.
I was just gonna leave him in the car once we got back so he could get a little extra rest, but he woke up the second I put the car in park. So much for that idea.
We went in the backyard with the kids and played a weird version of kickball for a little bit, then went inside to make some lunch and turn on the requested Schoolhouse Rock videos. (Provided courtesy of Uncle Baden, of course.)
As much as Dallas had said he’d been doing too much research, he seemed to have brought an old records book along with him and sat nearby, seriously scanning over it while the kids watched TV. He studiously ignored my suggestion that he take a nap on the other couch.
I had the strong temptation to tell him his troubles would be over soon and exactly how I’d manage to deliver on that. But . . . still, aside from the secrecy, it seemed like it would be better to arrive and show him results, not just the possibility of results in the near future.
Plus, walking in and practically dropping his case in his lap, all solved for him without any former warning was too tantalizing of a scene to give up.
I shifted on the couch, poking at Leif to move over a little. He poked back, but moved.
The door opening and closing sounded behind us, followed by Angela’s voice. “We’re home!”
“Mom!” Jilly and Beckett chorused, hopping off the couch.
“Did you guys go to Lucky Scoop?” Leif followed after them.
I reached over to turn off the songs and stood up, stretching. Dallas was still absorbed in his records book and didn’t look up. He reached over for a pencil and circled something, his brow knitting together.
I ruffled a hand over his hair as I passed, spiking it up. “Hey, we’re off duty, Mr. Holmes.”
Dallas’s face reddened a little and he smoothed his hair back down, carefully putting his papers in order before he stood up. We followed the kids out to meet their parents.
“Well,” Charles looked between the two of us. “They behave themselves?”
“Excellently,” I responded. Dallas just nodded in agreement.
“No spankings,” Leif grinned up at Charles.
“No spankings,” Charles repeated, laughing.
Angela picked up Beckett. “Do either of you need to get back to work at all? Finish up the day?”
Dallas shot me a look for a fraction of a second. I wished I could glare back without being too obvious.
“I think we both should, yes.” Dallas nodded.
I hid a slight flinch and tried to smile as I nodded with him. “We should be going.”
Whatever, Dallas. I’d have myself a job as a spy soon anyway.
I said my goodbyes to the kids and Fernsbys, then headed out to my car. I checked the clock as I turned the keys in the ignition and waited for Dallas to pull his truck out.
I’d been asked to contact that organization “at my first possible convenience”. This looked pretty convenient to me.
I pulled my phone out along with the card from my pocket, punching in the number.
Dallas’s truck pulled out. I hit the call button and put the phone to my ear as I got myself turned around and started out of the drive.
The line was quiet for a second, one ring, then it got picked up.
“Hey, hey, person,” answered a man’s voice, smooth and almost melodic sounding. “Might I ask who’s calling?”
I couldn’t place if I’d heard that voice before and didn’t answer for a second as I tried to file it. All I got was an old ache starting to press against the base of my skull again.
I cleared my throat. “This is . . . Wolfgang Dankworth. Is this Fr- . . .?”
“Dankworth?” the man interrupted, making me jump a little. He laughed a little. “Bro, I was getting worried you weren’t gonna call in. We’re talking now.”
I wasn’t sure how to quite respond. “I . . . yeah. I’m in.”
“Sweet. Well, sha-boom, you’re on board now. Missed having you around lately. I’ll come by to pick you up tomorrow night. Sound cool?”
I knew that voice. I seriously knew that voice and I was getting a headache just listening to him and trying to remember.
“Cool,” I agreed, mustering my enthusiasm to match his as I turned out onto the main road.
The guy, Franklin, I was assuming, made a sort of click sound. “Right. See ya then, Dank. Can’t wait to get started.”
The line went dead.
I took the phone down and looked at it for a second before setting it in the cupholder.
And I was in.
Now to wait for . . . tomorrow night apparently.
Come back next week for the exciting….. well, not conclusion… but another cliffhanger! Come back and check it out!
Hope you all enjoyed and I’ll see you all later,