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September 2, 2011
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(Contains: strong language and ideologically sensitive material)
              A Death in the Family

It was forged from steel and electroplated with metallic red, coupled with a black rubber grip. The gun was very similar to a Colt 1911, but with a six inch, ported barrel and a modified grip and slide; it held twelve rounds in an extended magazine, disguised by an extension that blended seamlessly with the bottom of the gun. Despite its size, the Crimson Hawk was balanced and comfortable to hold, and its design made Simon Carlton proud.
    Pulling back the slide, Carlton inserted a round into the chamber and let the slide move forward. Placing the barrel into the water tank, he pulled the trigger--a metallic boom echoed throughout the garage.
     He smiled. The gun handled the test round fine; the felt recoil and kickback were almost nonexistent, a point owing as much to the heavy frame as the ported barrel. Assuming none of the parts cracked from the excessive force of the proof shot, the Crimson Hawk was ready to register and tour. A quick check, in fact, proved the gun was still in pristine condition--except for the expected smell of smokeless powder, the gun was as good as new.
     A loud buzz echoed in the garage. Removing his phone from his pocket, Carlton checked the caller ID: it was Carter. "Hey boss."
     "How'd it go?"
     Carlton laughed. He knew Carter didn't like guns--if he remembered correctly, he threw a shitfit when he found out Carlton had stored a shotgun and a pair of pistols on the Oceanus several years ago. "You really care?"
     "Not really, but I heard that shot from my office. It was actually amusing though--Mae dove underneath her desk. I had to remind her that Sanns was fish food."
     Carlton cringed. It'd been a long time since he heard that name--the name of the man who nearly wiped out the Calusa Shore police department 11 years ago. In fact, if it wasn't for Frederick Sanns' stranglehold on the city, Carlton would have never felt the need to bring the Haymaker aboard the Oceanus. It was because of him that Roderigo and Yvonne met--Yvonne, an FBI field agent at the time, had been assigned to investigate the poaching ring. And that bastard had been responsible for the worst New Year's Eve party of Carlton's life.
     "Are you all right?"
     "Yeah," Carlton said, rubbing his eyes. "I'm fine."
     "And your project?"
     "This one will probably get picked up by Larino and Skye," he said. "I'm actually quite proud."
     "Good. Now get your ass back to work."
     "Sure thing," Carlton said. He hung up, and began to make his way back to the parking lot, when the sound and feel of the phone vibrating in his pocket again startled. "Goddamnit, at least give me a minute before you call me back," he said, pulling it out. To his surprise, the phone read Ash Bauer instead; clicking the screen, he placed it to his ear and said, "Yo, Ash, whatta ya need?"
     "Have you heard from Anne today?"
     "No," he said, "she doesn't really call me much. Have you tried Fiona or Dr. Carter?"
     "He doesn't like getting outside calls at work, and Fiona's not answering so I assume she's asleep."
     "So why call me?"
     "Not sure really," Ash said. "I'm taking Sabbath home early, and well, I tried to call Anne to let her know to expect us and she wasn't answer the phone."

                              * * *

Sabbath tugged at her seatbelt, pulling the chest strap away from her neck. To her dismay, it was locked into place--she sighed, placing her thumb in between the strap and her chest, doing her best to keep it from digging into her neck. She looked over at her father, a tall, ashen-gray figure with large green eyes. He noticed her gaze, and briefly acknowledged her, reaching down to turn the station to something she'd enjoy.
     She frowned. Today should have been fun, but Twitch's insistence that she stay home made it dull. Sabbath, though, had been excited--she'd never fished for anything but snapper and drums, so going after trout in the mall's new indoor pond was something she was looking forward to. But Twitch didn't want to go, and without her, the experience was rather dull. It wasn't that she enjoyed spending time with her dad--she loved it--but her and Twitch did everything together.
     Too bad Twitch found fishing about as fun as watching paint dry.
     "We're almost home," Ash said. Gazing toward the end of the street, she stared at five squared and tightly placed Victorian houses superimposed against the postmodern cityscape of the downtown area--the Calusa Shores Painted Ladies. The last of these was almost double the size of the others--the Niles Manor, her home, commissioned in 1869, along with the other four houses, by Raymond Niles, her great, great grandfather.
     As they pulled into the driveway, Sabbath hopped out of the car and ran inside the house, eager to see her sister. Opening the door, she shouted, "I'm home!" before stopping in the just inside the door. She hadn't noticed since the curtains were drawn, but the lights were off; the living room was rather dark. This wasn't really unusual--her mother faced a lot of stress at work, and had a tendency to suffer migraines; still, the lack of a response made her feel uneasy.
     Her father pushed in behind her, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. He too seemed worried; in a nervous tone, he called out for her: "Honey, are you awake? Anne?" Again, there was no response.
     Sabbath noticed an odd noise coming from the kitchen. At first, she couldn't make out what it was, but as she headed over to investigate, she slowly recognized the sound of Twitch crying. Opening the kitchen door, Sabbath found her sister curled up in a ball; bending down, she asked as nicely as she could, "Twitch, what's wrong?" Twitch simply sniffled before breaking down into a full sob.
     Now more nervous than ever, Sabbath walked back into the living room. "Dad, something's wrong with--"
     Before she could finish, the screeching sound of white noise filled the room, and Sabbath grabbed her ears in pain. Through her hands, she could hear the voice of her mother overpowering the static--"I did it for her. I did it for her. I did it for her--Ash, forgive me, I did it for her." Then, the answering message cut off with a with a beep, before cycling to the next message, "Hey Honey, just wanted to let you know we're on our way...." She looked at her father, who was visibly perplexed, and frowned.
     It was probably best if she went back to Twitch.
     As she turned around, she caught sight of a shadow she hadn't noticed before, a small blob swaying at the base of the stairs. Looking up, she caught sight of her a dark brown skirt, and a black and white tail and a pair of black legs dangling from beneath it.
     Hanging from a bed sheet tied to an upstairs balcony was her mother, her yellow eyes now grayed and lifeless.

                            * * *

Carter didn't bother to tell his secretary why he was leaving. He didn't waste any time calling Fiona and telling her to meet him at the manor either. Throughout the first half of his short drive across the island, he was on the phone explaining the situation in detail. When he arrived, he saw the coroner removing Anne's body from the front door, Ash standing there, dazed, as Sabbath clenched his right hand and Twitch his left.
     As the coroner left, he approached Ash, pulling him inside. He tried to find something to say to comfort his in-law, but all he could manage was, "How are you holding up?" He felt stupid for asking it.
     "Not sure," Ash replied.
     Gazing out the window, they saw Fiona's car pull into the driveway, her door kick open, and Fiona run toward the manor, her face verging on tears. She didn't even bother to knock, instead opening the door and heading straight for her father, hugging him tightly before doing the same to Ash.
     "Thanks," Ash said, his face still blank.
     She turned to her father, undoubtedly to ask why, but when she saw Sabbath and Twitch staring at her, she held back. Carter grabbed her hand. "Why don't you take them someplace, let them calm down?"
     Fiona nodded, quietly responding, and bent down before them. "Hey guys, why don't we get you some ice cream?"
     "Okay," Sabbath said. Twitch nodded, her eyes still filled with tears. As they left, Sabbath looked behind at her father, visibly worried. She knew he was taking it badly.
     As they left, Carter turned to Ash and asked, "Would you like me to make the calls?"

                           * * *

Roderigo had completely forgotten he still had his phone when it rang. Quickly stepping outside the emergency room doors, he checked the number: Ash. "Hey buddy," he said, answering.
     "Roderigo, it's Devon," Carter said. "I've got some bad news."
     "What is it, Bat?"
     "Anne's dead. She... hung herself from her stairway."
     If he could, Roderigo would have frowned. Carter was well known for his bluntness, so that didn't bother him--what bothered him was that he'd known Anne her entire life; Anne was Carter's niece, technically making her his half-second cousin, once removed. After all, his grandfather was the one whose blood created Carter's father.
     It took him a bit to respond. He wasn't good at displaying sympathy, not because he didn't feel it, but because like other emotions, displaying it was unnatural for him. "I'm sorry," he said, unable to come up with anything better. Staring into the waiting room at Steven and Yvonne, and wondered how he should tell them.
     "I know," Carter said, acknowledging that Roderigo's lack of response did not mean he felt any different than him. "Please take care. Try not to worry about it until you get home."
     "About that," Roderigo said, "We'll be flying in. Our car...." He paused. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to tell him they had been involved in the collapse. "We had an accident. Truck rear-ended us. We're fine, but the car's inoperable, and we had to junk it. We're waiting on a cab now."
     "That's fine," Carter said. "Have a safe flight."
     "Take care," Roderigo said. Hanging up the phone, he stared at the door for a moment, wondering how he should relay the news, but figuring there was no good way, he entered. He approached Yvonne and Steven, who gazed up at his face--he realized there was a hint of emotion there, enough for them to see.
     "I'm sorry," he said.

                 * * *

"Fucking airplanes," Princess said, throwing her can of vanilla cola into the nearest trash bin. Their flight had been canceled--supposedly, there was engine trouble when they tried to take off, but she couldn't help but feel bitter anyway. What made it absolutely worse was that the next flight to Miami didn't leave for three more hours, which meant they would be stuck, in the meantime, in the airport. She felt like hitting the bar.
     Removing her cellphone from her pocket, she hit the speed dial to call her father. It rang once before he picked up. "Hey Dad," she said, her voice still snide.
     "Princess," Carter said, "I'm glad you called."
     Staring out onto the runway, she stuck a stick of pocky in  her mouth. "Oh yeah?" she asked. Her father being happy she called generally meant she was going to get bad news--it wasn't that he hated her, she just generally called to bitch.
     "Anne's dead."
     "Fuck me," Princess said, staring over at her daughter, who was busy drinking a can of sweet tea. She waved her finger, mouthing "Come here," placing the phone on speaker.
     "She hung herself sometime this morning. I'm sorry this happened during your vacation."
     "No worries," she said. "As soon as our shiny new airplane takes off, we'll be on our way home."
     "That's good then," Carter said.
     Princess gazed at Pepper, who was apathetically sipping her tea through a straw. She mouthed, "Anne," and Pepper rolled her eyes. Something inside Princess felt cold seeing her do it.
     "Well, we'll try and find another flight," Princess said. "Turns out they don't make 747's the way they used too."
     "Take your time, we have a lot to do here."
     "When do I ever take my time," Princess asked, "and what makes you think this is what will get me to do it?"

                * * *

"Strawberry shortcake!" Sabbath yelled, pointing toward the gallon of thick, pink ice cream. "In a milkshake!"
     "Certainly," Fiona said, nodding for the man behind the counter to scoop it up.
     Twitch grinned. "Cherry sherbert," she said, pointing to the darker, more reddish tub in the far corner. "It's rather fitting, isn't it?"
     Fiona flinched. Ever since they'd left the manor, Twitch had gone from being a crybaby to the same snide little brat she always was. It hurt her to think it, but she'd always felt ill her presence--she came across as violent, antagonistic and borderline evil, even as a young child. It was Roderigo who once said that when she learned to speak, her voice took the heat out of the room, making it seem very cold. Bad things to say about a child, yet no one blamed them for saying it.
     "What do you mean?" Sabbath asked.
     "Oh, it's red, like the color of blood," Twitch said, plunging another verbal knife into Fiona's stomach. Sabbath frowned, but quickly shook it off; she'd long since gotten used to her sister's cold demeanor. "Three scoops."
     Fiona reluctantly nodded for the server to dish her a bowl. The day wasn't going to get any better, but the least she could do was bear through it, if only for Ash and Sabbath's sake.
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