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September 26, 2013

I Hraet You (95)

Beat 95: A Hunting We Will Fear

“Hard to believe that my brother had the same idea as someone who’s supposed to be a genius,” said JP, shaking his head slowly.  “You are actually smart, right?  Not just relative to Lloyd?”

“I’ve got the report cards to prove it,” said Arjuna.  “Well, they’re not with me at the moment, but there should be plenty of them back at my house.”

“That’s all right.  The fact that your response actually made sense is proof enough -- for now.”  JP leaned against the car’s back seat, and stared coolly at Arjuna from the corners of his eyes.  “So let’s hear it.  What’s so special about this town?  Why is it a place someone like this masked freak wants to screw around in?”

“Can I answer that with a question?”

“I’ll allow it.”

“This masked man -- where did you first meet him?”

Mrs. Overdose looked over her shoulder, and swished her reed about.  “I met him first a while before this thing started, what with me bein’ a bounty hunter and all,” she explained.  “But JP here met him over at that old mansion.  You know the one, don’t you?”

Arjuna nodded.  “Haldane Manor.  So, it’s just as I thought…though I’m starting to think that that’s not exactly something to be happy about.”

“Haldane Manor,” said JP.  “My dad and I were talking about that the other day.  Apparently, the richest guy Porbeagle’s ever seen used to live there.  But it’s been empty and abandoned for years, so that masked freak -- Gaston -- decided to move in and…”  He pursed his lips.  “Well, he did something, I guess.  Hard to say for sure, but I’d put a few dollars on him using the place as his home base.  Though if that’s the case, it doesn’t explain why he’d show us where he’s hiding out.”

“He knows where you and your family live,” said Mrs. Overdose. “Maybe he wants to keep the field even.  Or maybe he’s just messin’ with us -- tossin’ out little hints so he can get some cheap thrills.”

“So you’re saying that he wants us to try and stop him -- and when we do, he’ll reveal that ‘everything was going according to his plan’ and make his quick exit.  Or worse yet, he’ll spring a trap that leaves us all dead and buried.  Or maybe he’s just screwing with our heads; maybe the manor really is his home base, but he’s expecting us to avoid taking the bait -- and that’d leave his base, AND his plans, completely in the black.”

“Mindgames.  And in more ways than one.”

“It’s looking that way.”

Arjuna raised a hand.  “I think we should leave this ‘Gaston’ guy out of the equation for now; the way you two put it, there’s not enough info to go by right now.  So let’s go back to the manor.”

“What about it?”

“Doesn’t it strike you as strange?  The richest man in Porbeagle had to have been doing something with that money -- AND he had to get it from somewhere.  The question is, what?”

“If you know something, then tell us already.”

“Well, I don’t know all the details, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be ‘research’.”  Arjuna crossed his arms and nodded to himself, humming all the while.  “The man that place was owned by and named for -- Gregor Haldane -- was a philanthropist as well as a scientist, and a shrewd businessman on top of all that.  A real renaissance man, without a doubt.”

“Sounds like the kinda guy who’d be a lot more famous,” said Mrs. Overdose.

“Well, Haldane was really famous at one point…but somewhere along the way he faded into obscurity.  The legend ended up becoming a footnote in history.  Based on what I’ve read about him, that was partly his own fault; he devoted himself to his research, and cut himself off from society at large.  Haldane Manor is supposedly the last place he was ever seen in -- and there are rumors that say his dead body is still in there today.”

“He worked straight into the grave,” said JP.  “And nobody even knew he was gone until it was too late.”

“That’s what they say, at least.”

 “So what was so important to this guy that he ended up becoming a shut-in?  Sure, he had every right to thanks to being rich as all hell, but if he was a philanthropist like you say he was, he doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who’d just stop helping people.”

“Well, that’s just it.  In his eyes, he never really stopped helping people.”

JP cocked his head.  “Because of his research?  Just what was so important to this guy that he’d give up everything?”



“People.  There are a lot of conflicting reports, but from what I can tell Haldane took a massive interest in people.  He wanted to see what made them tick.  He wanted to see things nobody else could see.  He wanted to see…well…if there was a chance for them to become even better.”

JP pulled his hands out of his pockets and rubbed his face.  “What the hell…?  So you’re telling me that this guy was trying to create super soldiers?”

“Maybe not create them.  My guess is that he wanted to observe them -- you know, to see why they appeared when they did.  What set them apart from others.  Things like that.  It’s hard to believe, I know, but right now I’m thinking that that was his main goal in life…right up to his death.”

“And when was that, exactly?”

“No one knows for sure.  I’d set the date at around -- or maybe at least fifty years ago.  But it’s hard to be sure without concrete evidence…and that evidence might not even exist.”

Mrs. Overdose peeked over her shoulder again.  “So let me see if I’ve got this right.  Haldane was lookin’ to research people, and somewhere along the line he got focused on findin’ people with powers and figurin’ out what made ‘em tick.  So if that’s true, then it’d mean there are people out there -- and plenty of ‘em -- with powers of their own.”

“Well, I don’t know about ‘plenty’, but it’s pretty likely that there were more than enough for Haldane to justify looking into the matter.”

“Or he could’ve just been desperate for results.”

“Or…he could have just been desperate for results.”  Arjuna shrugged.  “In any case, it’s obvious that Haldane and his research play a part in all of this.  Not just with his manor; I have a pretty strong hunch that he’s got something to do with Gaston, his powers, Lloyd’s powers, the town at large, and more.  It’s just a matter of finding the connective tissue.  But there’s only so much --”

“Money,” said JP.  “Money is the key.”

“It is?”

“One of the keys.  That I can pretty much guarantee.  Haldane probably had more than enough money to go around, and probably put plenty of it into his research.  But did he really handle it all alone?  It’s possible, sure, but I’ve got my doubts.”  He pulled a notepad and pencil out of his jacket pocket and scribbled furiously atop it.  “He’d need resources -- instruments and manpower, for starters, and if he had even one aide by his side then he’d have to worry about their salaries.  Utilities, day-to-day necessities, communication with peers, gathering test subjects…those are just a few of the things that’d start driving up costs.”

“That’s true.”

“Yeah.  But it’s also true that for the ‘richest man’, those price tags wouldn’t even register.  So my guess is that Haldane’s money went somewhere -- not just to his research, but to others.  If we can follow the money trail, I get the feeling that we can solve this mystery before it gets any stupider…and we may already have a few leads we can follow.”  Try as he might, JP couldn’t hold back a smile.  “We just might be able to wrap this up pretty quickly.  And once we do, I can get back to what really matters: lining my pockets with fat stacks of cash.”

Arjuna glanced aside.  “I get the feeling that he and Lloyd aren’t so different after all,” he muttered.

“What was that?”

“N-nothing.  So anyway, I guess you’re all done with me, right?  No need to keep me around in a hostage situation?  I’m free to go?”

“Who the hell gave you that idea?”  JP shook his head, his smile long since erased.  “No, no…we’re going to make good use of you for a long, long time.  We’ll start by taking you back to my place so you can give the others a quick explanation -- along with any other info you might have.  And soon enough, we’ll let you go --”

Arjuna wiped his forehead dry.  “Oh, thank you.  For a minute I thought you were going to make me do something dangero-”

“Don’t interrupt.  I was going to say we’ll let you go so you can round up all the info on Haldane’s research you have.  Books, papers, web pages, newspaper articles, whatever -- bring everything you can find back to me so we can sift through it all.”

“And by ‘we’ you mean…?”

“Mostly you.  But I’ll help if I feel like it.”

Arjuna slumped in his seat.  “Of course.”

“And there’s one more thing.  You’re good at building stuff, aren’t you?  Because if that’s the case, there are a few things in particular that I need built.  ASAP.”

Arjuna sighed.  “Then can we stop by the hardware store first?”

“Well, since you asked so nicely…”  JP turned to the driver’s seat.  “You know where to head next, right?  It shouldn’t be that long of a drive from here.”

“Yeah, yeah, I spotted it a few times before.  I think I got a pretty good handle on the town now.  Nice little place. Hard to get lost.”  She rustled her reed.  “So anyway, I guess I’d better toss in some info too, huh?  The way things are lookin’ it’ll be a while before big brother decides to have a nice pow wow with the rest of us.”

“Now where is this coming from all of a sudden?”

Mrs. Overdose shrugged.  “I’ve been thinkin’ for a while.  I had a little talk with Patsy Cline not too long ago, and it’s been on my mind ever since.  The way things are now, it looks like we’ve got three big baddies to watch out for.”


“That masked freak is the first.  And good intentions or not, this Haldane guy is probably the second.  And that leaves our lovely southern belle’s father as the third -- seein’ as how he’s the one that hired me.  So whatever we decide from now on, we’d better make sure he’s someone we stay mindful of.”

“So Tex’s dad is your client,” said JP.  He massaged his temples.  “Damn it.  That’s right -- she’s from a wealthy family, isn’t she?  And I get the feeling that running away from dear old dad is the source of plenty of other problems.”  He winced.  “She came here in search of treasure, and her dad wants her back…if my guess earlier is right, then the Walters family is connected to this mess in Porbeagle thanks to their money -- and the money that might be buried here.”

“Maybe.  Maybe not.”  Mrs. Overdose’s lips tightened around her reed.  “He said he wanted her back dead or alive.  Not exactly a good sign in its own right, but it gets worse.”

“How much worse?”

“I’m not the only one her dad hired.  Thing is, I’m the only one that made it to Porbeagle.”

At that moment, JP was thankful he hadn’t gotten behind the wheel.  If he had, he would have slammed on the brakes in the middle of the intersection.

“I told her that I never met her dad in person -- but that’s not a hundred percent true,” said Mrs. Overdose, her typically-cool tone cracking ever-so-slightly every so often.  “Her old man rounded up a bunch of us bounty hunters and put on a little orientation.  He put a big price on his daughter’s head, but he made it pretty clear that he wanted results.  He wanted someone who could get him exactly what he wanted -- and he made it pretty clear pretty fast that most of the people there weren’t up to the job.  And he was probably out to have a little fun.  You know how rich people get.  Big parties and all that.”

“Wait a minute.  ‘Weren’t up to the job’?  Are we talking about the same person here?”

“I’ve seen her fight, JP.  She may be a little dense, but she can handle herself just fine.”  She shook her head.  “But this isn’t about her.  Her old man wanted to make sure the best man -- or woman -- for the job got close to her.  And to do that, he put every last bounty hunter there through their paces.”

JP’s stomach churned.  “And how did he do that?”

“Ever heard of The Most Dangerous Game?”

JP stared at the seat ahead.  Mrs. Overdose stared at the road ahead.  Arjuna…judging by his panicked, sweat-soaked face, Arjuna didn’t stare at anything in particular.  At the moment, his brain might not have allowed anything beyond breathing.

“…All right, talking time is over,” said JP after a long while.  “Let’s just…let’s just ride in silence for a little bit.  We can sort this out later once we’ve got a full party.”

“Fine by me.”



And they didn’t say anything more.  Then again, they didn’t have to.

Arjuna raised a hand.  “Can we stop by the clothing store first?  I need a new pair of everything.”


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