At the door to Patrick Field’s house, 1st Lieutenant Santos addressed the two women he’d escorted from the Templus Ministrae, “one moment while I inform Colonel Dagon that you’re here.” Turning the knob and pushing the door, resulted in nothing. He shoved again, then looked over his shoulder and half-heartedly smiled as he knocked.
When the door opened a crack, Santos declared, “tell Colonel Dagon I’ve returned with the Celatrix and one of her officers.”
From the other side of the door, Colonel Dagon barked, “don’t tell me. I can hear. Invite the Celatrix inside. Tell Santos and the officer to guard the front and back of this house.”
“Did you catch that?” Cassie asked Santos through the slightly opened door.
He nodded and motioned to the door, “Celatrix, if you will.” Both the Celatrix and Officer Brimley approached the door. Santos held up his hand, “not you. We’ve got guard duty. You want the front or the back?”
“Celatrix?” Brimley asked.
“She’ll take the front,” Celatrix Verna answered before disappearing into the house. Brimley stepped forward as she heard the Celatrix exclaim, “O’ Mercury! Do my eyes deceive?”
“Whoa, sweetheart,” Santos said. “Your orders are to guard the front. Not to enter it. I’ve got to cover the back. Can I leave you here unsupervised or do you have a problem?”
“I’m not your sweetheart, Merc,” Officer Brimley spit. “Do your duty. I know mine. My orders are to protect the Celatrix.”
“And, she ordered you to guard the front,” Santos smirked.
“Get out of my face,” Brimley growled.
“You’ll know when I’m in your face,” he said, picturing his tongue down her throat. Santos snickered his way around to the back of the house where he was astonished by the simplistic beauty of the gardener’s landscape.
“Rise, Celatrix,” Cassie said softly. Her first full day on the job and she was already sick and tired of protocol. She recalled Kent’s outburst when Ms. Darin had knelt before him, which immediately brought forth thoughts of Kaiser Imler’s amusement, followed by the Kaiser’s head exploding. She ground her teeth together, closed her eyes tight, and fought back the tears. Pain raced through her heart and a twitch formed just under her left eyebrow. Hold it together. Hold it together, she chanted. In the time it took her to ride the emotional wave, the Celatrix stood up, and the griffin, Kaiser Archel, slumped onto the couch.
“Colonel?” Verna asked.
“As you can see, we’ve a number of problems,” Colonel Dagon used his eyes to indicate the sagging couch. Verna scoffed as Dagon continued, “I’ll be brief. Kaiser Imler has been murdered. This is his heir, Archel. Er. Um. Kaiser Archel.”
“Archel? Chief Justice Adonis’ servant?” Verna stared at Archel.
“Yes,” Archel groaned. “Not anymore,” the griffin laughed. “Not anymore.”
Verna shivered at the sound. Then, she asked, “does Adonis know?”
“I don’t think so,” Dagon answered.
“He knows,” Cassie said. She sat on the arm of the couch, biting her lower lip, and fighting the twitch under her left eye. “He—he’s…responsible,” she heaved. “I—I saw,” she couldn’t say it. Her tongue quit working as her twitch involuntarily closed her left eye. “He hi—hired a guy,” she blurted.
“What!” Dagon and Verna exclaimed.
“I saw ev—everything,” the words came in bursts as Cassie struggled to breathe.
From the middle of the warehouse floor, Vorant yelled, “Jougs!”
“Shut up!” Jougs replied from the doorway of the warehouse manager’s office.
Vorant swiveled around to glare at the loft. Without waiting for an invitation, Vorant carried himself to the stairs. He proceeded up them two at a time. At the office door, he expected to find Jougs and the Inquisitor, but saw only Jougs. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Jougs said leaning back in the office chair, his feet resting on the Inquisitor’s desk.
“Where’s the old goat?” Vorant asked.
“Went out. You done?”
“Just finished. What’s going on?”
“Need your help moving the shipment to the loading dock.”
“You got them all ready?”
“Yeah. All we gotta do is relocate the whole mess.”
“Well, let’s get to it. Sooner done, sooner we can get dinner.”
“Man, you’re always fucking hungry,” Jougs laughed.
“And you’re always sitting down on the job,” Vorant retorted.
“Don’t be mad just because you got the shit job,” Jougs grinned.
Vorant raised an eyebrow, “oh, do I look mad?”
“No. You look like an ugly son of a bitch.”
“Better ugly, than dumb as fuck.”
The two men continued their tit-for-tat down the stairs and to the middle of the warehouse floor where they found one of the shipping container lids slightly askew.
“I thought you secured them,” Vorant said.
“Then, what’s this shit?”
“Is she in there?” Jougs asked.
“Fuck!” Jougs exclaimed. “We’ve gotta find her.”
“Which one was in this crate?”
“Uh,” Jougs ran a hand over his stubbly chin. “Let me think,” he tapped the first crate to his right, “the blonde. And, here,” touching the one stacked on top of it, “is the old lady.” The next two crates he slapped, “the twins.” As he stared at the last two crates, it dawned on him, “oh, shit! Shit! Shit!”
“Don’t tell me,” Vorant sighed.
“The daughter,” Jougs kicked the nearest shipping container, then jumped back hopping on one foot. “How the hell did she get out?”
“Like I know,” Vorant replied. “We better find her.”
“She can’t get far. I double dosed them all.”
“We don’t find her before he gets back…” Vorant trailed off. The duumviri froze.
“Find who?” the Inquisitor asked.
Jougs answered, “the daughter.”
Even though all the women in the crates were someone’s daughter, they only had one mother-daughter set in the load. This day just keeps getting better. “Find her.” The Inquisitor started toward the stairs, and then stopped. It can’t be, he thought. “You drugged them all, right?”
“Double doses like usual,” Jougs said.
“Then she didn’t walk out of here,” the Inquisitor pointed out.
“Someone carried her out?” Jougs asked.
“What do you think?” the Inquisitor hissed. “Mister Vorant, search the containers, the cold storage, and the office. You find her, give two long whistles. Mister Jougs, with me. We’re searching the perimeter. One itinerant girl is not going to cost us this entire operation. I don’t give a flying fuck who’s helping her.”
Justice Jo Casta held the mostly empty beer glass to her temple. After thirty solid minutes of Mayfield and Davies bickering, she found herself wondering how the bartender was still unconscious. Entertaining the thought of a walk ended as she recalled the destruction she’d seen when they’d first arrived. Contemplating her options, Casta realized she had the choice between two levels of stupid. She could either continue drinking while the men squabbled like children. Or, she could retire to their temporary quarters and listen to Adonis bitch. She stood up from the table, “excuse me,” she said rocking her glass in the air. “Anyone need?”
“Another bottle,” Davies slurred, turning the black label towards her, “and some cherries.”
“I’m good,” Mayfield said.
Nodding, Jo Casta walked behind the bar. She stepped over Goldie, muttered, “pardon me,” and placed the whiskey on the counter. “Now, where in Mercury’s name do you keep the cherries?” Casta asked without expecting an answer.
She nearly pissed herself when Goldie whispered, “left of the rack, under the bar.”
Casta spun around and asked, “are you awake?”
“Seems like it,” Goldie said.
“You want some help up?”
“You can’t just lie there,” Casta said.
“Why not? It’s my bar,” Goldie replied.
Jo Casta stared down at Goldie, shrugged her shoulders, and exhaled. For a moment she wanted to argue, but the woman had a valid point.
“Who’s paying for all your drinks?” Goldie asked.
“I—I didn’t even think about that,” Casta confided. “We didn’t come down with any money. Never thought I’d need it here.”
“I see,” Goldie said. “I don’t mind running a tab, but that Captain Prescott refused to answer who should get the bill.” She turned her head up to look at Justice Jo Casta, “I lost everyone and everything I care about, save this bar. I’m not greedy. I’m not unscrupulous. I’ve always charged a fair price for my spirits. As the only functioning bar left, I’d be in my rights to raise prices. But, I won’t do it. Since the Antigone arrived my bar’s been cut off from the emergency workers who could probably use a drink about now. So, who’s paying?”
“I’m not actually allowed to,” Casta began, and then abruptly changed her mind, “run the tab for the Antigone Courts. I’ll sign whatever you need signed. And, just so we’re clear, I’ll need you to double your prices for all of our drinks.”
“I couldn’t,” Goldie argued.
“You most certainly can and will,” Casta leaned down, grabbing the cherries from under the bar, “call it the price of doing business with a justice.”
“Jo!” Davies called out. “What’s the hold up? My throat’s dry.”
Casta popped her head above the bar, “had the damnedest time finding your cherries.” She looked down at Goldie and whispered, “don’t get up until you’re ready.”
Closing her eyes, Goldie sighed.
In shock, Celatrix Verna listened to everything Cassie and Archel said. She struggled with the opposing parts of her brain. One side tried to deny everything she heard, while the other recognized the children’s pain as proof of the truth. With the death of a Kaiser, the Templus Ministrae became responsible for administering the solemn funeral rites and for verifying the legitimacy of the heir. Since Archel remained in griffin form, she had no doubts as to his legitimacy. As for the Messenger’s claim that the Chief Justice of the Antigone Courts was complicit…that she could not stomach. Unfortunately, having known Fraunx Adonis for over 20 years, she believed it, even knew he was quite capable of it. Her stomach soured. Bile rose in her throat. She coughed. Clenched her teeth and continued listening as Colonel Dagon began to explain Kaiser Imler’s suspicions and his decision to send the Antigone to Avalona. Unconsciously, she began pinching the fleshy part of her hands between her thumbs and forefingers, an old trick she’d learned to lessen headaches.