Whipping the Iago Citadel through Sanctuary City’s evening traffic, Lt. Musgrove watched the mirrors for signs of a tail. He used every evasion method he could recall from his questionable youth, and after 30 minutes of borderline reckless driving, he resumed his regular driving habits. As ordered, he drove into eastbound traffic headed for the Karman Tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, Musgrove hit his emergency flashers and slowed down. At the midpoint of the tunnel, he stopped the car, and popped both the hood and the trunk. He waited for a break in traffic, then climbed out. From the trunk he removed two emergency triangles, which he spaced out behind the car to give oncoming vehicles a warning. He tapped on the rear driver’s side window, nodded to Commander Randle Dante, Sr., and then went about the business of tinkering with the engine. The moment Musgrove’s head disappeared behind the hood, Dante slipped out of the passenger side of the Citadel. The commander walked against traffic toward the nearest emergency exit. While Dante disappeared through the tunnel door, Musgrove recovered the emergency triangles, closed up the Citadel, and then drove off. Musgrove had his orders: drive around aimlessly and in two hours return to the drop off point.
“If you’re going with him, then climb in,” the titan paramedic said to Balin.
The pacing ensign looked up at the paramedic, nodded once, and then clambered into the back of the ambulance. “How long will it take us to get to the hospital?” Balin asked.
“‘Bout ten minutes. Depends on traffic,” the paramedic answered as he closed the rear doors. He quickly verified the stretcher was secured, then slapped the wall of the ambulance cab. The driver took the signal, started the engine, and began maneuvering through the streets.
The young man lay on the stretcher watching the ceiling, though still absently petting the dead bird, his hysterical laughter had abated. While Fulco nuzzled Aeolus, the tuxedo cat curled itself between Kent’s legs. “Wait!” Kent shouted. “You can’t leave him!”
The giant glanced at Balin who shrugged imperceptibly. “We aren’t,” the paramedic said reassuringly, “there’s another crew that will bring the others.” He contemplated adding he needs a hearse, not an ambulance, but between the dead falcon and the prior hysterics, the man refrained.
“Where are you taking me?” Kent asked.
“The hospital,” Balin answered.
“I don’t need a hospital,” Kent said. “I’m not hurt.”
“You’re in shock,” the paramedic replied, placing a hand on Kent’s shoulder. “It’s okay. After what you’ve seen, anyone would be.”
“Shock,” Kent repeated. He closed his eyes, leaned into the hard pillow, and continued to pet Aeolus.
The two men glanced sideways at each other, but held their tongues even though both were certain that Kent suffered from far more than shock.
Circling inside the funeral parlor, a panicked Patrick Field wondered, where the hell did he go? The posted guardsmen either didn’t know or refused to say where Commander Felis had gone, and no amount of arguing made them see reason. He was told to wait in the parlor until the commander returned. That he claimed to have information straight from Colonel Dagon made little difference, most likely because he wasn’t one of them.
“You’re gonna wear out the carpet,” the old man said from where he sat near the stage.
Continuing his circuit, Patrick chewed his bottom lip and held tightly to Colonel Dagon’s black bag.
“I don’t think he heard you,” Colonel Lara Thompson said as she turned her head to follow the distracted groundskeeper. She kept one hand on the old man’s thigh. The two injured and amused retirees watched as they waited for Ensign Osborne to return with medical supplies. While under their observation, Field’s pace quickened and his limp became more pronounced.
“You really ought to sit, son,” General Marshall Michaels said as Field passed by. “Give yourself a rest or you’ll be done for.” Michaels knowingly shook his head. Having commanded many soldiers in his day, Michaels knew the sign of oncoming shin splints. If the gardener wasn’t careful, he’d end up unable to walk at all. Instead, he’d suffer through the sheer magnitude of millions of pin pricks overwhelming his nervous system. Michaels whispered to Thompson, “when the ensign returns, I say we force that young man to rest. I’d do it myself, but I’m already done in.” He glanced down at his throbbing, swollen ankle.
“I’ll handle it, love,” Thompson slowly stood up, her entire body protested. She took a few steps toward Field who was nearly through another circuit. Timing it perfectly, she wobbled, and then fell. Though distracted, Field managed to instinctively reach out and stop the old lady’s descent.
“You really shouldn’t be walking around in your condition,” he mumbled as he helped her back to her seat.
“One to talk, aren’t you?” she asked clutching his forearm in a surprising iron grip.
“Don’t play coy,” Colonel Thompson said as she pulled down on his arm. The action forced him to put pressure on his sore leg. Field winced. “As I thought. Sit down, young man,” she ordered.
Helpless to do otherwise, Field looked to the general, who simply smiled and nodded. Caving in, the groundskeeper plopped in the chair on the other side of the colonel. She patted his shoulder and then leaned into her own chair, her feet sprawled out in front of her. Recognizing the wisdom, the two men followed suit. About the same time Field finally started to relax, the front door to the funeral home opened. He jumped to attention.
“Celatrix, please,” the Amazonian officer pleaded.
“I explained what must happen, why fight it?” Celatrix Verna asked.
“I’m not fighting. I’m trying to protect you. How can I ensure your safety, if you refuse to let me search places before you enter?”
“None of us are safe,” Verna sighed.
“I don’t care about others. My duty is to protect you.”
“Hush, before you say something you regret. Be happy that we beat the rain.”
“But, Celatr—” Officer Brimley’s whine abruptly stopped as the mortuary door squeaked open.
Unaware of the Celatrix’s entrance, Ensign Osborne shoved his way into the foyer, his arms overloaded with gauze, slings, peroxide, and various other medical supplies. He nearly dropped his load when he looked down the barrel of Brimley’s service pistol. “Get that out of my face,” the pissed off soldier shouted.
“Try and make me,” Brimley calmly replied.
“Stop it!” Celatrix Verna and Colonel Thompson ordered. As their commands mingled, the two women briefly locked eyes, raised their eyebrows, and then curtly smiled at one another.
Brimley and Osborne froze threatening action with their grimaces, yet unwilling to move. Placing a hand on Brimley’s outstretched gun arm, Celatrix Verna shook her head. Exhaling through her nose, Brimley relaxed her stance, but kept a wary eye on Osborne who hesitated to turn his back. He side stepped into the parlor before striding toward Colonel Thompson and the general who snorted once.
The pound of the bullet and sudden impact of the sidewalk with dead weight on his chest had forced the air out of his lungs. The thwap of his head onto the concrete must have knocked him senseless. Feeling every one of his 64 years, Bonnie Taylor lay where he landed simultaneously thankful the girl had been removed from his chest and cursing that he’d lost her. Instinctively, his right hand reached for the crystal necklace his son had given him—the boy’s last Saturnalia gift. He gripped the crystal with all his strength and willed himself into a sitting position. He groaned. The sky growled and the clouds flashed. The back of his head ached, his shoulders were stiff, and his ribcage felt like it had lost the battle with a leviathan. For additional kicks, the spot below his left shoulder blade pulsed and a warm wet substance ran down his back. He tried to reach his left hand to his back, but the action forced his body to convulse as his brain violently objected. He let go of the crystal to feel his back with his right hand. The effort pained him and rewarded him with blood smeared knuckles.
“Get up old man,” Bonnie Taylor muttered to himself.
With his feet under him, he stumbled to the nearest graffitied wall, where he stabilized himself. Whole sections of Shipping Lane were gaping black holes in the dim yellow light put off from the occasional working street lamp. In good weather this street would be filled with every wonder imaginable; many most would rather not imagine. He sighed, so close. We only had two blocks to go. Don’t worry girl, I’m not done yet. Gripping the crystal with his left hand, he stumbled down the street, and used his right hand as a brace against each building that he passed by.
Hobbling along took him longer to reach the warehouse than he preferred. Keeping to the shadows, he eased up to the building whose front was still unguarded. Painfully working his way around the building, he paused to watch for movement when he saw the grey cargo van. Few good hiding places existed alongside to the warehouse. Fortunately the nearby buildings lacked lighting, offering plenty of shadows. Circling around the outside of the parking lot, he timed his movements to the thunder, holding still during the lightning. From fifty feet away and hidden in the dark of another warehouse, Bonnie Taylor watched as one of the shipping containers disappeared into the back of the grey cargo van. Like the storm, he closed in. Gripping his battered cloak as he darted across the lot, he silently counted, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, stop. Two stops later he found himself leaning against the front of the van. He snuck over to the driver’s side and silently opened the door. Shoving his blade up into the surprised driver’s throat, he then eased the body across the bench seat. Once he’d slid in, he gingerly pulled the door closed. When one of the loaders closed the van’s doors, he turned the ignition switch and gunned it.