The perfectly manicured lawn, well-tended vegetable garden, and mature orange trees sat in stark contrast to the overgrown hedges in front of Patrick Field’s house. After 15 minutes of pacing the backyard, Santos’ stomach made the decision for him. He chose the plumpest, juiciest looking orange he could reach, and ripped it out of the tree. As he began the annoying task of peeling it, Brimley popped her head around the side of the house.
“What are you doing, soldier?” she yelled in the deepest voice she could manage while stifling laughter.
Startled, Santos nearly dropped the partially peeled orange. He spun around, holding the orange down by his thigh. “I should ask you the same thing,” he growled. “You’re supposed to be guarding the front.”
She glared at him. Aside from a couple bullies in grade school, she’d never wanted to beat the crap out of someone like she wanted to beat Santos. “Orders change. We’re moving out. Your Colonel wants to see you. Now. Looks like you’ll have to save the snack for later, sweetheart.” Brimley relished throwing the word, tone, and inflection back in his face.
He grinned, said “you’re learning,” and winked at her. Rather than dropping his orange, he deftly plucked and tossed two oranges, yelling “catch!” as they flew through the air. Reflex took over as Brimley stepped into the open to catch the flying fruit. While she was busy, Santos removed three more. It’d been hours since he’d eaten anything. And, if he was right, they all could use a little citrus pick-me-up. “You gonna lead on?” Santos asked.
With softball sized oranges in each hand, Brimley about-faced and marched to the front of the house. Celatrix Verna and Colonel Dagon stood speaking in the doorway, their conversation stopped at the sight of the orange bearing duo.
“Good to see you put aside your differences,” Celatrix Verna commented. Dagon curiously raised an eyebrow. Brimley blushed while Santos nodded and smirked. “It’s nothing to worry about,” Verna whispered to Dagon as she placed a hand on his arm. “Procedural dispute solved by food. If only that worked at the political level.”
“Perhaps it would if we spiked the politicians’ meals,” Dagon said.
Without assenting, Verna’s eyes narrowed. She said, “food for thought.” Then, motioned Brimley to follow.
As the Celatrix and her escort disappeared behind the hedges, the two men silently watched. When Dagon was certain the women were out of hearing range, he whispered, “stay here. Keep watch. I’ve got to run to HQ. Time to update General Tomlyn.”
“Sir, Betsy is closer than HQ,” Santos said.
“Where did you leave my truck?”
“Sentinel’s parking,” he answered. “If you start running you could catch them.”
“Careful, Lieutenant,” Dagon warned. “I left my sense of humor in my rack this morning.”
The nominally fit groundskeeper limped up the cemetery path. He could finally see the main office. While he longed to be home in his recliner relaxing with a beer, he knew his home was not the refuge it once had been. Unmindful of the path, with thoughts of home, Patrick Field almost didn’t see the tuxedo cat approaching. As they neared each other, the black and white cat looked up at Field and yowled.
“Oh? You think so?” Field asked. “Well, fuck you, too!” He stomped his good foot and hissed.
The cat stopped, hair raised in a ridge on its back. Its tail puffed out. A guttural, “mwrrrr,” began in its throat as the man and cat glared at each other like a pair of angry duelers.
“Go on. Try me, Cat. You don’t know the day that I’ve had. All over the countryside, running circles for Colonel Dagon. Come at me. I dare you. You might get in a scratch or two. But, I’ll have kitty and dumplings for dinner. It’ll look damn funny if I show up to a funeral home with a dead cat hanging over my shoulder. You think the Commander will care? Huh? He’s got more important things to do. Mark my words.”
The hair ridge lowered and the growling stopped. The cat tilted its head, blinked both eyes, and then let out a series of choked off meows that sounded suspiciously similar to laughter. Just as the cackling crescendo caused the hair on the back of Patrick Field’s neck to stand at attention, the tuxedo cat darted passed him and down the path.
“Asshole cat,” Field muttered to himself before resuming his walk to the Sentinel Cemetery mortuary.
The desk was buried in file folders, loose leaf papers, and a stack of procedural manuals. Sifting through the manuals looking for anything that would validate his actions, Commander Randle Dante, Sr. exhaled sharply. He’d been at it since returning from Sanctuary City Medical Center. Thus far, he’d located two statues that confirmed his responsibility for lost prisoners, one that demanded a full scale inquiry into any prisoner escape, and three that required the base commander to coordinate recovery efforts. He’d logged the publication numbers and brief descriptions of each regulation. He was about to alter his search parameters to include anything that might tighten the noose around that dickhead doctor’s neck, when his phone rang.
“Damn it, Ensign Baeckerei!” Commander Dante shouted. “I told you to hold my calls.”
“I know, but it’s your son, sir,” Baeckerei said from the doorway. “He said it was an emergency.”
The commander breathed through his nose and picked up his phone, saying, “this is Commander Dante.” He absently waved a hand of dismissal to the ensign. “What’s the emergency?”
“What in Iphi’s name is going on, Dad?”
“It’s good to hear your voice, Randy,” Dante answered.
“Don’t play me. Answer my question,” Randy demanded.
“Show some respect. I’m not only your father, I’m also a higher ranking officer,” Dante spit. “I don’t answer to you.”
“Show—show some respect? Are you kidding me?” Randy practically yelled into the receiver. “I’ve been pulled from my duties, stuck on a desk, and watched like a hawk for the last three hours. A little birdie told me you were sent to SCMC for eval. So. I ask you again, what’s going on?
Dante pulled the phone away from his ear. “Is this a secured line?”
“Of course,” Randy answered. “I’m not an idiot. I ditched the hawk and called in a favor. You gonna tell me? Or, what?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means, find your babysitter. Get back to your desk. And, act like the man I raised you to be.”
“That’s all I get?” Randy huffed.
“Remember when your mother died?” Dante asked.
“Remember what I told you?”
“Yes, sir,” Randy sighed.
“If that’s all, then I’ll talk to you later. I’ve got work,” Dante said.
“Watch your back, Dad,” Randy said.
“And you,” Dante replied. He started to hang up, but as he put the receiver down he heard the distinct sound of a third person’s breathing. Secured line, my ass. Did Randy know? he wondered. A second after he placed the phone in the cradle he heard a similar plastic on plastic noise come from his secretary’s desk. That nosy sumbitch. Baeckerei. I got your number now, boy, Commander Dante thought. “Baeckerei!”
Dante quickly cleaned up his papers, locked the folders in the filing cabinet, and placed the publications back on shelves. He had enough to credibly argue his point, should it come to that. Of course, he also needed something better than speculation. What he needed now, was some hard evidence pointing in the direction of his would-be persecutors. The list of possible conspirators seemed to be growing by the hour. Soon as Locos and Machine rounded up the escapee, some of the pressure would blow over. But, politics are politics. Once the target’s been painted, it’s easier to move mountains than to shift the focus elsewhere.
Lying in the cot nearest to the exit Adonis had the perfect view of the entire Officer’s Barracks, making it easy to watch the two cliques. In one corner Songtree and Bayleaf chatted up Thibodeaux, while in the opposite corner Scott and Bohner flirted. On occasion the trio would quickly glance at him and look away when they realized he was watching. He bounced a leg as he lay there. They can’t possibly know, he thought. He closed his eyes. Using his mental video player, Adonis put the morning on replay and watched the scene of Kaiser Imler’s death. Though he was currently trapped in Avalona, it was a temporary situation. By now, the Inquisitor’s team would have disposed of the body. Mercury’s Elite would be scouring Ambrosia seeking Kaiser Imler. The emergency crews in Avalona would be winding up the day’s search and rescue ops. A decision regarding whether or not they needed to call the people to war had to be made before the bells rang in the morning. Meaning Adonis needed to convince General Tomlyn that the Kaiser was not coming and that the justices were needed back in Ambrosia. As he contemplated the possibilities, the barracks’ canvas door opened.
A pimply faced sergeant entered.
“What are you doing here?” Adonis asked impatiently. “We’re not to be disturbed.”
“I’m looking for Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis,” the soldier replied.
“Why?” Adonis asked.
“General Tomlyn would like a word,” the sergeant stared at Adonis. “You him?”
It wasn’t the lack of respect in the man’s voice that pissed Adonis off. It was the fact that he had to ask. After a lifetime in politics and law that anyone should have to ask who he was proved irksome. “I am,” Adonis hissed.
“Good. I need you to follow me, sir,” the sergeant ordered.
“Tell the general I’m busy,” Adonis rolled over.
“Sir, I’m only going to ask you one more time,” the sergeant stated.
“Oh, really?” Adonis said to the canvas wall. “And, if I refuse?”
“I’m authorized to use force,” the sergeant said. “It will adversely affect morale if you make me, sir.”
“Morale? You’re worried about morale?” Adonis scoffed, “you’ve got to be kidding. I’m not only a Justice of the Antigone Courts. I’m the Chief Justice. We’re being held against our will. And, you’re worried about morale? I tell you what…fuck yourself. And, fuck your general. I’m tired. I’ve got more important things to do than sit here twiddling my thumbs. If you Regulars keep screwing with us, we’ll be forced to call a panel together to investigate this impropriety. We shouldn’t even be here.”
“If you’re finished,” the sergeant pointed to the door, “I’d rather not drag you out of here, sir.”
Crimson Bohner stood up, “just go with him. Maybe General Tomlyn’s gotten word from the Kaiser. I’d like to go home sometime today, Fraunx.”
Adonis resisted the urge to mutter not likely. He rolled back over, swung his feet onto the ground, and asked, “what’s your name, soldier?”
“Sergeant,” the man answered.
“You think it’s fun to play games?”
“I’m done playing games with you, sir. This way,” the sergeant motioned to the door.
When Adonis stepped outside of the Officer’s Barracks he found himself surrounded by a semi-circle of armed Regulars. “What? What is this?” He attempted to step back, but ran into the sergeant.
“As I said, I’m authorized to use force,” the sergeant whispered into Adonis’ ear.