Even wizards in the U.S. armed forces have to go home some time.
First Magus Brent Rogers of the US Army stationed in Afghanistan is ordered to return home on furlough. Considered a war mage, he is trained to find enemies at a distance, to blow up their bombs, and to alert his men of danger.
None of this is needed in the city of Worcester, his hometown.
Brent has to learn to relax, to not see threats in every corner, and to let his family welcome him home.
But if he relaxes his vigilance for even a second, who knows what could happen . . .
In war, here be dragons.
Logan Airport was busy at 5 a.m. on a Monday. Somehow Brent had lost a day in travel, but he slept most of it on the three planes that got him here.
He rented a car, took the insurance, and picked out a 2004 Chevy Impala. He caught Route 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, while listening to a familiar Boston station playing Dire Straits. Worcester didn’t have its own rock and roll radio station, so the airways had to pick up stations from the big cities of Boston and Providence, Rhode Island.
Familiar landmarks on Route 90 made him smile. Even the signs on the turnpike did: Allston/Brighton, Weston, Route 128, Framingham… I-495. Route 146, one of the Worcester exits.
He took that exit. From there, he continued to Route 122A, going to Worcester Center. Traffic was heavy around Worcester, due to signal lights and people trying to get to work early on Monday morning. He checked the clock in the car — it was near 8 a.m. Chances were his mother might still be home, getting ready for work, his father probably already at the police station for his job.
He drove to Edward Street, past the house. Still white siding, small for five, but too big for the remaining two. No cars were parked in the driveway, and the deck in the back had a mosquito net covering it. His heart gave a little leap — it was as he had left it. He continued down the street to the end, where it met MA-9. He took a sharp right, then another right into the parking lot of a large building which housed different doctors’ offices for the University of Massachusetts Hospital across the street.
UMass Hospital, a sanctuary for vampires.
When he was 16, Brent had gone to work in the transport department in UMass, and met Dr. Bates, who openly stated he was a vampire. Vampires were legal in Massachusetts and most of the liberal New England states, but in other states, such as the Deep South, they were chased out at least, destroyed at worst. When Brent left for the Army, they were talking about making vampirism federally legal.
Brent walked into the medical building instead of the hospital, to the second floor, down the well-worn carpeted hallway, to the door that said, “Dr. Timothy M. Banant, Endocrinologist.” Brent took a deep breath and opened the door. His hazel eyes lit immediately to the frosted sliding glass doors on the other side of the room. He went to the window and it took a moment before the glass slid open.
The woman with reddish-auburn hair and round glasses was looking at something on her desk as she asked, “Can I hel—” She looked up. Her jaw dropped.
“I was wondering if —”
He grinned as she jumped up from her seat, ran around the desk and threw open the door that separated the office from the waiting room. Brent caught her in his arms when she ran into them. She was a petite woman, so catching her wasn’t difficult.
“Hi, Mom,” he said, hugging her. No one else was in yet. She stepped back a moment, looking up at him, her hazel eyes welling up with tears.
“Oh, my God, Brent — how — are —” She threw her arms around him again. “How long are you here?” she said, muffled in his uniform.
“About a month.” Three weeks, four days to be exact.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” She pulled back, putting her small hands on his biceps.
“I’ve been on planes since they gave me leave. I figured getting here was more important.”
His mother looked him up and down. “They haven’t been feeding you,” she said. He knew he was fit and trim, hardly any fat on him at all. The Army did that to a person.
“Did you call your father?”
“I thought I would go see him after I get a shower.”
“You need the keys?”
She walked back to the office. “Is Keithy still out of work?” he called.
“He was out last week.”
Brent set his jaw, refraining from saying anything. His mother knew how he felt about Keithy and his “injury”. Now was not the time or place to discuss it.
“I’ll get these back to you at lunch.”
“With a Ruben from Jake’s.”
He laughed. “Yes, Mom.” His mother kissed him and sat down. An old man came in and held the door open for him. Brent murmured his thanks. He glanced at the old man, who smiled at him.
He walked to the car, and drove back to his parent’s house. He unlocked the door to hear barking. The big German Shepherd came bounding out and leapt up, placing his huge front paws on Brent’s shoulders.
“Pickles!” Brent rubbed the dog’s head, scratching his ears, as the dog licked his face. Brent had hoped that Pickles would remember him. The two had been near inseparable since high school, when he got the German Shepherd. The K9 unit tried to train Pickles for basic work but he was the rebel of the litter. They finally put him up for auction and Brent’s father won the bid.
“That’s a good boy,” he said, and the dog jumped down. He took off his backpack and set it down on the floor in the foyer.
He walked through the impeccably clean house to his room, as it was since he left but dusted frequently. The clothes he pulled out of his drawer smelled freshly laundered. He pulled out what he needed and got undressed.
Pickles was sniffing at his backpack. “Don’t piss on it,” Brent said, padding naked across the room to the door. He picked up the backpack, bringing it with him to the bedroom. After locking the front door, he walked over to the bathroom and took a long, much-desired hot shower. Finally, he wasn’t encased in a layer of dust or dirt.
Pickles waited on his bed as he usually did. He and Brent played tug of war for a short time with the wet towel. Brent flipped the towel at Pickles who dove out of the way before it hit him. Brent pulled on his underwear. Those fit, however his denim shorts were a little too big. He chuckled as he threaded a belt through the hoops.
He pulled on an AC/DC t-shirt — it was a little tight across the chest, but still fit. He got on socks and sneakers.
He put Pickles out to the dog run. He stood at the credenza by the back door that held the fancy china, the set of dishes that were taken out for holidays. Along the top of the credenza were pictures of the family. In the center was his official Army picture in formal dress greens. He looked so young there, less than two years ago.
Keithy’s picture showed a big broad man, his arm around Brent’s shoulders. It was the last picture before the accident. Before Keithy stopped driving.
Another picture was of his sister, Lori. Her three kids were gathered around her, dressed in swimsuits, as she sat in a lounge chair by a nondescript pool somewhere. There were no pictures of her and her ex-husband, Alan, anywhere on the credenza.
When Pickles came back in, Brent made him pirouette before tossing a treat to him. “I’ll be back, okay, big boy?” He found his old phone, plugged in the wall at his nightstand. He thought he was due for an upgrade by now. He unplugged it, flipped it open, and dialed the home landline. Hearing the home phone ring, he nodded, confirming that it worked.
Brent glanced at the clock on the phone. Nine. Plenty of time to see Dad. He flipped it shut and headed out to the car.
Brent parked in the tiny parking lot for visitors. He walked to the front of the building, built as a state of the art in the ’70’s but now rough around the edges like the men. As he got to the door, someone shut the door in his face. With an angry sigh, he tore the door open.
He walked into a foyer area lined with wooden benches on either side. The person who had slammed the door in his face sat at one bench, looking angry and nervous at the same time.
Brent walked up to the glass window and leaned on the counter. Beyond the window he could see officers both uniformed and plain-clothes, working. The desks and chairs beyond were metal and beaten, old and well-used, like a lot of the plain-clothes guys. The female officer talked to him through the small speaker set in the window. “Yes?”
“I’d like to see Detective Jim Rogers.”
“In regards to?”
“I’m his son. From Afghanistan.”
“I’ll check if he’s in. Please take a seat.”
Brent sat down on the well-worn wooden benches across from the guy. The man glared at Brent, as if the reason he was here was his fault. Brent glared back at him, daring the guy to start something.
“What,” the guy snapped at him.
“Nothing,” said Brent, turning to look through the glass beyond the receptionist. This wasn’t the first time he’d come to visit his father. A few of the uniforms glanced out at him, and one or two waved to him. He smiled and waved back.
He looked up to see his father moving on the left hand side of the room. He threaded his way between desks and came to the side door leading to the waiting area. Brent stood up to meet him. He was a large man, tall and broad like Brent, but with a paunch Brent didn’t have. Because he was losing his hair, to make things easier, he went bald. He had Brent’s angular face that was filling out, however; not as chiseled as his own.
“Brent!” He pulled Brent into a bear hug. “How are you? Are you here to stay?”
“Just a month,” he said.
“At least for Fourth of July, that’s good. Come on back.”
People called him by name as he followed his father to a desk behind a partition and diagonally under the stairs. “I got a new partner. Luke gets in around 10.” His father hooked a chair over for Brent. “Coffee?”
“As long as it’s not the same that the Army has.”
His father laughed. “Cream, no sugar?”
His father walked to the coffee station which was within view of the desk. Brent looked around — his father had moved from the middle of the room to the edge, closer to the glass-enclosed office of the captain of detectives. His father returned with the coffee, the stirrer sticking out of it. “How is it over there?”
“Do you want the line we’re fed or the truth?”
“Que est veritas,” said his father. “What’s in your gut?”
Leave it to his father to get right to the emotional heart of the matter. “It’s a worthless fight. The people don’t trust us, don’t understand the idea of freedom and liberty. We’re helping them so that the Taliban can come sweeping back to a clean country.”
“Damn. You’re there for how much longer?”
“Two years. Then college.”
“Good thing you have plans. Better than your worthless brother.”
“What’s up with that?”
His father shrugged. “He’s screwed the system, that’s all. Got the right doctors to write the right things.”
“Should I do some —”
His father said, “No. Leave him alone.”
“I can cast something —”
“It’s not worth it, Brent.” He smiled and pointed to a small stack of files in a file holder on his desk. “At least my unsolveds are less than my solveds.” He drank his own coffee. “Did you talk to your mother?”
“She wants lunch.”
“Hey, Brent.” A man came over and clapped a pair of hairy hands on Brent’s shoulders. “Back home?”
Brent craned his neck to look at the bear of a man standing over him. He was large in every sense, broad, strong, and hairy. “For a little while. Hi, Tony.”
“Looking good, kid. The Army put some meat on those bones.” He slapped Brent’s shoulders, hard. Brent winced. “Captain wants us,” he said to his father.
“Luke isn’t in yet.”
“Us.” He motioned between Brent’s father and himself. “As in you and me. We’re the only ones here this early.”
His father got up. “Must be a hot one. Be right back,” he said to Brent.
Brent watched them go, his father walking over, swinging his arms, and Tony, loping along like the werewolf he was.
Rubbing shoulders with the vampires in UMass had introduced him to a whole host of Children of the Moon, as they liked to call themselves. Werewolves, vampires, fae, ghosts, and witches; creatures that most people didn’t believe existed. Worcester was a stop for some of them on the way to Boston, where supposedly the RevWar ghosts and Old World vampires held sway.
Many of the Children of the Moon worked together. They believed that they were all of the shadowy underground, fringes of the multitudes of the Children of the Sun, as they called humans. As with the human races, countries, and cultures attempting to join with each other, there were some growing pains.
The fae’s hate of the vampires had eased into dislike; the werewolves and vampires joined together and buried the hatchet centuries ago. Ghosts worked with anyone who could notice them, which were mostly witches and some vampires. Vampires liked to consider themselves the “aristocrats” of the Children of the Moon, but werewolves and fae often would put a kibosh on any vampire that got too big for their britches. That was when the old animosities would come into play, and a hunt would be called out on the vampire, who would have no recourse than to pipe themselves down or get out of Dodge before the wolves and fairies destroyed them.
Before he had even gone to UMass Hospital to work, sometimes Brent would help his father with cold cases. He glanced over at the file folders that his father had called “unsolveds.” He lifted himself slightly off the chair and picked out the first folder from the pile.
Some of these cold cases were vampires that had lost control, or uncaring vampires that were passing through to Boston or other points beyond in the hinterlands of New York or even further west. Sometimes they were fights between werewolves, or a fae gone rogue. Or sometimes, they were just people.
He glanced around the room again, opened the folder. Taped to the inside flap were photographs, mostly of the scene of the crime. He wasn’t looking for those. “Marilyn Monroe” was in the alias line, called that because she — he, actually — played that character in some clubs. He was found dead on Worthington Avenue, a hot spot for gays, drugs, and sex workers. His real name was unknown —
— John Kemp —
— Brent grabbed a sticky note pad and ball point, scribbled the name and pasted the note next to the blank spot that said “real name.” He glanced around again, then continued to read the narrative.
“Marilyn” had been found dead from strangulation according to the coroner. He turned the page. Three suspects were named. He looked closely at each name, but none stood out. However, one of the suspects mentioned “Tool”, and that name hi-lighted in red in his mind’s eye.
All Brent had to do was think the spell, and “Tool” came up in his mind, everything from how he looked to his last known address, the make and model of his car —
Brent scribbled one note after another. He was still scribbling when his father snatched the folder out of his hands.
Brent’s eyes were white when he noticed the folder was gone. To quench the spell, he closed his eyes and exhaled.
“I told you not to do that anymore,” said his father sternly. “Psychometry isn’t grounds for a warrant.”
“Sorry, Dad.” Brent opened his eyes. “I was only trying to help.”
“I know you were. You’ve always been right. But this kind of thing is too freaky to admit in court. They don’t care if the Armed Forces believes in it.”
“Will you at least notify his next of kin?”
His father opened the folder and looked at the front page. “We’ll try.” He closed the folder and tossed it on his desk. “Besides, if the department knew what you could do, you’d be working for Larry first, and you know what kind of an idiot he is.”
Brent glanced at an empty desk, a few rows away from his father’s. Larry Salucci was an excellent patrolman, a mediocre sergeant, and a horrible detective. He never asked the right questions, even with a cheat sheet. He followed his gut, and was often wrong.
“Want to go with me on a call?”
Brent glanced at the clock. “Yeah, sure, I have a couple of hours.”
“We’ll bring you back in time for lunch.” His father picked up his jacket.
Tony walked over to them, shrugging into his jacket. ”Is Boy Wonder coming?” he asked.
“Yes. We have to bring him back for lunch or my wife will be pissed.”
Tony chuckled. “C’mon then.”
Brent climbed into the back seat. He searched for the buckles. “No seat belts?”
Tony turned to Brent’s father. “What year is this car? 1967 Chevy?”
Brent found the seatbelt tucked into the back seat. “Never mind, I found them.” His father drove the three of them to the hospital.
“Domestic violence,” said Tony. “White female, aged 28, found beaten outside her home at four-thirty a.m. this morning. The newspaper delivery person called it in.”
“You’re going to be the reporter,” said Brent’s father to Brent. “Pick a paper.”
They drove to Saint Vincent’s. They walked through the crowded emergency room, flashing their badges. Brent followed close so he wouldn’t be left behind. The two men stopped at the nurse’s station, and Tony asked where the woman was who had been found beaten. “Fifteen,” said the nurse.
The three men went to the temporary room, separated from others by a thin wall of glass and curtains around it. The smell of the hospital reminded Brent of the operating theater back in Kandahar. All he needed to do was utter the healing spells he knew and most of these people would be out of here. But that would also mean he would be exhausted by the time he finished.
Brent’s father knocked on the window, which was covered by a curtain. “Detectives Jim Rogers and Anthony Carlucci. Can we come in?”
“Yeah,” said a tired voice, and the two men stepped inside. Brent came in right behind and took a spot in the corner.
The two detectives showed their ID. “I’m Detective Rogers,” said his father. “What’s your name?”
“Linda, can you tell us what happened?”
“Dunno,” she said. Brent looked at the woman. Her eyes were swollen, one eye swollen shut, the other shiny and red. She was probably white, but her face was going to be covered in black and blue bruises. “Went outside with my dog. Got beat up. Don’t know where my dog is.”
Tony flipped open his reporter’s notebook. “Do you live at 78 Lincoln Avenue?”
“It’s my sister’s house.”
“Do you live there?”
“I was visiting.”
“Where was your sister?”
“She’s not home.”
“What kind of dog do you have?”
“One of those mop top dogs.”
Brent bit back a chuckle. Leave it to Tony to know his dog breeds
“What’s your dog’s name?”
His father asked, “Did your dog have a leash?”
“Yeah.” She focused her open eye on Brent. “Who’s that?”
“I’m a reporter from the Gazette,” Brent said.
“I don’t want no reporter here,” said the woman. She glared at his father and Tony. “I don’t know who beat me up and stole my dog.”
“I thought you said you lost your dog.”
“They musta stole my dog,” she said.
They would eventually get her to tell them what was going on, but Brent wanted to help. Brent thought the truth spell and when the woman caught his eye, he let it go with a push of his will. The woman stared at him, blinking. The two detectives turned to look at Brent, who gave them a short nod.
“So,” began Tony, “what —”
The woman suddenly burst into tears. “If I tell you, he’ll kill him!”
“Who’ll kill who?”
“Tyler. He’ll kill my baby.”
Her “baby” was Harry, the dog. She had gone outside to take the dog out while her sister wasn’t home. Tyler had broken up a few days ago with her sister==who she refused to name. While Linda was outside, Tyler approached. Tyler, a linebacker training for the Patriots, easily overpowered her and started to beat her, first with a leftover snow shovel from outside, then with his fists. She tried to run to the door but he caught her in between the doorway and outside and he started beating her there too. She tried screaming, but the area was apathetic and no one came to her.
“He said he was gonna take my baby and he said he was going to kill him if my sister didn’t talk to him.”
Brent stepped outside, having “gotten the story.” His father asked more questions as Tony stepped out to take a look at the records. Brent hung around the room, until his father came out. “Need to see if the dog’s still there,” he said.
Tony returned. “No note of a dog following the ambulance.”
“Of course not. That would be too easy.”
Tony chuckled. “I shouldn’t have a hard time finding a dog.”
“The hard time will be if the dog goes to you, Tony.”
“Just because I’m an alpha doesn’t mean I can get all dogs to do what I want.”