I sat quietly and sipped at my coffee as Detective Antoine Washington absorbed everything that I’d told him over the last few hours. Midnight had slipped into early morning at the Denny’s in Mesquite, and I was nursing a bit of a headache from the veil that I’d thrown up hours before to give us some conversational privacy.
I’d been able to create some shadow and make us… unobtrusive… unless I wanted us to be noticed. That had been about an hour into the conversation, and was as much a way to show Washington what I could do as to keep us hidden. He was understandably … nervous. Who am I kidding – if we hadn’t been in the middle of a restaurant, he’d probably have shot me for suggesting it. I walked him through what I was doing, what the effect would be, and he… accepted it.
I felt more than saw the veil waver and fail as the first rays of sunlight poured through the window. The ambient noise increased around us, and the waitress was suddenly there again, asking if we needed anything else, bringing a fresh pot of coffee. Subtle distractions were definitely tougher than pure visual shields. I quietly said a prayer of thanks for the protection the veil had offered us through the early morning hours.
Washington noted the change in atmosphere, and as the waitress left, stated quietly, “You know, I’ve got a strait-jacket in my car.”
I rolled my eyes. “Really? That’s all you’ve got?”
He settled back in his chair and took a sip of the fresh coffee. “If I hadn’t seen what I seen on the streets…”
I nodded as I added some fresh coffee to my own cup. “But that’s pretty much the deal.”
“ Orcs.” He paused and shook his head. “It sounds crazy when I say it, but you just go on and on… and I believe you. @#$%^& Lord of the damn Rings.”
Item of power and everything. But I’d left out the part about the Marchioness and her bluebonnet being the likely cause of the power grab. Just trying to explain the overall concept of the Fae courts had stretched both of us far enough.
We continued to sit quietly as the sun rose a bit further. Finally I broke the silence. “So, I answered your questions. Now what?”
“Ya know, part of me walked in here hoping that you were just on the take with the OCT or something like that. Would have made you easy to play.”
I nodded. It wasn’t surprising with his mentality.
“Course, what you just spilled has got to have the potential to get you in trouble somewhere with someone.”
I nodded once, then shrugged. “Risk analysis.”
He grinned. “So I’m the bigger fish, eh?”
I met his gaze evenly. “At the moment? Sure. But you’re not the biggest fish.”
His scowl returned.
I drained my coffee. Despite his reputation, demeanor, and gun, the threats were getting old. “So… You came looking for me. I’ve answered your question. Now – what can I do for you, Detective?”
He drained his own cup, and set it down as he leaned forward on the table. “Here’s the lay of the board. The OCT has moved into Da Grove hard. For what it’s worth, they are only picking on the Bloods and Crips – they’ve left others alone… at least, if they’re not in the crossfire. Got about half of Da Grove secured, but dialed back in the last week or so. Word is they’re making moves north, too.”
I nodded as I recalled the layout of Dallas. That move would end quickly at the White Court’s doorstep… then they would come back to Pleasant Grove to finish what they started.
“So while the OCT is stalled, the Bloods and Crips are gearing up for war. I ain’t got enough pull or leverage to slow this thing down now, but I also ain’t sure what good it’ll do especially with what you’ve just laid out.”
“There’s a few things you can do to even the odds. But it will just even them.”
“That might be enough for what I need.”
Finally… “And that is…?”
He paused to refill his coffee. “I’ve lost good men – and not so good men – on the streets of Pleasant Grove. But – in every case I promised those men that I’d look out for their families. And a lot of them are still in Da Grove. If this is going down the way you say – I want to get them out.”
I finally relaxed a bit. “That… that I can help you with, Detective.”
I stifled a yawn as we climbed into his car a little while later. As Washington brought it to life, he continued. “I’ve already gotten all the arrangements made, places for them to live around Dallas. Away from Da Grove and Oak Cliff. Problem was trying to get them out without getting caught in the crossfire.”
I nodded. “So, now that you’ve caught a break in the fighting…”
“You got it, preacher.” The car roared out of the parking lot, and we headed back for Pleasant Grove.
“I’m still not sure what you need me for.”
“Today’s the day. They’re all packed. Ready to move. But last night my boys on the street let me know that the OCT stalled out at Northwest Highway for some reason, and they’re headed back here.”
As I anticipated – stopped cold at the doorstep of the White Court. And, now my presence made sense. Washington needed some supernatural insurance. “So, you expect me to run interference if the OCT shows up?”
“When. Ain’t a matter of if.”
“That’s a tall order for one man-“
“One man with miracles in his pocket, if you ain’t been @#$%^ lying to me.” He looked over sharply.
I conceded his point. “What’s the play?”
“All we need is to get them loaded up. I make a call and DPD escorts them out with red and blues flashing.”
I nodded in approval – Washington was pretty savvy. Even the OCT with Orcs in tow wouldn’t hit active law enforcement, but if the cops sat around long enough to load these families, they’d get antsy. “How many?”
“Today – 3 families. If that goes well, we got 3 more tomorrow.”
“Any chance I’ll be able to go home tonight?”
He snorted. “We’ll see, cracker. One thing at a time.”
The first home went smoothly. As promised, the family (a mother and two teenage sons) was packed and waiting when we arrived, and a beat up U-Haul arrived shortly after. Washington briefly introduced me to his partners (although they didn’t return the courtesy), and within an hour, the truck was packed and rolling. At the end of the street, two police cars formed up in escort with lights flashing and they were on their way out of Da Grove. I said a quick prayer for their safety, health, and prosperity, and then Detective Washington and I headed to the next address.
The next home held a pleasant surprise – for me, at least. The family was one that I’d gotten to know through my work at Pleasant Grove Christian Church, so they had some awkward questions for Detective Washington. I let him drive the answers, which skirted the actual truth, but was close enough to avoid any real problems. We caught up a bit as we packed them up, and I was even able to coax their new location out of Washington and provide them with a couple of recommendations for churches to attend.
As they drove away under escort, I swore I heard Washington saying something about being ok that I didn’t have any dirt, but I wasn’t sure, and he wasn’t going to repeat himself – but I smiled anyway as we headed to the next house.
The last house went much like the first, although Washington was interrupted during the last move by a phone call. He stepped away, but I could tell that he was getting agitated as the call progressed. He stormed back through after hanging up, and flicked his hand to indicate that I should follow as he headed back to his car. He left curt instructions for his partners, and I said a quick prayer as we headed out again.
I sat quietly for a few moments, and finally asked, “What’s gone wrong?”
“They’re back. And the @#$%^ Bloods and @#$%^% Crips are MEETING with them!”
I sat surprised. That was very unlike the Orcs, unless… “Hell-T?”
He shot a look at me. “How..?”
“What? I’ve been on the streets in Oak Cliff for the better part of three years. I don’t have to like them to be smart enough to learn how they work.”
He gave me an appraising look, like I’d done something right for the first time since we’d met. “A’ight, 23. You and me – we’re gonna crash that little meeting.”
Now it was my turn to be shocked. “That sounds a little-“
He grinned widely. “Crazy? Exactly why we’re doing it. Anything else on the OCT you been holding back? ‘Cause now’s the time.”
I had held back one piece of info, not thinking we’d need it. And it was mainly rumor. But… “Rumor has it that Hell-T is at least part Orc.”
Washington slammed on the brakes, right there in the middle of the street. Other drivers leaned on their horns as they dodged around us. “The HELL, Consprite! You didn’t think that was a
#$%^# critical piece of information until now?”
I met his glare. “It wasn’t. He rarely gets involved in the grunt work of the OCT. Frankly, I figured that it would be rare, if ever, that you’d see him here.”
“@$#%@#$ Consprite, if you’re holding anything else back, I will cap you right here.”
I shook my head. He hadn’t even pulled his gun this time – he was pretty spooked by the turn of events. “That’s all I’ve got on the OCT, Detective. Any other surprises will be as much to me as you.”
He got the car moving again, cursing under his breath. Suddenly, he dove into a left turn from the right-hand lane, across the intersection. “Need new ammo. You said steel jacketed?”
I grabbed the “dammit handle” as we careened around the corner. “Friend of mine swears by it when shooting Orcs.”
“@#$^ ammo tears up guns.”
I nodded. “Mentioned that too. Keep a separate clip, and only use it when you need it.” Thanks for the lessons, Elena.
“Wake up, Consprite!”
I snapped awake. Washington had let me doze a bit while we waited for the meeting to go down, and it was past twilight now. “Time?”
He nodded. “Raymone and Jimmy Bear just rolled in from opposite sides. Just a couple of punks in tow each. OCT’s got them scared.”
I stood up and dusted off my cassock, my cross resting comfortingly on my chest. “Let’s get in there before the OCT shows up.”
“You crazy, Consprite, but I ain’t pulling punches with Hell-T.”
“That’s exactly why we need the Crips and Bloods on our side when they get there.”
We entered the abandoned lot shortly after that, and it was a tense few moments before Washington got them calmed down enough to talk.
“What the hell, Wahz? Who’s the cracker?”
“He’s alright, Raymone – but what the hell me? What the #$%^& are you doing rolling over for the OCT?
Jimmy piped up. “Sh!t, Wahz, you seen what they done. Ain’t none of us gonna stand up to them. They tore us up last time, and they back to finish. Best for us if we get on their side.”
I spoke up. “You really think they’re gonna take your surrender?”
“Who the @#$^& asked you, cracker?” Raymone pointed a pistol at me.
Washington stepped up. “I did, Raymone – put the gun down and listen to the man-“
My spine suddenly felt like someone ran an ice cube down it. I backed into Washington, whispering “Too late,” as the OCT materialized in the lot around us. A lot of them. They used the Nevernever?
Raymone and Jimmy Bear and their entourage nearly dropped their guns in shock. “The hell?”
A deep voice rang out from the back of the OCT group. “Shoulda figured you’d have your white nose where it don’t belong, 23.” The crowd parted as the imposing form of Hell-T walked toward us. I saw the red gleam fade from his eyes as he stepped into the light.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Oak Cliff… I straightened and tried to keep my voice steady. “I go where I’m needed. Hell-T, I presume. We haven’t met.”
“You may not have seen me, cracker, but I know you and your friends. And you… you are just trouble. No more talk – take ‘em out!”
The human gangers leveled guns at us as the orcs began to transform. I quickly gathered my will and threw up a shield. “_Psalm 7_!”
The glowing half-dome snapped into place in front of Washington and I just as the machine guns opened fire. I focused, pouring in additional power to make it last. I saw Washington’s gun appear to the side of me, but he was hesitating. I glanced over. “It only stops them.”
He took a tentative shot at one of the orcs, putting a steel-jacketed slug between its eyes. It crumpled to the ground, and I saw the detective’s teeth flash in a grin as he started picking off orcs with precise shots. Jimmy Bear, Raymone, and their remaining thugs finally got behind cover and started shooting at the human gangers. A pair of orcs flipped a car, crushing two of the Crips.
Hell-T snarled and completed his own transformation, howling an orc call into the night. The human gangers faded back, focusing on the Bloods and Crips as the orcs closed on me and my glowing shield.
I’d heard that kind of call before, back at Christmastime. “He’s called for reinforcements. Get the car!”
Washington paused to reload, clearly enjoying being able to do some damage.
“Dammit, Detective. I can’t hold this forever. Get the car!”
He nodded and headed back the way we’d come. Once he got around the corner, I could go on the offensive. “_Ephesus_!”
My shield collapsed inward, limning me in a glowing golden suit of armor that continued to repel bullets. “Foul beasts! You have spilled human blood.” I gathered my will, knowing that divine retribution was mine to mete out on supernatural threats.
Hell-T laughed at me. “These thugs ain’t innocents, 23.”
I allowed myself to grin at his miscalculation. “I didn’t say innocent. I said human.” Letting anger fuel magic was new for me, but with the carnage already done, and the new blood spilled tonight, it came pretty easily. For focus, I spoke the verse that the archangel had given me from Genesis: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” Although they couldn’t see it through my clothes, I felt my Eye of Thoth tattoo burning brightly. I shouted, “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord! Gomorrah!”
As I swept my hands upward, I released the energy in the pavement below the gathered orcs. The ground erupted around them, chunks of flaming, sticky asphalt raining down. A newer facet of my magic that I’d learned recently was that I could also infuse a blessing into it, allowing it to pierce even the strongest supernatural resistance. Even Hell-T howled as burning, holy tar stuck to his skin.
Yet none of them collapsed. All the will and anger I’d put into that… Guess I’m still not quite Old Testament enough. My head was pounding at this point, and I knew I didn’t have much left, but I started coalescing light around my hands. “Run home to Oak Cliff, Hell-T. You’re done here today.”
“Maybe today, 23.” He took a step towards me and I raised my hands, preparing to release a searing beam of light. “But Da Grove is ours. It’s just a matter of time, and you won’t always be around to bail them out.”
I growled right back. “I’ll be where I’m needed.”
He let out another call – different in tone, and started to back away. As the orcs started to retreat into the Nevernever, I took a last shot. “_Habbakuk_!” The light around my hands blazed out in a focused beam, and one of the retreating orcs was reduced to dust. Well… I’m getting there, I guess.
The last I saw of the orcs that night was Hell-T’s blazing eyes as he faded back into the Nevernever.
I staggered around the corner, the last of my armor fading away, and I nearly ran into Washington. “I thought you were getting…”
His gun was pressed into my chest, his eyes wide. “What the hell…”
He stopped to watch. I slapped the gun tiredly out of the way and started walking to the car. “Asked and answered, counselor. Can we go?”
I got to his car, but he hadn’t followed. He was just staring at me as the Blood and Crip leaders gathered their wounded and peeled away. “You… how…”
Oh, great… I broke his brain. The headache was favoring my snarky side, but I fought to maintain my patient counselor side. I walked back towards him. “I asked you last night, Detective, and you didn’t really answer me. So allow me to ask again. NOW do you believe in miracles?”
I got Washington to agree that I could go home. I drove.
He sat in stunned silence for most of the drive. So I talked. “Hell-T will be licking his wounds from that for at least 24 hours. Should be plenty of time for you to get those last families out.” I discussed the merits of rebar and how he could go about getting Raymone and Jimmy Bear to ally against the Orcs.
Finally, I realized that I was going to have to shock him out. As we stopped at a stop sign, I looked at him and sneered. “Not such a big fish now, are we, Detective? And I thought you said you could handle whatever I dish-“
I didn’t flinch as I saw his hand rise to backhand me. I saw stars, but it didn’t hurt as much as it could have. “Don’t. You. Dis. Me.”
Once my vision, cleared, I smiled a bit through the pain. “Welcome back.”
We rode in silence the rest of the way to my apartment, but the way he was seething, I knew he would adapt. After I parked the car, we sat for a few moments. Finally, he broke the silence. “So they’re coming back.”
I nodded. “We got lucky tonight. They weren’t expecting you, and they sure weren’t expecting me. You’ve got the knowledge you need to fight them. You probably won’t be able to win, but if you can get the Crips and Bloods to work with you, you might force a new status quo.”
He looked over at me. “It’s a lot to take in.”
“It is,” I agreed. “But you said you could handle whatever I could dish out, and I think you can.”
I gathered up my pack, and we both got out of the car. “Go home, Detective. Shower. Get some sleep, however you can. Help those families tomorrow.”
“Those vestiges of normalcy will give you time to process all this. You’ve seen a piece of the supernatural world in all its grisly glory tonight. By the time you finish with the other families tomorrow, you’ll either be writing off tonight as food poisoning-induced hallucinations, or you’ll be ready to deal with the big fish that are now swimming in your pond.”
I sighed. I was bone tired after 36-plus hours awake and a lot of magic slinging. “Look, I don’t claim to agree with your methods. Your intentions are good – you just need to get your heart straight again. Regardless, you’ll adapt – no matter which way your mind decides to take you.”
He paused for a moment, but then rocked back on his heels, looked sideways at me, and snorted. “Whatever, Consprite. I just hope you haven’t made things worse.”
“I doubt it. The OCT was already on the move into Da Grove. I just bought you 24 hours and gave you tools to deal. What you do with that is your choice.”
“Hmph.” Washington got into the driver’s seat and his car rumbled to life. “Keep clean, preacher.”
I nodded and smiled. “And you.” Then, almost as an afterthought, I invoked the Thutmosid blessing the Reverend had shared with me. “May God stand between you and harm, in all the empty places you must walk.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me, and then shook his head and drove off, and I staggered up to my apartment for a well-deserved rest.