From the backseat of the Iago Citadel, Commander Dante calmly watched his surroundings. The drop-off center’s rear loading dock doors gaped open, though the dock was completely empty. Lieutenant Musgrove disappeared into the warehouse. A few minutes later, he exited, clothes laden arms topped with two pairs of shoes. When he reached the car, he tapped the backdoor with his foot and nodded. Dante pushed open the door and was nearly buried in the stink wafting off the pile as Musgrove dropped it in the seat.
“Not sure if I got you the right size, sir. Not a fucking tailor,” Musgrove said.
Dante grunted. He dug through the offensive pile, holding up various articles before dropping them. “We need a place to hide the car and prep.”
“Got two options. There’s a bridge with some abandoned buildings west of here. Plenty of privacy, longer walk to Hell Hill. Or, a couple blocks north, there’s a car park, less privacy, shorter walk. Up to you, sir.”
“How much longer?”
“Five minutes,” Musgrove shrugged, “maybe more.”
“That all? To the bridge,” Dante ordered.
Once in the vehicle, Musgrove cranked it, and then flipped a bitch out of the parking lot. A few minutes, he eased the Citadel to a slow crawl over bumpy, abandoned train tracks. He took the right fork around to a dilapidated building that suffered from obvious signs of ancient fire damage. In the relative safety of the building’s shadow, Musgrove killed the Citadel’s engine.
“What’s the plan, sir?”
Dante smirked as he said, “you already know.”
“All I know is that you want to go in, find a guy, and get out. That can’t seriously be your whole plan.”
“I see no reason to make it complicated.”
“We’re about to walk into the worst neighborhood in the city, armed with nothing but our good looks and these shitty clothes. Are you trying to get us killed?”
“Anthony, do I look suicidal?” Dante asked fastening the buttons of his stolen stank nasty, tattered shirt.
“You look like my cousin, sir,” Musgrove replied. “He got killed in a yard fight.”
“That certainly engenders confidence,” Dante sneered.
“Don’t talk like that. I should go without you,” Musgrove said quietly.
“Don’t worry. You’ll do the talking.”
For the umpteenth time, Musgrove wished he’d never gotten involved. Everything was much simpler when he just drove for Dante. Curiosity. Damned curiosity, he silently cursed the impulse that had pushed him to leave the car back when the prisoner first escaped. Still cursing himself, he asked, “are you sure we need to do this?”
In the dark, Musgrove couldn’t see Dante’s annoyed expression, but he heard it when Dante said, “get dressed.”
Standing before the door leading to the morgue, Ensign Osborne and Patrick Field faced off.
“Let me through. I’ve got to see her,” Field demanded.
“No one goes in,” Osborne stated, “Celatrix’s orders.”
“I’ve got a message from Colonel Dagon.”
“So you said. I heard you demand to see Commander Felis. Now, it’s Celatrix Verna,” Osborne shook his head. “Who’s next?”
Exasperated, Field stepped up to Osborne and growled, “the message for Commander Felis involves Celatrix Verna. He’s not here, she is. Fine. I’ll tell her. He shows up, I’ll tell him. Let me through.”
“No,” Osborne said.
With his fist balled up, Field reared back to sock Osborne in the gut. When Field stepped forward, Osborne blocked the incoming punch with his left arm as he jabbed his extended fingers into Field’s throat. The overeager groundskeeper collapsed on the floor, gasping for breath, and protectively holding his injured throat. Colonel Dagon’s little black bag lay next to him, forgotten.
“Easy now,” Osborne said, hovering over Field. “It’ll take a few minutes to get your breath back. Take it easy.”
Busting through the front door, Colonel Dagon stumbled to a stop mere feet from Osborne and Field. Glaring at the two men, he ordered, “desist.” Then, he stepped forward, swiping his bag from the floor.
“Colonel!” the ensign snapped to attention.
Reaching a hand out to Field, Dagon asked, “did you see Felis?”
Reaching a hand out to Field, Dagon asked, “did you see Felis?”
Unable to speak, Field mouthed, ‘no’ and gave Osborne a dirty look.
“He isn’t here, sir,” Osborne answered.
“Great,” Dagon snarled. “Celatrix Verna?”
“In the back.”
“Move,” Dagon ordered.
For a split second, Ensign Osborne contemplated his options, and then he opened the door. Stepping out of the way, he whispered, “sir.”
In the middle of the room, with eyes closed and hands raised, Celatrix Verna stood over Kaiser Rudolpho Imler’s body, chanting, “requiem in pax.” The Merc guard tightened up, hand on his service pistol. Sensing the sudden change, Celatrix Verna slowly lowered her hands before opening her eyes. “This is precisely the type of interference that we’ll have to avoid when my attendants arrive, understand?” She said turning her head toward the Merc who stood stiffly stared at the entry where Colonel Dagon waited. Focusing on the direction of the Merc’s unwavering glare, she said, “Colonel Dagon. I didn’t expect you until later.”
“We need to talk,” Dagon said.
“Go for it. That’s your man,” she nodded toward the Merc.
Dagon ignored the guard, saying, “they killed the Bard.”
“What!” she practically shouted, before asking, “when?” in a more reasonable tone.
“Chasing down the Kaiser’s murderers.” Dagon shuddered, recalling the stench of burnt flesh and hair. “Burned,” he added.
“It can’t be,” Celatrix Verna sighed. She steadied herself by holding the exam table. Closing her eyes, she clenched her teeth, thinking two today. It’s happening again. After taking a few deep breaths, she said, “this changes nothing. The Kaiser is our priority. I’ll tend to Bard Fintan later. Have whatever’s left brought here.” With a slight twitch, she blinked away her tears.
“Celatrix,” Dagon bowed.
“Don’t turn,” the Inquisitor ordered into the two-way radio, “pull over on the next block.” The loaders in the maroon station wagon continued following them.
Mr. Jougs glanced down the street where emergency vehicles and gawkers blocked oncoming traffic. He chuckled, “looks like they got the fires out.”
“That your mess?”
“Had help, didn’t I?”
“You always do,” Mr. Vorant chimed from the backseat.
“We wouldn’t be the duumviri if I worked alone, would we?” Jougs quipped.
“Enough boys. Something is wrong,” the Inquisitor said. “Either of you see the van?” With both Jougs and Vorant shaking their heads in the negative, he holded down the talk button, speaking into the mic, he ordered, “stay.”
A static-filled voice came back with, “roger.”
“I’ll be right back,” the Inquisitor said as he opened the stolen car’s passenger door. He walked over to the station wagon, knocked on the driver’s window, and waited for the window to roll down. “Get your boss on the line, now.”
The loader lifted up an ass cheek, straightening out his leg. He removed a slim silver phone from his pants pocket, and then hit the speed dial. Once he heard it ring, he passed the phone through the window.
“It’s not here,” the Inquisitor stated. “Emergency services are everywhere.” Listening, he paced to the back of the station wagon. After a minute he hissed, “quit wasting my time. Do you have the van tagged or not?” He nodded, “good. The coordinates?” Once he’d received them, he ended the call. At the driver’s door, he shoved the phone through the window, “follow.” Once inside the stolen car, he ordered Jougs, “south. Get on GV17.”
“Sergeant Caspian,” Adonis spit. “You’re mislead. I’m not the enemy. This is treason.”
“The prisoner will shut his lying trap,” Caspian said.
“You have to listen. I’m being set up. I haven’t done an—”
Crossing the room in an instant, Caspian drilled a fist into Adonis’ face, “the prisoner will remain quiet.” While returning to his station at the base of the stairs, the kitchen door opened and General Tomlyn descended.
“Sergeant,” the general started, “why’s he bleeding?”
“With respect, sir, the prisoner needed an education.”
“Dismissed, Sergeant,” General Tomlyn ordered, stepping into the basement. “Maintain a position at the door. No one may enter, save Captain Prescott.”
“Yes, sir,” Sergeant Caspian said before climbing the stairs.
“General Tomlyn,” Adonis struggled to keep an even tone, “you’ve made a grievous error.”
“That remains to be seen, traitor,” General Tomlyn roared.
“How dare you!”
Tomlyn rushed forward. With his hands to Adonis’ throat, he growled, “how dare I? Did you so easily forget your oaths?”
“Oaths!” Adonis snorted, rolling his eyes. “Look at you. An oath means nothing.”
“Oathbreaker,” the general said, hammering him with two swift blows to the temples. General Tomlyn followed up with a jab to Adonis’ solar plexus. The former Chief Justice rocked back in the folding chair, expelling all his air. He choked in gulps of oxygen, while General Tomlyn slowly unbuttoned his uniform coat. “You will name your accomplices.” He hung his coat over the white plank handrail and placed his hat on the chair next to the stairs. Rolling up his sleeves, he smiled at Adonis, “we’ve known each other a long time, Fraunx. I knew you were a piece of shit. But, this…” He waved a hand, palm up, “this inexcusable devastation is your doing.”
Watching Tomlyn’s every move, Adonis shied from the uplifted hand. “You know nothing.”
“The Kaiser is dead at your bidding,” Tomlyn said, walking over to one of the shelves. After examining the contents, he picked up a cloth napkin, a candle, and a box of matches. “The name of your hired gun?” Firmly shutting his mouth, Adonis stared straight ahead. General Tomlyn crammed the napkin into Adonis’ mouth. He held the napkin in place with one hand gripping Adonis’ face. He let go of Adonis, lit the candle, and then whispered, “I’ve waited for this.” General Tomlyn moved the candle flame close enough to Adonis’ ear to curl the surrounding hairs. When the flame danced with Adonis’ earlobe, hot wax fell down his neck, his eyes bulged, and he screamed into the cloth wad. Removing the napkin, Tomlin asked, “your gunman?”
“You’re crazy! You can’t do this!”
Laughing heartily, General Tomlyn slapped Adonis in the burnt ear, “you’re a military prisoner being interrogated for regicide. You have no rights.”