Rules of Deception
The first rule of deception was to give the enemy something he expects to see.
The second rule of deception was to act where he isn’t looking.
The Street Wolves would expect Karim to guard the temple. So would the Pantheon. Karim made a show of it, planting himself by the main entrance, Dahl’s shotgun concealed under a long coat.
Which freed Kayla to act in the shadows.
When Karim returned to the Temple, he spotted the Pantheon watchers immediately. A gray van this time, on the other end of the street. They maintained movement discipline better than the other team, but their energies gave them away.
A pack of Street Wolves strolled past in the early afternoon. They hurled insults and made vulgar gestures as they approached, then scurried away when Karim parted his coat to reveal the weapon.
He couldn’t stand watch forever. Elect he might be, but he was still human. Every two hours, he traded places with Dahl, retreating into the darkness of the temple, into a small room behind the altar that served as office and storeroom. Here, amidst boxes of ritual offerings and cabinets of dusty scrolls, he read the intel package on his laptop.
His friends had pulled through, giving him everything they knew about the Pantheon and the Street Wolves. They hadn’t asked why he needed them, they just emailed him everything he had asked for. Even after the Temple Commission had scourged the BPD and the PSB, Karim’s name still held currency.
The package was incredible. Reports, interviews, analyses, dossiers, the kind of intel he’d have loved to work with in the STS. The nameless, faceless officers and agents who had compiled them were thorough, identifying to the best of their ability the key leaders, facilities and relationships within the factions.
The Pantheon was decentralized. It was how they operated, how they’d weathered decades of relentless assaults and sabotage by their rivals. Every god within the Pantheon had their own agents, worshipers, elect, but they constantly coordinated with each other to keep operations running smoothly.
The local Pantheon representative ran a restaurant ten blocks away from the Temple of Galen. Close enough that he could oversee Hunter’s Heights from his office, far away that he wouldn’t be immediately linked to any suspicious—or murderous—activity at the temple.
The package on the Street Wolves was enlightening. They were small-time, pledged to a minor wolf deity similar to Galen, but they aspired to the big leagues. They rose from puddle scum to street scum during the crackdowns, taking advantage of the chaos to expand and hold more turf. But they knew their place. They were pledged to a minor Power, not a New God. They knew that, sooner or later, they would attract the attention of the biggest boys on the block. And their ire.
Enter the Court of Shadows.
The Court and the Wolves had much in common. Similar powers. Similar philosophies. Similar aspirations. The Lord and Lady of Shadows weren’t wolf spirits, but the gifts they granted were close enough. An alliance came, if not naturally, then easily.
Over the past three months, the PSB observed a known Court lieutenant regularly meeting with a group of men. The BPD identified the strangers as ranking members of the Street Wolves. Follow-up observations noted briefcases changing hands, smiles and handshakes, fancy dinners and fancier clubs.
There was no question that the Wolves would be the junior partner in the relationship. The Court might be obligated to support the Wolves, but the Wolves in turn had to prove their worth. The question was how.
At this juncture the package transitioned from facts to speculation. The Street Wolves ran protection rackets and drug deals, small time, but lucrative enough to make a living out of it. They’d have to kick back some of that wealth to the Court. A tiny drop in a vast ocean compared to the Court’s wealth, but more money was still more money.
The PSB speculated that the Wolves would act as a feeder gang. Whoever joined them would eventually be funneled into the Court. Or perhaps they would serve as deniable muscle for the Court. That would be far more valuable to the Court than however much a small-time gang could raise.
And if the Wolves pressed Galen the White into service with the Court of Shadows, that would establish their prestige and value to the Court.
Plus, with the Court of Shadows backing them, even the New Gods would hesitate to touch them.
All this, he shared with the others. Kayla’s response was instant.
“I’m going to recce them.”
“Who?” Karim asked.
“All of them. The Pantheon, the Wolves, the Court.”
“They’re expecting you. They won’t expect me.”
While Kayla ran the streets, Karim stood watch. He focused the entirety of his being on his task, occasionally re-reading the intel package to glean new information during his downtime. She kept him appraised of her movements, dropping text messages masked as everyday conversation.
When night fell, Karim switched off with Dahl again. This time, he walked the five blocks to his car, keeping his ears open and his head on a swivel. No Street Wolves pounced, no Pantheon members materialized, no Court sicarios stepped out the shadows.
Karim executed a long and winding surveillance detection route, disguising it as an after-work routine. He had dinner at a noodle stand, refueled his car, picked up various odds and ends, all the while checking his back and flushing out would-be watchers. When he was sure he wasn’t being followed, he drove to his true destination.
Lamb Home and Field was an unassuming store at the edges of the Harbor district. Once a warehouse among many, it retained its rustic brick construction and immense windows, standing alone in its own plot of land. It was well past closing time, but lights burned behind thick curtains and shuttered doors.
Karim parked his car three blocks away and walked the rest of the distance on foot. At the front door, he found Kayla waiting for him, lurking in the shadows.
“Heya,” she said. “Any trouble getting here?”
“How did the day’s work go?”
“Very well. No one saw me coming or going. And I’ve got a good idea of what we need.”
“Let’s do this.”
Karim produced his phone from his pocket and fired off a prepared message. Seconds later, the shutter clattered and rumbled, unsealing the glass front door to reveal the proprietor of the establishment.
In his prime, he would have been a demigod amongst men. Even now, in his latter days, he was still a silver fox. Large, healthy veins bulged from his thick neck and forearms. A slight paunch filled out his belly, but the rest of him was sleek and muscled. Where most men aspired to beards, he had a full mane of gray hair. He was huge, looming over Kayla, over Karim, but he moved with effortless grace and unconscious precision.
Daniel Lamb, retired Special Activities Unit operator, certified armorer in every major small arms system in the world, and the man the STS turned to when they needed to tune up a gun.
Lamb unlocked the doors and swung them wide open. With a flourish, he stepped aside and swept his hand across his chest.
“Welcome!” he boomed.
Karim entered. Scanned. And stared.
Cases of guns. Racks of guns. Walls of guns. Outside the STS armory, he’d never seen so many firearms in one place. Even the gun shops he’d visited had nowhere near enough firepower as this one. Pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, every make and model of street-legal firearm was represented here. Other shelves held spare parts, accessories, ammo.
And that was only half the store. The other half was oriented to outdoor life. Knives, multitools, camping gear, fishing rods, everything a man needed for a hike, a fishing expedition, a hunting party.
A complex array of scents invaded his nose. Gun oil. Brick. Metal. It took him way back, back to the STS, to the arms rooms he had haunted in his life, to the life he had once lived, and was now living again.
He was home again.
“You like what you see?”
“Absolutely,” Karim said.
“Go on, take your time. You’ve got yourself a private viewing session.”
“Seems like you’ve got every kind of gun in the world here.”
“Naw. Maybe only half.”
“Is there anything in particular you’re looking for?” Lamb asked.
“We’re assembling a package for a special assignment. Yuri said you could help us with that,” Kayla said.
“Did he mention what kind of package?”
Lamb smiled with his mouth, but his eyes went hard.
“In that case, let’s take this upstairs and we’ll see what exactly I can help you with.”
What Karim and Kayla are doing now is a far cry from their glory days in Team Black Watch. Read their stories here!
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