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Thomas Gallo

Poison in the Well

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December 12, 2021 

New York

 

NPC: "Boss, we got another one." 

 

The staff of Thyrsus had grown since the Ice Age, largely due to limited mobility, but then stayed out of necessity. Jimmy, or Steve, or whatever his name was, Tom didn't care. He was one of Strollo's boys who typically helped out with the security work of the 'downstairs operations'. 

 

Tom had noticed orders had been down. They slowed down much more than they should have. Rumors began of counterfeits being peddled to Thyrsus's customers. When reaching out to clients, they said that shipments came earlier than expected. Someone had provided their orders to the bottle. The only problem was, it hadn't been Tom. This was a tremendous problem on multiple levels. 

 

Someone had access to his purchase orders and was using that to profit...at the expense of the family. When Tom explained to his clients that this so-called discount was indeed false...and that the product that they purchased was bootlegged and terrible...they were upset. When their clientele started dying, they became furious...at Tom. 

 

"How could you let this happen?!"

 

"What are you going to do about it?!"

 

"You owe us...big time."

 

Tom was furious. Luckily for those around Tom, the timing couldn't have been better. It had been nearly 2 weeks since the last full moon, and this was the time that its influence over him was minimized. Otherwise, Steve or Jimmy or whatever his name was wouldn't have dared to speak to him with bad news. That was often Roderick's burden. People were dying and their deaths were being laid at Tom's feet because he had failed at controlling distribution. He thought he had that controlled, however it was apparent he did not. There was a gap somewhere, and he intended to sniff it out. 

 

Tom looked at Strollo's goon holding a phone. He was good enough at his job, but Tom wouldn't have used him for anything more complicated than breaking fingers or stacking boxes. He'd have to do. 

 

Same thing?

 

Tom knew the answer. Of course it was. Swelling of the eyes and tongue until they asphyxiated or pressure on the brain caused them to have a stroke. Every. Single. Time. Jim-Steve nodded as he was becoming accustomed to reading Tom's moods and decided that further speech was likely unwise.

 

Smart. Perhaps he could find a use for him after all.

 

People were dying. Always after leaving a bar or club. Always after drinking something from Tom's 'early deliveries'. Always dying in the same gruesome fashion. The only thing connecting these murders is Tom's booze. Or...a facsimile of it. This would, undoubtedly, lead to a conversation with some sort of law enforcement. He had to find that lead. Every second that ticked by without squashing it quietly was another second given to police/ARMA to come poking around again. 

 

Tom opened the front door and stepped outside into the winter air. The cold stabbing right into his bones helped to melt away the mind-fogging frustration and helped him to regain focus. It was about time to see this matter resolved. 

 

 

 

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Winter was both welcome and unwelcome to Cassandra. She loved the atmosphere, the layering of clothes, the holiday season, and even the snow, but she could do without the abominable cold. At least this winter — while definitely much colder than previous ones — wasn’t as bad as the winter of 2020. Though that one hadn’t particularly been natural. Of course, it was easy enough to forget the cold when situated before the fire in the library at her and Alec’s place and asleep in his arms when they were both not working, or hidden inside HQ — when the heat decided to cooperate with a building full of magic — doing paperwork and training. It wasn’t quite as easy though when finding oneself out wandering through the blustering winds and flurries cause duty called. It’d be nice if everything could go along peacefully during the cold months, but that was rarely the way of life. Instead another body had dropped on a case that’d been on her desk for a little while now and given the lead that just popped up in connection that meant a little trip to a particular liquor store.

 

What has you out in this awful weather, Mr. Gallo?

 

Wouldn’t it just be serendipity that the owner of that connection was himself just stepping out into the chilly night. Cassandra gave her most charming smile as gloved hands tugged down the thick, heavy scarf that wrapped around her neck and shoulders to cover the lower portion of her face. Her long brown hair was contained by a thick, bright yellow beanie that matched the scarf itself, and she was wearing an unbuttoned deep green military coat that reacher her knees over a heavy sweater just a shade lighter and black slacks. She wore her ARMA badge on a strip of leather about her neck so that it hung just below her scarf for anyone that was unsure and anyone with a brain knew that she was armed — and not just with her magic. The ankle-high winter boots she wore today did nothing to increase her 5’5” frame as far as height and that meant having to tilt her neck to look up at the man who was considerably taller.

 

A visit from ARMA wasn’t necessarily bad though sometimes not viewed in a positive light especially by the criminals of New York. Given that they at least had a prior relationship that was built on something akin. . . or perhaps more in the neighborhood of mutual respect she knew that at least he wasn’t going to attack her or do anything stupid. He was level-headed enough not to overreact just cause she approached him on the street. Though the way she planted herself at an angle between him and the door to Thyrsus while casually tucking gloved hands into her pockets would let him know that she wasn’t just passing by the establishment.

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Really? Tom didn't think Cassandra could read minds, but the petite Arma agent appeared to respond to an unwitting summons. He'd have growled if the cold hadn't clamped his mouth shut. The badge brandished with the unwritten words, 'We're going to talk.' popping from it. 

 

"I know why you are here. Please come inside."

 

Tom held open the door to invite her in. Tom and Cassandra had helped each other in the past. She had been chasing a fugitive that happened into the doors of Thyrsus, assuming that it was some sort of criminal sanctuary. It had seemed like a simple calculus to not stand between a criminal and a police force full of mages. The collateral damage was not likely to be worth it. The fact that this fugitive wound up hurting women and children regularly made even easier. He was fairly certain that Tom was 'left alone' due to this unofficial cooperation. Maybe she could help him with his magic-poison investigation.

 

Once inside, he nodded to Roderick and said, "We'll be in my office. Unless Gaspari himself wishes to speak to me, send whoever comes away." 

 

Tom then entered his office and stood behind his desk while motioning to a seat in front of it. "Please, assume I am wrong. What can I help you with, Cassandra?"

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Being welcomed inside without any fuss was a relief especially from a man who was clearly a little annoyed. Cassandra couldn’t help the amusement that lit her eyes. People were often irritated by her presence. It came with the territory. Nodding her thanks, she stepped inside the open door and took a minute to give Thyrsus a casual appraisal. She’d been in the store a number of times since her first visit though nothing had really changed about the place. That visit could’ve went much worse if not for the cooperation of Thomas Gallo himself. She didn’t always make deals with criminals especially one with ties to a rather big syndicate. Occasionally there was an issue that made it necessary like the last visit. That fugitive had been a small fish in a big pond, but they’d been useful in capturing ARMA a bigger one. Ever since that first cooperation, Gallo had been helpful in other ways in exchange for certain things from ARMA that followed along with the terms of the agreement Cassandra got approved. It had turned out to be a lucrative relationship.

 

Usually their visits were a little more Gallo contacting her rather than a surprise call.

 

While he gave orders, Cassandra removed her scarf and gloves; slipping both into one of the pockets of her coat as she followed him inside his office.

 

I’d never make that assumption about you, Thomas.

 

Cassandra dropped the formal ‘Mr. Gallo’ she’d used outside, slipping into the proffered seat. If there was one thing she’d come to gather about Thomas Gallo it was that he wasn’t just brawn. Insulting his intelligence would be really stupid on her part. If he said that he knew why she was there? Then he probably did. She doubted there was much he didn’t know especially if it involved his business. Though it wouldn’t stop her from telling him what had brought her here. Sharing what she knew might get him to share what he knew. . .

 

Last year I was in Boston on some business when I got asked to look at a case that was stumping a cop friend. Wasn’t anything unusual, just a case where some kids got sick during a college party and two died. They couldn’t figure out of what though so the coroner chalked it up to mild and severe alcohol poisoning. My friend didn’t agree, of course. Said that since the case was odd and could be damaging to the school they just wanted to make it go away. He insisted that it was something else. . . Reaching into her pocket, she took out her phone and pulled up some photos then slid it across the desk toward him. After looking at those pictures, I had to agree. That doesn’t look like any alcohol poisoning I’ve seen before. After I got back in New York there was a similar case followed by the newest one that came across my desk tonight. Been lucky so far there’s only 5 deaths, but tonight I stumbled upon a connection: you. Well, rather your booze.

 

She leaned back, folding her hands in her lap. Cassandra would let him look through the pictures of the different cases. The symptoms displayed there were a far cry from alcohol poisoning. Some fell in line well enough while others stuck out. Perhaps the look of them would jog something in his mind  to help them solve this case. Someone might immediately suspect him, but again she wasn’t a fool. He wasn’t going to do something that’d damage his income and his reputation.


What do you think that could be?

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Yep. It was time. Tom had been expecting a visit from them for a while now. He accepted the phone and flipped through the pictures. Just like the others...swollen eyes, swollen tongue...apparent rapid-asphyxiation. 

 

He slid the phone back to her with a low growl of frustration. None of these on the phones were the ones that he knew about. This problem was bigger than even he knew about. Leaning back in his chair, he rested his elbows on the rests and steepled his fingers in front of his nose, deep in thought. 

 

"This is worse than I had thought. How many have you come across?"

 

It was clear he meant victims. Tom wanted to know how big this problem was so he could send out the proper amount of resources to deal with it. ARMA being here certainly complicated matters. 

 

"As you have surmised, some of my deliveries have been tampered with. Whether this occurred in shipments to my store, from my store, or anywhere in between...I have not yet been able to determine." 

 

Tom pulled down a bottle of whiskey from the shelf behind his desk and poured himself a glass, drank it quickly, and placed the bottle behind him, but left the glass on the desk. He didn't bother to offer her a drink, as the topic of conversation didn't inspire thirst.

 

"I have had some minor luck, however." Tom said sourly as he fiddled with a safe under his desk. Inputting the combination, he opened the door and proffered an identical bottle to the one behind him, save for the bright yellow piece of tape wrapped around the bottle.

 

This had been the offending bottle at one of the clubs where a man went down after taking a drink. It wasn't much, but perhaps the mage sitting across from him could better aim Tom's fury in the correct direction. As long as she didn't choose to get 'too policey' and stand in his way. Maybe once he got a lead, he and Eris could go hunting. Tom thought that she might like that sort of thing.

 

"This is a bottle one of the clubs in town received that had the poison in it. This is the only sample I've been able to acquire to this point. The poison reeks to my senses and I'm sure no were-creature has been killed by this because of that alone. I wonder what you can make of it?"

 

Tom then opened the poisoned bottle and poured a small amount into the glass on the desk. As soon as the seal was broken on the bottle, Tom nearly wretched. There was a subtle, yet very distinct sweet smell with something...bitter that didn't belong. Roderick had not been able to detect the smell, but to Tom's senses it was overpowering. He quickly closed the bottle and nudged the glass toward Cassandra and, more importantly, away from himself. He locked the bottle back in the safe before continuing through a pained face of a man who's senses were being assaulted by something truly putrid. 

 

"Can you do anything with this? Figure out what it is, how it's made, where it came from...who could have made it?"

 

That last portion came out with an edge of fury and doom that he was unable to mask properly. Whoever was responsible for this would certainly pay for it.

 

 

 

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The growl was telling in itself.

 

Clearly for all that Thomas knew this information being presented was news to him. Cassandra had to admit that she understood the frustration. Though she acknowledged that his anger was on a different level given that it was his product being tainted and used to kill innocent people. For her it was that there were innocents being murdered, but the search for the culprit felt like it was moving at a snail’s pace.

 

Just the ones I’ve mentioned. The coroner who handled the New York cases, a Dr. Keeley Saunders, has feelers out to see if any other morgues have similar deaths. She has labeled them as homicides and the Boston case has been re-opened accordingly.

 

Pulling the beanie off her head, she placed it in her lap before shoving a hand through her hair. A sign of her own agitation even if she seemed otherwise composed. She pocketed both the cell and her beanie while watching him. When he took a drink, she tilted her head to the side and wondered what information he’d come across. Figuring that he needed the drink and a minute to calm down, Cassandra waited patiently.

 

Finally Thomas played his card: a tainted bottle.

 

Now, that was one thing they didn’t have on hand and that had been found to be unusual. The reaction of his inner-beast to just the scent of the liquor as it sat in the glass was practically visceral. Something about it apparently smelled to the were-creature, but to her it just smelled like the same alcohol that was in the glass he’d drank a moment ago. She nodded slowly, carefully lifting the glass to swirl the liquid around in it a moment; trying to see if she could tell anything different about its color or consistency only to sigh in annoyance.

 

Where did you come by a bottle? We weren’t able to get any samples besides what was in the stomach contents. And that for some reason contained little of the poison. Peculiar, no?” Cassandra had one more peculiarity to drop on him as she added, “It’s not the only one though. The coroner found a mana component when she sent the samples off to the Pharos lab.

 

The mana component combined with the serial and crossing state lines made it clear why the cases were being handled by ARMA and not local law enforcement. She eyed Thomas a moment before sitting down the glass.

 

If I send this to be tested, what’s your plan? This is an ARMA investigation, Thomas. There’s too many bodies in the morgue already and their families want justice.” She paused, letting that sink in a moment before continuing, “And not what Bakkhos considers justice. They want their chance to confront that killer, to ask them why, to see them in New Alcatraz which they won’t get if you beat them to death and toss them in some unmarked hole in the ground. . .

 

Cassandra wasn’t just going to let him go kill someone. She wanted to deliver a resolution to this case; see that it was marked ‘Solved’ instead of placed in ‘Cold Cases’ where the families would never be able to have a chance at closure or peace. That didn’t mean she wasn’t willing to let him get some of the payback he was entitled to given the attempt to frame him and ruin his business. Of course, she was asking for a lot that he only take his pound of flesh instead of every pound.

 

Plus, Thomas’ response would factor into if she told him that there might be another way to get information besides just the results of the tested alcohol.

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“Where did you come by a bottle? We weren’t able to get any samples besides what was in the stomach contents. And that for some reason contained little of the poison. Peculiar, no?”

 

Tom knew this would come up. It wasn't anything special. He had caught a lucky break. 

 

"I caught a break. When one of the places had been hit by this killer, there was still a lot in the bottle. This particular bar had ran out of this type of whiskey, so it was easy to note which bottle it was."

 

Tom knew she didn't trust him...and why should she? She was still a cop and he was still a criminal. Her next question betrayed this. 

 

“If I send this to be tested, what’s your plan? This is an ARMA investigation, Thomas." 

 

He understood her concern. Had he found the one responsible for this...they'd be dead already...or wishing to be. He slid the bottle over to Cassandra. 

 

"I don't understand the 'mana component.' Does this mean this poison is magical in nature? Glorious. Everyone whom answers to me knows to bring me any information about this that they may find. If one of my men were to find this person, then I'd have them...alive. I'd be sure to keep this person that way. Since you asked."

 

Tom would honor his word. As long as he believed ARMA was playing ball. He had as much reason to trust Cassandra as she did him. 

 

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