Friday, April 30, 2010

Chapter One

Of course this all may change, but as promised. Enjoy, and post feedback if you like. And note to agents, the formatting of the manuscript is perfect. HTML, Never the best!

Copyright © 2010 by the author. All rights reserved.


I stepped off the plane at Logan airport in Boston and could immediately feel the damp, chilly air that was typical of early spring in New England. The flight from Dublin started late and had ended even later, so the weather didn’t improve my mood very much. My legs creaked from hours spent packed in coach between a drunk (but thankfully sleeping) well-built man with a neatly trimmed beard, and a mousy-looking woman so afraid of flying that apparently clamping onto my leg seemed to be her only way of coping with the turbulence over the North Atlantic. I walked up the ramp, legs aching, into the terminal. “Bet I have a black and blue mark on my leg in the shape of a skinny hand,” I grumbled to no one in particular. Of course the mousy-lady heard me and gave me a mousy-like glare. I pulled the collar of my leather jacket tighter around my neck against a chill that had nothing to do with the weather.

The ramp opened into the bustling terminal. A throng of people shifted and maneuvered for position around me. I felt like a commuter on a Japanese subway. Logan was always busy, but the amount of people moving through the terminal was just insane. Then I saw one of those moving advertisement posters, boldly proclaiming that tomorrow was ‘Patriot’s Day’ and the Boston Marathon would start at 9:00 AM sharp. That explained the crowds. I really hate crowds.

I followed the rest of the cattle downstairs to the baggage claim area watching people as I went. Lovers reuniting. Tired children complaining about this or that. Business men jumping on their cell phones to make that next deal. Being a voyeur is a bit of a hobby of mine. Don’t judge me.

I waited and watched random people for about ten minutes in baggage claim, until the buzzer sounded and the carousel jerked to life. Still indulging my voyeuristic tendencies, I didn’t notice when a smallish man bent over to grab my worn leather bag until his hand brushed mine on the straps.

“Sorry mate,” I muttered that’s…” I broke off as I looked at the man and saw a pair of twinkling blue eyes matching my gaze. The smile on his face was broad and friendly but was nothing compared to my widening grin. “Peter!” I shouted. Bag momentarily forgotten I practically picked up the small man in a bear hug that was enthusiastically returned.

Father Peter Fine had lost some hair since I’d seen him last. Grown a bit in the middle as well. But his vestments fit him as if they were tailored and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes was as bright as I’d remembered.

“Symon Bryson. I swear to the Lord almighty you are still growing.” We released each other, silly grins still plastered on our faces. “You are a sight for sore eyes my son. I wish the Monsignor was here to see you himself.”

My smile faded a bit. Seeing him of course was a marvelous surprise, but a surprise none-the-less. I’d planned on jumping into a cab and heading straight to the old parish in Cambridge, using the trip to steel myself for the uncomfortable reunion with Monsignor Charles DuBarry. After all, it was the telegram about my old estranged mentor crumpled in my pocket that was my sole reason I’d returned to Boston. Despite the fact that Peter had appeared unexpectedly, the sight of my old friend had a welcome calming effect. He’s always had a knack for that. I expected that’s why he’d come to fetch me.

As we released each other from the emotional, but very manly display of affection, I took a closer look at Father Fine. Of course he had aged; haven’t we all? But he also looked very tired, more so then I’d ever seen him look before. His eyes looked sunken and were surrounded by layers of shadow. The twinkle that I’d seen in them but a moment ago was all but gone. There was a grayish tinge to his skin and he had deep worry line over his brow. Peter was normally one of those people who lived the philosophy that the glass was always half full and that God would provide the second half in due course. Something was eating at him. Something bad. For the first time I was glad I’d hopped on a plane as soon as I got the telegram.

“I got your telegram, Peter.” I said. “And despite the urge to bin the bloody thing, I jumped on the first flight I could. What’s going on?”

“Not here Sy,” Peter replied in a low voice. “I have a car waiting in the taxi ranks.” Peter hadn’t called me Sy since I’d been a kid. Questions and disturbing images swirled in my head as we waited in uncomfortable silence another minute or so for my momentarily forgotten bag to make it’s way back around to us on the carousel. A million and one questions occurred to me all at once. The cryptic telegram had hinted at trouble and had concerned me enough to actually drop everything and fly back to my old home. Peter’s appearance and mysterious lack of information downright scared me. A long time ago a group of us had been involved in the never-ending war of good verses evil. We’d been right on the front lines. Trust me when I tell you that there are things working in this world that you really don’t want to know about. It had broken us and we all pretty much had fallen apart after that. At least I had. Things from my nightmares that I’d spent a decade trying to forget crept out of hiding and into the forefront of my brain for a visit.

My second bag finally arrived in front of us and this time Peter let me take this one. He still clutched my old leather over-nighter as if it were a security blanket. Together we made our way through the crush of the crowd toward the exit. Outside the terminal there was a large black four-door sedan idling at the curb. Peter motioned to the car and I hurried to follow. A well-dressed brute of a man was waiting by the car.

Bald and with the build of a professional wrestler, ‘Mongo’ as I’d already nicknamed him, saw Peter and I and parted the sea of people streaming out of the airport with ease. He looked me up and down once and gave a little “harrumph.” Apparently he’d decided that he could break me in half without too much effort. If he knew what I could do when I got pissed off, he wouldn’t have dismissed me out-of-hand. Of course then I saw him open the back door for Peter and I with a hand the size of a dinner plate. Maybe he could break me in half.

“Sy, this is Mr. Flint.” Peter gestured at the large man. “He’s our driver.”

Driver? He looked like a downtown bus. Flint nodded to me once and, heading for the driver’s side of our ride, held up one of those massive meat hooks and pressed a small button on one of those thingies you used to open a trunk remotely. I guessed that, cause I heard a slight ‘pop’ and the trunk flew open. I’m such a clever guy. I tossed my bag in and slammed the trunk lid closed.

Peter jumped in first, still clutching my bag.

“Be careful with that Peter! There a few things in there that shouldn’t be jostled around,” I said.

As I followed Peter into the back of the town car I watched Flint warily as he squeezed himself into the driver’s side. His jacket opened slightly and I caught a glimpse of a semi-automatic in a shoulder holster. Holy crap. This was no rent-a-cop. Peter had a bodyguard.

Flint made a ‘come here’ gesture while looking out the windshield off to the right. Out of the shadows, another man approached the car. It was the bearded ‘drunk’ from the plane, looking very alert and very sober. I whirled toward my friend, suddenly furious.

“What the hell, Peter?” I practically spat as a long crowded flight and a growing worry finally made me snap. “That’s the guy who was sitting next to me on the goddamn plane. Did you have me followed? Who are these goons? And what the Hell is going on?”

“Bare with me, Sy,” hissed Peter his jaw tensed with stress. “Close the door. I’ll explain what I know in a moment.”

I hesitated for a second, as I considered going back into the airport and immediately buying a seat on the next flight back to Dublin. I looked at Peter and, still fuming, I slammed the door closed. The bearded man jumped into the passenger’s seat next to Flint.

“Mr. Kowalski, everything in order?” Peter asked the newcomer.

“Padre,” said the smaller man turning toward us and nodding at Peter. “All clear. We are good to go. He wasn’t followed.”

“Except by you.” I shot back at him. Kowalski glanced at me once and turned back around motioning Flint to get moving. Although the steering wheel looked like a toy in his massive hands, the big man deftly slid our ride from the curb and into the airport traffic.

“Ok,” I said turning to Peter really pissed off now. “Spill it.” But Peter shushed me momentarily (it was getting really annoying now) and closed a dividing window between the back passenger compartment and hired guns sitting up front. Once we were in motion and the privacy panel was in place, Peter sat back and relaxed.

“I’m sorry Sy. According to Charles, this,” he pointed at the two men in front of us. “Is a necessary precaution.”

Peter looked at me. “It really is good to see you again, Symon.”

“Peter, it really is good to see you too, but I really want some answers. In fact I’m only here because I got a telegram from you saying that Charles was in trouble and I needed to get to Boston, pronto. I blew off a motorcycle trip to Galway to be here. So please explain to me why I shouldn’t have frick and frack turn the car around and take me straight back to the terminal.”

“He’s not been himself lately,” Peter said. Something is happening and it’s big but he won’t tell me what it is. He just told me to send telegrams and to arrange for heavy security.”

“What is there to be...wait. Telegrams? How many did he ask you to send?” I asked getting a very uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Well, six including you of course.” Peter said, not meeting my gaze. He ticked off fingers on his hand as he listed names. “Aaron, Eden, Eve, Bill and…”

“Janice.” We said together.

Crap. The old man got himself into something all right. And now I was going to be dragged into it too with one crazy old pastor and five people I’d rather not see again ever, thank you very much. Especially Janice. Double crap.

“Peter.” I said, my frayed nerves making it come out a little harsher then I meant. “Why in God’s name would Charles want the six of us back together with him? He knows how we all feel about each other. And after what happened at Plum Island we swore off Charles’ crusade once and for all. Hell, I still have difficulty believing he didn’t cause the mess we got ourselves into back then.”

“Never say that again!” Peter exclaimed, fire in his eyes. “Charles would never have caused so much evil.”

The priest closed his eyes for a moment and calmed himself down. When he finally opened them, I could see he was close to tears. The ice on my heart melted a little.

“I don’t know, Symon.” Peter said softly, his worry lines deepening. “I really don’t. But what I do know is that it’s bad enough that he had me hire extra security,” he nodded at Flint and Kowalski. “Out of his own pocket.”

Jesus. That told me that whatever trouble the old man was in was extremely bad. Now I’m not implying Charles was cheap. He’d raised the others and I, after all. And we never went wanting for food or any necessity. But if you looked up the word ‘frugal’ in the dictionary there would be a great big picture of Monsignor Charles DuBarry looking down on you as if you had asked ‘Please sir, I want some more.’ So when I tell you for him to shell out his own money for top security meant there was serious trouble-and not the kind his parish could help out with--I meant serious trouble with a capital ‘T.’ Right here in River City.

As images of past horrors danced around in my head, the car moved swiftly onto Storrow Drive. Flint was expertly weaving in and out of the heavy traffic caused by a combination of rush hour commuters and Marathon visitors trying to figure out the Boston roads.

I was worried. I guess I should have mentioned it before, but the Monsignor had a unique way of fighting evil. He used magic. Not the ‘bunny out of the hat’ type. But he was an honest to God sorcerer. The good kind of course. And since I’m in a confessional sort of mood, I should also mention that I’m one too. Charles was also my teacher, and he had taught a young group of talented students how to wield magic like in the stories we heard as kids. But I’d left that world ten years ago because with great knowledge came great confrontation with unmentionable evil. I wondered how painful it would be if I just jumped out of the car right now.

But the Monsignor could always take care of himself. He was literally a warrior of God in the fight against evil. Charles had faith on his side and what was considered a Holy Gift. The Vatican of course officially frowned on such things, but the work Charles--and for a while a group of his charges myself included--was viewed as necessary to keep the balance. If Charles had taken the chance we’d respond to a call back to him, that meant one of two things. Either the Monsignor had lost some of his game and desperately needed us or he wanted to have a reunion party. I was pretty sure that there weren’t any party hats in my future.

Peter and I sat in silence for a few moments lost in our own thoughts. Knowing what I did of what Charles and the rest of us used to get into, the security now made sense. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how these heavily armed goons would be able to protect us from a demon’s curse with bullets.

I couldn’t believe I was about to get pulled back into a world I deliberately turned my back on. After we had gotten our asses handed to us on Plum Island ten years ago, the group broke up. It wasn’t a cowardice thing, honest. We all had believed that what we were doing had gotten to a point that the pain and suffering we were causing outweighed any good we might do. People had died and we’d had enough. Obviously Charles and Peter had continued the work without us.

I thought of my old friends, torn apart by tragedies we had caused in our youthful past. Aaron North had been my best friend from about the age of four. He was always the logical and analytical one of the group. Everything was always black or white for him. Then there were the inseparable twins, Eden and Eve Engel. Both women were brilliant and headstrong, identical in every way accept in gifts they had been given. Eden was the alchemist, her magic based on what she could mix together. Eve’s magic had its base in emotions. As an empathy, she felt her magic.

There was Billy Duncan, tall and with the regal look of African kings of legends past, his faith in God and the righteousness of what he was doing was only surpassed by the Monsignor himself. He was both the clown of the group and the peacemaker--the glue that somehow kept us together until our final adventure.

Lastly, there was Janice. Thoughts of her brought back old feelings and pains that were best left in that locked room I kept hidden away in my mind. I pushed thoughts of her and the rest of my old friends out of my head as best as I could for the time being. I looked over at Peter, knowing his thoughts revolved around worry for his old friend and mentor. I forced myself to focus on what potential horror had caused Charles to reach out to his old pupils. And (I’m not ashamed to admit it) a part of me thought about how I could get my sorry ass extracted from whatever this situation was, and back into my nice warm flat in Dublin as soon as possible.

Our car crossed the Longfellow Bridge and headed into Cambridge. A Red Line train clacked past us, heading back into Boston and I watched it longingly as it travelled in the opposite direction of the apparent danger we were heading toward. We drove past hotels, businesses and large laboratories owned mostly by MIT and moved into an older, more residential neighborhood. The roads were narrower here and Flint slowed down accordingly. I noticed that he and Kowalski were checking mirrors more frequently. The smaller man in particular was actually spinning his head around checking out the view so quickly that I thought he might give himself whiplash. We were in my old neighborhood now and the older buildings were close together, clustered in a way that obviously made our body guards nervous.

Night had fully fallen and despite the car’s heater the chill in the air was more pronounced. It was definitely the weather sending shivers up and down my spine. Yeah. That was it. The weather.

Lights in the homes on either side of the street and a healthy dose of my overactive imagination seemed to taunt me with a tapestry of horrors from my past. As I continued to stare out the window brooding over history, I slowly realized the lights weren’t steady, but actually flashing. In fact there was a certain rhythm to it. Our escorts in front had apparently noticed it too as the car slowed down to a crawl. Kowalski tapped on the glass dividing us and Peter lowered the privacy partition.

“Sir,” he addressed Peter formally. “I think there are emergency vehicles up ahead. Want us to go around?”

“No, that’s ok Mr. Kowalski,” said Peter. “St. Ignatius is right around the corner. Park the car here and we’ll pop out and see what the trouble is.”

Flint pulled the car toward the curb as I looked around. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I hadn’t noticed we were literally one block away from the old church and dormitories that had once been my home. We got out of the sedan and our two bodyguards jumped out, hands in their jackets. With Flint in front and Kowalski behind us, Peter and I made our way to the end of the street. The flashing lights became more pronounced and the source became apparent as we rounded the corner. A half a dozen patrol cars sat blocking the road and parked with lights on, engines running and doors open. Right in front of our destination--St. Ignatius.

Peter paused, then said to our companions, “Gentlemen, perhaps you could be good enough to go and retrieve Symon’s bag and make your way back to the church discreetly while we see what the constabulary wants.”

The two men nodded and melted away behind us. Peter then started toward the commotion, quickening his pace as he went. I jogged to catch up.

Like I said, trouble in River City. With a capital ‘T’ that rhymes with ‘C’ that stands for Charles.


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