The Friendly Visit

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This chapter was written by the amazing TLBodine

There were the Addingtons, and the Crawfords, and the Nicholsens, and all the other who's-who, those upper echelon families with their money and prestige and family legacies to uphold.

And there were the nameless ones, the undesirables, the prey. The poor were a dime a dozen, pretty much literally. Hell, you could throw a dime in the street and they'd fight over it.

Tabatha McGibbon was something else entirely. Something that lived in the in-between space, that spot between hunter and prey, rich and poor. She lived her life on a narrow ledge made graciously wider by the existence of The Underground.

As a child, she'd looked up to the great Hunter families. Who didn't? But she outgrew the fascination by her tweens. There was no sport in it. There was no danger. As far as she was concerned, punishing contestants for fighting back was the worst thing to ever happen to The Hunt. Oh sure, there were the dogs and guns and horses, and that kept things interesting for a while. But without any danger, the whole thing fell apart.

No, Tabby Cat -- the name of course was Gerald's doing, he loved his stupid nicknames -- she was in it for the challenge and the thrill.

She knelt in the corridor and examined Black Wolf's body, picked over and left for the clean-up crew. Someone had made a mess of him. He looked like he'd been mauled by an animal, clothes shredded, blood seeping out through the wounds and pooling into puddles underneath. But messy as the wounds were, panicked as the strokes that made them seemed to be, they weren't the work of an amateur or an idiot. No, their spread suggested he had been killed by someone with good instincts and a working knowledge of how to use the business end of a knife, and that sent a thrill of excitement right down Tabby Cat's spine.

Oh Gerald, a gift just for me? You shouldn't have.

For most of the Dark Web participants, the Master of Ceremonies was a shadowy figure of mystery and intrigue. It had been like that for her in the beginning, too. And it certainly had not been her plan to fall in love when she'd started on this particular path in life. It simply was the way things had worked out: She had joined the Underground, looking for a place to put her particular talents to good use. She had captured the attention, over time, of the MC, a certain Gerald Crawford -- plenty rich enough to be anything he wanted, but with those same appetites that ran deep in Tabatha's blood.

One thing led to another and, well. Who says you can't combine work and pleasure?

She was a woman with standards, and those standards included prohibiting him from making exceptions or manipulating circumstances to keep her safe. She knew he would never dare take her greatest passion from her.

But dropping a challenge in her path, practically gift-wrapped? Well. That just showed how much he loved her, in his own way. She'd have to remember to thank him for finding such an excellent surprise once she was finished here.

A grin spread wide across her lips as Tabby Cat straightened, pulling away from the body and appraising the trail away from him. Half of a boot print stood out against the mess of blood in the floor, with scuffed prints leading away, growing fainter with each step as the blood wore off. Not much to go on, but enough of a trail to follow.

Tabby Cat readjusted her grip on the knife handle and started to pursue the trail before it ran cold. She was very eager to meet this newest contestant. It had been a long, long time since she'd had a proper fight to get her blood pumping.

* * *

"Don't you fucking bullshit me! If I find out that you know something and you're keeping it from us -- !"

It wasn't often that Nick lost his cool. He was, honestly, the epitome of cool. Easy-going and rarely letting himself take anything too seriously. It was what had enabled him to be the emotional bedrock of the resistance.

Which is why it was so frightening now, even to him, that he had completely lost his capacity for chill.

"I'm sure she's just --"

"She's just MISSING, is what she is!" Nick didn't even have a joke ready. He had never felt less like making a joke in his life. Fear burned in his chest and it felt like cold fury, and he was about six inches away from wrapping his fingers around Ford's stupid stubble-marked throat if he didn't start to get some answers.

The only thing keeping him from ploughing through the creep's doorway and searching the house himself was Tony's hand on his back, the curl of his fingers holding firm to his shirt collar as if he were corralling an over-anxious attack dog.

They'd had a plan for when they got here. They were supposed to be following up on a lead, just gathering a bit of intel, talking to Ford to see what the guy knew. He wasn't a suspect, not yet -- could you even have a suspect when you're not certain about the crime? -- but he was what you might call a person of interest. He'd dialled up Abby out of the blue recently, and now she was missing, so Nick and Tony were just here to talk and put all the pieces together.

Or, that had been the plan, anyway.

The plan before Ford opened the door and Nick saw his stupid smug face and all of the pent-up anger and fear and stress that had been coiling up inside of him started to boil over, and now it was taking everything he had not to rearrange his features.

Maybe he was still a little jealous. Maybe he should work on that.

"I swear to god, mate, I haven't a clue where she'd be." Ford looked more baffled than concerned. He looked between Nick and Tony, clearly grasping for some kind of context for this sudden onslaught of questions. "Seems all sorts of strange things have been happening, though. With the way that last Hunt ended, and the Addington funeral, and folks going missing out in Old Town -- "

Tony's grip loosened on Nick's collar.

Nick, who had been straining against his grasp, stumbled and nearly fell face-first into Ford's chest. He caught himself against the door frame instead and swung his head around to shoot a silent question at the other man.

But Tony had taken a step back, and he was looking down intently at his phone, the colour slowly starting to drain from his face.

"What?" Nick demanded.

"I don't believe this." Tony shook his head, staring wide-eyed at the device in his hands.


Ford muttered something rude and started trying to retreat back into his flat, attempting to nudge the door closed and not finding a lot of success in it as Nick's bulk was still crowding the frame.

"I...I know where Abby is," Tony said, and he sounded sick and shocked all at once.

He held out his phone for Nick to see the message he'd just received.

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