Our Mutual Friend Bar & Grill was the kind of dive that attracted people who would drink, get drunk, pass out, and when they eventually woke up (if they ever woke up at all) would start the process all over again.

This weekend night, the bar was more crowded than usual. The band, playing up on a small stage, would like to think they were the main attraction this evening, but the fact that it was also sixteen cent watered down beer night, probably stacked the odds in the beer’s favor.

The band, Crank Case, pounded out a mix of elemental metal, techno acidelic, and slip jazz. The lead singer, a cute brunette, wearing a pitch black bodysuit with enough dark eye makeup to confuse a raccoon, screamed out in a guttural style with a soft melodic hook. Her voice tried, unsuccessfully, to overpower the eight foot amplifiers that towered over her and the other members of her band.

Megan Pace was the solo singer tonight. Her cousin and co- vocalist, Charlene Collins, had failed to show up, which concerned Megan and her fellow band mates. It wasn’t like Charlene to miss a gig and even less likely for her not to let anyone know where she was. Megan had tried to call, as well as text her, but Charlene’s cell had apparently been shut off. Just another thing that was so strange about the whole situation.

But the show must go on, so Megan and the other members of Crank Case, took the stage. Forty two minutes later, Megan ended the first set with a high pitched scream, then dead silence. She nodded to the bar’s DJ, who immediately continued the aural attack. Megan smiled back at the band, who were already heading off the stage for their first break of the night.

“Ya gonna try and call Char, again?” Fur asked Megan. Fur was an old ex-punker from the late 1990’s and Crank Case’s lead guitarist.

“Yeah, gonna call right now!” Megan replied, her voice tinged with concern.

“Maybe she’s still at school, seeing her teacher-boyfriend!” Par said. Par was the band’s drummer, who had a strange interest in Zombieology.

“Could be,” Megan said.

She knew that Charlene had taken a music composition class and had met a part time instructor she had taken a liking to.

“I bet she’ll show up before the second set!” Bat, the bass player remarked. Bat was a cyber-gypsy, who had an obsession with finding Bigfoot.

Megan nodded and headed to the bar.

Stang, the Albino bartender, brought over a gargle blaster, the bar’s specialty, and Megan gulped it down with ravishing delight.

“Thanks, Stang,” Megan said, “put it on my tab.”

“Don’t have to, Megan,” Stang replied, “some guy bought it for you. Says he wants to talk to you. He’s over there in a booth.”

Megan glanced over and saw a thin young man, who smiled a crooked smile, and raised a drink in greetings. She walked over.

The man was dressed in a dark suit and tie, with a black trench coat draped over his shoulders. The fact that he was so well dressed, Megan figured, eliminated the idea that he was a Crank Case groupie.

“Ms. Pace?” the young man asked, in a light accent Megan couldn’t quite place, as he signaled for her to have a seat next to him.

“Yeah, do I know you?” she suspiciously asked.

“No,” the man, replied, “my name is Mischa Bakunin and I have been sent to deliver a message to you.”

“What kind of message and from whom?” Megan asked.

Bakunin grinned a grim grin.

“Its from your cousin, Charlene,” he answered, “and I’ll let her tell you herself!”

With that, Bakunin took a cell phone out of his pocket and handed it to Megan.

“Charlene?!” she spoke.

The connection was bad. Filled with static and noise.

“M..Megan! I…I need…. help!” Charlene’s voice sounded strange.

“Where are you? What’s wrong?!” Megan cried.

“I’ve…I’ve…been taken,” Charlene replied, sounding confused and in near tears, “do wha….what….they…ask. They’re..gonna …… kill me, if… you don’t!”

Then the connection dissolved.

“Char!! Char!!” Megan cried out! But the line was now dead.

Turning to the mystery man, Megan threatened, “You’d better not hurt her or I swear, I’ll rip your throat out! What do you want? You’d better tell me right now, or one word from me and the bouncers at this place will have your head stuffed and mounted on the back wall!”

Mischa Bakunin just coolly smiled, as he took back the cell phone.

“No need to resort to violence, Ms. Pace,” he replied, “I’m just a messenger.”

“Don’t they usually kill the messenger?” Megan asked.

“Yes, in television shows I guess they do,” he answered, “but this is no TV show. I assure you, my employer is not interested in hurting anyone. I have been instructed to give you this document.”

Bakunin reached into a black briefcase that sat by the booth, took out a large envelope and handed it to Megan.

“Do not open it yourself, or your cousin will be killed immediately!” he said.

“What do you want me to do with this?!” Megan asked.

“You are to contact your father and give it to him,” he replied, “it contains further instructions. There is also a phone number and a time for your father to call and give us his answer.”

“If you didn’t already know,” she said, “my father is in a hospital and has been for almost a year!”

“Yes,” Bakunin answered, “we know. A mental hospital. But nevertheless, you go to him and see that he receives and reads the contents of that envelope, okay? Then have him give my employer a call with his decision.”

“What if I don’t?!” Megan angrily replied, “what if I just call the police?!”

Bakunin laughed, “You can do what you want, Ms. Pace. But if you do call the police, then my employer will become very angry and your cousin will become very dead. He will then, no doubt, kill you, your father, and after hearing them perform tonight, I will strongly recommend that he kill your entire band as well!”

With that pronouncement Bakunin got up, grabbed his briefcase, nodded to Megan and quickly left the bar.

Megan looked at the envelope now in her hands. She knew this guy was serious and whoever he worked for was obviously serious too! But she didn’t know what to do! She realized she couldn’t call the police, she didn’t want to take that chance. She did know she wouldn’t tell any of the guys in the band, or anyone else right now. Megan didn’t want to make this more complicated than it already was. She decided she had better go see her father, like instructed, but first she needed some advice. So if she couldn’t contact the police, she would do the next best thing.

Megan decided she would contact a private detective friend of hers. It had been awhile since she last saw him, but she figured Charlie Hume probably could use the work.

Next: Chap. Three “Trouble was his Business”

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