Placing the microphone back in its holder, Santos sat back in the driver’s seat of Colonel Dagon’s Iago Comet. He stared into the empty parking lot as he exhaled and wondered, who the hell comes up with these lame ass codes? Crowing cocks…there’s a completely inappropriate dick joke just waiting. I can’t believe he’s really dead. Okay…Okay. The Colonel is on the way. The Kaiser—um, the Kaiser’s body—and the Rose are under guard. I’ve got two teams following the Bards to where ever their birds lead. Oh, for Mercury’s sake! I owe that damn child an apology. But, it’s not like I knew he was the next bard. They could have told me. There was plenty of time during the ride up. This. This is why I hate cemeteries. I should increase the guards on the Rose and the Kaiser. The boy. I’ve got to get protection to the boy. I’ll believe that boy’s a griffin when I see it. This is too much. We’ve gotta get a team in to collect the evidence. I need to send someone to HQ to lead the Colonel down here. Do I move the body? The body. The body. Santos slammed both fists into the center of the steeringwheel, the holographic user display popped up. The sunlight coming through the windshield made it practically impossible to see. He resisted the urge to beat the steering wheel, using his meaty arm to block enough of the light to find the correct area to tap the HUD off. Life would be bad enough when the Colonel found out he’d left the Kaiser unsupervised, if he fucked up Dagon’s truck, too…Climbing out of Betsy, Santos saw an old man at the west edge of the parking lot waving. I don’t have time for this, he thought. Holding his hand to the door, Betsy’s auto-locks engaged. Santos about-faced, then marched to the old man.
As Santos got closer he recognized the beckoning retiree as Marshall Michaels, retired General of Ocean Region, renowned for commanding his men to learn logic and to apply reasoning to every situation. During his 25-plus years overseeing Ocean Region, the intelligence level of the Regulars increased 10-fold. Men caught in pugilistic bouts, were first reprimanded, and then forced to undergo weeks of debate and rhetoric training. Twice a year Ocean Region held a Battle of the Wits where all the soldiers with fighting problems were allowed to mentally duel. It didn’t stop the Regulars from in-fighting; in fact, some soldiers fought simply to get their names added to the Battle rosters. The event always drew huge crowds to whom Ocean Region Central Command sold event tickets, thereby enabling the General to fund plenty of extracurriculars for his troops. His retirement brought the end of an era, as General Nelson Whistler reinstituted Regular Militia protocol effectively putting a stop to the biannual Battles and single-handled reducing both troop intelligence and regional moral.
“Lieutenant, I’m glad you finally saw me,” the bowed over General leaned into the cane in his right hand. “Colonel Thompson and I usually meet at her place for our daily walk through Sentinel. She left a note saying she’d seen something suspicious, here,” General Michaels thrust a folded slip of paper at Santos.
Colonel Thompson had been the head of Mercury’s Elite Guard when Santos was still in grade school. She’d been the third female to attain the rank and was nearly as popular with the Mercs under her command as General Michaels had been with the Regulars under his. Santos involuntarily pondered the possibility of the two old-timers being intimate as he read the note:
Errands won’t wait four kids with a hot date.
The lieutenant resisted the urge to point out the spelling error, saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t see it, sir.”
Smiling, General Michaels said, “coded message. Don’t they teach you youngsters anything?” Shaking his head, Santos bit back the urge to respond. “‘Errands won’t wait’ refers to our walks,” General Michaels began, “she went into the cemetery without me. ‘four kids with a hot date’ means she saw four men with a body.” The General looked his tired rheumatoid eyes up at Santos, “we’re too old for missions. She could be in danger.”
Translation: Colonel Thompson was a witness to the attempted burial of Kaiser Imler, Santos’ slightly annoyed attitude immediately disappeared. “Thank you, General. My men and I are already handling the suspicious activity. I’ll tell them to keep an eye out for the Colonel. Should we find her in the cemetery, I’ll be sure to tell her you’re waiting.”
“I don’t think you understand,” the General smirked, “I’m coming with you.”
WHAT? Santos screamed in his head. What the hell is protocol for dealing with the Old Militia and Guard? They don’t have free reign. “With all due respect, sir, I don’t have time for this. I’m in the middle of an investigation. I really must go.”
“I’ll meet you there,” General Michaels slowly stepped forward. “Go, Lieutenant,” he ordered. Without thinking, Santos snapped to, spun about and sped toward the main entrance of Sentinel Cemetery.
“There it is again!” Mr. Butano nearly shouted at Mr. Gasoleo as they walked briskly down a narrow street that ran parallel to Sentinel Cemetery.
“Shut up,” Mr. Gasoleo snapped, “you’ve lost it.”
“I’m telling you, that fucking bird is following us.”
“There’s no bird.”
Butano slid to a stop, causing Gasoleo to collide with him. In the moment of impact, Butano grabbed Gasoleo’s left hand twisting the wrist up behind the man’s back. The angry bug-eyed Butano growled, “there is too a fucking bird. Say it.”
“I will not,” Gaseleo hissed as he struggled to free himself from the smaller man’s grasp. “You’re paranoid.”
“I’ll break it, if you don’t say it.”
“You break it, you better kill me.”
Pulling up harder and forcing Gaseleo into a bend, Butano chuckled, “or what? I’m not some little girl you’ve tied up. Now, you say it!”
As Gaseleo was about to deny his compeer again, he relaxed, “okay. There’s a fucking bird following us.”
“You mean it?”
Gaseleo grunted. At which point, Butano released the larger man’s arm. As Gaseleo stood upright, he swung his right arm around landing his fist into Mr. Butano’s left cheek. Staggering backward, Butano maintained his balance while glaring at Gaseleo who had begun massaging his strained left arm. “It’s circling us,” Gaseleo said.
“See? I told you,” Butano said while rubbing his cheek. “You don’t trust me. Six years we’ve been at it and you still don’t trust me.”
“I don’t trust anyone.” Gaseleo shoved his forefinger into Butano’s chest, “and shit like you just pulled is why.”
“Get your paw off me,” Butano growled as he batted away the offending appendage, “unless you want to go again.”
“We don’t have time for this. After we get clear, we’ll settle up,” Gaseleo turned, concentrating on the street before him. “We can’t go straight to the rendezvous.”
“What do you wa—”
“Halt!” the guardsman yelled from behind them.
“We run!” Gaseleo replied.
“Jougs,” Mr. Vorant whispered while they walked a side street heading in the opposite direction from their compeers, Gaseleo and Butano. “Don’t look up.”
“What’s that?” Mr. Jougs asked.
“Don’t look up. I’ve seen that bird a couple times today. Seen two at the cemetery.”
“What are you on about?”
“That family,” Mr. Vorant whispered, “you recall all the crazy shit they said?”
“What about it?”
“If that bird’s following us, maybe they weren’t crazy.”
Jougs kept his eyes on the sidewalk ahead, “so, you think the family was right because you keep seeing a bird?”
“Do you trust me?”
He chuckled, “not anymore.”
“Come on.” Vorant turned up the sidewalk going into a yard with a large oak tree. “Follow my lead,” he said taking the porch steps two at a time. The light blue one story had a two foot wide sliver of glass panes that ran along both sides of the door. Out of habit, he tried the knob, but found it locked. He’d found more than one unlocked over the years. Not that it mattered, he’d mastered breaking into houses before he turned 12. Vorant moved his pinky ring to his forefinger and it to knock on the window pane closest to the handle. The glass shattered. He reached his hand through the hole, undid the lock, and let them in.
Once they were both inside, Jougs closed the door. Neither spoke as they quickly swept the house looking for anyone who may have been unfortunate enough to be home. Certain the house was empty, Jougs asked, “what’s the plan?”
“We need a distraction. If we can get to the manhole in front of this house, we can disappear into the sewers.”
Simultaneously, they said, “kitchen.”
No longer amused at being stuck in Avalona waiting for a king who’d never show, Adonis clenched his teeth knowing he could not do anything that would arouse suspicion. He’d listened to the insolent colonel and seen the destruction first hand. Typhon would have to answer for that later. Now, the justices were doing the same thing they always did, droning on and on, dragging out a proceeding that should have been over hours ago. Sometimes they acted like hourly workers. Absolutely ridiculous. Bayleaf, you old bastard, no one cares. Just shut up. When he couldn’t take any more, he stood up from the table, interrupting Bayleaf’s diatribe, “Justices, if we’re going to act as if we’re in the courtroom, then I propose we close this room to onlookers. And, continue utilizing standard procedures, including time allotments. If we’re not, then I propose we adjourn for the return to Ambrosia. Then, we can reconvene in our actual courtroom.”
“As you know, Chief Justice,” General Tomlyn interrupted, “you’re to wait here for the Kaiser.”
“I’m aware, General,” Adonis spat, “what, pray tell, does that have to do with whether we continue here or wait until we return?”
“It’s best if you continue now. I’m sure the Kaiser will want your opinion after he’s reviewed the testimonies and received my recommendation.”
Ignoring the general’s last comment, Adonis spoke directly to the other justices, “as you see, we do not have a closed court in which to properly review the testimony and the single recommendation from the general is not enough for us to draw conclusions. I propose a silent vote on whether we close the room to proceed or wait to reconvene. Do I have a second?”
“I second,” Justice Frederick Mayfield chimed.
“We need paper and writing utensils to take our vote,” Adonis said dismissing the Regional General.
Not one to be dismissed, General Tomlyn bellowed, “Captain Prescott!”
The captain who’d been tending to Goldie during her little freak out moment, abruptly left the bar owner behind the bar, appearing at the General’s side, “sir?”
“Paper and pens for the justices.”