If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, and Part 20.
The van was the sort of utility vehicle that was acceptable to the Rosedale neighbourhood: small, clean, white with a tasteful logo on the side, and a photograph showing sample wares. A more observant person might notice that it was odd for a vehicle owned by a carpet-cleaning service not to have a phone number or web site address written on it, but since the tag line under the logo was, "Discreet and professional!", it wasn't unreasonable to conclude this was by design, rather than oversight.
The driver directed the van up one of the side streets, hesitated in front of one of the older, smaller houses, then edged past a little, just enough to reverse into the drive. The garage door opened as the front wheels bumped over the kerb, revealing an almost-empty parking space and a weary-looking man in the prime of middle age.
The man looked rumpled and tired, although the clothes he was wearing were so fresh the ironing creases could still be seen in his t-shirt. He stepped out of the garage and stood to the side of the drive as the van backed in. The driver stopped when the van's cab was just sticking out of the garage — as was common in older houses in the neighbourhood, the garage was small and narrow, and not much more of the van could fit inside. If the driver had backed in as far as possible, he wouldn't have been able to open the cab doors to get out.
The man waited for the driver to exit the cab, then let him into the house via the front door.
A perceptive observer may have noticed how similar the men looked. Both were about the same age, relatively fit-looking, and carried themselves with a posture which hinted at a military past. But this was in Rosedale, and therefore all those details were insignificant. Lots of things get done through connections.
Todd surveyed the four bodies lying in the kitchen and living rooms. He leaned over to check the blood spatter pattern behind one of the dead goons and let out a low whistle. "Looks like you had a helluva party, Geoff," he said. "This is going to take more than just the afternoon to clean up."
Geoffrey winced. "That's why I said both favours on the phone. I'm sorry."
Todd sighed. "I owed you. Care to tell me what happened?"
Geoffrey briefly filled him in on the events of the last day and a half, emphasising that Pepper had been framed. "I hate to leave you with this," he finished, "but I have to get to her. She let herself be bait. I have to hold up my end." He bit his lip and let his gaze settle on Cinnamon's body. "Especially now."
Todd shook his head. "If this is half as big as you say, and has even just the internal tentacles you know about, you're not going to be able to finish it alone. Fortunately," he said, taking out his phone, "I decided to drop my boss a hint as to why I had to take off for the afternoon. You know your division's been on the chopping block for months, eh? We didn't think it was anything this bad, but except for a few individuals, the results tallies have been underwhelming. We were going to absorb you, Ellie, a few dozen others, burn the rest."
Geoffrey rubbed his face with his hands. "Three days ago I would have been pretty indignant about that."
"Shit happens," said Todd, giving Geoffrey's shoulder a commiserating shake. He jerked his head in the direction of the garage as he sent a short text message from his phone. "Come on. You can carry the plastic tubs, and I'll get the, uh —"
"Jars of acid," said Geoffrey in a heavy breath.
"Yeah." Todd sighed again. "The walls and carpets probably won't be cleaned up yet when you get back, but the, um, tubs will be gone." He turned sharply on his heel and headed down the hall. "Let's get a move on. You need to get out of here and get the rest of your job done."