The Grey

Note: For first-time visitors, this is a story in progress.  You are welcome to start reading this post, but to get the full aspect of the story you might want to go to the first post “In the End.”   Also, I suggest reading the Background page.  -Enjoy.

Say you’re a very powerful, wealthy and eccentric Yakuza crime boss.  You have spent a lifetime working your way up through the mayhem of a Japanese organized crime ring, and somehow you have stayed alive.   You run a tight ship and profitable business.  Life has become somewhat stable.  Well, as stable as one can be in your line of work.  You figure. It’s about time for a little self-gratification, so you build a house.  Not just any run-of-the-mill Japanese cramped traditional box.  It’s the house you always wanted.  Perched on, a steep, wooded hillside, overlooking the port city of Nagasaki and your empire.   The house is not overly expansive, but it’s large for Japan.  You have spent five years overseeing every detail.  You make sure the local officials have plenty of payoffs to leave you alone and bend a few zoning rules.   The foundation even comes reinforced with a few enemies.  Making sure every space has its signature style.   In the end, they come together to create a modern home that thoughtfully nods to tradition.

Your crowning detail is a perfectly placed alcove in the main hallway.  This alcove houses a ten-foot-tall by six-foot-wide megalith from the ruins of Gobekli Tepe.  Well, not an authentic stone from Gobekli Tepe, but an incredibly accurate hand-carved replica.  The stone is even sequestered from a quarry nearby the actual ruins.  The stone sculpture sits directly across from a floor-to-ceiling plate glass wall that is perfectly aligned to catch the rising sun of the winter solstice.   It is a stunning display, and its raw beauty leaves all visitors taken aback in awe.  Unfortunately, there is one person that is not in awe, and that person is you.  The person that has to look at it every day.  The person that designed and fretted over every small detail.  Why are you not in awe?  Because, in the end, it is just a silly replica set in a modern Japanese home.  You know this, and it eats away at you.  You want it all to be real.  You want it all to have a commanding aura of reverence and ancient power.  You want to fear it and you just don’t.  Day after day it mocks you with it’s “I’m just a fake” impartiality.  So, what are you to do?  Well, you hire the best people in the world at acquiring things that should not be acquired.  You hire Vikings.  What you do is, you contract out the Johnson Clan.

The Johnson Clan is a family business.  A business that deals in items no one else can or wants to.  Developed over many generations, they are a detailed web of operations and logistics.  An intricate network of people and systems that is simultaneously invisible and massively influential.  They can foxily pull strings from the shadows or stand right in the daylight barking out orders like a German Shepherd.

Separated into four major factions; the solvers, the carriers, the collectors, and the influencers.  These four factions worked in a synchronized concert to provide anyone with enough money, just about anything.  Pre Columbian-Jaguar Statue from Honduras? No problem.  List of active CIA agents in Croatia?  Give us a few days.  Or, a thirteen thousand-year-old, three-ton megalith from Turkey.  Although based in Colorado, they operate globally and across all levels of society.

For the better part of two years and a multitude of choreography, not to mention a boatload of money, the factions worked to secure the Yakuza Boss’s ancient artifact.  After being installed, it measured up to everything he hoped it would and even more.  He revered it.  He feared it.  He loved it.   But, there are consequences to displacing an ancient spiritual artifact.  You see, when you put something somewhere it doesn’t belong its spirit can get a bit annoyed.  We don’t know what these pieces represent or the powers they possess.  Within a year of the stone entering the house, things went terribly wrong for the Yakuza Boss and his family.  His wife had a miserable battle with ovarian cancer and died a horribly drawn out death.  Then his two daughters got run over by a bus.  His son had a motorcycle racing accident and became a quadriplegic.  The Boss soon succumbed to depression, tried to take his life the old-fashioned way, with a short sword to the belly.  That didn’t even go right.  He didn’t manage to hit the proper organs and suffered for many hours before his henchman found him in a pool of blood.  The man took pity on his boss and a shot him dead.  The Johnsons have seen their fair share of bad juju moving taboo articles.  That is why they adhere to the teachings of the old gods of Asgard and doing all they can to stay in their good graces.  This way they figure they have some back-up in the spiritual world.

How is it that the Johnsons became the world’s foremost experts in acquiring rare items?  Well, that should not be such a surprise; they are Vikings after all.  Their ancestors plundered and collected from all over the world.  From as far back as 600 AD, the Johnson Clan raided and plundered throughout Europe and the Mediterranean.  They were one of the first to invade the British Isles and beyond.  Columbus was a latecomer.  Some of the Clan made it to North America in the 810’s.   The problem was, there was way more land than riches at that time in northern Canada.  Getting land was not an issue back in the old country, but new sources of gold and silver were scarce.  Compared to their Norse brethren, the Johnson’s had a unique way of conquering.  They were apt to assimilate the new cultures they found and set up trade routes.   As a matter of fact the current spelling of thier name, “Johnson”, is a Scottish adaptation of the Danish “Jansen”.  Adopted to assimilate better into the Scottish culture.  Their end goal was not to just remove the wealth from a people but to use those people to generate steady gains.  Controlling the acquisition and flow of goods, including people, was far better than having to go looking for new stuff constantly. And, they knew that to work with a people was far better than just killing them all.  But, don’t think there wasn’t a lot of that, too.  A civil and righteous bunch, they were not. They did and always have conducted business with a brutal hand when needed.  From this heritage of conquering and trading grew an established structure of operation.  A structure that has slowly been woven right into the fabric of modern society as they moved from the British Isles to the new world and eventually the last frontier of the wild west.

All that historical structure and systems had Sanna pacing.  Mulling over all the moving parts and how they worked together.  Although it was all very robust, it was all super delicate as well.   Walking the covered porch, her boot heels thudded on the wooden deck.   She moved in a steady rhythm.  Consistent, regimented, and meditative.  Moving along the three sides of the mountain cabin.  From the view of the river to the lake to the West Elk range.  Sanna would pause, then turn and return in her path.  West Elks, lake, river.  River, lake, West Elks.  Her breath steady in time with her heels.  365 days a year, the only thing changing was her clothing with the seasons.  She walked to organize her overflowing mind.  She trained to empty it.  Using this lonely, secluded place to instill all the lessons in family, business, and war.

She needed to know the systems, the hierarchy, and the ways and means, inside out.   The deck and the walking were her way of methodically going over all the information.  Back and forth she walked and talked and cataloged.   Names, places, events, strategies, customers, allies and, of course, enemies.  No apparent shortage of enemies in this business.   Sometimes the amount of information was staggering and she often wondered just how her father kept it all together.  He did not seem to be the most diligent man.  Fact is, he came across as downright flighty and free-spirited.  From the outside you might take him for a fool, but this, Sanna came to know, was never the case.  Reynor knew and saw everything.  He was quick-witted and had a sixth sense about things and people.

Once, she observed him bait a cocky young Korean man into sharing way too much information.  This was done much to the man’s demise.  Reynor eased the man with pleasant compliments.  Subliminally dropping praise for the man’s business acumen in such an unassuming way it was like he never said it at all.   Stroking his ego and making him more comfortable than he should have been.  Sanna felt sorry for the man and the way he was being played.  It truely was like watching an artist.  Every word was spoken with perfect intent like the brush strokes of a famous painter.   Working from an abstract blank canvas and pulling out a masterpiece of scenic beauty. By the end of the conversation Reynor knew all the details of how the man’s uncle would be trying to double-cross him.   No shouting, no threats, no tough guy family machismo.  Just the subtle deception of a snake enticing a mouse out of its hole.  The poor man’s mind never had a chance nor did his head, literally.

Not Sanna.  She has the subtleness of a rhino.  More like Bridget, her mother.  Strong, earthbound and stubborn.  She could be persuasive, but usually, it came from sheer terror and intimidation.  She emits a hora of absolute force.  From her eyes to her walk and voice she projects pure power.  While her brother Bob can manipulate the shadows, Sanna is the shadows.   She lives in a tangible world of black and white.  She is upfront and sometimes very brutal.  Her father could navigate in a world of greys and weird angles.  Somehow, he saw clearly, even in the fog of confusion that often surrounded him.  He really was the perfect person to run this Clan.

Sanna’s boot heels came to a sudden stop.  The last thuds echoed off the cabin and melted into the pines.  Hood over her bowed head.  Hands tucked deep in the pocket of her sweatshirt. Sanna stood and watched her breath trail out in to the spring evening air. “The grey,” she thought to herself.

“I must find the grey,” she said out loud to no one.  Then she felt it.  A presence.

“Yes, that is exactly what you need to do,” said a familiar voice to her right and out by the lake edge.

Sanna turned to see the outline of a figure standing on a flat rock about thirty feet away.   A woman cloaked in a long duster coat.  A white well-worn cowgirl hat pulled tight to her eyes.  Sanna knew the voice and knew whom it belonged.  The figure was facing the lake.  Well, truthfully it is sort of a pond.  For some reason, the word pond didn’t seem to make it to Colorado.  Thus, every body of water bigger than a puddle is called a lake.  Sanna felt a calming inside, like Odin himself, had stopped by to banish all worry from the land.  Her body wanted to run off the porch to the woman, but her mind moved her slow and measured.  She could sense something heavy coming off the woman.   `With a mixed feeling of wanting and trepidation she approached the woman.  These conflicting feelings puzzled her.  It was her mother after all, and it was not completely out of the ordinary for her to visit her here.  But, something was telling her to give her mother space.  It was not an ominous feeling but a respectful one.

They stood in their spots for a few minutes, then Bridget said, “We used to stand here, right on this very rock.  Your father and I.  Stand right here watching the alpenglow as it is now.  We would talk of the gods and what they had in store for us.   Of the life, we would share and the adventures to be had.  He loved deeper than any man I ever knew or could hope to know.   He could love much better than me.  He was not afraid of love or connection.  He…we did everything we had to do to make sure you and Bob had the future you deserved.  It all came from a good place.  You do know that don’t you, Sanna?  Please tell me you understand the decisions we made.  On the other hand, who am I to say what you should or could feel or understand.  After all the deception and maneuvering.  I can’t blame you if you don’t.  Understand, that is.  We were young and we had family pride and honor weighing in our minds.   Maybe we didn’t do all right things, but we did it the best we knew how.  We did everything we did for what we hoped would make life better for the two of you.”

There was a silence like the silence before silence had a name.  A slight breeze rippled the lake and rattled the dry spring grass.  Bridget let her force field down.

Sanna didn’t move, but simply said, “Yeah, I know, mom.” She still didn’t move.

Bridget lowered her head and inspected the water lapping at the rocky shore. “I love that sound.  The small waves washing on the rocks.”

“It’s what I fall asleep to every night.  Well, that and the coyotes. Active bunch they are.”

Mother turned to face Sanna.  Their eyes met for a few seconds.  There were more words spoken in that moment than all the years that had come before.  They were just mother and daughter for those few seconds.  Seeing each other and understanding each other.

“You ready?”  Bridget asked.  “Are you truly, ready?”

“If I am not ready by now then may Thor strike me where I stand.”

Bridget covered the distance in what seemed like one fluid motion and embraced Sanna.  She whispered in her ear. “Time to find Bob.  Time to find death and bring it to the traders.  I have faith in you, darling.”

The words sank down Sanna’s spine and warmed her stomach like a late-night cup of tea.  With a frigid voice she whispered back to her mother, “Yes, it is time to find The Regulator.”  To herself, she thought, time to release the shadows and set our souls free.  She smiled and embraced her mother, tighter.

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