The Coming Storm – Preview
“I’ve got the way to get us out of trouble, guys,” my eldest brother, Seattle mimicked with a growl. I grabbed the handle on his 2013 Ford Expedition when he flipped a bitch fast enough there was a loud squealing of tires, and I swear we were only on two of them for a few moments. “I can get us in and out without anyone ever knowing we were there.”
Just then the back window shattered, shards of glass flying everywhere as a bullet went through it.
“How’s that plan working out, Chicago?” I met his eyes in the rearview mirror, the LA street lights shining in and reflecting off the windshield making the normally handsome lines of Seattle’s face harsh, especially given how pissed he was.
I knew his anger wasn’t actually directed at me but the situation. Even if the shit we were neck deep in had been my fault, Seattle wasn’t the type of person to blame others or rub their noses in their mistakes. No, he was just pissed and scared for all of us… And that’s when his pretty, pretty sarcasm came out in spades.
“Should I have not grabbed the proof?” I snapped right back as the fingers of my left hand dug into my thigh. I wasn’t exactly having the best day either and it was my first time getting shot at. Though I was fairly impressed the way my two oldest brothers were handling themselves. I started to suspect Seattle and Boston had been in a situation like this in the past. “Just left it there and pretended I didn’t see it?” He threw me a look that clearly said to not be stupid. Well then? It wasn’t my fault.
“We’ve gotta lose them,” Orlando shouted as he glanced behind us while ducking behind the seat as his shoulders went tight. “We need help.”
“No shit!” Seattle and Boston shouted together, both in the front. Then I suddenly felt light-headed as my already adrenaline filled blood took off towards my heart and it started beating fast enough to jump out of my chest as I watched Boston pull out a handgun. My brother hit a button on the door of the vehicle and heaved himself out the window as soon as it was down.
“Hold his legs,” Seattle ordered. “I’ve got another turn coming up to get us onto 10. He’ll go flying.” I tucked the thumb drive that held the reason we were being chased and the future of millions in my jeans pocket before practically diving onto my brother’s legs to support him.
I was blasted with the humid heat coming in from the outside air, making me sweat worse than I already was under the circumstances. Scrambling and clawing to get a hold when my arms started to slip against the cotton of his black cargo pants, I gripped him tighter. I suddenly saw black spots and couldn’t help but feel a giggle build in my throat, wondering how I’d know if they were black given the color of his pants.
Burying my face against his legs, I hoped I could just hold on and not lose him as I had so much already. As the gun went off, loud and echoing in my ears, I wished I could wake up from this nightmare.
“What the fuck happened, Chicago?” Phoenix asked me again. I glanced at Seattle. He’d told me not to tell anyone what I’d found. “This was supposed to be a simple snatch and download. You promised us you could do this, baby brother. Now you’ve fucked us with the PP and the NSA. It was bad enough that the PP were pissed at us before, but if they find out about this, we’re dead—if the humans don’t kill us first.”
“It’s not my fault!” I heard a loud crash behind us after Boston fired his gun a few more times. His leg twitched as a signal to get off him, and I darted back into my seat, clicking my belt in place just in time so I didn’t go flying when Seattle once again took a corner too fast.
As he did I caught a glimpse of the dirty underpass with garbage cans off to the side that looked as if people had been using them to light fires in to keep warm. Prior to Boston rolling back up his window and as Seattle made another turn onto the on ramp, an acidic, nasty scent hit my nose and I winced when I realized it was old piss. Sometimes having an advanced sense of smell wasn’t the best thing. But if bums were living beneath that underpass, yeah, made sense they’d go there too.
“What did you find that Seattle had us immediately destroy anything that could be traced?” Milwaukee asked loudly, the noise from losing the back window and the vehicles still after us deafening. “We all just got new phones and you know how cheap he is. He wouldn’t have us smash and leave them unless he knew someone would be looking.”
“Wait, so you didn’t screw up?” Boston shouted, glancing back at me with his head tilted to the side before searching my face as if it would hold the answers he wanted.
“No, baby bro might have just saved the lives of every paranormal in the world,” Seattle said proudly. “If we can live to get it to the PP.”
“You want to go to Washington, DC, to see the Paranormal Parliament who is pissed at us and will want our heads after they hear about this?” Boston’s eyes were practically bugging out of his head as he stared at Seattle. When our eldest brother just nodded, he let out a litany of cuss words. “What the hell did you find out, Chicago?”
I swallowed loudly before meeting Seattle’s eyes in the rearview mirror again. “That we’re all very fucked.” And that’s when another bullet hit the SUV… And one of my brothers shouted in pain.
36 Hours Earlier…
“You can go fuck yourself,” Seattle growled to the wolf looming on our doorstep.
“Should I convey your sentiments to our leaders, mutt?” The man smirked as he rocked back on his heels, letting us know he would no matter what Seattle said.
“No, of course not.” I let out a sigh of relief. At least my brother wasn’t going to start another massive fight. We were in enough trouble already. “Please tell them to go fuck themselves, sirs and madams.”
“Seattle!” Boston shoved him out of the way and took over the conversation as the second oldest. “Look, we get you’re here on PP orders. That’s great, but it’s not happening. You’re a wolf and we’re not. We’re not in your territory. There is no sane reason or law that should have to make us move and join your pack.”
“Besides you want to fuck our baby brother,” Phoenix added. All five of them were blocking me from the wolf. Hell, I could barely see the man. “I don’t know how you got the PP to agree to this or what you had to do for it but—”
“Oh no,” the Alpha chuckled. “They wanted you in my pack and I said no fucking way. I wasn’t taking a bunch of mongrels in with my wolves because they want everyone consolidated. They asked me what they could give me to make it happen. After I laid eyes on the little one when I first came to discuss it with you, that’s what I told them. They said sure. He’s mine.”
“Not gonna happen,” Seattle snarled. “And that I’ll tell the PP myself. They can’t just fucking hand over my brother to be one of your goddamn toys.”
There was a pause where I tried to see around Phoenix but to no avail. Damn tall and wide men. I was five-ten, but around a bunch of malamute shifters, I was a shrimp. At least Milwaukee was shorter like me.
“Yeah, we know about the little harem you keep. How you fucking got to be Alpha astounds me,” Boston drawled. “You’ve run the pack into the ground because you don’t do anything but pay attention to your dick. So head back to San Jose and do everyone a favor and drive into the ocean on the way. Our final answer is no and you’re not touching Chicago ever, fucker.”
“Bold words. You’ll have other ones when the PP guards show up and force you to follow their decree. When that happens maybe I’ll just take him in front of you over and over again anyways to teach you how to obey an Alpha.”
“That won’t be possible,” Seattle said easily, and I shook my head, knowing he had on his evil smile that could scare the shit out of grown men.
It wasn’t the only amusing thing right then actually. There were six grown men crammed in the entryway of our house… A very inviting one at that, that my mother had decorated to always make guests feel welcome, and here my brothers were doing everything in their power to tell the Alpha and authority figure who wanted to come in and become very friendly with me to ignore that vibe.
“How so?” Sure enough there was a slight quiver in the Alpha’s tone before he cleared his throat.
“Because you or they get Chicago over our dead bodies so if you have him we won’t be here to witness shit. Now get the fuck off our property before we call the cops.” Then as one, Boston and Seattle stepped back and slammed the door in the man’s face.
“Guys, just give me to him,” I said, shaking my head and trying to ignore the floor feeling as if it was dropping out from under me.
“No!” Five angry growls echoed through the entryway. I hung my head, completely jumbled inside. Part of me was touched how much my brothers loved me and thrilled they would go to such lengths to protect me. The other half of me felt like a rat bastard that I was going to be the reason they got themselves killed or worse. Because for them ending up in a PP prison would be a fate worse than death.
PP or Paranormal Parliament was the ruling body of all supernatural species. A long time ago, way before any of us were born, it used to be complete anarchy. Different races and species just came in and took over wherever they wanted and only the strong survived, wiping out some breeds of paranormals altogether. And we all know the strong aren’t always the most moral. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, they just don’t always fit either.
Like selfless and kind-hearted. Those are two characteristics that fit well together and people normally assumed were a package deal. Strong and moral? Not so much.
Those who couldn’t defend themselves tended to bow to whomever could and while the supernatural beings were held to human laws, whatever they wouldn’t get caught in otherwise was fair game. But that all changed when technology came into play. No longer would an elder receiving word if there had been a change in leader because of something as natural as death take weeks. A pack under the threat of invasion or takeover now had the hope of aid coming in time instead of facing slaughter or complete surrender.
The question then became how to handle the chaos? The way my parents used to tell it when we were kids, the oldest and the wisest of all the species met where they felt the most power coming from the earth. They faced each other as equals for the first time, every one of them having a voice to be heard, and if that idea, that very value, was blessed by the gods themselves, a meteor fell from the heavens right amidst them.
The rock splintered into exactly the amount of species there, glowing when one touched it… And only that one person touched it along with giving their natural gifts a boost of energy. It was said the gods gave these crystals to our new leaders to help them rule fairly and justly, also allowing them the powers of detecting who had a stout heart or was being dishonest.
In that instant the Paranormal Parliament was born. One leader for each species with one voice deciding the fate for all to make sure we survived, thrived, and had future generations. Now granted, species didn’t mean each type of shifter had their own elder on the PP and there wasn’t one for all shifters. It was a little more intricate than that. There was one for wolf and hound shifters. One for all breeds of cat shifters, and so on.
And since that day, there has been peace, everyone playing nicely with each other because no one ever dared go up against a united front of all the other races and a ruling body blessed by the gods. Especially one that could tell if you were lying or full of shit when you stood before them. At least that was what we were told.
Whether that was how it all really happened or a bedtime story adults told their kids, I didn’t really know. But my parents believed in the PP and followed them to their deaths.
“I just don’t get it,” Seattle mumbled as we trudged into the living room attached to the entryway, snapping me back into the present. Well, mostly. Every time I came into the living room, I could almost smell the candle my mom used to burn in there, though no one had in a while. We’d packed them all up months ago. “Why did the PP make that guy Alpha?”
“That’s what you’re focused on?” Orlando did a double take as he openly balked at our brother before flinging himself over the back of our leather sectional, landing with a thump as he huffed. “He won a challenge or something. Who the fuck cares? We need to figure out what to do, Seattle. Not talk politics.”
“No, Seattle’s right,” Boston agreed as he leaned his shoulder against the wall opposite the sectional, facing towards us. His brows were drawn in deep thought. “He didn’t win a challenge. The San Jose pack is newer, only about ten years since they deemed there were enough wolves in the area to have one. The old Alpha was awesome though. He and Dad were friends. So why replace him?”
“Wait, the PP replaced him?” I asked, my jaw dropping open as my skin started tingling. When the Alpha had shown up, my stomach had gone sour, but now big knots grew instead. That was extremely rare. Someone had to fuck up royally to have that happen. Normally someone got old and stepped down to retire or there was a leadership challenge. Another option was like when the San Jose pack started, when a new leadership opportunity presented itself. But for the PP to go in and assign a new Alpha, something big went down.
“Yeah, right before Mom and Dad died,” Milwaukee mumbled as he sat on the sectional in the corner and pulled his knees to his chest. “I heard Dad talking about it. Representatives from the PP came in and the Alpha was just gone. The pack was told that he had a family tragedy on the East Coast and had to leave immediately, relinquishing his role as Alpha. Dad thought something was shady because no one ever heard from him again.”
At just the mention of our parents, I couldn’t help but look at the matching overstuffed chair they always sat in during family meetings. Dad would plop down, much like Orlando had on the couch, with Mom gracefully perched on the arm as if ready to jump up to cuff any of us that misbehaved… Or more likely hug us if we needed it.
No one ever sat in that chair now. We never talked about it, but I knew it felt wrong to even consider using it.
Boston and Seattle exchanged a meaningful look that said they knew something more than the rest of us. “And why could no one hear from the guy just because something was up with his family?” Seattle nodded in agreement.
“And then put dipshit in a leadership role? The PP isn’t stupid. Either he’s someone important’s son or he was put there for another reason.” Seattle started pacing as I dropped onto the ottoman, resting my elbows on my knees as I scrubbed my hands over my head. “But why? To tank the pack? What would be the goal of that?”
“I want to know what’s up with combining everyone into groups,” Phoenix said as he walked into the room. Wow. I’d been so lost in the conversation or my earlier thoughts I hadn’t even noticed he hadn’t been with us. He tossed us each a bottle of water before taking a seat between Orlando and Milwaukee. “There’s never been this push to get everyone into packs, covens, colonies, and whatever else.”
I lost the air in my lungs when I saw where everyone was in the room. We were all in the exact same spots as when Seattle had told us Mom and Dad had died. The significance of it wasn’t lost on me, and I felt the pain I always did when something threw me back into that day.
“I wonder if that’s what Dad was working on,” Seattle hedged, shooting Boston a worried glance.
We didn’t know much about the death of our parents around six months ago. While they didn’t work directly for the PP, my dad was their elected liaison for the area. Meaning, if there was a problem he’d fill them in or they got a report of something going on they’d let Dad know. Dad would go check it out on their behalf or the group of paranormals would ask for his assistance and he’d mediate. Sometimes he’d call in for help though and PP guards would show up.
Mom had a job of her own, something with the Department of Motor Vehicles. A management role that she said was boring but would never get into any more specifics than that really. But she would still help Dad like a governor’s spouse would, smoothing issues over or explaining any changing rules, kissing hands, shaking babies, that sort of thing.
Normally that was all they did and they never kept anything from us… Up to about seven months before they died. Then something came up with the PP that they were sent to look into and not only found concerning but they were downright scared with whatever they’d discovered. They started keeping things from us, talking in Dad’s study privately, and seriously becoming what we thought was paranoid.
Until they died mysteriously. Failed brakes was the official ruling for the accident. Something that could happen and did occasionally. However, none of us bought it. There were too many unanswered questions and red flags. For example, if the brakes didn’t just have issue but completely failed… How come they didn’t go out until my parents were cruising down the expressway twenty miles from home? No issues before then?
And the accident just happened to take place in a remote area where if the brakes had failed anywhere else they would have simply ended on the side of the road, not off a twenty foot drop. Then the car just happened to blow, burning the bodies beyond recognition?
Add to that, Seattle was a gearhead, and when the car was towed back to the police impound for evidence, he broke in and checked the car. He said the break line hadn’t shredded like wear and tear… It was a clean break like a cut. That was just the tip of the issues we had.
I sighed, knowing I had to tell them what I’d been up to on the side from my day job. “Okay, confession time.”
“What did you do?” Boston growled as he narrowed the same cobalt blue eyes I had at me, but I couldn’t get mine to glare like he could. He had scary down.
“We didn’t have any answers, Boston,” I whispered, suddenly feeling like I was five and caught stealing a cookie before dinner. “And things had been so weird before they died. Then the PP says just to drop it all? I mean, what did they find out?”
“And why did Mom and Dad start syphoning money into secret accounts like they were planning to run with all of us?” Milwaukee added. I whipped my head and stared with him wide eyes. Good to know I wasn’t the only one investigating, and we’d taken different paths. At least we weren’t overlapping.
“Time to switch to something fucking stronger,” Seattle bitched and stormed into the kitchen. We didn’t need to be told to follow as those of us sitting quickly got to our feet and hustled after him. I walked into the room just as he handed Boston a beer before passing us all our own.
The cap of mine dug into my hand and the carbonation hissed as I opened it. I turned slightly to toss it in the garbage, noticing the wallpaper strip that accented the kitchen had torn some more. Right before they had died Mom and Dad had decided to remodel the room and had started sanding, scraping off paint, and got about half that strip down. We should have finished and painted the kitchen.
But it had been one of the last things they had touched before they had died. Remodeling the kitchen was the same as finally admitting they were never coming back to do it themselves. We just weren’t there yet. Maybe we never would be.
“What part of we drop this because Mom and Dad would have wanted us safe more than us to have answers was un-fucking-clear?”
“Oh stuff it, Seattle,” Phoenix snapped before twisting off the top of his beer. “Like you haven’t been making inquiries through all of Dad’s contacts about what he was working on. We all have been doing something. Apparently just on our own instead of being smart and working together like brothers should.” Then he turned to me and gestured with his beer. “Go head, baby bro. What have you found or what’s the theory?”
“I swear they hit fifty and start thinking they’re not pups anymore,” Boston bitched, biting back a smile. Phoenix was third oldest and while he was fine with the other two taking charge most times, he wasn’t a kid even by shifter or paranormal standards, so he had no problem stepping in and speaking up.
“I don’t care how long my dry spell’s been, that’s never on the table as an option.” Boston eyed our brother and gagged like he was choking on his own vomit.
Seattle cuffed Boston upside the head first then Phoenix. “Focus, assholes.” He gave me a nod and I knew I was up.
“Mom didn’t just work for the DMV. She did something for Homeland Security.” I gave them a moment to let that sink in. “I think the PP asked her to look into something and it has to do with why our phones make that noise when we call each other.”
“Like we’re going through a tunnel or in bad reception area? The feedback thing?” Orlando hedged, finally saying something. Then he flung out his arm and grabbed onto the counter as if worried he was going to fall over or faint. “You think we’re being bugged.”
I nodded as I took a sip of my beer. It was flat. Probably not actually. They all kind of tasted flat to me now but again I was pretty sure that was a stress/grief thing. I’d had my first one with my dad. I was fairly certain anyone could fill in the blanks why beer tasted flat or off to me after his death.
“I think either Mom and Dad found something and someone started checking on us or people were already checking on some of us and Mom and Dad found out why and they got killed for it. I’ve picked up where their notes left off—well, those I could find. Amazingly most of them were wiped off their computers. Just those files and only those files. And most importantly, it wasn’t done from inside this house.”
“You can tell all that?” When I nodded again, Seattle looked equal parts impressed and worried. “My hacker genius little brother. Okay, do you know what the original assignment was?”
“No, but I have a good idea. Do you know a few years ago every elder on the PP was audited by the IRS? I mean all of them. Don’t you think that’s odd?” When they all agreed, I chuckled. “Yeah, they did too. From what I’ve pieced together, they think the US government suspects they’re a cult of some type. I mean to them why would these people from different walks of life all have communication and interaction as they do? They might think we’re all in come cult.”
“So since they had an inside woman with Mom, they asked Dad to investigate as their liaison knowing he’d have Mom get him stuff. Dragging them both in,” Boston surmised with a groan. “Okay, how do we go from that to whatever they found and getting killed?”
“I’m not sure, but I figured out the next step to see how much they know or who they suspect officially,” I hedged. “And it was just an idea until now because I think it could kill two birds with one stone—or thumb drive actually.”
Orlando let out an impressive litany of swear words. “You want to get the information Mom and Dad were sent after.”
“Guess I should implement that escape plan then for when this goes sideways,” Milwaukee mumbled.
“Thanks for the confidence,” I snapped.
He narrowed his eyes at me. “You’re talking about going up against the US government, Chicago. This information got Mom and Dad killed. Disappearing might be the least of our problems.”
“No, I’m not going for the full enchilada,” I assured them, most of their shoulders relaxing as Boston grabbed everyone another beer who needed it. I waited a few beats before I told them the real plan. “I want to get the list of who the NSA has wiretaps on.” The room got so quiet I could have heard a spider taking a shit in the light fixture. Instead the fridge kicked on and it was a miracle we didn’t all flinch or yelp at it.
“I’m sorry, what?” Seattle whispered as if saying it any louder made it real.
“Just give me two seconds.” I jumped up, set my beer on the counter, and darted off. The second I hit my father’s study, I grabbed everything I needed. I skidded to a halt as I got back to the kitchen though.
“Look, let’s just hear him out,” Boston hissed quietly. “Chicago has mad skills and we all know that. Yes, this sounds insane, but if it gets the PP off our asses, and even better, keeps him safe, isn’t that worth the risk?”
“And answers about Mom and Dad,” Seattle added quietly. “Fine, we discuss it, but, Milwaukee, we’re also talking about that backup plan.”
“That’s smart,” I agreed as I walked in, knowing full well they could smell me. We were part dog after all, and being brothers, we were keenly in tune to when our scents were near. “If I had known Milwaukee was working on that, I would have suggested the same.”
“Glad you’re not upset at the suggestion.” Seattle’s tone had an evenness to it that told me he was intentionally trying to keep the shock out of it.
“No,” I snickered, shaking my head. “I’m about to propose we break into the Federal Building where there’s an undisclosed NSA office and steal information that could get us shot for treason which might help get the PP out from under whatever’s going on and give them leverage to get us out of the shit we’re in. That or get us into more shit with them. So yeah, a backup plan and escape option is smart especially since investigating this got Mom and Dad killed.”
“Right,” Boston said before clearing his throat after a few moments of everyone being quiet. “Show us what you got and let’s come up with a plan.” He rubbed his hands up and down his jeans but still nodded for me to go ahead as if trying to convince himself it was the right thing to do.
“Just like that? You’re agreeing to doing this now?” I blinked rapidly at him as my stomach fluttered. That was quite the one-eighty from just listening to me. Was he serious?
“I was in the moment you said you were working on a plan, baby brother,” he answered gently as he reached out and ran his hand over my short hair the same shade of strawberry blond as his. “You’re not going to that Alpha, and if this gets us something to give to the PP to make that happen and provides us answers about Mom and Dad, yeah I’m in to the nines.”
“Me too,” Milwaukee agreed. “If we need to disappear after, then so be it.”
“I hate my job anyways,” Phoenix joked as he slapped my back before getting another beer. He didn’t though and we all knew that. Of all of us Phoenix might have loved his job the most.
“And the weather in Northern California sucks big time,” Orlando added as he tucked his tan arms under the table discreetly. “We’re malamute shifters. We should be somewhere colder. I hear Russia’s nice.”
“And a non-extradition country,” I drawled. I wasn’t fooled on that one.
“North Pole then.” Seattle shrugged. “I hear penguin can be tasty with some barbeque sauce.”
I glanced around at my brothers, all of them giving me encouraging looks of support, feeling their determination as strongly as my own. “Okay then. Here’s what I’ve come up with…”
I just hoped it didn’t get us all killed.