Capitol Reef National Park

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Chapter 1 Preview of Ascensions

The long-awaited followup to The Rules of the Game is moving again. I keep thinking about having the first book ready for Paracon (breaking it into 2 300-page halves). I've been working on it for most of today. I like what I'm seeing. I hope you do, too. This is the beginning chunk of the first chapter.

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The picture is where the real Carter Brothers lived.

New Orleans 1932

Trying to hold back the onlookers so that the ambulances and police could get in, Patrolman Laurence Petit felt absolutely overwhelmed on what normally would have been a routine shift. No matter what he and the two fellow officers that he was working with did to push the denizens of the French Quarter back, it wasn’t working. It was like they couldn’t make headway against an avalanche of rock sliding down a mountain to crush them. Only here, instead of boulders and debris, it was the sweaty hordes trying to live in a city that was built on a swamp.
“Maybe we should get the fire hoses and thrust the mighty waters of Lake Pontchartrain at them,” he declared to the patrolman on his right.
“If only the professionals would arrive,” the second patrolman said. “Then we would get to leave this unholy mess.”
Looking at his watch, he realized that it had been thirty minutes since the first officer, Martin, came upon the scenes of the girl. The other men who arrived at the disturbance followed the emotionally exhausted woman back to where she said she escaped from. The suspense of what was coming was palpable, but it was nothing like what was going on in the second floor apartment building.
Petit knew that whatever it was represented all that was gory and unholy, but he couldn’t imagine what it might be. Was it like the scenes of carnage his uncle spoke about from the time he was stationed on the Western Front? Maybe it was bad like that, but he couldn’t envision it. Even in bar fights that got bloody or the few random deaths by pistol shot that he encountered in his time policing Bourbon Street, he knew what death was when it stared back at him.
Nevertheless, this situation must have been far worse since two policemen left the scene well after gazing on the image of her pale flesh and bloody wrist. Whatever they saw must have been something truly shocking.
This scared Petit senseless.
Moving off to the side, he reached in his pocket for a cigarette as his fellow policeman held the crowds back. As he stood there smoking a cigarette, he tried to calm down, but it was no use. He could see the goose bumps on his arms grow goose bumps. All the while, his sweat froze to his skin and left him an ashen shade of pale death.
Of the two officers directing the hordes back to their homes, the one officer who had responded to Petit was wearing his Catholic cross out. The other was blowing his whistle, which he held with his left hand. At the same time, his right hand squeezed the grip of his revolver, still in its holster.
“If you’re going to pull that in a threat, you better be prepared to use it,” the man with the cross declared.
The gunman stared back with an evil glare and then smiled.
“Better to fire a warning shot and scare the whole French Quarter than to see me descend into the fiery realms.”
With this, Petit wondered who he should fear more, but as a new surge of people came upon the scene, moving directly at him, he found himself almost wishing for the warning shot to scare them away. That said, he was praying to God that it was only a warning shot as he stepped into the crowd and began shouting for them to retreat.
As the men wrestled against people trying to look down the road to see what was going on, a tall, muscular man in a suit and coat appeared at the line. Looking out of place with the fine shirt and tie in the New Orleans heat, he pushed through the dirty pedestrians to speak to his fellow officers.
“Officer Laurent, we’re glad you’re here. They’re up on the second floor of the apartment on Chartres Street,” Petit responded.
“Do you want us to come with?” the man whose hand was still firmly glued to his pistol was asked.
 “Whatever is up there that did these bloodthirsty things to that woman requires someone a lot stronger and committed than our Patrolman Petit,” he said as he sneered at the youthful patrolman on the side. “Are you ready to pull your club and start swinging if you run out of bullets?”
“Sir?” Petit asked back.
“I’m asking if you are ready to put down the po’ boys and help me put a hurting on something that fights back more than a drunken no goodnik?”
As he finished talking, the already volatile policeman beside him smiled with a devious bloodlust that said he was.
“Well then, go find me some other members of our police force. We’re going to wait these men out. When they return, we’ll put a hurting on them that they’ll never forget.”
Once again, he un-holstered his gun, and ran down the street looking for cops to join him, all the while leaving Petit and his other companion to the crowd. As the masses came closer, the policeman were still doing their best to overwhelm them as they tried to block out the frightened screams up in that apartment.

New Orleans 2016

Despite his military history, Bart Doherty blended in well with the crowd taking in the haunted French Quarter of New Orleans tour. While the sexagenarian was physically in better shape than all of them, even the raucous college “athletes,” he was still overwhelmed with the heat and humidity of early July in New Orleans.
The twenty-something crowd, mostly straight out of the bars, were looking for highlights of NOLA’s paranormal past. When the tour guide couldn’t offer the attention-grabbing stories, the drunken profane bursts of the tourist crowd mixed with their feverish desires to get loaded on Hand Grenades or whatever hard alcohol combination could be served to them in goldfish bowls, palm tree-shaped offerings, or bachelorette-themed containers.
Normally, Bart would have relished the sights of a 24/7 party world, especially after all he went through with the mission he had just been on, but today, he left a lot different to him.
It wasn’t New Orleans as a whole. He hadn’t felt anything in the outskirts, but here in the French Quarter, it was something far different. Then again, maybe he was too busy worrying about his S1 team to notice, but now that he was alone, the reality of what he was entering into hit him like a ton of bricks.
At this very moment, S1’s temporary command had him pursuing reconnaissance information on the lost remnants of the men who were involved with The Whale’s demise. He had no idea, but somehow, via a haunted tour called The Devil’s Footprints, he would do his best to find out something. If nothing else, it offered him a chance to take his mind off things with scantily-clad women in summer attire.
It had been a long journey to get here, from the outskirts of New Orleans to San Francisco to the many locations where S1 secretly operated across the country to Washington D.C. and off again to find his way here. Along the way, he felt really alone except for his time with Colonel Marcus Powell, who was always good for a laugh, even if the seriousness of business would creep into the conversation. However, more powerful than the time he spent with Powell was earlier in the week when he found himself in a library talking to his former student Darren Thomas, a once promising S1 recruit who just couldn’t reconcile his new life to his old life.
“Funny seeing you here, Thomas. I thought you were done with this game.”
“You know how it goes. People die and we feel like we owe them because we do. Isn’t that our code?”
“I guess so. It always was for me,” Bart replied. “Which people? General Steven Bannister and the senators? A lot of other people are getting dates after the dash these days.”
“Yeah, I was appreciative of the general, but De’Andre, Rougned, Terry, and Anthony were friends of mine, too, though we weren’t as close as normal friendships.”
“It’s the rules of our game, Darren.”
“Yeah, I know, and I know that I never went on many missions, especially lately, but I went on enough to know they were good men.”
“They were,” Bart replied.  “You, as well as anyone, know we don’t measure effectiveness by how well you wield a gun.”
“Things that aren’t permanently eradicated don’t stay dead. You know that as well as anyone, too,” Thomas smirked back at his companion.
“I do, but you’ve been able to advise and treat the people who undergo these infestations as people. There’s something to be said for counseling and getting people’s lives together. A lot of these people would never be able to grasp the intersection of the paranormal and reality if it weren’t for you.”
“There’s a lot more to be said for being at the trigger of a gun instead of looking down a barrel. We could save a lot of people the pain of facing these things in the first place.”
“Yeah, well, if you’re sure you want to be a part of this. I distinctly remember you telling me that you didn’t know if your heart was still in this business of ours and wondering how much you could take before it was going to be too much.”
“That was me, and it still is. I also know I made the move from active combat to peripheral relations, but I’m thinking I may have acted too quickly. I’m thinking I have one mission left, and that’s this one.”
“I appreciate that.”
“And I appreciate all that you’ve done for me, too. Don’t forget to tell Colin that I’m still thankful he saved me way back when,” Darren said, reflecting on that time he was almost killed by some Syrian art collector’s body guard, who had been hiding with a MAC-10.
“He’s a good kid and he’s gotten tough, but Colin still has a lot to learn, and like you, he really hates the killing part other than knowing it’s either the unsavories and the monsters or it’s us.”
“That’s what I’m feeling now, so know that I’m another gun backing you up.”
“If you’re sure, I’m happy to have you. I know you were always a great shot.”
“I am, and I’ve done some practice since being back in America.”
“How long you been here?”
“A couple days. I was bumming around southern Europe when I got the call.”
“Still backpacking and looking for the meaning of life.”
“Yeah, I guess you could say that.”
Bart put his hand on the man’s shoulder to offer him a sense of comfort.
“You couldn’t have done anything if you were there. None of us could have. The Mummy of Arkinish was just too powerful. Colin and Bohai Wong barely got out with their lives, despite significant injuries. Fortunately, they had help from a British agent who favorably intruded on the mission.”
“So is he one of us now, too?”
“You know how it goes. People have interactions and they get offers. You remember your incident. You were hesitant, and so was this guy, but you came along for the ride. It’s the temptation of being the hero and saving the world.”
“How can I forget?”
The two men paused in mutual respect and silence.
“You got a water or anything to drink?” Bart asked, breaking the other man’s introspection.
“Yeah, sure. Just a water, or you want a beer?”
“Just a water. I need to be on top of my game. I have this feeling I’m going to need to be alert 24/7.”
“Wise move,” Thomas said, passing the bottle to Bart.
“So you were off in Europe thinking about wendigoes?”
“No, I was contemplating the lives and deaths of the saints when I felt that something happened to our friends on The Whale. I didn’t know what, but they were no more. Just like that. Nobody had to tell me. I just knew.”
Bart sat quietly, nodding appropriately to let his younger forty-five year old companion talk.
“I was at Meteora in the Monastery of the Transfiguration of Christ. Just like when I was a teenager and I started traveling to European cathedrals, churches, and monasteries, I could feel my mind go blank to process all that I was looking at as I gazed on the work of Theophanis of Crete. The Suffering of the Saints they call those endless frescoes. For me, it was more like The Heads Will Roll Chapel. Everybody who was depicted was dying or dead. Circular halos were everywhere.”
“Aren’t they all circular?”
“They’re square if the people in the picture were living when it was painted. I did learn a few things in art history, even if I preferred to just admire the aesthetics as opposed to knowing all the technical terms and intricacies of how something got there and why it was supposed to be that way.”
“I’m a cable documentary guy, myself. Gotta love Sean Caruthers.”
“You have to say that.”
“I do, but I always fist pump silently when I do.”
With that, the men shared a knowing laugh.
“About those frescoes,” Bart said.
“Yeah. Nobody was left standing and heads were just floating lifelessly in the air. From floor to ceiling and up into the chapel’s dome, the massacre of the faithful was absolute. Strangely, it was beautiful, but it was a hauntingly-tragic work. All I could do was look upon it and drink it all in with the limited time I had. While I was doing that, I heard the words, ‘a lot of people die.’ I didn’t know what to make of it. At first, I thought it was about the saints, but then I knew I was wrong. Somehow I could feel the carnage on The Whale, though I wasn’t sure what or where it was, so I wept and shook in some empathetic bonding as I realized our men were dead.”
“That’s pretty intense.”
“Yeah. You could say that. But the painting… man, that was some intense work. Lions, axes, and swords and every other implement of destruction possible at the time. It was like a snuff film frozen in Christian art.”
“So then what?”
“I packed up and went to the Vatican Museum. The only thing I could do to make sense of the sadness was to be in the presence of the Sistine Chapel. No matter how many times I go there, it always overwhelms me, which helps me make sense of my life. I still remember the first time I saw that room adorned from the walls to the ceiling in art, I wept in joy. I’d love to be able to go back to that moment and relive it. It was just so unexpected and overwhelming.”
“Did it make you feel better this time?” Bart asked softly.
“It just felt like Daniele da Volterra had come in and desecrated the original intentions of the art works again.”
“So no historic wangs of Italy tour for you,” Bart smiled at his companion.
Darren smiled, “There’s not enough paint and putty to cover up all of the nakedness on Rome’s art works and their souvenir replicas, but no, it wasn’t like the feeling made it censored. However, it did feel like a cloud was being placed over all that was holy and left the Godliness obscured. Those feelings made me cry even more than the images of the saints’ deaths on the walls of the mountaintop monastery.”
“Then what?”
“Well, I had received the call from S1 telling me about the deaths of those guys. Obviously, there wasn’t any remains to pay tribute to, so I started making my way up through Italy and over to France so I could see Notre Dame before I went back to the memorial markers for my fellow soldiers. That’s when I got word about Bannister, so I just went to the airport and flew back here. No Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, or Louvre, let alone Notre Dame. I lost it all that day,” Darren emoted. “That’s OK. They said you needed assistance, so I’m here to help you and the others, Staff Sergeant Oleg Lisiewicz  and Lt. Colonel Lincoln George with anything you might need with your mission.”
“So where do you want to begin?”
“We’re keeping a low profile right now, getting set up. Figuring out some low-level reconnaissance is your best bet to find out where the remnants of the men who were involved in the explosion and fire during the fatal French Quarter meeting are hiding. They’re here, Bart. We know it. It’s just a question of where and who’s joining them. We have a lot of good leads, but maybe you can dig up some more peripheral odds and ends by mixing with the locals.”
“I’ll trust that you know what you’re doing. You’ve been down here long enough,” Bart replied.
“Lisiewicz and George have been a lot of help. I’m glad that Steven assigned them to this area right after what happened last month. I’d like to hope that we can do something that makes up for what happened to him. We’re already finding lots of crazy leads”
“I think everyone would like to help his memory out with that, but… there’s nothing that will bring him back to life.”
“I agree, Bart. We all know what we’re getting into, but then it comes and we just face our mortality. I know I did after contemplating it all on those Italian trains.
“Bad news travels quickly.”
“Yes, it does. That scene wasn’t pretty. I could tell. Marcus was shook up when he told me. He doesn’t rattle easy.”
“Not at all.”
“You said your nephew was injured. Is Colin OK?”
“He’s been better, but he’s got a young, attractive nurse to take care of him.”
“That will work ninety-nine times out of one hundred.”
“If not, he’ll die smiling!”
“in the meantime, I’ll say a prayer for him.”
“Do you think that will help?”
“It can’t hurt.”
“Then say one for me, too,” Bart added. “I have a feeling I’ll need it.”
“I always do. I try to be specific, but sometimes I just ask for all of us to be safe. I think I need to learn to pray better since it hasn’t been working.”
“I don’t think God answers prayers about shooting straighter and making the bullets miss us when we’re violating one of his companions.”
“I don’t ask for that. To tell you the truth, I’ve been hoping he’d find a way to end all of these missions and let things just be for a while.”
“We don’t do them by choice. We do them because the other side is absolutely relentless.”
“I know. That’s why I’m back this one last time. Hell, I could be back in Rome. I never did get to go back to the Uffizi!”
“You always were a good man.”
Thomas smiled at Bart.
“I may have my hesitance, but I know when I’m needed. That’s why I’ve got your back on this one.”
“Just this one?”
“It has to be over after this. I can’t do it anymore. I will this last time, but I have to be done with it. Any of those guys would have come out of retirement if I were the one who died.”
“If that’s what you feel, then we’ll have to figure out a post S1 life for you when the dust settles.”
“Thanks. Until then, I’m here for you.”
“Good, now maybe you can tell me again why I’m going on this haunted stories / tourist walk.”
“You need to get the pulse on the town and have an excuse to be around some of these locations that we feel are instrumental to something brewing between the locals and the Fressineaus. You really want to double down on anything that appeals to Marie Laveau and Baron Semedi fans.”
“What about the Anne Rice tour?”
“Maybe another time. You should be more concerned about real witchcraft, vampires, voodoo, and the Gates of Guinee.”
“Then I’ve got work to do.”
And with that, Bart was right here, mingling with the masses, dressed down enough to look like part of the crowd, but wearing shorts that were baggy enough to conceal a .380ACP Glock 42, just in case stuff went down. When he arrived, he was cool as a cucumber, waiting for the show to start.
Noticing a handsome man who was alone and in need of conversation, the woman who sold Bart the ticket had promised vampires, witches, demons, ghosts, and other cryptids. She was nice enough to converse with in a small talk way, and he was convincing enough with his lies to tell them without being malicious. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings; it was just about keeping his cover.
Despite the promises of Lovecraft and no tourist city excursions tackiness, Bart went in expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. After all, she was attractive in that displaced Iowa farm girl gone to the big city in a Poison video kind of way. She certainly couldn’t be shoveling the dirt back on him, could she?
“You’ll definitely get a great tour from Noël (though it sounded more like “Noah”). He’s been doing this for years. He came over here after a path that took him from history teacher to standup comedian to bartender. Our boss even wrote a few books. If you like this stuff, you might want to hit me up after the tour,” she said, smiling in hopes of both his conversation and a couple $10 bills to help pay her commission for the evening.
Bart smiled back. It always helped to have a possible option for evening entertainment if possible.
To the average tourist, this tour might seem like a fun way to spend the day, but for the average man of Bart’s military discipline, it might seem like something childish and stupid. Something about parting fools and their money. However, Bart knew from Thomas’s briefing that he was actually looking for tips into finding stores that traffic in black magic as something more than curious books and random bits of pretend debris passed off to tourists with no inclination how to use the real stuff.
Evil can’t hurt you if it’s not really there. But when it is…
It wasn’t like Bart wanted to perform these ritual spells. No, the truth was that he wanted to make its brokers vanish from the face of the earth, and he was willing to do that with fists, guns, or explosives. This wasn’t a win their hearts and minds game. The people that his bosses sent in to eradicate the bad guys were either after evil personified or something that crawled back from the dead. The mission was simple: find them before they found him and then lock and load with as few witnesses as possible.
Terminate permanently, with extreme prejudice.
According to Darren Thomas, the best way to find that sort of thing would be to earn the trust of these storytellers, who might be able to lead him into the bars, clubs, and stores that the true purveyors of the dark arts frequented. Most of the storytellers had no clue where to go other than the big stores named after Marie Laveau or some other historical figure, but at least they could put him on a path to S+M / gothic clubs to “stay away from” so that he could find a way to investigate closer. All of those places and death metal bars offered him the best opportunity to find the more stereotypical bad guys, well those and certain fetish clubs that would feature young men looking for aggressive attention, only to find men like Armin Meiwes, who wanted to kill them and devour them.
Bart hoped he had better luck than the German authorities who found Meiwes, but by then, it was too late for the man who agreed to be his dinner. Since that time, S1 had to utilize large quantities of its scarce resources on men like him, which kept them from having enough resources for all of the cults, terrorists, covens, and gangs that were recruiting and building armies to bring darkness to the world.
Yes, it seemed like there were all too many lone wolf zombie killers like Rudy Eugene, who were popping up more and more. Sometimes he wondered if it would ever stop.
What made it worse was that even when they netted suspects of interest who dabbled in Satanism or other murderous pursuits, they found men who were hired to collect “dates” or “killers” for someone much further down the line. There were too many stages for anyone to know the real connection down the line, and this is where Bart’s men almost always failed at effectively using their resources.
Still they played the game the way that they did and hoped for the best.
Oftentimes, when the police and other visible groups did, the civil liberty groups cried over harassment and specific targeting when it was a case of protecting these subcultures from greater harm. As a result, many undercover units and police were too afraid to go into the places that could get them in trouble for not being politically correct enough. When they decided to go anyway, the owners often put up resistance to undercover agents of all sorts entering.
“We’d like our people to come back next week, but if the clientele thinks I’m selling out their identities and lifestyles to a repressive police force, I’ll be out of business. You get that right? This is New Orleans! They have choices!”
S1’s soldiers and officers would look at them with a sense of “really? You value your customers’ dollars more than their lives?” In the end, they hated it, but they understood.
Hence, it was necessary to work with S1’s youthful recruits who were willing to do what it took to look the part. These men and women blended in well to their surroundings. From tattoos to piercings to brandings to muscles and wild-colored long hair and shaved heads, nobody tended to suspect anything until the HK M23s and Colt M4A1’s came out. By then, it was too late to do anything except call the insurance company to check on repair costs.
For S1, in the incidents where they had to take down these cults and sadomasochist killers, they always did it away from watchful eyes; after all, they weren’t exactly a known military quantity.
Still, nobody was ever able to get close enough to the “real” villains because something about their undercover identity wasn’t “real” enough. This had long since presented a problem for S1, especially the last time Bart was in town. That situation didn’t end well, he remembered, but at least he survived it. Other people weren’t so lucky. What started out as going to take down a “lone nutcase” who was leaving a path of naked bodies of men and women along the banks of the Mississippi River ended up being one of the darkest chapters of Bart’s life. For years, he would be haunted by the nightmare scenes. Then he became numb to it all since he had enough other missions that were truly messed up, both in how men on his side died and for the people and “non-humans” that they had to eliminate. That was it. He didn’t feel anything until he was brought in again. Then the nightmares came back.
Where he once found himself comforted by S1’s recruiting efforts and the newer agents’ willingness to do cosplay for real in their efforts to stop evil at its source, he felt the dreams again and retreated from them. He still had moments when saw that horned beast, though he never spoke to anyone about it.
Talk like that would get him taken off the job.
In those dreams, Bart saw how ineffective his assault rifle was against it. Now, his subconscious mind made him wonder if it was going to come back to finish him off. Something about being in the French Quarter all alone, the feeling of eyes envisioning him as their prey, left him completely consumed with what might yet be.
The dreams were omnipresent since he finished his post-California political tour and went back to working the frontlines of Louisiana.
Until this moment of necessity, for all that had come and gone in his life, Bart didn’t want to confront the seediness and evil satanic underworld of central New Orleans ever again. However, fate has a way of bringing people back to places they never want to go in order to finish building or destroying their character for good. Because of that, Bart was here now, and this time he knew he would be in some serious chest-deep paranormal shit. Ever since he saw Jason Harper vanish from his sight on that night in southern Louisiana and right through to now via the death of General Bannister, he knew all of this demonic bullshit was just getting started.
He knew he was going to see the beast again, before the beast ever appeared. Last night, the beast showed himself in the dream, his wings towering up from behind him with that hateful glare in its eyes as its horns shone in the light. He was horribly evil and muscular, towering over Bart, as he tried to crawl for cover and get away.
Then he woke up, drenched in sweat, breathing heavy, and screaming. This scared kid wasn’t Bart, but it really was what he was becoming. He couldn’t let that happen, yet his mind was making it real. At once, he wanted to run away, but he knew he couldn’t.
“You have to do this, Bart. This is your duty to God and country. Hell, it’s your duty to all countries and all people everywhere,” he thought.
Fat chance of that.

At the time Marcus first spoke to Bart about returning to New Orleans, the two men were discussing the fallout of General Bannister’s death. When the shots were fired, Doherty was on a nonstop tour across the country meeting with various S1 leaders and commanders regarding security concerns and post mission analysis of what happened on The Whale.
Then the worst happened, and with it, they were without a commander and two of their biggest “supporting” senators. Well, they supported the Special Forces of the United States and they gave S1 a wide berth to accomplish things that they really didn’t want to know about anyway.
As he and Marcus spoke of things that didn’t matter, not wanting to think about the death of their boss, it was clear someone needed to focus again on the mission. Marcus broke the ice.
“You’re going to need to trust Liam to be on his own for a little bit. We need you to get started with some new business in New Orleans as soon as possible,” Colonel Marcus Powell said to his companion on that morning after General Bannister’s funeral.
“Our people in Tallahassee said this place is a ghost town. Everyone who is anyone is gone. They said we need to check with Intel in Chicago. They’re talking about a bank robbery or something.”
“Tallahassee isn’t as up on this stuff as our team in New Orleans. They might have pretended to be gone, Pops, but they’re back. Our Intel says they’re still some oldies and newbies hovering around waiting for some rock star. Then shit’s going to get serious.”
“Stephen Tyler? Def Leppard? Billy Squier?”
“I said rock star.”
“I know. I’m messing with you. Which young kid who wasn’t born the last time I saw a concert is it?”
“Well, since the last show you saw was Loverboy or Rick Springfield at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds, I wouldn’t expect you to know Passionate Chaos, let alone their singer Benson Villaneuva.”
“You’d be surprised. Don’t they have that hit ‘I Eat Tide Pods?’”
“You’re a funny man, Doherty, but no. These guys are like a mix of Bowie, Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Sonic Youth, and Neutral Milk Hotel. They were headed for superstardom around Y2K, and then Benson flaked.”
“You listen to those bands?”
“No, but I do read Wikipedia!”
Both men laughed at Marcus’s comment before Bart spoke again.
“All right, so why do I care in 2016?”
“Because Benson is coming to NOLA to rendezvous with some people who are going to take him to Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
“Ain’t that some shit!”
“Yes, it is. He’s already been there, and let’s just say that he and Alberto Crespo now have a connection that is going to be exploited.”
“Can’t we warn them?”
“No, we need to let it play out. They’re both problems that we need better intelligence on.”
“All right, so of the two of them, who can we trust?”
“Villaneuva is a space case. Crespo is a drug dealer whose brother just double crossed him. What does your experience tell you?”
“Pull rank on you and make you go in my stead!”
“I’d kick your ass.”
“You’d try.”
“Crespo did help alert us about the sarin. Your boy Collingsworth must have some sort of a calming influence on him.”
“Yes, apparently he does.”
“Nevertheless, you aren’t to trust either of these wild cards. Nevertheless, they’re giving you discretion based on your experience. If you find that you can’t ensure that either one or the other of them can’t be manipulated, you can terminate them on the spot.”
“That’s a lot of responsibility for me. I don’t know if I want that kind of dirt that doesn’t come off in the wash before I face the Big Boys.”
“You do. Besides, both General Collins and Colonel Sizemore want you on this mission, and since the two of them are the top candidates for Bannister’s position, you’d do well to know your place is breathing deeply and accepting your portion of the poop pie.”
“Powell, you do have a way with words,” Doherty said as he sensed the man’s smile. “Who else is going to be there?”
“We have reason to believe the remaining Fressineaus are collaborating on a mission between Juarez and the Crescent City, though Intel is really sketchy on what’s going on there, too. Rumor has them being in connection with one another prior to this, but we aren’t sure. Let’s just say the federales down south of El Paso don’t like gringos or the brother man.”
“Why would they dislike a handsome and worldly man like you, Powell?”
“Because I kicked the shit out of one Major Reynaldo Fuentes for letting Cristina Hernandez’s witch coven into Mexico, no questions asked, when we were running hot and heavy to detain them. Sum’ bitch.”
“I remember that. You almost caused an international incident.”
“Fortunately, Obama came to my rescue.”
“He didn’t really have a choice when you dropped the statement that your boss was willing to slow down the Rio Grande if border guards continued to allow the unsavory types we deal with to have a Fast Pass Lane. That must have touched the right nerve.”
“Too bad that quote didn’t get in the news. The Big O would have been the darling of the Minutemen and all those crews for enforcing border protections for something like that.”
“Better it just come off that military operations and border pursuit got a little complicated in as few words as possible in public. Closed doors hold back a lot of temper tantrums, profanity, and stern resolutions.”
“Well, we shut Fuentes up completely when we took the Hernandez coven out two weeks later and informed the authorities that they needed to come pick up civilian prisoners that they were holding before we helped their blackened souls permanently leave their bodies.”
“The end justified the means. A lot of people were hoping we would have gotten their sooner.”
“I did what I needed to do, even if I didn’t do it as quickly as I should have. I can still sleep well at night.”
“What’s really funny is how Obama ended up being the right man in the wrong situation. I’ll give him that,” Bart laughed. “I still can’t believe that neither Fuentes nor Obama realized your boss was General Stephen Bannister.”
“Bannister would have brought the Rio Grande to standstill over a half dozen witches escaping justice through a Fast Pass lane on the border. Obama just blew Fuentes off. I guess ignoring the guy’s microphone was better than making him a star, at least when it came to international politics. No time for assholes.”
“My, isn’t it funny how things have changed, Marcus?”
“Yeah, but you’re still going on this mission, Gramps!”
“Then what you’re saying is you want me to abandon the rendezvous with Liam up in the Faroes. He’s already distrustful of us. What will he think if I go and do public relations in New Orleans?”
“He’s pissed at you, but he’ll get over it. He does have experience with this stuff from his days in Britain.”
“That may be true, Marcus, but he was mostly office work. Besides, S1 is like brothers and sisters from another mother. We look after one another. You can’t really want to abandon your adopted nephew to a substitute teacher.”
“Yes, I do, at least for now. You’re needed here. We can make things work over there. We have the technology, as well as the brains and brawn to use it for its full purpose.”
“You were praising him for all of his work with Crespo and telling me how much he would mean to our efforts!”
“Still. We’re men without a team besides our elements in America, and they’re scattered. We run both sides, and none of it is straight down the middle. That’s how we roll, Doherty.”
“I know, but there’s nobody else he knows and trusts to help him adapt to his mission.”
“Yes there is.”
“Colin is healing from a broken arm. He needs medical care. I won’t let my niece’s son end up permanently disabled, even if it means ‘maybe’ saving the day. If you have to send someone, at least send someone I know inside out?” Bart pondered. “Why not Zac Jorgenson? He’s been in this game for years.”
“OK, we’ll send Jorgenson. But we’re sending Colin, too.”
“Not right away though. He needs a few more days to heal.”
“You drive a hard bargain, but OK. When you get this pig-headed, there’s no dealing with you anyway,” Powell laughed at his companion.
“And then you’re also sending Colin’s nurse with him. Katy Linderman needs to be there.”
“You’re risking her life for puppy love?”
“I’m risking all of their lives so Liam doesn’t think I betrayed him, launching a series of actions that get him and the guys in the Faroes killed.”
“Well, when you put it like that…”
“I am putting it like that. You know how tense things are with the Euros as is, Marcus!”
“Then do it.”
With that, they both smiled.
“Besides, there’s only one man who can do this job,” Marcus told him.
“I know, but damn, couldn’t that guy be someone else.”
“It’s time for round two with the fucking goat, Big Guy. I know you’re scared. Don’t be. You’re the man. You got this,” Powell reassured his friend. “Don’t look surprised. We all know the story. That shit is deep.”
Bart’s look said it all as Marcus tried to respect the seriousness of the moment, but to still acknowledge that first encounter, but even he broke from form and found himself laughing as he thought about the images from Doherty’s report.
“What a pain in the ass that fucking goat is, Doherty! Now, get out of here. You’ve got work to do, so don’t get hung up staring at its nipples!”
“Might as well enjoy the entertainment,” Bart said to himself as he walked out of the spare Pentagon office, leaving Powell laughing himself silly at the thought of the story of Doherty’s encounter with Baphomet.
“Go screw yourself, Powell,” Doherty yelled, throwing his right arm into the air so Powell could catch a glimpse of his middle finger.

Drifting back to the tour’s one-liners and quasi historical information, Bart knew that if he was lucky, he would find out about what the tour guide or guides knew about the situation with the death of Earnest Swanson and all of those other men in the aftermath of the incident with The Whale. The fire that took out a sizable chunk of a block along Ursulines Avenue was still being investigated, and now that he had agreed to Powell’s wishes, Bart was in New Orleans via a short pre-mission briefing at a secret supply base in Arkansas.
“Bart, these are your contacts in the area,” an S1 colonel that Bart was unfamiliar with told him, handing him information on Thomas, George, and Lisiewicz. “You have to do what you can to stop the missing relics and their buyers and dealers from spreading too far or too quickly to people who could put them to some really horrific uses.”
“That’s my plan, sir.”
“Well, your plan has changed. It seems that the two elder members of the Captains of Jesus’s Sacred Guard have vanished, and finding them or their bodies will now be a prominent part of this mission. This goes for you and anyone else who is aiding you. We have reason to believe that when you find your information on The Whale mission’s cast of characters, you’ll find your killers. You have permission to do whatever it takes to extract the information.”
“Off the record, of course.”
“These people will officially be removed from history when you’re done with them. These are some bad hombres. There’s no jail for this. Extract information and burn the remains after you make sure it’s dead. Nothing lives.”
“I will,” Bart said, wondering what exactly was up with these people that he would be directed to do such a thing. Shouldn’t the person telling him this be someone who he is familiar with from something? Then again, there had been so many people coming through the unit over the past few years. Society seemed to be getting destroyed by these monsters.
“Good luck. If you need anything, let me know. I’ll see what I can do to back you up,” the colonel said.
Bart nodded. Even with S1, it was hard to make things happen between groups that didn’t know one another. In their units, they had an unwavering connection, but Bart didn’t trust this guy in Nowheresville, Arkansas. This guy didn’t act like the previously anonymous Anthony Williams did that day in Fallujah when they escaped after watched that Marine sergeant Lucas get killed while fighting to save sacred artifacts and historical treasures from terrorists.
Those were some good men, but Arkansas here, he was becoming as distant and lost as most of faces of Team Black were now that they stopped being S2. Something had been lost in this long fight against the darkness. Like Nietzsche warned, these men had stared into the abyss so long that now they were the darkness.
Here, Bart knew the dangers of places like the swamps of Florida and the mountains of Arkansas, but he knew that in his command center in Wyoming, things were still OK for now. Some people still understood. Others were out there waiting to be found. As for all of these others, he hoped it was just in his head.
He hoped.
As the tour wound its way past a mix of bars and live music venues, a horde of people acting like it was Mardis Gras filled the street. Trying to stay focused on the mission instead of the loud, drunken voices. Bart forced himself to focus so he could look across to the 600 block of St. Ann’s Street. There, the guide talked about John and Wayne Carter’s handiwork. After nearly eighty years, the number of dead bodies would change depending on who gave the presentation, though it was almost always fourteen. However, in some cases, it could go much higher. There were also four people rescued. They would all survive. This included the gal on the street, who alerted the police to what was going on with the Carters to begin with. Of the four survivors, one other man would become a vampire serial killer himself.
Apparently, the vampires could do permanent damage, and they could “do it to you!” the guide exclaimed as he pointed at a graduate college-age girl he found to be really cute.
Additionally, the number of cops who had to take on the middleweight brothers would change as well. The more cops the brothers could resist as they made their incredible getaway to freedom, the tougher and more otherworldly that they became.
The storytellers sold that WWE Battle Royale stuff big time.
In every story that was told about them, the Carters were also dumb as dirt. This fact was evidenced by how they showed up the next day for their job on the docks. Once again, lots of police officers were ready for them, and despite taking a bruising, they managed to capture and try the brothers.
Once again, it was sold as a Battle Royale of good versus evil.
After the arrest, the good people of New Orleans were filled with that mix of emotions that is paranoia and bloodlust, so John and Wayne received a one-way ticket to the gallows. As soon as the execution was over, both men found their way into caskets where they were dropped six more feet into the ground without hesitation.
After a period of time, curiosity got the best of the townspeople, and the coffins were exhumed. After cracking them open, panic set in as the boxes were found to be empty. Once again, the storytelling charm kicks in. The timeline may be fairly long or stay relatively short in how soon they start the digging, but the punch line is always the same.
Apparently, the vampires have escaped and they’re coming for you, mid-twenty-something college gal who giggled just enough the first time to generate interest again the next time!
For most of this, there’s never a backstory. It’s never stated why the coffins were searched, but it plays well with the idea that these were vampires walking amongst us. In the end, it’s all suspend disbelief anyway, so why not a little more.
Compared to the college girl whose friends were now egging her on about watching out for the undead, Doherty was not impressed, even if he was trying to be. He’s heard the story before. It’s been told mostly the same, but with minor differences. At the end of each trip to see their former domicile, there is a story of how the Carters come back to New Orleans or go to some other city in search of blood. It’s all part of the package. Pay your money and get a scare. If you’re really lucky, you’ll also get some tag-along nightmares.
If the storyteller is really lucky, he gets a number or offers to buy the gal a drink at the bar at the end of the tour. After all, the local bars are running this operation in the way of advertising revenue.
Everyone smiles and has a good time; that’s what it’s about. Well, everyone except Bart because he has to go look for real murderers and other assorted unfriendlies.
Truth be told, it’s not like Bart has anything against the tour guide and his stories. The people seem to like his brand of wit and wisdom, so he’s kind of upset that he’s going to infringe on his chances with the long, dark-haired gal that he’s trying to impress. He’s funny enough, and he looks the part, even if part of it is to sell beer at the bar that is paying for him to work. The bespectacled middle aged guy and gal next to him seem to hang on every single bit of his “I want to be narrating Monsters and Mysteries in America” vibe. Bart even catches a remark from the guy with the glasses when he says that he reckons himself a paranormal writer.
“I could do this stuff,” he says as his wife nods supportively.
If this guy only knew what was real and not played out for television, then he’d stick to sports writing or something safe like that.
The only vampires left in this world are the sadistic, blood-lusting creatures who prowl the underworld. A predator class of people that would make Charles Manson blush, these men and women are the incubi and succubi of a new world where Satanism and sadomasochism created its own bacchanalia. Often times, these latter-day Dionysian festivals were described as drug-fueled spectacles where anything could and would happen. Few people had ever seen these and stepped outside of this subculture to talk about them to the “uninitiated,” but occasionally, DEA and SWAT teams would stumble into them while looking to close in on some other crime associated with the event. Bart’s experience, though brief, saw him witness a mass of undulating, sweaty bodies in various throes of noisy ecstasy and pain while covered in blood, some alive, some dead. He wasn’t sure whose blood it was or even if it was human blood, but he knew it was blood. As he stood there staring at the scenario, he could think of no rhyme or reason with which to describe how taboo and evil it was. For the roughly two minutes he stood in the shadows, waiting for his team to get into place, the ceremony played out as a mock priest led other witnesses in a chanting of sorts.
And then…
Bart didn’t want to think about that now. Instead, he focused on the stories of what he would refer to as the fake vampires of charm and sexuality that seemed to fill the teen-pop best sellers of recent years. The only difference was that those guys only supposedly killed people.
These inhuman beasts he encountered all of those years ago actually did kill people, and what’s more, they did it for fun.
But yes, Bart wanted to be like the faceless passers-by while studying the streets and crowds. These men and women were interested, so Bart feigned interest in the stories, too. After all, the story was entertaining if he just rolled with it.
But he knew the truth, so he couldn’t just disconnect.
The guide’s tall tale just isn’t real enough with how much it had been whispered down the alley and sold off simpler and less gruesome for the crowds. Bart knew the real. He knew what happened to the police officers who went into the apartment that first day (vicious attacks that left men impaled, shattered, eviscerated, and decapitated). He knew what happened at the docks occurred on an even grander scale with men ripped apart by the Carter’s teeth. He knew what happened to Patrolman Laurence Petit, but nobody else did or does since he vanished from the police force to atone for his fear as the father of what would become S1.
This reminds him that nobody else in the regular world knows what happened to Petit’s descendants either, a fact that sends a shiver down his spine. This, he processes, is the reason he’s looking for the two missing members of the Captains of Jesus’s Sacred Guard
Yes, it took time, but Petit rounded up other policemen who had survived the Carters’ attack, as well as the fierce men and women of the swamps. They learned to kill real vampires, fend off ghosts, set traps for cryptids, and quietly pass the word around the bayous, forests, mountains, deserts, coasts, and prairies of this country that Satan would not be allowed in this glorious country that is America.
The mission to create some responsive and capable attack force took time, hard work, loss of life, and dedication, but eventually, they became intertwined with a legitimate / Magic Eyes Only force when Truman created an organization of this purpose. Thus, S1 and S2 came to be. However, Petit’s group, too, went its own way after a short time of being members of the modern S1. They were just too local to be national, so they were let go as a “regional” arm of the whole, though through the years they were forgotten.
What happened to its members now was something that nobody outside of their group heard about unless they were traveling in that circle. Besides, in some cases it was best not to know too much, or they could endanger other missions.
But that man in Arkansas knew, and because of that, Doherty did, too. Did he know for the right reasons or the wrong ones?
Only time would tell.
Doherty knew that this obscurity is the nature of the beast, and often, that’s a good thing. The humble lack of notoriety is the rules of the game in the same way that the rumors of what became of Bill and Simon Petit, whose car was mysteriously shot up, though no bodies were found, is a possible outcome for playing the game.
So who knew who did the killing and where did they take the bodies, Mr. Storyteller?
Hopefully, Bart would find out about that, too. Right now, it was just another case of trying to work for too many competing interests with too little manpower. Getting vanished, after all, was another one of the rules of the game, even if these soldiers were too important to turn up lost.
For all that the colonel said to him, his stack of documents and background information said nothing to him that would help him find answers. He just had images and a contact in the name of the great grandson, who was now leading the ragtag remains of what was left of this group. For now, even he was out of range of communication.
“Tell everybody you’re involved with on this mission about this priority,” Arkansas said
“I could use some assistance if this is so stop the presses important,” Bart remarked to himself.
As he knew the rule, he followed it to a T, like it or not. Suck it up and do the work of ten normal men if the situation demands it. If you’re playing the game, you’re capable of winning it even if you go it alone.
Ever since he founded the Captains of Jesus’s Sacred Guard, Laurence Petit knew the rule, too, but it still scared him. Nevertheless, living this life sure beat thinking about a repeat performance of that girl’s face when she led Martin to the house of horrors. Nobody needed to experience or witness something like that.
Doherty got that, too, but he wished that he didn’t. Why that wendigo on that training mission? Why him on that day? And why the hell did Sergeant Quirk play that “prank” on him the first time he was in New Orleans for “official” business? God damn Baphomet! To hide his fear of what he saw in the beast’s eyes, Bart steamed inside for revenge, but he knew that was distracting. He needed to face the here and now while hoping he would never need to see that thing again.
Maybe the Petit disappearances and The Whale’s aftermath weren’t related. Then again, maybe pigs could fly.
Here and now, for all the guide was doing with entertainment value, what the man wasn’t doing was delivering a sense that he’s part of the dark arts scene. Hell, he’s probably never played with a Ouija board (good man!). Nevertheless, that led Bart to realize that he would have to go through several other tours presented by the man’s all-too similar competition in order to find out what Thomas was looking for.
All of this was getting too much. Colin’s injury, the uncertainty of where everyone went and the things that they were doing there, and how he was constantly feeling like he was being followed were starting to add up. Something inside of him felt let down, but he didn’t want to give in just yet.
There has to be hope.
It was at this moment that the he cut through the frat boys and sorority girls speaking profanely about how gnarly it all is, making juvenile references to Twilight, The Purge, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Lost Boys, while contemplating how to get drunk and wild with the rest of their night. Apparently, overpriced parking, bathrooms, and humidity will be an issue that could inhibit some of their fun. The guys don’t care. They just want topless women; even if it means that they “have to piss in an alleyway.” Nevertheless, the women just want to go somewhere with a maintained bathroom. A compromise will need to be reached since the women are too “stuck up” to just “squat behind a dumpster.”
Bart stopped the train of negativity in its tracks.
“Do what you need to do,” his mind says. “You can’t risk telling off one of these asshole kids.”
And with those words, the guide gives a final thank you, and the tour was dismissed. The brunette’s friends are waiting off to the side to see if the tour guide will make his move, and he does, moving to talk to her as the frat party started walking over to a “BIG ASS BEERS” sign. As they did, Bart stared off down the street while waiting for a chance to talk to the man about his questions.
Somehow, he couldn’t just interrupt, but he couldn’t just play the chaperone waiting to take his son home while trying to look inconspicuous either.
Soon, he spotted his chance to talk to the guide in order play out his final hope for getting something out of nothing. College girl had been called off by her friends to discuss the guide’s offer to “go somewhere and chat for a while.”
“Good show, my friend. How long you been on the job?” Bart asked.
“A couple weeks. I’m new to this.”
“Do the more experienced guides get bigger turn outs?”
“For a Monday in July, this isn’t bad. The heat isn’t exactly our friend.”
“Congratulations on the new job opportunity then. You must have quite a background in ghost tours then,” Bart said, remembering the woman who sold the guide as “experienced.” So much for honesty and so much for having her on the list of potential information targets, let alone a woman to have a drink and maybe something more with.
“I’ve watched some, but I’ve never led a group until working with NOLA Frights R Us.”
“Any good EVP investigators out there that would let an old timer come around on a tour with them?”
“Unfortunately not. Most of those groups are either independent or hucksters. Trust me on that. I thought I could get advice, but all I got was the title of a ‘fool parted with his money.’”
“That seems to be a big problem everywhere.”
“Yeah it is. However, if you want to watch a good show in a few months, April Simpson and Aleksander Kowalski are getting ready to go national. Word on the street is that they worked something out with Estelle Crawford to shoot their first episode of Psychic Rescue around issues with the Ursuline Convent.”
“Doesn’t the Catholic Church keep that sealed up tight?”
“Yeah, but Estelle’s kind of a ‘national treasure’ down here, so the Catholics are playing into it to keep her from waging an unholy war on them.”
“I couldn’t make this shit up. The woman has a bad temper, and she’s threatened them with unknown retaliation several times.”
“They can’t just play her off like she’s Marilyn Manson or Ozzy Osbourne?”
“No, because she’s more like Varg Vikernes.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“Church burning satanic death metal guy from Scandinavia.”
“I should have known.”
“He’s not really a household name.”
“Yeah, with a name like that, I guess not,” Bart said and then wondered why the guide mentioned it. “I would know her from what show?”
“Not a show, man. She owns a witchcraft shop.”
“The Catholics trust her in their stuff if she’s a black magic witch?”
“Not really. They want to dispel the myth of vampire coffins in the attic, and they want her to stop inspiring people to take out their buildings.”
“Is that a problem down here?”
“Not yet, but you never know.”
“So they’re letting these ghost hunters bring this witch up there?”
“Word on the street is that they’re bringing in Father Cornelius Hightower since he’s world famous for his little adventure a week or so ago in Eureka, Nevada.”
“Time flies quickly when a priest gets fifteen minutes of fame. Besides, he’s better news than that Cardinal who got whacked in Vatican City,” Bart answered, seeing if the man would reveal a deeper honesty to that.
“Yes on both accounts. They’re going to talk to him, and the convent will bring in a guy named Cardinal Seamus O’Leary.”
“Isn’t Hightower a little show business for Vatican City?”
“Yeah, but that’s why they leave him in the desert. Someone has to work out there,” the guide said. “Now he’s on the beginning of what’s most likely going to be a world publicity tour.”
“I guess so. Gotta pay for the private jets and mansion with a book deal since church money is regulated too much,” Bart smiled and then asked, “Where’s a man have to go to purchase some of her spell ingredients?”
“Dude, she’s like the Soup Nazi of witchcraft.”
“That Seinfeld character. Anyway, you’re too square to get the real. She wouldn’t even let you in the store.”
“Why not?”
“Because you don’t get it. If she thinks you’re a narc or a messenger of God, you can’t have it. Hell, even if you’re a white magic Wiccan, you can’t partake.”
“Her goods don’t seem too popular for her to be turning people away. Even a witch has to pay the rent.”
“You’d be surprised. Her shop is small, but it’s full, and the right people find it.”
“What would she do to me if I tried to buy from her?”
“She’d Screamin’ Jay Hawkins your ass.”
“Let’s just say, she known to hex people who she doesn’t like. A friend of mine got pneumonia really bad after trying to take a picture in her shop.”
“Maybe he just stepped in a puddle of this swamp piss,” Bart said as he pointed to the potholes. “There could be other causations to link up for a correlation.”
“Trust me; Estelle is for real.”
“What about April?”
“She’s at least real when it comes to the psychic profession.”
“Meaning what?”
“She isn’t totally full of shit, unless she wants to be.”
“Why aren’t you working with her?”
“Let’s just say that she’s known for being a mix of theatrical and enterprising in her presentation.”
“I’m not following you.”
“She lets her situations be played out with dramatic flinches and voices, but she also sells remedies from other alternative healers and witches.”
“So she’s the Good Witch of the Capitalist West?”
“Apparently so,” the guide said laughing at Bart’s conversational charm. To women, he was the publicly accepted older lover, while to guys, he was a man’s man. The guide’s laugh was such a small thing, but it helped Bart to forget the potential failure that he had felt that this evening could turn into only a few minutes ago.
“But she won’t let you in the game. Are you too square?”
“Damn right I am. It takes one to know one, old man!”
“Why would a woman in a black magic shop sell things by night when she won’t sell them across a counter during the daytime?”
“Wrong witch, dude. Estelle is black magic and owns a store called Esoterica. She’s not selling to anyone she doesn’t want to, no way, no how,” the guide told him. “As for the other one, because of her thriving Youtube stint, April is selling for a white magic shop called The Dead Walk.”
“So why are these two opposing forces hanging out like that?”
“You’re asking questions others don’t. At least you got that scholarly research part figured out….”
“The name is Bart. How about you? You got a name?” Bart asked, so caught up in the conversation that he forgot to give a fake name.
“I do. Noël Legendre.”
“Noël. That sounds creole.”
“It is.”
“Where’s the accent?”
“Shit out with all of the fast food I’ve eaten. I like the Cajun culture, don’t get me wrong, but when people talk with the accent, they don’t fare well on speaking tours for ghosts. We do better on gator tours.”
“I see,” Bart asked. “Who took a chance on you?”
“My buddy Long Leg Frankie Jenkins’s uncle. He’s a guy named Willie Stone.”
“Why do they call him ‘Long Leg?’”
“He’s got a limp from early onset Parkinson’s disease. It looks and feels like one leg is longer than the others from the mix of dystonia and Parkinson’s gait. Unfortunately, because of that, my boy walks around with the neurological equivalent of a cement boot. Sometimes his back gets messed up with sciatica. That dystonia stuff sucks.”
“So some asshole gave him that name?”
“He gave it to himself. Said he’d rather laugh about what he does than cry about what he can’t do.”
“Sounds like my kind of guy,” Bart said with respect. “So you’re cool to him about his condition?”
“Mostly. We bust on everyone. To play the Dozens with friends is to show love. He didn’t like the modified one.”
“Which was what?”
“Long Leg, Small Dick Frankie Jerkins!”
“So you went easy on him?”
“Not at all. We can’t have kid gloves for some when we’re talking shit on everyone else out there. He kiboshed that shit when he punched my buddy Gaspard in the face.”
“Well, I guess we aren’t too different. My crew did that, too.”
“Who were they?”
“Army soldiers.”
“Thanks for serving.”
Bart nodded.
“How about you?”
“I just went to school, dropped out, and here I am, looking for something real.”
“Stop looking. Join the Army. There’s more future there than in telling stories.”
“But at least here, the unreal becomes real.”
“Who knows? Maybe you can join the Army and go kill yourself a Carter.”
Noël looked surprised at that comment as Bart smiled.
“Is that what you do or did? Did you work with The X-Files? You know more about my story sources than I do?” Noël chuckled.
“I’ve dealt with many nasty creatures, but yeah, I’m all about Carters, Laveaus, Semedis, and sabbatic goats.”
“You ran up against Baphomet’s sorry hermaphroditic ass? Like I buy that! Where at? The Devil’s Souvenir Shop up on Burgunday?” Noël said, showing genuine interest in the man as more than a customer while letting a slight Cajun accent slip out.
“Once upon a time. I got the real and the ceremonial fake.”
“That sounds like quite the story.”
“It is. If you’re lucky, you might get to hear it.”
“So what’s the deal with you, AARP?”
“What do you mean?”
“You a cop?” Noël asked. “This seems more than friendly banter with the tour guide.”
“I’m not a cop, but you’re right to a degree. I’m definitely looking for things that you might be able to help me find.”
“I might be of use. Maybe you could give me a retainer, and I could put out some feelers for you.”
“Retainer? Did you watch Good Will Hunting one too many times?” Bart said to the young man, all but dumbfounded at his presumption. “Are you that kind of enterprising, desperate, stupid, or a mix of all three, Noël?”
“All three,” the guide said smiling as he let out the full Cajun accent that roared directly into a giggle.
“You might need to look for another job if people find out you’re selling out their private comings and goings to the wrong people.”
“I’m not that attached to the job anyway.”
“Apparently not, but you might need to think about your soul. You attached to that?”
“Somedays, more than others,” he said in full Cajun, laughing through a shit-eating grin.
“Well, would you know anything about anyone named Fressineau?”
“The name doesn’t ring a bell. What is he? Satanic priest? Voodoo cult leader? Drug dealer? Someone who hooked up with your wife?”
“Just the first three,” Bart responded with a smile. “He’s also a murderer.”
“Oh,” Noël added.
“You still game?”
“You got credentials and cash?”
Bart reached into his pocket and fished out his wallet. Where his driver’s license would go, there was a card with only a box full of filled in and empty spots.
“You see that QR code? Scan it with your phone. It will take you to my information. Even you might be impressed.”  
Noël didn’t think twice, and he scanned it and suddenly, his phone began installing an app.
“What’s this?” the young man said as his phone started getting hyperactive.
“Wait and see.”
As it uploaded and installed, it created a shortcut on the screen that read “Bat Phone” over a cheesy image that tried to mimic the real Batman one.
“What happens when I start it up?”
“Just push it.”
As Noël did, Bart’s phone rang. With that, the older man picked up and showed the tour guide his screen. He had a GPS location and a visual image of the man and his surroundings.
“If you need me, you can call me. Either you’ll get me, or a guy named Marquis who will help you out,” Bart added, remembering Marcus Powell’s pseudonym. We’re both colonels, and there’s a box to contact you. You won’t ever see our number, but we’ll be able to get in touch with you if we need to. When we call, it will override anything else your phone is doing. We’re kind of important to the order of things.”
“What if I don’t want to get in touch with you?”
“You will. After all, I’ve got the rest of you cash above and beyond your retainer.”
“What if it’s not enough?” Noël said in a serious manner.
“Funny man,” Bart said laughing at the man’s attempt to drive a bigger payout. “If you’re 100% certain, I’ll remove it now. It requires a code. If you get it wrong, it sizzles out your phone. I can’t be too careful.”
“Don’t do that yet. I want to know if there’s a bonus program.”
“There could be. We also work with long-term career retraining.”
“Who are you really? What’s up with all of this James Bond shit?”
“What were you expecting? We’re kind of off the radar.”
“How off the radar? Ultra-secret FBI?”
“The FBI bores me, son. We’re more real than them. How about we make a trade, and I’ll fill your wallet some more,” Bart added passing the man three $100 bills.
“How much more?”
“I’ll triple that for information on how to get in with anyone that can get me a private audience with Estelle away from her shop. I don’t want to cause a scene.”
“Are you going to pop a cap in her?”
“If I wanted to do that, she’d already be dead. I need to talk to her about the Fressineaus before she goes and does something really stupid.”
“They sound like people who make me want to protect myself. You have an extra gat if things get hairy.”
“If you’re not trained, you’d be a greater danger with a gun. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but remember to hang onto that stuff.”
“Well, Bart, $900 goes a long way.”
“Fair enough. But don’t do that if it scares you. If you’re OK, I’ll double the $300 if you can find someone who can put me in touch with April Simpson and Aleksander Kowalski in the next twenty-four hours. Let’s just say I’d like to be a part of their show. I’ve got some experience and a gentleman with tech credentials. He’s more than willing to help out.”
“What’s your friend’s name? I’d like to look him up.”
“You don’t need to look my friend up.”
“What are you jibber jabbering about?” Noël replied caustically, thinking Bart was smarting off at him.
“It’s not like that. You should know him.”
“OK,” the tour guide said hesitantly.
“Guillermo Rivera.”
“From The Demon Hunters of Dodge County?” Noël said, hooked once again.
“One and the same.”
“I thought they were?”
“Dead? The reports of their deaths are greatly exaggerated, except for Steve, Lee, and Maggie, God rest their souls. Allison Hoffman and Ernie Lackey are also working with us.”
“Are you sure you aren’t a rival producer?”
“You’re saying that the surviving Demon Hunters are just going to join up with their competition like what happened was nothing?”
“You know what happened in Eureka. They’d like to settle the score with the evil forces that killed their friends. We have reason to believe the Fressineaus are feeling opportunistic with similar forces in these times and places you are frequenting now. When you mentioned April and Aleksander, as well as Estelle, I knew that they were a rich target. I think I need to make something happen before the Fressineauss get out of town. You have a chance to make that happen.”
“Is that it? Any other tall orders?”
“Yeah. Anything you can get me on a substance called Our Lady of Guadalupe would be helpful as well, but be careful who you ask.”
“Man, you weave some serious shit into James Wan stories for such a square.”
“Let’s just say that I have some experience,” Bart concluded, smiling.
As they stood talking to one another, what seemed like a mother and daughter combo walked up to the two of them.
“I’m sorry,” Bart said. “Did you want to talk to our guide?”
The older woman, who was also on the tour, looked at him and spoke.
“I’m actually looking to talk to you, Colonel Doherty.”
With this, Noël and Bart froze.
“It’s one thing to meet a beautiful woman, but it’s a whole different game when she knows my name and I know nothing about her,” Bart added, on guard now and looking for the tiny Glock 42 in his cargo shorts pocket.
The raven-haired beauty with the Latino features looked at him and smiled.
“My name is Esmeralda Espinoza. This is Alexis.”
“Is she your daughter?” Noël asked, pointing to the punk rock attired young woman by her side. “Pleasure to meet you.”
The young girl gave him a look that said “bugger off.”
“We’re associates of a group that has recently begun working with your units,” Esmeralda replied. “We’ve been watching over you since you’ve been here in town. It seems like you’re already drawing eyes from a lot of unwanted suitors.”
“Does that mean you’re friends with Pyotor Osokin and Jason Harper?” Bart asked, wondering if he could get the pistol out quickly enough to stay alive and keep the street from being turned into a bloodbath.
“Those ass clowns don’t have friends,” Alexis replied.
“What Alexis is saying is that we’re aware of your competition, and we don’t side with them,” Esmeralda answered.
“Then who do you side with?” Bart asked, still suspicious, his hand on the pistol’s grip firmly.
“I think you may want to dismiss this hood rat if you want to ask us any more questions that don’t need just anyone’s ears listening,” Alexis interjected.
“What she’s saying is that our replies might create a security situation with him. We know you’re not about S2 reactions, but…” Esmeralda began saying. “Our conversation might find him being fished out of the Mississippi down by Port Eads or floating the swamps outside Delacroix. We wouldn’t want him to end up missing like the Petits or washing up on the Mississippi River banks.
“I get it,” Bart retorted and directed his conversation to the tour guide who she was looking directly at.
“So do I,” Noël said, tensely looking for guidance from the man he had been conversing with rather easily only a few minutes earlier.
“Excuse me,” Bart said, moving his contact off from the two women.
“Are you going to be OK?”
“Don’t worry about me. Just know that I’d like you to hit that button by tomorrow at midnight. One way or the other, I need to know what’s up, Noël. Don’t make me call you,” Bart said. “I’m for keeping you at 98.6°, but I can change my mind.”
“Yes, sir,” he said as Bart let go of the gun in his pocket long enough to give the boy another $200.”
“Here’s some extra cash. Consider it a sign of my good intentions and honor. Don’t get blindsided my more money. Be careful who you talk to and how. Let’s not end up in a situation that neither of us can get out of in a swamp at Cocodrie.”
Noël looked at him and the women, and replied, “Yeah, sure. I’ll do my best, Sir.”
With that, he walked away in stunned silence, wondering what had just happened. Somehow, as he walked across the sidewalk, the street’s shadows and dark corners seemed to envelop him. In many ways, this made Bart worry as he suddenly felt like there were a million more eyes on him, and they belonged to people that even these two women didn’t know of. It was all so dark and deadly. The danger was palpable, and it made him question why he went so far to recruit the kid. Was all this fear of this town getting to him and causing him to stop thinking straight.
“Get your head in the game,” he said to himself, watching the boy disappear into the shadows. Maybe he would find the Petits where he was going. Anything could happen.
“Are you coming?” the younger one asked, annoyed by everything Bart was doing. “We’re waiting. Get on with the goodbye game. We’ve got other business to attend to.”
Bart flinched, but as he did, he remembered Darren Thomas’ conversation about prayers, and he directed a quick one to the Holy Father on behalf of Noël. As he did so, he turned around and spoke to his female inquisitors.
“If you’re not with S2, who are you with? The terrorists from Syria? Paolo Crespo? Alberto Crespo? The Japanese? The Brits? The Israelis? Estelle Warren.”
“The Vatican,” Alexis answered. “I’m kind of doing a favor for my great grandmother Vivian. You screwed up, so some people feel you owe us. I’m here to help make sure you help them out so we can get back to playing nicely with one another again.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means that you shouldn’t be melting holy relics. That said, we don’t feel 100% in agreement with what happened to Cardinal Thomas Healy either. His dealings with your former commander, General Bannister got both of them killed,” Esmeralda stated. “The senators weren’t quite collateral damage. In fact, these men who we’re running interference against consider them an added bonus.”
“Let’s just say that a lot of these born again types dislike Catholics, and some incite those who want to take a shot at us. I’m all about making that not happen,” the younger woman said, showing off a MAC-10 she was carrying in an oversized handbag.
“If we can protect a fellow warrior to the cause for Vivian, we will, but make sure you’re on the up and up,” Esmeralda explained. “I don’t like those other fire and brimstone types telling me ‘I told you so.’ It makes my day a lot more problematic.”
“The men you’re working with killed Healy?”
“No, but they know who did,” Alexis said. “And as Esmeralda said, they aren’t very happy. It’s amazing how some people will lie down with dogs to get a bone, even if they wake up with fleas.”
“Who is it? You may want to tell me. I have a tendency to get angrier when I get impatient,” Bart said, adopting the younger girl’s tone.
“Should I get you a Snickers? If that’s what it takes to not have my associates shoot you, I will,” Alexis snapped out.
“Your associates?”
“Two other women who are working with us have the area more than covered,” the younger woman said. “One has you in the sights of a .50 caliber sniper rifle. The other prefers to do things a little messier, so she’s packing an Uzi. Don’t worry; they’re looking more for the unsavories who are looking for you.”
“So you’re telling me to know my place?” Bart chuckled. “This really is turning into quite the day.”
“In so many words, yes,” Esmeralda said smiling. “Your reputation as a lady’s man precedes you, but don’t get ideas in trying to push your charm on me. I’m kind of taken.”
“Well, maybe you at least want to tell me why you’re here and give me a second chance when it seems like so many others in your circle won’t.”
“Let’s just say that I’m not interested in what they think should be the direction of our church.”
“So who are these people?”
“Cardinals with a deep respect for the objects of their heritage. It seems you created an excuse for them with reshaping the Nails of Christ and how it benefits your purpose for them. These people don’t take kindly to sacred relics and artifact desecration, and it seems that now they’re connected back to your former colleagues in Team Black,” Alexis added. “However, you have a friend from way back in your life,” Alexis added.
“Essentially, Jude Quirk is the reason you aren’t dead, too,” Esmeralda stated bluntly.
“Where do you know her from?” Bart said, remembering his former teacher from what she looked like in the 1980s.
“She trained us and the other two women. She trains many people like us,” Alexis told Bart.
“But she was almost at retirement age when she trained me.”
“She’s indestructible, like me!” Alexis laughed.
“She knew you won’t give back the bullets, and Vivian Feinhauer is OK with that provided you use them to help us out with a project,” Esmeralda said.
“Who is this Vivian?”
“She’s the sister of one of our greatest Swiss guards ever. Let’s just say that her opinion holds sway due to his sacrifice,” Esmeralda continued. “But enough of that. We want to ensure that the surviving nails find their way to be used at Blackrock Canyon to kill those demons.”
“And if they don’t?” Bart asked.
“I clear out your mind once and for all,” Alexis added, patting down a .40 caliber Glock 17 hidden at her waist, under a trench coat.
“You’re too pretty a young lady for murder,” Bart smiled. “Even with the blue hair, you little malcontent! Oh, maybe I shouldn’t use such big words for the texting generation. You iGen brats may not know what they mean.”
Alexis shot him a glance, but inside she found herself appreciating his ability to give shit back to her.
“I tell her about that all the time,” Esmeralda added. “It’s not very becoming of a nun.”
“She’s a…”
Before Bart could finish, Alexis cut him off.
“Esmeralda is one and thinks I should be, too, but for all my faith in the big G, there are a few things that aren’t 100% between us. Anyway, the Lord works in mysterious ways. Now, why don’t you come with us back to Ursuline Convent? We have a lot to discuss, and we don’t have much time to do it.”
“I guess I don’t have much choice.”
“You do, but the other choice isn’t a good one,” Esmeralda stated as she revealed a Desert Eagle. 357 in her purse.
“Who knew that I would be traveling in cahoots with the Sisters of No Mercy!” Bart joked, walking off with the women. As he did, another woman with bright red hair and a leather motorcycle outfit walked over.
“Bart, this is Constance,” Esmeralda said. “You’ll meet up with Ichiko soon.”
“She’s our crack shot. You may have noticed her on the balcony up and over there,” Constance said, pointing across the street and down a short way, as Bart saw a slim, but muscular Asian woman with a guitar case walking over to meet him.
“Where to now?”
“Jude misses you, ‘Sunshine,’ so we need to go visit her,” Esmeralda said.
“She told you to call me ‘Sunshine,’ eh?”
“Yeah and she also said you’d tell us about the time you got your ass kicked while smack-talking some hermaphroditic, pervy goat that you thought was a person in a costume,” Constance added.
“Why the hell does everyone want to hear that Baphomet story?”
“We’ve heard it, Bart. She just wants you to tell it in your voice,” Esmeralda laughed as the other two women joined in, cackling all the while.  
“Then let’s move it,” Bart said, walking with the women to a passenger van as a million peering eyes stared at them the whole way.