Chapter 5

ELISHA HUNCHED FORWARD AND SQUINTED his eyes, a fine film of sweat forming on his brow.

Focus up, Weyland. Just another half-inch. You got this.

He twiddled his fingers compulsively in the air, coaxing the object of his telekinetic exertions—a three-inch rectangular wooden block—ever so carefully from its nesting place among a rickety stack of its fellows.

Almost … there …

The Prefect jammed his tongue in the pocket of his cheek, tensing as the whole column of blocks gave a perilous wobble. He halted his efforts briefly, keeping himself disengaged till the stack had stabilized.

“Hoo!” he exhaled in relief, several seconds later, as the block under his command finally worked itself free.

With a wave of his hand, he sent it bobbing unevenly up and over the Jenga tower, then lowered it gently, ever so carefully, straight down onto the top.

“Your move, chief,” he breathed, sinking back in the rolling chair he occupied in Magistrate Noman Kher’s office—which, to his eternal delight, reclined—and resting his chin on his chest, elbows propped on the chair’s padded arms, steepled fingers twiddling at his lips.

Magistrate Kher took a pull from his canned Mountain Dew and scratched one side of his patchy black beard with a gaunt hand, all while a block eased itself cleanly from the bottom of the stack. It zipped upward and came to rest gently, with impeccable balance, next to Elisha’s, as the Magistrate filled in another square of his Sudoku puzzle.

Elisha’s mouth hinged in a wry grin. “You can’t even pretend this takes effort for you, can you?”

“Would you feel better if I used a handicap again?” asked Noman, with a lack of perceptible irony, as he started to rummage in one of his drawers. “I’ve still got that sleep mask somewhere in my desk.”

“God and the Christ child, no,” groaned Elisha. “You spanking my ass at telekinetic Jenga while blind is still one of the more traumatic memories of my admittedly charmed life.” He sat forward and bit down on his tongue as he set to work teasing out the next block.

Throughout most of their visit so far, during both Elisha’s turns and his own, Noman had divided his time between pawing through the worn copy of Watchmen on his desk and scribbling away at his Sudoku. Now, Elisha could feel the Magistrate’s tranquil dark eyes on his face, studying him keenly.

“You trying to psych me out now?” muttered the Prefect, instantly regretting his decision to speak as his concentration—and, by extension, the tower—teetered dangerously.

Instead of replying, Noman turned his attention back to his puzzle. Elisha, free of his old friend’s uncanny stare, proceeded with a clumsy but passable play. “All you, compadre,” he announced, once more settling back in his chair.

“What’s on your mind, Elisha?” asked Noman, raising his eyes once more to the Prefect as another block migrated swiftly and safely to the top of the pile.

Elisha gave a perturbed grunt. “I honestly don’t know what’s freakier, Nome—your all-but-godlike mastery of telekinesis, or your ability to see through my clown paint.”

Noman folded his hands on his desk and surveyed the Prefect patiently. Elisha shifted in his seat with a sigh.

“You’re a pacifist,” he began, after a long silence; then frowned. “Is there ever a time when you feel that the use of force is justified? Even nonviolent force?”

Noman was characteristically silent for a moment before he spoke. “There’s no such thing as nonviolent force,” he stated at last, mildly. “Exerting control over an unwilling sentient being is the definition of violence.” The renowned sage and gnostician had a way, Elisha felt, of making an Average Joe like himself feel morally bankrupt by comparison—but not because he ever conveyed a trace of judgment in his manner or tone.

The Prefect worked a bubble of air between his cheeks, finally expelling it with a sigh. “So how the hell are we supposed to deal with people who are, themselves, brazenly and unrepentantly violent?”

Noman’s thin lips bent in a near-smile. “Isn’t that the question that plagues our short existence?” He fell silent a moment, a rare, pained look coming into his eyes. “I, as you know, choose to take the easy way out, and leave that function to those who have more appetite for it.” His Mountain Dew slid across the desk to his waiting hand. He raised it meditatively to his lips.

Elisha puckered his brow. “Isn’t it better, though, for that work to be carried out by people who don’t have any taste for it?”

The gnostician raised an eyebrow, a rueful grin pursing the corners of his eyes. “Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my friend,” he said.

*  *  *  *

Elisha could still remember the first time he’d visited the Enclave’s Enchantment department as a kid. He’d been in awe of all the hustle and bustle; the magi in their smocks at their worktables, piecing together constructs or carving runes, or hovering over the furnace decked out in goggles and gloves while they smelted aurichalcum and other celestial metals. He’d tugged on his dad’s pants leg, atwitter with childish delight, and demanded to know whether this was Santa’s workshop.

Today, the place looked like like it had been wiped out by a pandemic. The main workspace was minimally staffed, and the mood was solemn. Ordinators held silent vigil by the door.

Elisha issued upbeat greetings to the few of his employees he passed on his way to the private workspace just outside his office. His assistant, Duncan, sat within, right where the Prefect had left him before lunch, poring over the guts of the dismantled prototype golem.

“Hey, spud,” said Elisha.

“Hmm?” Duncan’s gaze drifted up toward him, distractedly. He looked even more long-faced and shock-haired than usual.

“Don’t you think you’ve picked over that cursed thing enough?” Elisha leaned into his office long enough to doff his jacket and toss it down over a chair, then returned, rolling up his sleeves.

“I kind of wish Enforcement had just kept him,” muttered Duncan, gesturing to the behemoth on the table in front of him. “Scrapped him for parts. I mean, what are we supposed to do with him?”

Elisha shrugged. “ … Scrap ’im for parts?” he said lightly. “I mean, hell—should be pretty easy to repurpose all this if we use our noodles. Take this thingie, for instance.” He hefted a pauldron-like shoulder piece, grunting with the effort. “It’d make a nice sort of, uh, plate … bowl thing. A plowl. Flat enough not to jumble all your food together, but deep enough that stuff doesn’t fall out of it. And since it’s adamantine, it’ll keep things nice and cold. So, perfect for eating ice cream. Hot diggity—I think we might be on to something! Ring up the patent office, spud. We’re gonna be millionaires.”

“It’s way too heavy,” said Duncan flatly. “And adamantine items are impossible to mass-produce.”

“No sense of humor today, huh?” said Elisha, plunking the scrap back down on the table.

“Sorry,” mumbled Duncan, distinctly unapologetically.

Elisha pulled up a chair. “You feel like talking about it?”

The younger magus stared at the table.

“Who knows; might help,” shrugged the Prefect. “I might just know exactly what you’re going through.”

The Associate eyed him dubiously, then folded his arms on the workbench in front of him. “I don’t know what to do.” His fingers dug into his biceps till his knuckles paled. “I mean, how do you ever know what choices to make—whether you’re doing the right thing or not—if, even when you have the best intentions, things can still turn out … ?”

When he failed to finish, Elisha gave a knowing nod. “I feel that, spud. You have no idea how hard.”

Duncan stared at the table, tears shivering in his eyes.

“The sick truth,” said Elisha, echoing conclusions he’d reached himself over the past few days, “is that we’re all fumbling around in the dark. No exceptions. Even the pythias see the future only in vague impressions. The choices we make have unexpected consequences, because we can’t ever possibly be aware of all the factors affecting the outcomes.” He smiled grimly. “It’s a steaming pile of bullshit; but it doesn’t make us evil. It just makes us human.”

“Then what makes someone evil?” whispered Duncan, lifting his brown eyes to Elisha’s.

Elisha pondered for a half-second. “Intent,” he said at last, with conviction.

Duncan lowered his gaze once more. “Does it?” he mused, in a whisper. “Seems to me people with good intentions have caused more than their fair share of misery in this world.”

*  *  *  *

The Associate’s words were still heavy on Elisha’s mind later that afternoon, as he made his way down the hall toward the new-christened Office of the Archmagus in the South Wing, far from the ruin of the council hall.

As he arrived at his destination, he heard raised voices from within.

“Whose side are you on, Uncle?” demanded Nigella’s familiar, brassy alto.

“The side of Ordo Arcanus,” responded Levi, in a rare fit of pique, “and of the Auctoritas Magicae! The side of peace.”

“Hunter is doing what is best for both institutions!”

One of the Ordinators guarding the office turned its vacuous gaze on the Prefect as he leaned his ear close to the door. Elisha tossed it a coy wink and pressed his forefinger to his lips.

“I vehemently disagree,” the Archmagus replied. “If you won’t speak to him and urge him to retract his inflammatory statements, then I’ll have him in here and reprimand him myself!”

“You have no right or call to discipline him for speaking his mind,” countered Nigella. “Nor to intimidate him, nor otherwise interfere with his campaign. It’s undemocratic.”

“I’ve the right to my civilian opinion,” Levi rejoined. “And I certainly have the right as the boy’s great-uncle to give him a good, round talking-to. I’ve half a mind to demand he answer directly to High Servant of Truth Karamat for the insults he’s heaped on her person, and her noble order.”

“Hunter will treat with Karamat if you so wish,” said Nigella. “My son is no coward. If you’d ever bothered to give him the time of day—instead of fawning over that Nimri freak—you might know that.”

Christ, thought Elisha.

Levi was silent a moment. Elisha could imagine him fuming as he grasped for words. “We owe Jules Nimri our lives,” he intoned at last. “I must say, Niece, I find your intolerance gravely disappointing.”

“And I yours, Uncle.” Nigella’s voice took on an injured tone. “It seems Evander is not the only father-figure who has forsaken my Hunter. If you’ll excuse me.”

Elisha launched himself several strides down the hallway, spinning on his heel the same instant the door flew open. He reapproached the office at a casual pace, hands buried deep in his pockets.

Nigella came whipping toward him like a thunderhead, her cool blue eyes throwing off sparks.

“What’s the haps, Coz?” he asked innocently, as she blew past him.

“Fine,” came her sullen reply, her platinum locks streaming behind her as she vanished around the corner.

Elisha poked his head into Levi’s office. He found his father seated at his desk, scowling fixedly down at nothing in particular while he twisted the cap of his fountain pen with white-knuckled hands.

“So,” said Elisha brightly. “Care to tell me what that was all about?”

Levi beckoned with an irritable wave of his hand. “Close the door.”

The junior Weyland complied, then plopped down mock-eagerly in the chair in front of his father’s desk. “Gimme the dish.”

“Hunter is challenging Thorsten for his magisterial seat,” said Levi flatly, “and, in just one day of campaigning, he’s already managed to stir the membership into quite the frenzy by casting suspicion on Khmun—and pledging to propose a suspension of their presence in Delphi until they can prove themselves blameless of Thursday’s attack.”

Elisha rolled his eyes. “That little twit. You think he’s just talking out of his ass, or has he really got it in his head that as magistrate he could do a thing like that? Even with Nigella’s backing, his chances of getting majority approval to ban an entire faction would be nil.”

“I think he’s willing to say anything to get himself elected,” Levi speculated darkly. “And, while you’re correct that he won’t have the means to follow through on his promise, he can do damage enough with words alone. His rhetoric by itself is a threat to the stability of the Alliance.”

“True dat,” said Elisha grimly. “Ugh.” He cracked his knuckles. “Want me to give the little turd-loaf a beatdown?”

“What we must do,” began Levi—then paused, and rose from his desk. He swept over to the door, robes trailing, and erected his shield of silence before continuing. “What we must do,” he repeated, as he returned to his chair, “is ensure that the sniveling little swine is humiliated utterly in the upcoming election.”

“I like the sound of that,” said Elisha. “If you ask me, it’s high time we buried Nigella too. Just gotta rustle up someone qualified to run against her.”

“Perhaps. But one battle at a time. Blocking a challenger will be easier by far than unseating a seasoned incumbent. Will you oversee our coordination with the press? You’ve got a talent for ‘spin,’ as they say.”

Elisha gave his father a hearty thumbs-up. “One smear campaign, coming right up.”

“We must also provide whatever aid we can to Thorsten’s reelection campaign. He’s a dismally unexciting candidate … loyal old workhorse that he is. But he can count on the bulk of the First House vote, at least, given Hunter’s shameless pandering to the Rising Houses.”

“Hunter’s courting the Rising Houses?” Elisha raised an eyebrow.

“Indeed; claiming the Interfaction Exchange Program is depriving them of jobs, and pledging to end it. He’s brought on that Penn Sawyer lunatic as his campaign manager. Those people worship that man.”

“That is … shockingly sound strategy, considering it’s Hunter,” Elisha mused. “That right there … that actually worries me. It smacks of daemon-counsel.”

“It’s as apt to sink him as it is to float him,” demurred Levi. “First House folk are far more likely to show on election day; and, for all the high talk going around lately, most of them are terrified at the prospect of the Rising Houses achieving genuine parity.”

“Abolishing the IEP doesn’t really give them squat,” noted Elisha.

“Having a representative who even pays lip service to their concerns emboldens them greatly.”

Elisha sighed. “Why don’t we just go ahead and push for a legit equal opportunity amendment? It’s a good idea anyway, and it’ll take the wind right out of Hunter’s sails.”

Levi shook his head. “The order isn’t ready for that yet. We’ll end up with a revolt on our hands. I agree that forward progress is called for on the issue, but we must tread carefully—else I’ll find myself edged out next election by a Mounce or a Shakesheave, someone thoroughly regressive, and like as not you will too.”

Elisha gave a tight smile. “Can’t help thinking we might be on the wrong side of history on this one. And it could come back to bite us.”

“It’s a fine line we walk, as well you know, my boy.”

The junior Weyland only nodded, quietly gnawing his cheek. “So,” he said at last, leaning forward and planting his hands on his knees, “the question that remains, then, is how to make Thorsten Nimri exciting.” He pondered briefly. “Think I should write him a rap?”

“I had thought we might urge him to make Jules a more visible part of his campaign,” suggested Levi. “Inject a bit of freshness and youth. The boy happens to be popular at the moment.”

“Good, good,” nodded Elisha. “I’ll write Jules a rap. You think since I’m married to a black guy I can get away with using the N-word?”

“I have another engagement in a quarter-hour,” said Levi, glancing at the grandfather clock on the far side of the room, “so we should table this discussion for now and move on to our original agenda. The Hunter problem, after all, will be moot if we can get to the truth of who perpetrated the attack. Do you have anything to report?”

Elisha heaved a sigh. “Nothing solid. But I’ve got a lead I’ll be looking into this afternoon.” As a policy, he never divulged to his father the specifics of his investigation—the idea being to minimize the likelihood the Archmagus would be found complicit if, God forbid, his son’s more unscrupulous doings came to light.

“Would this lead appear to confirm our suspicions?” ventured Levi.

The Prefect gave a silent nod.

The elder Weyland gazed soberly at his desk. “Well, then.” A muscle in his aged temple twitched. “Perhaps my great-nephew will have his accursed war after all.” His raised his eyes to his son’s. “Report back to me once you’ve learned anything definite, one way or the other?”

“Of course,” said Elisha.

The Archmagus nodded soberly. “Dismissed.”

*  *  *  *

Half an hour later, Elisha pulled his Cadillac STS onto the drive of the vacant D.F. Waldney & Sons lumberyard—a property secretly owned by the Weyland family that had been put to use over the years for a range of covert purposes—and climbed out to unlock the giant padlock on the gate.

Once on the other side, he pulled his car into the shed and parked it next to the beat-up black second-gen Dodge Challenger waiting within.

A full-length mirror, bureau, and clothing rack were positioned against the nearest wall. Elisha locked the Cadillac and approached the mirror, reaching in his suit pocket for the glamor ring he’d spent all of Friday night into Saturday morning crafting—one only a master enchanter such as himself could create, that would cast an illusion powerful enough to fool even magi’s eyes.

“Time to put our face on,” he muttered wryly to his reflection.

He slipped the ring onto his left forefinger and watched himself, in the blink of an eye, transform. The stranger who stared back at him was the same height and build as Elisha—even the most skillfully woven glamor couldn’t significantly alter its wearer’s shape—but was otherwise practically unrecognizable, his bald head and face disfigured by shiny pink scars. His eye sockets drooped as if melted, his mangled mouth sagging in a garish, tragedy-mask frown. The only vestige of Elisha that remained was his eyes—shrewd and blue as ever—which he had kept unobscured of necessity, to enable the deployment of his secret weapon.

Several more rings awaited him in a jewelry box beneath a false bottom in the top bureau drawer. These were protective amulets, also of his own design, imbued with the power to absorb any malicious magics directed his way. Elisha slid as many of these onto his fingers as he could wear without sacrificing dexterity.

The rest of his costume was waiting for him on the rack. He swapped out his tailored gray suit for a loose-fitting black one, with a shirt, tie, and gloves to match. He traded out his watch, his socks, his shoes; finally placed a quick kiss on his wedding ring before dropping it into the pocket of his gray suit, which he hung up in the black one’s place.

Standing fully dressed before the mirror once more, he donned the gloves, then plucked a pair of round metal mirror-lens shades from his jacket pocket and slid them into place on his nose.

Prefect Elisha Weyland had vanished entirely. In his place stood a man recently introduced to the Delphi underworld as Caliban.

“Ain’t you an ugly sonofabitch,” he pronounced gruffly to the mirror, with an attempt at a smile that came out looking more like a grimace.

He slid behind the wheel of the Challenger. Its engine shuddered to life with a wildcat roar.

*  *  *  *

The Shells and Bones Tavern (est. 1911) was a mainstay of Delphi’s magic underworld—the kind of shady, smoke-filled speakeasy where, deep within the privacy of high-backed booths, illicit trade deals were forged; whether for black-market goods such as illegal alchemical substances and enchanted weapons, or of the less tangible variety that happened to interest Elisha at the moment: information. The entrance to the establishment, visible only to those who knew where to look for it, was in the basement of the mundane Arcadia Nightclub on Minerva Street in Downtown Delphi, at the back of the storage cellar across from the public restrooms. Elisha approached discreetly and administered the secret knock, to which a bouncer responded by unbolting and opening the door.

“Got any weapons?” asked the bouncer, as Elisha proceeded into the narrow hall.

The Prefect slipped Buffy from the shoulder holster in his jacket, gave her a spin in his gloved palm, and handed her over. She, like himself, had been enchanted with a glamor—one just complex enough to disguise her serial number and distinguishing modifications.

The bouncer gave Elisha a quick pat-down and waved him ahead through the black curtains into the barroom. The place was decently crowded for a Tuesday afternoon. A blond man in a tie and trench coat sat alone at the bar, alternating his attentions between a gin and tonic and a Silk Cut cigarette. In a corner booth nearby, a diviner was performing a reading. She was a pythia—apparently unlicensed, seeing as the only licensed pythias were contracted exclusively to the Tribunal—but a young and patently inexperienced one, given that she apparently hadn’t built up a very strong tolerance for the aletheia vapors that enabled her communion with the daemonic realm. She was tittering wildly and falling half out of her seat, her client—a humorless elderly woman with a hairless and equally humorless feline familiar—drumming her fingers impatiently on the table.

The proprietor, “Mama” Zoya Morozova, hovered behind the bar as always, seemingly eternally polishing the same spot on the same glass with the same dirty rag, like an NPC in a roleplaying game. She never appeared to stir from her post, based on Elisha’s recent observations—and must therefore, he’d concluded, never sleep. During yesterday’s visit, he’d made a point of studying her without interruption for at least two minutes. Not once had he seen her rheumy eyes blink.

Her pale gaze latched on to him as he approached. “Mr. Caliban,” she pronounced, in her brittle, Russian-accented voice.

“Mama Zoya,” replied Elisha, in his Caliban growl. He leaned forward on the bar. “Jim Beam Black and water.”

She wordlessly poured his drink. He left a wad of cash on the bar.

He swept the room with his gaze, taking in more of its occupants. In the far corner, beneath a candle-lit decorative display that paired a taxidermied fox with some very human-looking bones, sat a chubby, middle-aged man, slumped witless in his booth with a half-drunk mug of what could only be black lotus tea on the table in front of him, dark steam gushing from his eyes. In a few of the other booths, characters ranging from shady to colorful sat conversing quietly over their herbal, alchemical, and/or alcoholic libations. No one seemed inclined to occupy the half-dozen small tables situated throughout the center of the establishment.

“So,” said Elisha, turning back to Mama Zoya, “where’s this loose-tongued young lady you told me about?”

The barkeep nodded toward a curtained-off booth in the remotest corner of the tavern, across from the black lotus addict and beneath a hanging star chart. On closer inspection, Elisha saw a pair of black high-heeled boots protruding from under the curtains.

He left more cash on the bar. “You have my gratitude,” he said, with a catastrophe of a smile.

“Your gratitude, you may keep,” replied the withered proprietor, with a leer almost grotesque enough to rival his own, as she scooped up the pile of bills.

Elisha sauntered across the barroom toward the boots, past a pair of illusioners comparing their respective skills via a high-stakes game of glamor cards. He slid between the curtains without ceremony and took a seat, noting the alarm in the young woman’s eyes as she took in the sight of him. He studied her, making mental notes. She was clumsily disguised in a dark hood and veil; otherwise dressed in a nondescript blouse and skirt. She looked diffident. Out of her element, perhaps. Which made sense; she was an informant, not a criminal or a spy. She probably wasn’t used to sneaking around or hanging out in dives. What features of hers he could see, Elisha made a point to remember, for safety’s sake: her manicured eyebrows; the freckles on her skin; her dark green upturned eyes.

“‘Amelia,’ is it?” he pronounced gruffly, resting his drink on the table.

She nodded silently, fingering the stir in her half-drunk Martini. “You must be Caliban.”

He grinned. “I take it the old lady didn’t warn you.”

She hesitated. “Warn me about what?”

The Prefect raised a gnarled, hairless eyebrow. “How goddamn ugly I am.” He chuckled, a practiced, scraping rattle. Amelia looked discomfited. “Begging your pardon,” he added, taking a pull of his bourbon. “I’m not used to such polite company. But; enough chitchat.” He traced the grooves of a sigil engraved on the wall between them. A shield of silence descended over the booth with a soft, fleeting glow. “Mama Zoya tells me you’ve got intel about the Enclave attack.”

She hesitated. “I might.”

“Now, now, Amelia,” he drawled unpleasantly. “Don’t be a tease.”

She eyed him with distaste. “What are you going to do with the information?”

“Pass it on to my boss.”

“Who’s your boss?”

He chuckled. “Nosy gal, ain’tcha?” Elisha felt more than a little guilty for talking down to her, but he’d resolved to play his role to the hilt—and was determined to maintain the upper hand in this exchange. “All you need to know is it’s somebody with family that got hurt in the attack.” He sobered and toyed with his glass. “Somebody who wants justice.”

She dropped her gaze and nodded slowly. “That’s what I want, too, Mr. Caliban,” she said, and lifted her eyes to him once more. “Justice.”

“And money, I bet,” prompted Elisha.

“No,” she replied. “Just justice.”

He raised his eyebrows skeptically. “That so?”

“I don’t expect compensation for doing the right thing, Mr. Caliban,” she said, a bit pointedly.

“Just a Good Samaritan, eh?”

“What my order is doing is wrong. I won’t stand by and allow it to continue.”

Elisha leaned forward onto his forearms, searching her eyes from behind his mirror-lens shades. “Then what I’m gonna need is proof, ma’am,” he pronounced, slowly. “Tell me everything you know.”

“I just hope it’s enough,” she murmured in a tremulous voice, and lifted her veil slightly so she could down the rest of her drink. Elisha caught a glimpse of her plush neck and jawline, and committed the shape of them to memory.

She rested her glass on the table and heaved a sigh. “I’m a Pais,” she began. “A lower-ranking member of the Hermetic Order of Khmun. My function is basically that of a servant. Therefore, people often talk in front of me as if I’m not there.”

Elisha nodded his head, encouraging her to continue.

“The day of the attack,” she went on, “I was serving lunch to His Holiness Thutmose IX, Right Hand to the High Servant of Truth. His Holiness took his meal in his quarters with a Kyrios-level associate, someone whose name I didn’t catch. I heard them discussing a secret operation that was to be carried out that night; ‘Breath of the Chimera,’ I think they called it. His Holiness spoke of ‘cutting the head off the adder.’” She paused. “I can only assume he was referencing the assassination attempt on Archmagus Weyland.”

Elisha felt a chill run down his spine. “What else? Is that it?”

She nodded her head.

“Well, it’s all circumstantial,” he grunted impatiently. “Isn’t there anything concrete you can give me? Some lead I can follow up on?”

“There was a name,” she replied. “An operative of our order who’s apparently embedded in Ordo Arcanus. Someone working in the Enclave’s Enchantment department, but who also has daemonology expertise.”

The Prefect’s heart began to beat faster. This meant the guilty party had to be someone he knew. And Amelia’s claim about the operative’s goetia prowess lent her story credence. The fact that the golem had been possessed wasn’t yet public knowledge.

“Sounds like a solid lead to me,” he acknowledged grimly. “Let’s hear the name.”

She took a deep breath. “Duncan—if I remember right,” she exhaled. “Duncan Harper.”

Elisha only hoped he didn’t look as much like crying as he felt. “Good; good,” he nodded absently, settling back in his seat.

Minutes later, he stepped into the wasting heat of the late afternoon sun, slipped into the phone booth on the corner, and placed the call to the mercenaries in “Caliban’s” employ.

He made clear that under no circumstances were they to touch the wife or child.

“Well, spud,” he muttered wretchedly, as he slid behind the wheel of the Challenger and fired up the engine. “This guy with good intentions is about to cause a whole heap of misery in your world.”

Copyright © 2017 Joss Adler, Mabel Harper. All rights reserved.