“Rector Jameson, why haven’t you been relieved?” She listened to his answer while bobbing her head up and down, “I see. Unfortunate. Can’t be helped. Have the Order assemble in full garb along the route. Send my attendants with the duty Scribus and Clericus to Sentinel Cemetery. Tell them to bring everything. That’s all,” Celatrix Verna said into the handset. Hanging up the old fashioned phone, she smiled to the Silvans and whispered, “too soon, you know? Weren’t we just here with his father?”
“Seems like it,” Jason whispered back.
Marcia bowed her head and gripped Jason’s sleeve, she softly added, “I get the physics of how. I don’t understand the why.”
“Only Mercury knows,” Celatrix Verna replied, she shrugged her shoulders, and shook her head. “You both are needed for the cleansing. Once we start no one can leave. Please handle any urgent matters now.”
“Celatrix, this is as urgent as matters get for us,” Jason swept his hand across the room, “the dead have exemplary patience.”
“Point taken,” Celatrix Verna nodded. “You recall the supplies we used for Kaiser Edward?” The Silvans both met her eyes with slight indignation. Understanding the pride they took in their work, she said, “good, we’ll need them again. Leave me a counter.” Standing at the door to their office, she paused before opening it, looking back she said, “fear not, Marcia. They will be avenged,” her voice dropped conspiratorially, “tonight we witness the phoenix rise.”
With the force of Celatrix Verna’s words, Marcia tightened her grip on Jason’s sleeve, pulling him down on one side. He braced his left foot and pushed against Marcia’s added weight. In silence the Silvans stood stalk still as the Celatrix slipped out. They stared at the closed paneled office door covered in obituary notices. The most recent snippet pertained to the distinguished service of retired Admiral Richard Willard Tomlyn as well as information about his sudden death. As Marcia wiped away a tear, her heart fell to her knees, “oh! Jason, we still have to tell him. It can’t wait another day.”
“Well?” Commander Dante asked from the relative safety of his backseat.
“Not ready,” Lieutenant Musgrove answered, glancing into the rearview mirror.
“Are you sure?”
“He’s still pending.”
“We can’t wait. Who else do we know?” Dante spoke more to himself than to the lieutenant. “What about that fellow that called it in?”
“Sir, we shouldn’t use anyone who’s already been involved.”
Dante grunted. He’s right. Sumbitch! Running a hand through his cropped hair, Dante stared out the window watching Sanctuary City flash by. “You were raised here, yes?”
“Where’s the roughest neighborhood?”
“North. A ways.”
“Does it have a name?”
“Officially? Fiery Heights,” the callous laughter emanating from the front seat told Dante all he needed to know about the area. Even so, Lt. Musgrove’s final comment sealed the deal, “unofficially? Hell Hill.”
“Perfect. Take me to the nearest thrift store,” he ordered.
“Thrift store? Sir, I don’t understand.”
“You heard me.”
“Yes, sir,” the confused lieutenant maneuvered the Iago Citadel into the left turn lane. Once he’d made the turn, Musgrove said, “if you’re planning on going up there, the thrift store won’t help.”
“What do you mean?”
“Frankly, sir, thrift clothes are too nice.”
“If you don’t mind my saying, sir, you need shit the drop-off centers throw away.”
“Are you serious?”
“Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“I suppose you know where we can find one of these drop-off centers?”
“We’re headed there now. And, sir, the kids ‘roun’ heah call’em ‘clothes bins.’”
Amused, Dante snorted once, he kept the smile from his lips. The next few hours would require complete self-control and an open mind. Whatever his instinctual response, he’d soon need to display the exact opposite behavior in a split second’s notice. He laughed outright. “Musgrove what do you need to blend in?”
“Me, sir?” Musgrove took a long look in the rearview mirror. Dante stared out the passenger window. “A death wish and a reason.”
“Wish granted. That’s your reason.”
“We don’t find a replacement, we’re dead men.”
One hand held the paddles and the other was in an iron grip around his crystal necklace, if he ground his teeth any harder he’d need a dentist. The boat flowed with the downstream current. Although a cool breeze chilled the early evening, sweat rolled down Bonnie Taylor’s temples. The drugged women were still unconscious. With luck they’d be on the barge before awakening. Since daylight had faded, a handful of Muddy River pier lights had popped on, including the lights at the River Guard Station where a slow white beam circled, river, sky, river, sky. Bonnie bent over the paddles and held his breath as they silently drifted passed it. Once clear, he slipped the paddles back into the water and picked up the pace.
Five minutes later, through sheer determination, Bonnie Taylor brought the little boat to a halt alongside a barge named, D’ble V’sion. Using one of the paddles, he rapped on the hull three times, in quick succession.
A few seconds later, a shadowed head appeared over a rail, in a gravelly voice he said, “’allo. What’d’ya want?”
“Tell Captain Decker that his guests are here.”
“Wait one,” the watchman hissed. Bonnie Taylor could hear him walk off muttering, “like I’m a damn messenger boy. Ain’t we got one already? Guests? What is th—” A pair of crane arms appeared hanging over the side of the barge, the whispering watchman asked, “know how to secure the rig?”
“Good. I don’t feel like climbing down. Two tugs when you’re ready.”
“Will do,” Taylor answered through clenched teeth. Just a few more minutes, then he could pass out. As soon as he had the chains secured, he yanked twice on the line. The wench clicked to life and his boat slowly shuddered up out of the water.
When the paddle boat was even with the railing, the watchman whistled and three sailors appeared out of the shadows. “Captain says, ‘State Room.’ Thinks that’s funny. Let’s go, boys.”
The soft and warm pitter-patter suddenly turned into a freezing torrent that bit into Dagon’s skin. He jerked up, dazed and hardly seeing, his head spinning in the opposite direction from his guts. Holding onto the same corner of the bench which he suspected nearly killed him, Dagon hefted himself onto his knees. Squinting into the darkness that had swept over the little grove, he gently felt the lump above his temple. So close. Closing his eyes, he tried to orient himself by reaching across the aisle between the two benches. At first he felt nothing, then his left fingertips slapped the wet marble. He sighed. Once he’d turned completely around, he crawled forward on three limbs, one hand a feeler sent to find the gazebo steps. By the time he’d reached the relative dryness of the gazebo’s center, he was too wet to care. He sat cross-legged, shivering while ringing out his sleeves, and wondering when his ears would stop ringing.
Placing his hands onto the gazebo floor, Dagon meant to readjust his posture, but found himself frozen in place. Heat rose directly up his arms through the cold, wet marble, instantly warming his whole body. Underneath him, the Eye of Mercury blinked. Dagon’s heart jumped, though his body could not move. He held his breath. The second the unrelenting pressure disappeared, pain exploded from his injured head. Weaving back and forth with his eyes closed, he didn’t see the floor pentagram glow first blue then white. He also missed the Eye of Mercury scanning him. The steady heat suddenly vanished taking his pounding headache with it. Crawling carefully, Dagon eased back down the gazebo steps. Once he felt the cold squishy grass under his knees, he breathed again. Almost ten minutes later, Dagon emerged from the little grove, squinting in the brilliant, white LED lights that illuminated all the main paths inside Sentinel Cemetery. Breaking into a full sprint toward the two story funeral home, he wondered how the Silvans could live in this graveyard and not know about Mercury’s Portal.
The radio operator held the headphone tightly, that’s it. Her hand went to work furiously scribbling the series of long and short beeps. When the message ended, the page was full. She closed down her station, folded the code, and then slipped it into her back pocket. One of the other radio operators, sat upright, fumbling with his pen. His eyes widened. He stammered, “I—I can’t t-tell h-him th-that.”
“What is it, Jones?”
Jones shook his head, chanting, ‘not me.’
She grabbed the page off his desk, read it over, folded it, and then stuck it in her back pocket. She slapped his back, “I’ve got you, Jonesey. But, you gotta help.” Changing the dial on his radio, she whispered, “hear anything, write.” Orders were to go through Captain Prescott, who’d either be at the tavern or in the Officer’s Barracks. Hoping to cut out the middle man, she headed for the Command tent. She waited, listening for the captain’s voice. When it seemed safe, she opened the canvas door and walked into the conference area where a single sentry guarded the tent flap of General Tomlyn’s field office. “General in?”
“Not to be disturbed.”
“Can’t be helped. Get him,” the radio operator pulled the two messages from out of her pocket and waved them.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he put a hand out.
The woman moved his hand over, stepped into him, and huskily whispered, “Priority One messages are Eyes Only.” She pushed on his shoulder as she swiveled under his extended arm, “General Tomlyn?”
“What part of no disruptions?” the general yelled.
The sentry, shrugged and shook his head, “Priority One, sir.”
“Well, show me,” General Tomlyn sat at his desk with one hand waiting.
She opened the two messages, putting the page of code on the bottom. Better he learn about his father first, she thought. To her surprise, news of his father’s death was received with the slightest nod of the head as the general flipped the page to read the second message.
“Resume your post,” he ordered. “Wait.” He stood up, saying, “tell Captain Prescott to get a transport ready for the justices. Make sure they’ve got a full escort. And, tell Captain Prescott the prisoner stays here.”