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Princess of Wands: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Monday, September 19, 2005 19:31 EDT



    When he popped the trunk on the unmarked police car, Barb let out a whistle and bent down into the trunk. Although he tried not to notice, Kelly was forced to admit that all her assets were not up front.

    "What the heck are you doing carrying around an AR-10?" she asked, dropping her bag into the back. "Is it the carbine or the full auto version? Never mind. It's the full auto, I can see the markings on the reverse. And a pump twelve gauge?"

    "Deer hunting," Kelly said, shrugging as she straightened back up.

    The AR-10 was a .308 version of the venerable M-16 series. It was actually designed to mimic the M-16A2 but used a much heavier round. The M-16 used a high-velocity 5.56 millimeter bullet whereas the AR-10 fired a high velocity 7.62 millimeter bullet. An M-16 round tended to wound a man rather than kill him. An AR-10 round tended to put him in the morgue.

    "Yeah, right," Barbara scoffed. "You know those things tend to jam about every tenth round?"

    "I noticed," Kelly admitted.

    "Not enough gas blowback," Barb said, shrugging. "And the tubes get fouled. It gets really bad over a hundred rounds. There's a type of powder that cuts down on it but not many .308 rounds are made with it. They need a lighter buffer spring, too."

    "You do say?" Kelly said. "If I have to fire more than fifty rounds, I'm in the wrong fire-fight. I'm a detective, not a tac-team member. And I don't think even they fire more than fifty rounds in any situation. Where did you learn about AR-10s?"

    "All that is gold does not glitter," she said, grinning. Then she tossed him her purse.

    Kelly caught it, noticing the additional weight immediately, and frowned.

    "That is highly illegal in the state of Louisiana," he said, tossing the bag back. "Don't get caught with it by, say, a local cop. Or you might end up in the local slammer and I really don't think that would be a good idea."

    "I've got a concealed carry permit for Mississippi," Barbara said, frowning. "Louisiana has a reciprocal agreement, so I'm covered. But, while I'm not into resisting arrest, I think I would if it meant dealing with local justice. The term 'prison movie' comes to mind. I . . . did not like that deputy."

    "As a professional police officer, I do of course feel that resisting arrest would be the wrong thing to do," Kelly said. "As a thinking being, however, I suggest that if it comes to it you use every bit of force, short of lethal, necessary to avoid being arrested by Deputy Mondaine. The other question that comes to mind is, can you use that thing? Because if you can't, you shouldn't be packing, Mrs. Everette."

    "I've probably put ten times as many rounds through it than you have your service pistol," Barb said, shrugging. "Including on tactical ranges. Not that I've had much chance lately. But what I aim at, I hit. And it's a court of last resort, anyway. I have . . . other skills. Which I will use on you if you make any 'packed and stacked' cracks."

    "What . . . are you, Barbara Everette?" Kelly said, carefully.

    "I'm just what you called me," Barb said with a frown. "A soccer mom. I had to have one da . . . danged weekend where I wasn't taking care of somebody else. Just one. And I ended up . . . here," she said, waving her hands around. "In . . . this! Fortunately I had a father who thought his girls should be able to defend themselves."

    "Okay," Kelly said, nodding. "I'll play it as it lays, then. I don't suppose your cell phone works?"

    "Nope," she said. "No towers around here. I asked."

    "In that case, we need to find a payphone."

    "Down by the Piggly-Wiggly."

    At the Piggly Wiggly he bought a phone card and went out to the payphone to call in. While he was doing that she went to the drugstore next-door and bought her own phone card, a small black backpack, a six pack of bottled water, some cold Pepsi in twenty ounce bottles, a bag of ice and some energy bars. If worse came to worse she could survive on those for the weekend. As she was walking back to the front she stopped by the drugs section and picked up some Tylenol and Claritin-D.

    When she'd paid for her items she passed Kelly, still talking on the phone, and went in the Piggly Wiggly to use their bathroom. It was only marginally dirty as such places went. She emptied half the ice in the sink and put the bag in the backpack then stuffed the drinks into the ice. Once that was done she put the energy bars and drugs in the side pockets and carefully disposed of her trash in the overflowing trashcan.

    When she came back out, Kelly was finally off the phone and she called home. Still no answer so she left an updated message and called Mark's cell phone. No answer there, either. He'd probably turned it off.

    What she wanted to do was ask him to come down and pick her up. A creepy town was bad enough. A creepy town with a tough cop who was looking to her for a chance for survival was worse. She was trained to stay alive and get out of danger situations. The first position in every self-defense class is the running position. And everything in her was telling her to run.

    But Mark was going to be in no condition to come pick her up and even if he was the drive would be hell on both of them and she'd be paying back for years.

    No, she was just going to have to wait for the car to get done or figure out an alternate plan. She could call Daddy and wail. In which case he'd be on a plane for New Orleans in no more than an hour and here in about . . . ten. The thought was immensely reassuring but she couldn't do that any more than she could call Mark. She was a big girl and she was the one that had just up and left for the weekend. It was up to her to get out of the town.

    Preferably alive. If she knew she was in danger she'd pick up the phone. Then again, if Detective Lockhart was sure she was in danger, he'd carry her out of the town in an instant.

    "You talk to your boss?" she asked when she was done with the phone.

    "Yeah, Lieutenant Chimot," Kelly said, frowning. "I told him what seemed to be going on and he agreed it was suspicious. I also told him I was going stay on overnight and come back in the morning. I don't think the good deputy is going to show."

    "Neither do I," Barbara said, grimacing. "What are you going to do now?"

    "Ask around," Kelly said. "See if I can find anybody who doesn't give me the run around."



    "Lieutenant Chimot, my name is Augustus Germaine."

    Chimot had received a call from the director of the FBI explaining that one of their consultants was coming over to see him and that he should listen to what he said and believe it. "No matter how strange it seems, believe it."

    The FBI and local police had a so-so relationship. In certain cases, and kidnappings were one of them, the FBI had override authority. That meant that some snot-nosed punk straight out of the academy could order around anyone on the case, up to and including the chief of police. Generally they were polite about it but enough had been right pains in the ass that local police rarely looked forward to the FBI poking its nose in. They had excellent support and the manpower was often useful, but truth be told most of the cases the FBI ended up "supervising" were solved by some local detective who actually knew the area and the players involved.

    The FBI hadn't taken over the Ripper case, but Chimot knew it was close. He suspected that the "consultant" was going to tell him that. Just what he needed to hear from some closet academic.

    Germaine, though, was something different.

    "Mr. Germaine," Chimot said, standing up and offering a hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

    "I doubt that," Germaine said, bluntly, giving the hand a quick but firm shake. "Your department has had more than a few run-ins with the FBI and the Justice Department and there's not much love in either direction. But that's not important in this case, what is important are the Special Circumstances."

    "What . . . circumstances?" Chimot asked, sitting down. He cocked his head in interest at the tone; the capital letters had been noticeable.

    "There are certain investigations that take on odd hues," Germaine replied, taking his own seat. "And I'm going to explain to you what is really going on in this one. At the end of the conversation, you'll realize that you can't pass it on to anyone because they would assume you'd cracked under pressure. And if you decide to chance it, don't. Because we don't let this information get out. Period. Understand me?"

    Chimot looked at those piercing black eyes and nodded, a cold chill running down his back.

    "That's a little blunt," Chimot said. "And aren't people usually asked if they want to know stuff like this?"

    "No," Germaine replied. "Because if they have to know, they're told. And they generally keep their mouths shut for reasons that will become obvious. Is that clear enough to start?"

    "Yes," Chimot said.

    "You're a smoker, lieutenant," Germaine said, quirking one cheek in a grin. "Please, light up. Cigarette smoke does not offend me."

    "This is a no-smoking building," Chimot said.

    "You have a smokeless ashtray in your bottom left-hand drawer," Germaine replied. "And you usually open the window to make it less obvious. Please feel free to light up. But you probably want to save a hit from the bottle of Jim Beam next to the ashtray until after the conversation."

    Chimot glared at him but fished out the ashtray and lit a Marlboro.

    "Go," he said when the cigarette was lit.

    "The FBI gets involved in most serial killing investigations since they almost always involve kidnappings. And ones that do not rarely matter to them, but they do to us. Most serial killers are simply evil humans that enjoy the power rush involved in the killing and control of their victims. But a few do it due to Special Circumstances. Special Circumstances is the FBI's cautious euphemism for the supernatural. Shall I continue?"

    "Go ahead," Chimot said. "If you were nuts, the director wouldn't have called me."

    "I am the European and American head of a group which supports the investigation of Special Circumstances. We have an arrangement to share information and assist in investigations with the FBI. There is a similar arrangement with Interpol, Scotland Yard, what have you. We also have worked with local authorities from time to time. In this case, we were uninterested until the FBI crime lab identified one of the semen samples as construct DNA. That is, the DNA of a supernatural being that had manifested on earth. The scale, which was not lost by the way, we have it, is from the avatar of an entity named Almadu. Are you familiar with the name?"

    "No," Chimot said, his head reeling from more than nicotine. "You're serious."

    "Very," Germaine said. "Almadu is a god who was first identified by the Babylonians, one of the eleven monsters summoned by the dragon goddess Tiamat in her battle with Marduk. There are indications that he was listed as a daevas in the Zoroastrian religious tracts that were destroyed by Alexander in Persepolis. Possibly associated with Lillith who may, in fact, be Tiamat/Kali. A water god, usually depicted as looking like a cross between a fish and a dragon. He requires human sacrifice and often engages in sex with the sacrifices. Occasionally he will reproduce with a human female and create an amphibian cross species. They don't look very human but can pass for it in a bad light. The last manifestation of Almadu was in the 1920s in Massachusetts and involved a colony of such crosses. It was, we believed, wiped out and Almadu was dispelled. He apparently has been brought back from the nether realms. It is he who has been gutting your victims."

    "You're telling me there's some fish god going around screwing hookers and then murdering them?" Chimot asked, shaking his head. "You're right, I can't tell anybody this. They'll think I'm nuts. I'm not too sure about you."

    "Lieutenant, in the . . . very long time that I have been in this organization, I have seen things that would drive you mad," Germaine replied, calmly. "Almadu isn't even close to the worst. Almadu is, however, very bad. A full physical manifestation requires enormous power, more than I'd have thought he could gather. Either he has a large group of worshipers, numbering at least in the tens of thousands, or there have been far more murders, sacrifices, than you suspect. I've run a match on the criminal database and I think that some sixty street ladies have disappeared in one place or another in the Louisiana and Mississippi area. It's hard to tell, obviously, people just disappear from the street, change their names, what have you, but that would explain the full manifestation far better than five. However, with the full manifestation, he can begin using powers that he would not have without it. And I would anticipate his numbers of worshippers would grow. I suspect that he's soon going to leave these parts for somewhere he can gather sacrifices without so much oversight. And we dearly want to prevent that, for obvious reasons."

    "So why are you telling me this?" Chimot asked.

    "Two reasons. The first is that if you close on his place of worship, you are liable to encounter resistance beyond what you're used to dealing with. Think of it as attacking a group of ardent terrorists, for that is in many ways what they are. And there are no police tac teams on earth that are prepared to handle Almadu. Very few earthly weapons will harm him. He is vulnerable to fire and electricity, but shooting him will only make him angry. He also can charm people, make them believe he is a good god, control their actions and so forth. He prefers sacrifices that die in terror, but he is not adverse to charming attackers and then eating them, stealing their souls to do his service in the Dark Realms."

    "That's what he's been doing to the victims?" Chimot said, swallowing.

    "Yes," Germaine answered. "The other problem is that anyone who gets close to him is in danger. I don't have any agents available who are trained and capable of assisting right now. To defend oneself against the power that Almadu can use requires ardent belief in another god. A Catholic priest or a Protestant minister or a Wiccan high priest or priestess who really believed might be sheltered from his power, might be able to channel a shield against it. Might. One of my agents would be, if I had an agent of the caliber to take him on. But your average Joe Cop would be as undefended as if he was in a firefight with no vest. It's important that you understand that, do you?"

    "I hear what you're saying," Chimot admitted. "But I'm having a hard time believing it."

    "That, of course, is the problem," Germaine said, smiling sadly. "It requires that the agent not only believe, fundamentally, in evil as a separate power but that the agent believe, again fundamentally, that there is an equivalent power of good and that it can defeat evil. Without that belief, an agent, or the noted Joe Cop, is unshielded."

    "Crap," Chimot said, shaking his head. "We've got a problem."

    "Which is?" Germaine asked.

    "We have a possible lead in the case," the lieutenant said, swallowing and putting out his cigarette. "One of the people that was talking with one of the victims has disappeared. And, come to think of it, one of our informants mentioned that he was dabbling in 'old time religion.' We have reason to suspect he went back to his hometown, which is right down in the bayou . . ." he paused and looked at Germaine, raising an eyebrow.

    "With access to water and eventually the oceans," Germaine said, nodding. "Anywhere in Louisiana practically fits that description, but it's logical that it may be the center. Go on."

    "Anyway, Detective Lockhart went down there to see if he could find the suspect, Carlane, and he says the people there are giving him the run-around."

    Germaine sighed and looked at the ceiling, frowning.

    "The reality is that when there is a full manifestation, people tend to believe, strongly," the agent said after a moment's thought. "What may start with a few followers spreads. If it doesn't spread naturally, people will be brought into Almadu's presence and he will . . . assist them in their belief and worship of his power. If the center is this place that your suspect returned to . . . what is that, by the way?"

    "Thibideau," Chimot said. "A little speck down in the southwest bayou."

    "Yes, a small town," Germaine said, nodding. "Everyone knows everyone else. Very little movement in, some out. And manifestations can manipulate things. Minds. Actions. They can give their earthly followers earthly support, economic and social. A person removed. A business deal completed on very favorable terms. Even treasures lost in the deeps of the sea. It is likely that you're facing a whole town of believers. Those who were strong, who resisted his power, would have been removed. Some of them to feed his power, others through 'accidents' or 'natural causes' if they were too high profile to disappear."

    "The sheriff down there died of a heart attack about a month ago," Chimot said.

    "Likely he was resistant to the power," Germaine replied. "Which means that Almadu is still weak. Or the sheriff unusually strong. I wish, how I wish, I had just one fifth level agent to assign to this case."

    "What about you?" Chimot asked.

    "This is not the only case that is currently occupying my attention," Germaine said, dryly. "I did mention covering both the US and Europe, yes? You have no idea what some of the Muslims who think they're fundamentalists are summoning. And you don't want to know. Then there's the fact that I'm not a believer."

    "What?" Chimot asked, suddenly realizing that he'd bought into the story and wondering if he was insane.

    "It is not necessary to be a believer to run things," Germaine said, quirking one cheek again. "In fact, it can be a bit of a problem. You see, all the members of the organization are not believers in the same god. Few are Christians, for example, many pagans, a few are Hindu, although they count as pagan as well. Being able to say, honestly, I am not a believer in any credo helps when the, inevitable, quarrels break out. And my . . . cynicism is as deeply ingrained as the belief of my agents. But I do my job, none better or so I'm told. However, if I were to engage Almadu I would probably succumb to his glamour. Perhaps not, I have my own methods of defense. But I would not choose to challenge him. And then there's the other problem of assigning an agent."

    "Which is?" Chimot asked. "As if all those aren't enough?"

    "Such an agent, such a strong believer, has . . . a fine taste to the soul is perhaps the best way I can put it," Germaine replied. "They, in and of themselves, are targets for the Dark Powers. They are . . . tasty, strong, marinated in belief. And if Almadu does rip such a victim's soul from body, eat the victim's guts, that is, they will serve him in the Dark Realm whether they care to or not."



    Barb quickly discovered that "street-work" was hot, miserable and frustrating. They had walked around the town for two hours, talking to everyone who would stop at the sight of Kelly's badge. She had gone through two bottles of water and a Pepsi, and given three more bottles of water to the detective. And they had found not one person who admitted to any knowledge of Carlane Lancereau. And in almost every case they had been told that the Lancereaus "lived up Nitotar way" and "back in the bayou, you'll need a boat." A few added that the Lancereaus probably wouldn't be helpful anyway.

    Late in the day they ran upon the single exception, being ejected from the bait shop.

    "All I want is a taste!" the old man shouted at the closed door. He was unkempt and looked as if he'd recently been sleeping in the bayou, his clothes covered in mud and vegetation. He was short and might once have been strong and broad but age and, presumably, alcohol had left him thin and wasted looking. He also had a slightly different cast to his features, more traditionally Cajun than the locals.

    As Kelly approached him the man spun around in fear and then relaxed when he saw the two newcomers.

    "Hello," Kelly said, extending his badge. "My name is Detective Kelly Lockhart from the New Orleans Police Department. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

    "No," the man said, shuffling off. "I don't have answers. You go away. Get out of town while you still can."

    "Excuse me," Kelly said, hurrying to catch up. "What do you mean, while we still can?"

    "Just go," the man said, fiercely. "I ain't talkin' to you. Ain't nobody gonna say they seen me talkin to you. Get out of here. Go!"

    "Would a drink help?" Kelly asked.

    The man paused but didn't turn around. Then he shrugged.

    "Down the end of town there's an old boathouse," the man said, quietly. "You bring me a bottle. Hard stuff. I gotta have my bottle so the voices won't get me, too. Don't let nobody see you come. Right before dark. You need to be back in your room by dark or you'll never leave."

    Then he hurried off.

    "I'd dearly like to talk to him," Kelly said, musingly, as he turned away from the figure. "But the only place to get a bottle is in the bar, and they'd know why."

    "I've got a bottle," Barbara said. "In my bag."

    "What's a nice Christian lady like you doing with a bottle of whiskey in her bag?" Kelly said, amused.

    "I'm Episcopalian," Barb replied, lightly. "We don't have prohibitions against drinking. And it's a habit I picked up from my mother. I haven't drunk any of it, but it's sitting there in case I need it. Jim Beam."

    "What would you need it for?" Kelly asked as they walked back towards the courthouse.

    "I dunno? Brushing my teeth?"

    "With whiskey?" Kelly said, aghast.

    "Better than water in some of the places I've been," Barbara said, shrugging. "Don't mix it with toothpaste, though, that's really horrible. Mixed with water it kills almost anything that can ail you, for that matter. And it tastes better than iodine."

    "What an . . . interesting point," Kelly said. "Where'd you learn that?"

    "Borneo," Barb replied.

    "Borneo?" Kelly said. "I thought you were from Mississippi?"

    "My husband is from Mississippi," Barbara said, smiling slightly. "I'm not from anywhere. My father was an air force officer, a bomber pilot. When they demobbed . . ."

    "Demobbed?" Kelly asked.

    "Demobilized, sorry. When they demobilized most of the B-52 fleet he was given the choice of being riffed, sort of like laid off . . ."

    "Riffing I know . . ."

    "Or retraining. He took retraining and managed to get a foreign area officer slot. So for the first ten years of his career we wandered around from airbase to airbase and for the last fourteen years, which are the ones I remember the best, we moved around east Asia from embassy to embassy. Hong Kong, before the hand-over, Japan, Malaysia and Borneo to be specific. And travel to other countries while we were there."

    "And that's where you learned to brush your teeth with Jim Beam?" Kelly asked.

    "My mom learned it from some colonel's wife when she was a JO . . . a junior officer's wife. The colonel's wife had picked it up from some civilian lady she'd known way back in Iran before the fall of the Shah. And that's why I've got a bottle of Jim Beam in my bag. It's just a pint flask, but it should do. So, what are you going to do with it?"

    "I'm thinking that I'd like to talk to him but what I really should do is go back to New Orleans," Kelly mused. "If he's right, and there's going to be a problem tonight, getting out of town is the right thing to do."

    "You are not leaving me here," Barb said.

    "No, of course not," Kelly replied.

    "And that ignores the question of if your car is going to work or not," Barbara said, suddenly feeling a chill. "We haven't been in sight of it most of the day."

    "You are just the most optimistic person," Kelly said. "Let's go check the car and then get your bottle."

    "You're going to meet with him, then?" Barb asked.

    "Yeah. I'm tired of working in the dark."

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