Chapter 7.17 – Tools

Word of Amber’s beat-down on Billy Jones quickly spreads through the murky, criminal underground in the months following his murder conviction.
 
Brand capitalized on the power vacuum left by the Joneses, establishing himself as the undisputed “boss” of the warehouse. Since then, the rumor mill has painted Amber as being Brand’s elite and deadly bodyguard/plaything. Obviously, there is absolutely no real truth to the rumors. All the same, there is not much to gain by dispelling the illusion.
 
It has afforded her the intimidation factor needed to bring an end to the blatantly criminal activity conducted at the warehouse. Along with Brand (or despite him), she has cleaned up most of the garbage and forced them to move on to other places. For the first time in a long time, the warehouse is just that; a warehouse.
 
Of course, Amber is not so naive to think that all crime has been completely stomped out by her presence. But she knows that it has been severely hindered. She is also not so naive to think that Brand is the model citizen he presents himself to be. There is something decidedly sinister and sneaky about him that rubs her the wrong way. Billy was no angel, but at least he did not hide behind a facade. He was just Billy.
 
Amber keeps Brand’s words about loyalty in the forefront of her mind whenever she has to deal with him. And she is extra careful to keep him at arm’s length. His sudden appearance in Sunset Valley happened to coincide with the Joneses coordinated financial attack against her family. This seems more by design than pure chance. Something still itches in the back of her mind to find out who he is and where he came from. But most importantly, she feels driven to discover why he came to Sunset Valley in the first place. It may be just a hunch, but whatever Brand is up to, Amber suspects it will involve more trouble for her down the road.
 
Then there is the portrait of Julian she found inside an abandoned part of the warehouse. She can’t help but think there is some connection between Brand and the valuable painting. Criminals do not usually leave a paper trail, so gathering information about Julian has not been easy. Even the oldtimers are not old enough to remember him. As best she can tell, he had been a drifter for many years, with arrest records in a dozen towns. Then, for some reason, he finally settled in Sunset Valley right around the time of his adult birthday.
 
She has been able to dig up a few precious clues, however. Julian Barimen was not just a criminal, but the most accomplished thief of his time. He was born to the same McAllister family who had settled this property and acquired a military trust to protect it. The centuries-old journal of a young Moira McAllister, given to her by Grandma Faith, does little to help shed light on Julian’s ancestry. The entries are pedantic and oftentimes rambling. In fact, the girl’s odd fascination with a complex mathematical algorithm completely obscures any useful information Amber might gain from the ancient diary.
 
What Amber does find useful, is the information about Julian’s father, Corwin Barimen. He vanished soon after Julian’s son, David, was born. By all accounts, Corwin was evil personified. He was owner/kingpin of CB Imports, a monstrous entity which was later revealed to be a front for organized crime. Although he conducted his “business” in Sim City, Amber learns that Corwin was born somewhere in the Baltic region. He continued to live there, making frequent “business” trips to Sim City until his disappearance.
 
Armed with the name of a town and an address where Corwin lived, Amber feels the sudden urge to travel. But finances are still strained for the family. Amber has not done any more writing since taking a job at the warehouse. Wendell calls her every few weeks to check on the status of her “creative juices”. But unfortunately, just like her family’s finances; they’re just not flowing. With Paul recently growing up and moving out to start a family with his high school sweetheart, there is no real steady income.
 
Ben and Lisa did finally manage record and release some new music, but it was costly to produce, and only received a cool reception. The poor showing was very discouraging, and proved they face a tough uphill battle in rebuilding their once ravenous fan base. What fans really want, is a Grayswandir reunion.
 
Amber tries to convince her parents that it is exactly what they need to recapture the magic. She has already solicited Aunt Sara’s commitment to manage the band again. Ben admits to giving the idea some thought, but he is not sure the other members would even speak to either he or Sarah. With Lisa’s gentle encouragement, Ben hesitantly agrees to reach out to them.
 
After they toast, and drink to a successful reunion, Amber tells Ben and Lisa about her plans to travel. There is no leaving out the detail that she had spoken to Brand, since he had agreed to pay her expenses. But the arrangement came with a stipulation that she do a small bit of side work for him while she was away. When Ben and Lisa panic, Amber assures her parents that there will be no crime involved. This business trip will be for gathering information about another company; or more specifically, another “boss”.
 
The stern warning she receives from both parents does not come as much of a surprise to Amber. When Ricky Nava told them about Amber’s role in busting up the Jones gang, they both had similar reactions. And it wasn’t pretty. She does understand their concern, given the seedy history behind the warehouse. Amber sooths their worries and promises that she will not be doing anything illegal. She will just be taking pictures and jotting down notes about her subject’s habits. She will not even be in contact with him.
 
Amber will spend the majority of her time vacationing in quaint towns along the Baltic seaside. Of course, she leaves out the few minor details about finding the birthplace of Corwin Barimen. In the interest of keeping her investigation quiet, that particular activity has been mindfully omitted from her written itinerary. After all, something so simple couldn’t possibly lead to any kind of intrigue for the young author.
 
Having finished packing for her trip, Amber regards the portrait of Julian. She recovered from it’s hiding place in the cellar after everything else of value in the house had been removed. He has given her so much inspiration, that he could almost be considered her muse. Amber quickly writes some story ideas down, along with her notes about Julian and the address for Corwin Barimen. She folds her notes into a bundle, then tucks them into Julian’s frame. She winks at Julian and blows him a kiss; promising that her next book will be one he is sure to be proud of.
 
And though she may not know it, Julian would be immeasurably proud of her. Of all his descendants, Amber is most like himself. She is smart, aware, and focused; not to mention devastatingly beautiful and dangerous in a fight. Though at the same time, she lacks streetwise and understanding of the criminal mind. Paranoia, resentment, narcissism, and angst are necessary tools of the trade for any sim who freelances in the “business”.
 
Frozen in time, Julian stares into space as Amber leaves, missing those important tools. Forget about getting the job done; she’ll be lucky to keep herself alive without them.
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