“Right, so this is a new one.” Cynthia frowned as she looked over our reports. “Yeah, I don’t know what to do about the gold guy, either.”
“Melt him down?” George suggested. “That way he can’t be identified. I mean, people won’t assume it’s him, anyway, just a really weird gold statue, but, uh, it seems safer if he doesn’t look like that.”
We were back at our apartment now, Gil having safely taken our second chance Hunters – minus a few of their memories – back to the hospital. He’d tried to help our escaped prisoner, but she’d turned him down, stating that he’d get hurt if he tried. We decided to just go with it because apparently the others were just as confused about this supernatural’s powers as I was.
The girl, who’d identified herself as Lynn, was currently sleeping in Cynthia’s room after having taken a long shower and been given fresh clothes and as much food as she could comfortably eat. We had questions for her, but right now we had other things to worry about. Namely, how to dispose of the one body that we couldn’t exactly explain.
Normally, we had a plan for dealing with the Hunter clans. We’d fake car accidents, switch out bodies from the morgue – whatever we needed to do to hide the aftermath and make it impossible for people to realize what happened. We usually set the Hunter facilities on fire, too, to make sure nothing was left for people to track down. This time, because we were confused about what to do with Allen’s gold body, we’d taken it along with us so as not to leave evidence behind.
We had never had to deal with a gold body before. It was…complicated.
Cynthia suddenly got a slightly devious look on her face. “I know some elves who make jewelry. They’re good at it, you know? I bet they’d love the chance to get some free gold to make stuff, especially if it happens to be at the cost of a Hunter – literally.”
I made a face. “I don’t know, that seems a little too close to trophies – people would be literally wearing him, in a way.”
“Oh. Fair.” Cynthia thankfully seemed to agree with my assessment now that she thought about it further. “But I still think the elves are a good resource – they’d be able to dispose of gold easier than we can, especially this amount, and I’m sure they’d have tools to melt him down. We can just get them to agree to only use it to, I don’t know, repair clocks or things? Not stuff someone would wear.”
That was about the best solution we could come up with, so after some calls, Cynthia and George ended up heading out to take the gold guy to the elves and see if they could turn him into something useful. Err, it? It wasn’t Allen anymore, and I wasn’t sure exactly if it really qualified as his body. It was gold, not bones and skin and things. Yeah, this was outside my area of expertise.
While they were out, I sat down in the living room and made a call to Gil.
“How are the second chances coming?” I asked him as I turned the phone on speaker mode so I could work on sorting through our equipment while I talked.
“Your girl Opal remembers her family member dying, but doesn’t remember it was a shifter. She thinks it’s just some animal that they encountered while hiking and she fell and hit her head and that’s why she was in a coma. I’ve set her up with some grief counseling, but I think she’ll be good.”
Gil sighed. “Joey, he’s not sure what’s going on. He’s got bits and pieces of memory still connected to supernaturals, but that’s not the first time we’ve had that. I used the whole ‘dreams are weird’ spiel and all, but don’t know how he’ll go. I tried to instead suggest that there’s a group of people out there trying to make it appear like supernatural stuff is real, so if he encounters Hunters again, I think he’ll be under the impression they’re just charlatans. I hope. Truth is, he might be one of the ones we have to worry about later.”
It was my turn to let out a long sigh. “I hope not. I really don’t want to see any of our second chances get back into the Hunter business, but we can’t do much about it, I suppose, with some of them. He wants to protect people – nothing wrong with that. Can we redirect him towards a more useful way of doing that?”
“Like police, military?” Gil sounded thoughtful. “Sure, sure, I can try – I got some military friends in town, actually. I’ll see if they can drop by for lunch and just casually manage to bring them by his room, see if they can tell him some stories. Maybe that’ll be enough of a way to satisfy what he wants to do.”
I hoped it would be. It was always a risk, letting these Hunters go with their memories erased, because we couldn’t tell for sure that all their memories of supernaturals were gone, but maybe Joey would be able to live up to his ideals without hurting supernaturals if he just had a little help redirecting his path to something useful.
“And Hunter?” I asked. “Did you get him set up with anything?”
“Yeah, that kid has been dealt a rough hand in life.” Gil now seemed aggrieved. “Abusive parents, then Hunters take him in? It’s not the first time we’ve heard of them targeting at-risk youths as a potential recruitment source. But the ethics of it are just awful.”
He started down a long rant of how homeless people or kids were targeted by Hunters, who knew how to manipulate them into recruits, which also veered off into a heated commentary on Hunters who had kids and just forced their kids to join. Even at young ages. It was like to most Hunters, kids were only produced to be new recruits, not to have a family.
During his speech, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one in the room. Lynn had apparently awoken and was standing just in the doorway, listening. She looked better in clean clothes, with her hair properly brushed and pulled away from her face, but still looked like she needed a long recuperation, which made sense. I motioned for her to sit on the couch, and after a pause, she did so, but took care not to touch anything.
Lynn was wearing cotton gloves. She’d specifically requested full cotton clothing and the gloves, explaining that her abilities didn’t work as well on natural things like dirt, plants, and so on, so cotton was one of the few ways she could basically protect herself from the world. Or the world from herself.
I decided to cut Gil’s rant short. “But you found a place for him? Hunter, I mean?” I hoped the use of the name didn’t confuse Lynn. I wasn’t sure if she’d been standing there long enough to know that I was talking about a kid, not Hunters in general.
“Oh. Oh right. Yeah, I meant to get to that.” I could hear the embarrassment in his voice. “So he’s technically still a minor, but obviously we’re not sending him back to abusive parents. He’s got about four months till he turns 18, so I’ve set him up with some foster parents I personally know who are good people. Granted, that’s not a long-term solution, but they were looking to hire someone at their furniture shop anyway, so they suggested maybe he could come and stay with them, work at the shop, and take the time he needs to get his diploma, figure out what he’s doing in life, all that. They’re good people, I bet you they’ll get attached and do everything they can for him, but even if they can’t keep him long-term themselves because they want to keep fostering, well, they know the system. They’ll make sure he ends up with a job, a house over his head, and some roots in the community. He’ll be fine.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Good. Poor kid didn’t deserve to get caught up in all of that.”
“You know,” Gil’s embarrassment turned back to outrage in a split second, “I heard of a Hunter fostering kids so he could train them to become Hunters and basically take these kids and throw them into that whole mess. Can you imagine that? These foster kids have enough on their plate dealing with losing their family through death or removal from the home or whatever, then moving around a lot, maybe bullying in school, mental health disorders from all of this, who knows what – and then someone decides to foster them, so they can’t escape, and instead are drafted unwittingly into Hunter ranks. It’s unethical, that’s what it is – ”
“Yes, yes,” I agreed quickly. “It is. Now, pass along whatever you heard about that to Cynthia, would you? Maybe we can track down that guy and do something about it. I need to run, though.”
“Right, okay.” Gil thankfully didn’t protest that I was cutting his speech short, maybe because he was used to it by now.
When the call finally ended, I gave Lynn an awkward smile. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to ignore you, but Gil helps with our second chances. The Hunters we don’t kill,” I explained, seeing her eyes narrow a bit at that. “That’s part of my goal with infiltrating the clan – figure out if any Hunters deserve a second chance. Like this kid named Hunter, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, running away from home, and ended up with the clan even though he had no interest in it – he just wanted someplace to sleep and some food to eat. Ones like him, ones that question the Hunter beliefs, ones who were never involved in murdering innocents – people like that, we try to give them a second chance.” I paused. “I suppose to you, given what you’ve suffered, you might not really care to hear that we let some of them go. We just…don’t want to be like Hunters, you know? We want to make sure that our targets really are guilty and deserve death before we deliver it to them.”
She looked hesitant and a little timid, but not upset. “Do you work with other supernaturals? Like the city council and stuff?”
“No.” I leaned back in the couch, sighing. “I wish. We wanted to at first, because we thought maybe it wouldn’t be so much vigilantism if we were working with proper sources. It didn’t work out, though. First, we don’t work in any single jurisdiction, so we’d have to have the cooperation of a lot of supernatural councils, and even getting one is hard. The first time we tried, they didn’t believe us and were convinced it was a trap. The others were pretty concerned I was going to get killed with the rate things were going.” I grimaced a bit. To be honest, I’d kind of been worried about that, too. “Eventually we convinced them and they went to deal with the Hunters, but, well, it wasn’t smooth. They didn’t want to use us because we were ‘civilians’ so they just basically attacked on their own, which meant an outright fight and several supernaturals died. If they’d just been willing to let me infiltrate like normal and let them in, we could have avoided all those deaths. Then, two, they didn’t listen to our input on the second chances, so some people we thought were innocent and deserved a second chance got killed in the process. Basically, the whole thing was a huge mess.”
I folded my fingers together. “We’ve realized other issues since then. Say a supernatural council agrees to work with us, and people see me talking with them, but then they see me associating with Hunters – it could undermine the entire authority of the supernatural council, because they can’t explain that I’m doing all that undercover, not without potentially having that information get leaked back to the Hunters.
“The end result is we just work alone. We don’t entirely like working outside the boundaries of the law, but fewer people die this way, people who deserve them get second chances, and supernatural councils don’t have to put themselves at risk.” I shrugged. “It works out best for everyone this way.”
While her body language was still a little shy, almost, her eyes searching my face were shrewd. “Except you? You don’t seem to enjoy what you do.”
I took a while to answer, trying to carefully choose my words. “I’m under no illusions that what I’m doing isn’t murder. We kill people while they’re sleeping. Yes, we try to make sure they’re guilty first and we’re doing this to protect others, but…let’s just say we’re working in a gray area and we’re doing our best to not be like Hunters. What we do isn’t pretty. We’re not heroes.”
She was quiet for a long time in response. “I don’t know about that,” she said at last. “In stopping these clans, you’re stopping who knows how many murders. Allen – well, you saw what he was like. Killing people like him also serves as justice for those they’ve murdered. You’re right, if supernaturals faced them normally, a lot more deaths would happen, and even if they just arrested all the clan instead of killing them, well, then the Hunters would just sit in prison until they were executed anyway.” She frowned a bit. “Some of them no doubt deserve years in prison, but the supernatural prison system would be overwhelmed if you suddenly dumped a bunch of clans in them. The Hunters might even learn more about supernaturals by being imprisoned in the same place with them. I don’t know if what you’re doing is right, exactly, but necessary? Helpful? A way to gain justice for those lost? Yeah, definitely.”
“That’s why we do it,” I said quietly. “The names I told Allen – those are all people we have lost. Our friends or family. People senselessly murdered by Hunters just because they’re supernaturals. And we know of so many others now. It’s horrifying, looking at how many people they’ve murdered. The deaths they boast of.” I felt a chill of disgust flow through me at the memory of the new nightmares Dean and Allen had told me.