“You are late,” the Inquisitor said without looking up from the solid oak desk in the warehouse manager’s office. He flipped a paper over, before entwining his fingers, and resting his forearms on the edge of the desk. Slowly, he turned his attention to the two men, “explain.”
The duumviri hazarded a glance at each other, silently deciding on who would respond. Jougs answered, “we met trouble.”
“Took care of it,” Vorant added.
The Inquisitor waited, calm brown eyes boring into them.
“We were followed…” Jougs hesitated, “by a bird and some Mercs.”
“Got away, though, didn’t we?”
“Firebombs and a smokescreen,” Jougs said.
“Iphigenia knows, I hope so,” Vorant chuckled.
“Something humors you?” the Inquisitor asked. “You were late. Misters Gaseleo and Butano have yet to arrive. We’ve a shipment to transfer, evidence to destroy, and a job to finish. How do you plan to accomplish our goals now that Ambrosia will be on high alert?” Neither answered, both stood silently staring at points just beyond the Inquisitor’s head. “Precisely as I thought,” he hissed. “You didn’t think it through.” Placing both hands on the desk, the Inquisitor raised himself up and with a backward kick pushed the rolling chair away. He leaned forward, “Mister Jougs, the cargo must be prepared. Mister Vorant, in the cold storage, you’ll find the evidence. Now, Gentlemen, you know the drill. Time to handle business. If the others show before the half hour, I’ll dispatch them to assist. If they do not, Plan B. You do remember Plan B?”
“Yes, Inquisitor,” they agreed.
The two men immediately exited the office, destined for their respective assignments. The Inquisitor grabbed the piece of paper, eyes gliding over the dots and dashes. After he’d read it twice, he balled it up, and slammed a fist onto the desk. One more thing goes wrong and we’ll have to go to Plan C. Damn fool, always rushing artists. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back, breathed deeply through his nose, and briefly envisioned a future that didn’t include incarceration or electrocution.
“Mars,” Colonel Thompson cried when she saw the old general leaning back on the marble bench outside of the Caliber mausoleum.
Doing his best to set her down carefully, Ensign Osborne nearly dropped the retired colonel as she swung her head and shoulders to keep General Michaels in view. When he let go of her, the two retirees slumped into each other.
“Lara, you’re bleeding,” Michaels said.
“Not anymore, Mars,” she smiled sheepishly. As she caressed his right arm he winced and pulled the injured wrist up to his chest. “What did you do?”
“I was attacked by a rabid beast,” Michaels winked his left eye at Ensign Osborne who rolled both of his eyes and shook his head.
“Will you two be okay, while I go for help?” Osborne asked.
“Just leave it open,” Michaels said, “we’ll use it if the storm hits before you return.”
Nodding, he said, “just give me a few minutes.” Then, he took off for the main office.
“I am not going back in there,” Thompson asserted.
“But, Lara, we’ll catch our death if we’re out here when the front rolls in.”
“Mars, love, I almost caught my death in there,” Thompson exhaled sharply, “I’d rather feel the cold tickle of water sliding down my back, than spend one more minute inside that crypt.”
“Point well made,” Michaels replied.
“Besides, look at me,” Thompson gestured to her face, “I need a shower.”
“Unlike your rabid beast,” Thompson smiled weakly, “I was attacked by a human. I was so focused on following those four fellows with the body—you know, they buried it in that empty grave? Anyway, I didn’t see who was following me. It must have been their lookout. Really rang my bell. I woke in the mausoleum, head aching and blood flowing. Wadded up my hair and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. That’s something, Mars, long hair is useful, might want to recommend to the war council… Heard a noise—suppose that was you two—thought I should play possum. Oh, that poor ensign, I jabbed him something awful.”
“Ensign Osborne? He’ll be fine. One of yours,” Michaels said. “Doesn’t know a damn thing about tracking. What do you teach in that school of yours?”
“You know I can’t tell you that,” she laughed at the jab, typical service rivalry. “Unless… Well, you’re a bit old to become one of Mercury’s Elite. I suppose I could pull some strings to get you an age waver. But, you’ll have to be vetted, trained, and then go through probation as an ensign.”
“Bah!” he growled. “I did my time. I’m retired, lady.”
Justice Jo Casta leaned over the unconscious bartender who was laid out on the floor behind the bar. “She seems to be breathing.”
“How long do you think she’s been back there?” Justice Mayfield asked.
Shrugging his shoulders, Justice Cal Davies swigged from the whiskey bottle, then said, “before we had the place cleared out, I imagine. Unless she snuck in for a nap.”
“Does it matter?” Casta asked.
“Does it matter?” Casta asked.
“Not to me,” Davies replied.
“If she’s been here the whole time, then we weren’t in closed chambers,” Mayfield said.
“So?” Davies asked.
“It’s a security breach and negates the session.”
“How does an unconscious woman’s presence negate a session where nothing was decided?” Casta hissed.
“It just does,” Mayfield answered.
“That’s ridiculous,” Casta stood up, glaring across the bar where Mayfield was grappling with a glass in the hanging rack.
“Us being here is ridiculous,” Mayfield retorted. “Holding court in a bar is ridiculous. She could be faking it.”
“Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know,” Mayfield whined. “Why would someone attack this town? Why would the Kaiser send for us, but not meet us? Why would the general refuse us transportation back?”
“Why don’t you have a drink and calm down?” Davies asked.
“Why don’t you fuck off?”
“Gentlemen, why don’t we all have a drink?” Casta asked.
After taking the shortcut through the kitchens, Santos hung a left in the main foyer, and made his way to the north side of the Templus de Ambros where the inner gallery doors to the Templus Ministrae offices were located. The gallery was strictly for use by visiting officials, celators, and the Kaiser. Unannounced visitors and the general public were expected to use the main entrance on Templus Street.
“State your business,” the Templus Ministrae duty officer said. Obviously bored, she refused to look up from her desk.
By Santos’s guess, she was far more interested in the crossword puzzle she’d hidden under an appointment book. “Celatrix Verna,” he replied.
“Name on the appointment?” she asked.
“No appointment. Official business. Bring Celatrix Verna. Now.”
She finally saw Santos’ hostile expression and his Merc uniform dark from sweat. While his condition aroused her curiosity, his tone pissed her off. Deciding to play it by the book, she asked, “official papers?”
“Then, I’m to take your word for it? I think not. Without sealed papers, I cannot let you pass.”
“Obviously, you didn’t hear me. Bring Celatrix Verna. Now.”
“And, what am I to tell her?”
“Tell her Colonel Gawain Dagon requires her presence.”
“I repeat, without sealed papers, I cannot let you pass.”
“Damn it. I don’t want to pass,” Santos barked. “Send for Celatrix Verna.”
“When you return with the appropriate paperwork, I’d be happy to do that for you. However, without it, I simply cannot.”
“Get your supervisor.”
“If you persist, I’ll be forced to call for back up.”
“Little girl, if you don’t call your supervisor right now, I swear to Mercury, you’ll be reassigned to the pastures where you can spend the rest of your time in service shoveling shit with the work release prisoners. I do not have time to play these games with you.”
At first her mouth and eyes widened, then she clamped her mouth shut while squinting at him. She discreetly pressed the desk alarm as she stood up. She towered a full foot taller than Santos, who was an averagely built Merc. “How dare you!”
She stepped around her desk, her right hand dropped to her baton, her left raised back to slap him. Santos blocked her backhand and smiled, “nice to see a confident woman. I don’t have time for foreplay. Now, go do your job.” He dropped her hand and pointed to the door as two Ministrae officers emerged.
“Brimley, what’s this?” the elder of the two officers asked.
The Amazonian woman turned, defensively saying, “he’s got no appointment, no paperwork, and he’s insulted me.”
“I’m on official business. Sent by Colonel Dagon to retrieve Celatrix Verna. I don’t have time for this.”
“Celatrix Verna is a very busy woman. She’s currently unavailable. Perhaps, I can help,” the younger offered.
“Unless your name is Celatrix Verna, I don’t see how.”
“Perhaps if you can explain…” the elder said as he shrugged.
Santos fought the urge to throw down with them all, he ground his teeth, and then repeated himself, somewhat calmly, “I’m on official business. Sent by Colonel Dagon to retrieve Celatrix Verna. That is all you need to know and exactly what you should tell her.”
“Clericus Reston, relay the message,” the younger officer ordered.
“At once, Rector,” the elder said before disappearing behind the gallery doors.
Though the cold storage was not Vorant’s favorite place to be, it did give him time to himself. Vorant was capable of hacking up a body as mindlessly as a busser cleans a restaurant table. Today, however, he contemplated the deeply disturbing possibility that one of his crew was a traitor. Of course, the client was the only one who’d known where they were hiding the body, had in fact, chosen the place for them. Not their typical style. Generally speaking, the Inquisitor knew where and how they’d dispose of a body far enough in advance that they’d stake out the location and verify its suitability. For instance, after Martin’s dissection, Vorant would dispose of the pieces in a nearby lime pit. Since taking this job, they’d fallen away from their tried and true methods, and into doing whatever the moment called for; it is one thing to be flexible in your planning, it is a wholly different thing to have no plan at all. Perhaps the Inquisitor had lost his edge. If that was the case, then this gig could land them all in Raven’s Drop. He winced at the thought of a rope around his neck. Maybe it’s time for Plan C, Vorant smiled. From the first time he’d met the Inquisitor, he’d been working on a private little escape plan just in case shit went south.