Plan B, like the Inquisitor’s original Plan A, depended as much upon adequate personnel as it did proper timing. With Gasoleo and Butano out of the equation, the untenable Plan A had been ditched. The Inquisitor and Jougs split up to search the outside of the warehouse, while Vorant took the inside. So far neither of his men had let out the tale-tell whistles meaning they’d located the woman. Glancing at his wrist watch, the Inquisitor cursed the last hour. The pickup crew would arrive on the docks any minute. They expected six shipping crates filled with six dosed and unconscious women. Time for Plan C. The Inquisitor returned to the warehouse front entrance and let out one long shrill whistle. A couple minutes later Jougs and Vorant ran up to meet him.
“Any luck?” Vorant asked.
“You hear two long whistles?” the Inquisitor roared.
Vorant shook his head in the negative and kept his mouth shut.
“Take the full containers to the dock. Then, stay with them until the movers arrive. Keep the movers busy with the preloaded cargo. I’ll be back with a temp to shove in the empty. Soon as they’re gone with the whole load, we find this bitch and whoever’s helping her. Got me?”
The duumviri nodded in ascent and headed into the warehouse. Once the warehouse door closed and they were certain the Inquisitor couldn’t hear, Jougs whispered, “a temp?”
“Shut it,” Vorant growled through clenched teeth.
“Soon as the shipment arrives, they’ll know,” Jougs continued.
“They won’t be upset about the extra body. Cargo’s cargo, man.”
“They’ll know something happened,” Jougs insisted.
“Something did happen,” Vorant said. “You lost one. What were you doing upstairs? Huh?”
For the first time in ages, Jougs really looked at Vorant. They were about the same height and build, though Vorant was at least 20 pounds heavier and 5 years older. Vorant’s dimpled chin and crow’s feet belied him as a man who enjoyed life; when in reality, the man enjoyed taking lives. Shrugging, Jougs said, “looking for a place to whack off.”
Vorant’s eyes narrowed, he pressed his lips together. After a heartbeat, he said, “how long’ve we worked together?”
“I don’t know. Wasn’t keeping track. Why, sugar? Looking to celebrate our anniversary?”
“I’ve caught you dick deep in cargo, what? 10-20 times?”
“Six unconscious sperm receptacles and you want me to believe you were upstairs spanking your monkey?” Vorant leaned in and whispered, “I call bullshit.”
“Call whatever you want, doesn’t change facts,” Jougs squared his shoulders and stared directly at Vorant.
“You saw a chance, went up looking,” Vorant said as he matched Jougs’ stance, “what were you looking for?”
“Don’t got time for this. Gotta get the cargo on the dock before the movers get here,” Jougs took a step forward, “you coming?”
Vorant shoved a hand onto Jougs’ chest, “you better talk while we load.”
“Fine,” Jougs grumbled, pushing the hand away. While they crossed the warehouse floor to the shipping crates, Jougs pondered his options. Will he tell the Inquisitor I was up there nosing around? If he does, I’m dead. He’s your partner. You gotta tell’im. But…if he don’t like what you say… Saperstein took one to the head for acting suspicious. What was that? Two years ago? Jougs rolled his neck and shoulders, stretched his back and did a couple squats before grabbing his end of the crate. After they’d both grunted from the effort, he began, “this job’s been screwy from the start. Two men missing. Bird stalking us. Inquisitor acting weird. Ain’t a normal op, is it? I’m just trying to cover our six…”
Behind the fence of the light blue house with the flaming shed, in a gully under an oak tree, Fulco screeched and mourned his father, Aeolus. The young bird fluttered and hopped, opened his beak and cawed. He nudged Aeolus’s body with his beak, but the elder did not move. The grieving falcon did not hear the rustle as the tuxedo cat quietly approached. Fulco was too wrapped up in his loss to notice the crouching cat with its head between its front paws and its ass slowly wiggling in the air. Fulco cried out, singing, “who am I? They all lied. I’ll never know, that’s how it goes. Head hangs low, too many woes.”
At the squawky vocals, the tuxedo cat paused, mid-pounce. His tail twitched. He dug his hind feet in and settled down to watch. When it became apparent that the wailing bird was oblivious to the lurking danger, the tuxedo cat edged forward, and loosed a low-level rumbling, “mrhah, mrhah, mrhah.”
Though caught by surprise, Fulco leapt forward, screeching, “back! Back!” He puffed up his feathers, flapped his wings, and kept up the squawking chant, “back! Back!” Quite suddenly, Fulco’s puffy plumage deflated, his wings fell to his side, and he completely stopped vocalizing. He turned his head, blinked a single eye at the tuxedo cat, and then bobbed his head three times. The cat got up and mimicked Fulco’s actions. They watched each other for a brief time. Then, the cat padded over to Fulco, bowing down before the bird. The stance was eerily similar to the pre-pounce. Fulco hopped onto the cat’s proffered back, saying, “my father.” Turning, the tuxedo cat dipped his head down and picked up the dead falcon just under the shoulders. With Aeolus draped from his mouth, the cat headed toward the commotion from the fire crews still fighting the blazing shed.
The Command tent was twice as large as the tent housing the Officer’s Barracks. The main compartment held an oversized table covered in area maps and surrounded by enough chairs to fit all the Regional Generals and the Kaiser’s advisory staff. A small contingency of young soldiers zipped around the room, oblivious to the intrusion of the Chief Justice and his escort. In the rear of the tent hung a makeshift divider, in front of which stood an enormous and well-armed sentry. The sergeant directed Adonis to the sentry, who came to attention when they approached.
“Name and business,” the gruff giant ordered.
Adonis opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, the sergeant answered, “Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis. As requested by the General.”
The giant sentry half turned to repeat the information, when from behind the divider General Tomlyn ordered, “bring him here. Then, clear my tent. Sergeant Caspian, tell Captain Prescott his presence is required.”
“Caspian, eh?” Adonis inquired of the sergeant. “We’re not done.”
The younger man, smiled, winked, and blew Adonis a kiss.
“You son of a whore,” Adonis barked as he attempted to grab the sergeant. Stopped cold by the giant sentry, Adonis was spun around and shoved through the divider.
“Pardon me?” General Tomlyn said, “I must have heard you wrong.”
“Not you,” Adonis hissed, whipping his head toward the divider, “that insolent sergeant!”
“Good. The last man that called my mother a whore still eats his meals out of a tube,” General Tomlyn said casually. “Sit,” he indicated a metal folding chair in front of his temporary desk. “We’ll begin once Captain Prescott arrives.”
“Begin what?” Adonis asked.
“I’m Chief Justice of the Antigone Courts of Poterit Don. Answer me!” Though the temperature in the Command tent was cool, sweat formed on Adonis’ upper lip.
“Sit down,” Tomlyn ordered.
“Not until you tell me what is going on.”
“You really should take this opportunity, while it’s offered,” Tomlyn replied.
Adonis stared at General Tomlyn’s dimpled chin, he thought about knocking it off the blowhard’s smug face. He’d been so irked at the sergeant’s behavior, he hadn’t thought about what it might mean. Soldiers emulate their leaders. Tomlyn’s been disrespectful from the outset. Which means…he knows…or thinks he knows something. He put a hand on the back of the metal folding chair, for a split second he imagined himself smashing the general’s face in with it, and then he gingerly sat down. Once seated, he steepled his fingers, and took a couple deep breaths through his nose while his gaze never wavered from General Tomlyn’s grey eyes. At the moment that Adonis opened his mouth to speak, Captain Prescott entered.
“They said you needed me, sir?” Captain Prescott asked.
“Come here,” Tomlyn ordered.
The captain let go of the divider and crossed the room. When he reached the general’s desk, he leaned over, saying “sir?” As the general whispered to the captain a wave of shock quickly appeared and vanished from his eyes. He nodded once, spun about, and purposefully avoided eye contact with Adonis.
“Enough of the games, General,” Adonis said, standing up.
“You’re right, of course.” General Tomlyn also stood up and rounded his makeshift desk. The captain matched him step for step.
All the while Adonis watched the two men flank him, he realized whatever window of opportunity he may have had for handling the situation left when Prescott had entered. Sweat rolled down his temples. He nervously asked, “what is the meaning of this?”
With a satisfied grin, General Tomlyn ordered Captain Prescott, “arrest him.”
“Arrest? You can’t arrest me! I’m the Chief Justi—” Adonis shouted. He knocked the metal folding chair over as he tried to back away. In the process, he tripped over and fell in a tangled mass of legs and metal chair.
“By the authority of the Regular Militia,” Captain Prescott gleefully said, “true Defenders of the Realm, I hereby place you, Fraunx Adonis, under arrest for conspiracy, high treason, and murder. You will accompany me peacefully or I will use force.”
Sitting in the bed of the old militia truck, Kent Wheelock kicked his dangling feet back and forth. His head ached, his shoulder throbbed, and his throat burned. He watched the nosy group of old people across the way trot up and down the street hankering for a better view of the scene. Clenching his teeth, he fought back the images of three charred men. When tears threatened to fall from his good eye, he grabbed the seam of his pants by his thighs and balled his fists up. Holding the denim tightly, he maintained the tension until his pulsing shoulder nearly knocked him unconscious. Emergency workers skirted around the truck, as if he were contagious. The paramedics kept glancing at him while whispering to each other. The young soldier paced with absolute paranoia, his head darting every which way and his right thumb caressing the leather snap holding his service gun in place. Unable to stop himself, Kent cracked. The more the paramedics averted their gaze, the funnier he thought the whole situation. As he sat there, dangling his feet and laughing to himself, a tuxedo cat, with a bird on its back and another in its mouth, leapt onto the tailgate. The cat dropped a dead bird into Kent’s lap, which was the final straw. What started as a tired chuckle built into the roaring laughter heard inside a comedy house.