Too Much of a Good Thing
Authors’ Note – Those of you who were with us last Fic-mas have already met Caleb. If you’re meeting him for the first time, you can find out more about him in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas 2017. The Fic-mas stories are just the beginning.
“So … um … do you think we’ll see any action?”
Caleb winced at the enthusiasm for conflict and action in the Novice’s voice. “Only if we are very unlucky,” he replied with practiced patience.
Trainees were God’s punishment for the accomplished, he thought with rueful amusement. He remembered the same excitement, the same need to be constantly moving, the same blazing fire. Caleb’s was now more of a warm bed of coals than the blaze of newly dedicated youth. His had been nearly extinguished by a very close call on one of his first solo missions, what was it? Two years ago to the day, he realized. Not so long ago, he supposed. But a lot had happened since then.
“Come on!” his young partner went on boisterously. “I know you’re good at the action part of this job! Didn’t you take down a whole bar full of demons all by yourself when you were still a Novice?”
Caleb forced his face into a stern expression. This boy was only a few years younger than he was, but despite the fact that he’d reached the age of majority a few years ago, completed college, and committed himself to the Order, boy was what he still was. “I’ve told you once, do not speak of that, and most certainly do not embellish what you learned. That report is redacted for a reason. Am I clear?”
The boy squared his shoulders and firmed his jaw. “Crystal, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“Thank you,” Caleb said, definitely meaning it. He didn’t want to rehash that story again with another new recruit, especially since so much of it was classified.
“It’s just … surveillance is soooo boring!” the young man complained.
Caleb sighed inwardly. “Patience is a virtue you’d do well to cultivate now. It’s mastery may well keep you alive in the field when things are less boring than surveillance, son.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied automatically, with no real conviction behind his words.
Caleb refrained from giving his trainee another dressing down. That would make thirteen on the day so far and he had a Templar’s aversion to approaching that particular number, even if the stories behind it were more myth than fact. Caleb was afraid that no matter what he did to bring him along, Thomas Charlemagne “Call Me Charlie” Castille was not going to cut it in the field. Two months practically on his hip like an infant and still no progress, and very little maturity.
He’d known well enough when he’d been offered the role of training officer the Order wasn’t above placing children of the highborn into the rotation for “proper consideration”. It wasn’t about money, certainly. The Order of the Temple of Solomon was more than solvent; always had been. Access and information were what the upper echelons traded in. Since warrior-priests like Caleb depended on the information and other resources this could provide, he made an effort not to complain, outside his own journal anyway.
Charlie came from an old, well-connected, French-descended family. Well, that, and his mother had been a Sinclair. That didn’t hurt. Caleb grimaced. That made them distant cousins. That was something he’d rather not lay claim to at the moment though. And since his branch of the family had gone by Saint Claire for generations, Charlie hadn’t made the connection.
“So what is it we’re looking for? Like … specifically? Other than the lady in the photo?” Charlie asked. Again.
Caleb raised an eyebrow. According to the Father-General, it was Caleb’s most openly disapproving and challenging expression. “Did I know this morning?”
“No. I mean, no, sir.”
A quiet sigh. “No, sir.”
“How about the day before when we went over the briefing materials and assignment?”
“No, sir … I’m sorry, sir. It’s just … this is so boring.”
“You mentioned that once or twice,” the superior officer replied wryly. Beyond that, he bit his tongue. His current field rotation ended in seven days. Seven interminable days. He looked at the calendar stretching endlessly away to the 31st like it was a desert he had to cross without water. That was, unless this case broke and they could go into the local field office. Stacks of mission reports in triplicate ought to keep Charlie out of his hair until he could go on leave for a few weeks. Maybe talking with the boy would help both of them pass the time. “So what’s next?”
Charlie’s eyes lit up. “For me? I’ll be apprenticing with Brother Goodson. Finally getting into my specialized training then.”
“A good man, Stanley. He’s probably our best in Research and Computer Science. That’s really your area of interest?”
“Oh, yes, sir!” He grinned. “I respect the hell out of you field guys, I really do. But, let’s face it … This is so not my thing. Like at all.”
“You’re not terrible at it,” Caleb said generously. The kid wasn’t terrible. That didn’t mean he was good, but the last thing Caleb needed was this recruit getting distracted by worrying about his performance evaluations. Feeling honor-bound to not bullshit the young man either, he added, “But I appreciate your self-awareness.”
Charlie laughed and started to say something else, but cut himself off, “Oh, hey, that’s her, isn’t it?” He pointed at a woman’s back as she moved away from them.
Caleb gave him a very approving nod, as he assessed the woman in question. He’d picked out their primary, from her coat and her gait. That was better than terrible. “Good eye. Let’s roll.”
They quickly exited their car. The cold air nearly took Caleb’s breath away, as they made their way to the entrance of the large shopping mall. It probably wouldn’t have bothered him, but he was on this assignment because he was recovering from a wound from an enchanted dagger and the subsequent case of pneumonia. He was fine now, but the Templar’s didn’t mess around with injured Knights. He’d barely been outside the infirmary in weeks until this surveillance gig had cropped up. Father-Captain Drake thought it was a good way for him to get back in the field, and an excellent training opportunity that didn’t involve going over paperwork next to a bed in the infirmary, for Brother Castille.
“Son of a bitch. It had to be shopping season,” Charlie groused. “This place is crawling with casuals. You still have her?”
“Next to the kid with the spiked hair. She took her coat off. She’s changed her hair. It’s blue.” Caleb had an excellent eye, and it was well trained. But she’d also done them the favor of dressing distinctly. He could still see the dusky orange leather trench folded over her arm. That’s all that had saved him from losing her in the holiday crowds.
Charlie snickered. “Who the Hell still wears pillbox hats? Like I think my gramma has one, but jeez.”
“It’s an interesting choice,” Caleb agreed. So was the rest of the her high-end designer label, somewhat avante garde wardrobe. But then again, that’s why she was on the Order’s radar. A relatively poor woman had, apropos of nothing, suddenly moved into a penthouse, gotten a classic Mustang, and bought out every department store in a hundred mile radius, all in the last couple of months. Since their initial investigation hadn’t turned up any natural means for that to occur, the assumption was she’d made a deal. And with that kind of juice, the deal often came with sacrificing others, often those from vulnerable populations. That was something the Order just couldn’t tolerate.
The woman stopped to look in one of the display windows and Charlie let out a low whistle. “Damn. That’s the sort of woman that makes me glad I haven’t taken my vows yet.
Caleb sighed and pulled Charlie aside, into the shelter of some vending machines. “Stop. Just stop that right here and now.” Charlie’s eyes widened. “First of all, vows or no, she is a person, not an object for your desire or otherwise, and doesn’t deserve your ugly lack of respect.”
“I … um …” Charlie began to attempt an apology.
Caleb bulldozed right past whatever lame excuse Charlie might have been about to offer. “Second of all, you will get your head out of your pants and into the game, and I mean now, or I will personally see to it that no matter what your family name or who your mother is, you will never take the sacred vows of the warrior-priest. Do I make myself clear?”
“Damn, dude, I was just …”
“Do. You. Under. Stand.” It was not a question. It was an order stated like one.
Charlie swallowed. “Yes, sir.”
“Good.” Caleb moved back out into the crowd.
Charlie followed a second later. Maybe he should have just gone to Stanford like his mother wanted. “Great. You had to chew me out for just being a guy and now we’ve lost her,” he accused.
“No, I had to reprimand you for being very much less than a man, and she’s right over there in the jewelry store,” Caleb replied smoothly, subtly letting Charlie know that he’d never actually had eyes off their subject.
“Oh. Oh, good.”
“Are we clear on how we are to conduct ourselves from this moment forward, Novice Castille?”
“Yes, Father-Corporal Saint Claire. Sir.”
“Good. Let’s go shop for some bling.”
Charlie winced at Caleb’s forced use of slang. Colloquial speech was clearly not his forte. Of course, from what Charlie had managed to dig up when he got his orders, his current boss had basically grown up in one of the Order’s monasteries. He’d taken their Holy Orders when he was still a teenager, too. “Sure, why not, fam?” Charlie agreed with an eye roll.
Their subject, one Patricia Shea, was standing at the well-lit glass counter, looking at, what appeared to Caleb (who admittedly had no interest in jewelry other than the watch the the Father-General had given him when he’d taken his vows) to be a very expensive diamond and sapphire necklace.
Pausing to put on a pair of glasses, Caleb made a show of browsing the store’s wares. Surprising his training officer completely, Charlie had nonchalantly made his way over close to Shea. Caleb gave him a nod, letting him know he approved. He slowly made his way around the cases in the same direction, so as not to leave his trainee on his own. This was meant to be an observe and report operations, but this close to a subject it could turn into active engagement in the blink of an eye.
“Oh, Ms. Shea, it’s so good to see you again,” gushed the chubby little balding man who was hurrying from the back room with a black velvet box in his hands.
“Hello, Francis,” Patricia beamed. “Is that it?” she asked in greedy anticipation, pointing to the box.
His face split into an obsequious smile. “As always, your timing couldn’t be better. I was just about to call you to deliver the good news.” He placed the box in question on the counter in front of her an opened it.
“Dude,” Charlie murmured at the positively garish piece of jewelry resting inside. It was diamonds, too, but was dripping with other multi-colored precious and semi-precious stones, all in a polished platinum setting.
Caleb flinched as the subject looked up at Charlie, his mumbling having clearly been loud enough to intrude on her business. “Do you mind?” she asked with haughty lift of her sharp chin.
“Please, Ms. Shea doesn’t like to be bothered,” the manager said sharply, nodding at one of the other employees who immediately approached Charlie.
“Can I help you, sir?” the man asked as he approached.
“I … um …” Charlie stammered.
“We’re looking for wedding bands,” Caleb said confidently, joining Charlie in a few short strides.
“Dude, that’s not even legal here yet,” Charlie whispered.
“These people don’t care. It’s legal some places, so just go with it,” Caleb hissed back through his teeth.
“He means commitment ceremony bands,” Charlie amended as the sale clerk joined them. “This guy of mine just can’t wait for the whole country to get with the program. We’re thinking of moving to Hawaii.”
The clerk just cleared his throat. “Of course. Hardly fair that you have to think that way, is it, sir?”
Charlie and Caleb exchanged a look. “You know what,” Charlie said. “You’re right, hun. Something bold, I think,” he told the clerk.
Having regained his composure, the clerk gestured to their ring collection. “This way, gentleman. I think I have the perfect set.”
They followed him obediently and Caleb was impressed at the way Charlie struck up a real conversation with the clerk, engaging him about relationships and political debates, and brilliantly distracting him from the fact that Caleb was still watching their subject with interest as she went over to the cash register to pay.
From her extravagant teal handbag she drew a wallet. Plain. Black leather. Bi-fold.
Gotcha, Caleb thought. It looked plain to anyone else in the place, including Charlie. But with his enchanted glasses Caleb could see the faint red glow surrounding the wallet. Caleb subtly signaled Charlie. His young partner nodded and began to move closer. Caleb mentally cursed the younger man’s lack of real field training or experience. They couldn’t let Patricia Shea out of their sight now. This had gone from a surveillance op to almost certainly active engagement with the simple act of her paying for that godawful necklace. That was one of the seven artifacts on the Order’s Most Wanted List. Sonovabitch.
Both men moved toward the cash register, no longer worried about the sales clerk and his rings. Patricia Shea handed Francis her credit card and was staring at her about-to-be-acquired necklace. Charlie leaned against the counter next to her. “Someone’s very lucky this Christmas,” he said pleasantly.
“Yeah. Me. Now fuck off.”
“Sorry, lady,” he said, retreating slightly.
“Here we are, gentlemen,” the sales clerk said, coming over to them with their requested sizes.
Not helping, Caleb thought. But they could keep their cover and still not let her get very far ahead of them. Then he could just lift the wallet from her bag, and let a retrieval team sweep her up and deal with interrogation later, once the artifact was safely within a Templar vault, away from anyone it might harm.
As he was deciding exactly how he wanted to go about signaling Retrieval, a shrill almost-shriek came from the counter. “Run it again, Francis!”
“Of course, Ms. Shea,” he said. There was a silent, lengthy pause. “I’m so sorry, madam. It’s telling me to call the number on the back. Perhaps someone has stolen your number and they are trying to sort it out.”
“No one’s … Fine. Hurry up,” she snapped. Despite her imperious tone, she was clearly flustered.
Caleb couldn’t help noticing the smug smile on their clerk’s face. “What’s the joke?” he asked, removing his glasses, placing them in their unbreakable case, and sliding it into his jacket.
“Nothing, sir,” the clerk replied. “I’m just a big fan of karma.”
Before he could ask the clerk anything further, Patricia shouted, “Excuse me! I don’t think so!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but the company told me to cut it up.” Snip. The card fell onto the counter in two equal pieces.
Patricia leaned over the counter and slapped the manager hard across the face, picked up the pieces of her credit card, and stormed out.
The clerk asked his boss, “Want me to call the police, sir?”
“That’s alright, Evan, they’re already on their way. The card company called them.” Regaining his composure, despite one very red handprint on his face, Francis turned to the other gawking customers and forced a chuckle. “Some people just can’t handle Christmas, folks.”
In the momentary chaos, Caleb and Charlie slipped out. They caught up to Patricia as she stopped to use the nearest payphone. They didn’t want to get too close, but they didn’t need to. Patricia was screaming into the phone. “I don’t care what he said, Aife. We had a deal … Bullshit! I kept my end … I did … Well, fuck him! I’m coming over … No, you listen, you fucking bitch-whore of a demon … Tell your boss Romanman or however the fuck you say it, that I want to talk to him. In person!”
“Who’s Romanman?” Charlie asked quietly.
Caleb chuckled. “I’m guessing she means Ronoven. He’s one of Hell’s nobles. Like to muck about on Earth a bit. Commands legions and whatever, but lately his chief occupation seems to be pissing off the Order by sending up fun little cursed artifacts to the unsuspecting …” He paused. “Unsuspecting, but oddly deserving.”
“Wait, this nutterbutter is going to tangle with a demon lord … like on purpose?”
“She thinks she is,” he said, listening to more of her nonsensical diatribe to whatever unfortunate demon was being targeted by it. “But whatever deal she thinks they had, it’s a bust. We need to tail her home though, get our hands on that wallet and let Retrieval know … Shit.”
The cops had just entered the mall. Caleb edged Charlie back around the nearest corner. Caleb didn’t take his eyes off the scene though. Patricia clearly didn’t see them approaching either, just kept screeching into the phone. “Look, Aife, I can make life very hard for you!”
She never got to finish her threat, as one of the cops laid both hands on her shoulders.
“What the fuck? You pig! You get your hands off me!”
She dropped the phone in the ensuing struggle and it swung back and forth on its metal reinforced cable. Even with size and training on their side, and eventually pepper spray, it took the cops several minutes to wrap up Patricia Shea and start herding her, handcuffed, out of the shopping center.
Caleb strode over to the dangling phone and picked it up. An appealing female voice was repeating, “Patty! Patty, what’s going on?”
Caleb smiled. “Aife, I presume.” His statement was met with silence. “Tell your boss Caleb Saint Claire sends his regards.”
“Indeed,” he replied, and placed the phone back on its receiver. He turned to find Charlie back on his elbow. “Come on, kid. Watch and learn. By that I mean keep your trap shut, okay?”
“Yessir,” Charlie nodded, somewhat in awe of the whole situation.
Caleb took out his mobile phone and began tapping in numbers. He had some favors to call in.
“You’re sure he said Caleb?”
“I already said yes, Ben.” Aife sighed.
He took a drink. “Saint Claire?”
“Christ, Ben, yes, for the fourth time. And he sounded dead serious.”
“What the hell happened anyway, Aife?”
“Our little angel broke the contract, just like we expected. She got arrested for what I can only assume is counterfeiting, credit card fraud, maybe theft, too.”
“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer person,” Ben observed. “I know we pass these out to real assholes all the time, but usually I almost feel sorry for them. This chick was just rotten from the getgo.”
“Apparently her crash and burn was something you should’ve come up for. She’s in custody. And the five-oh have the wallet.”
“Of course they do,” he sighed. “Nevermind. I can handle the cops, but where the hell did Caleb come from?”
“Your guess is as good as mine. But she got spendy real fast. Faster than they usually do. No sense of decorum at all. Plus she had a big mouth. Combine her maybe blabbing to a few people with loose lips with the order watching for hinkey financial transactions and voila, we have a Templar infestation.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah. Makes sense. What good is endless wealth if you can’t make your so-called friends jealous? Usually the Feds come knocking. Which works pretty well for us. Too much unreported income, and wham! The fibbies or IRS snaps ‘em up. They crack and tell them about the wallet, but by then the charm is broken and nothing in it works anymore. They have their perp and, for us, the evidence is a no harm no foul situation. Fucking Templars.”
“It’s one hell of a curse, boss.”
“Yeah. It’s one of my better ones.”
“You figure maybe the Order heard about it and sent Caleb around to check it out?”
“Something like that,” he sighed.
“The Order doesn’t like your toys, Ben.”
He glared at her. “Well, they should. I only target the truly wicked.”
She laughed. “Oh, yes, Count Ronoven, you are truly doing the Lord’s work.”
He grinned. “Fuck you, Aife.”
“If you play your cards right.”
He rolled his eyes. “Haha. Alright, I’m gonna go retrieve the wallet. Tell all our assets to lay low until I give the all-clear. Outside of me, nobody in your jurisdiction has the juice to face down Caleb. Especially if he’s got an axe to grind.”
“I don’t think I’ll get any arguments. Remember what he did a few Christmases ago up in Massachusetts?”
“Yeah. I always kinda liked Mandi, too.” He grinned at Aife. “So hey, after you pass along orders to the troops, so to speak, you might want to maybe take a little vacation. You know, visit the old homestead for a minute.”
“I just got back from … Oh, you mean Hell.”
“Yeah. You could meet me in my apartments. I’ll have stories.”
Ben’s face split into the boyish grin that made it very hard to believe he could do anything hellish other than maybe occasionally cut class. “Because I’m gonna fuck with him. Just a little. So I’ll probably need to get the hell out of town right after.”
“Alright. Ben’s apartments it is. I’ll keep your bed warm.”
He laughed. “You do that. Catch you later.”
Ben left Aife to her task, humming to himself and feeling his face almost ache with the grin still on it. It was nice to be up top again, even if it meant dealing with the Order. Nicer still because of the time of year. Even if it was just ridiculously cold. I do have time for a beer first, Ben mused. He headed down the street to a nearby bar, bragging that they were brewing their own beer. It was a relatively new trend, but one he hoped would catch on. He was thoroughly enjoying the sights and sounds of another Yule … Christmas, he corrected himself … on Earth. Even the work in front of him was like a gift.
“Alright, Ms. Shea. One more time. Where did you get the money and the cards?”
“I already told you …”
“Yeah, we know. Some hot demoness tricked you,” the detective laughed.
“I want my lawyer,” she finally sniffed.
“First thing you’ve said that makes any sense, lady.” He rose and tapped on the glass. “Alright, back to holding.”
One of the uniforms came in to move their suspect a moment later. Detective Dubois rolled his eyes at his partner. “I’m glad Treasury is taking her off our hands, Allen. I half think she thinks all the shit she was saying is true.”
“Glad I’m not the only one it was creeping out,” Detective Allen agreed.
“Soon as they get here, our docket’s cleared and we can take off. Hope they hurry their asses up.”
The detectives headed back toward their shared office, but the desk officer stopped them. “Hey guys, the Treasury folks are here. On their way up now.”
“Now how’s that for a Christmas miracle, Harry?” Dubois asked, grinning.
Harry was about to say that he didn’t know about that but whatever Shea was up to her eyeballs in must be pretty big to get a couple federal agents here on the night before perhaps the biggest holiday of the year. He was prevented from responding by two young men in very standard issue off the rack suits, even cheaper than the ones the detectives could afford, striding in, flashing their credentials, and putting them away, just as quickly. Harry nodded at his partner and motioned that he was going to get while the gettin’ was good. Dubois nodded and focused on the men that were about to improve his Christmas Eve exponentially.
They were practically kids, probably right out of training, Dubois thought. No wonder they pulled such a shit detail. He stepped toward them, extending a hand. “Gentleman, I’m Detective Dubois. My captain called you.”
“Thank you, Detective,” said the taller of the two, shaking the offered hand. “I’m Special Agent Spangler, this is Special Agent Sands. We’re here to handle the transfer of your counterfeit case.”
“That’s great. We appreciate you coming out here tonight of all nights, Agents.”
“Speaking of which. What with the holiday and all, I don’t have the official transfer orders. Will a hand receipt be okay, or should we wait for the field office to process them and come back after the holiday?”
“Oh, no, don’t trouble yourselves,” Dubois hurriedly replied. He wanted to get home and get some sleep so he could take his kids to the parade in the morning after presents. “Our desk officer will escort you boys down to holding. I’m about to head out for the evening.”
The younger of the agents smiled. “You have yourself a Merry Christmas, sir.”
“And a Happy New Year,” added his partner to the detective’s already retreating form.
About an hour later, Caleb and Charlie were loading Patricia Shea into the back of their rental car. She sat in the back quietly, due more to the charm on her handcuffs ensuring it, than any inclination on her part. Caleb looked around as his ring grew heavy and warm as a crowd passed by on the sidewalk. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary he climbed in on the driver’s side.
“What now?” Charlie whispered.
“Stop that,” Caleb said. “She can’t hear us through the charm on the car, and even if she did, the cuffs make it so she won’t remember it anyway.”
Both eyebrows went up. “Wait. You made handcuffs that make a person both quiet and induce amnesia?”
“Yeah? Why?” He was focused on driving, so he missed the glare the novice was sending him.
“Tell me that’s the only pair.”
Caleb glanced at him to see that he did, in fact, look as pissed off as he sounded. “What … Why?” He paused biting his lip. He had maybe told Chatty Charlie that he was going to show him how to properly cuff a suspect without hurting them a few nights ago, and gotten his first decent night’s sleep of this assignment. “Oh.” He flushed. He was usually a lot more careful when he gave in to his weaker side and used magic for his own gain. “Sorry.”
“Caleb! That’s not okay! I wasn’t bothering …”
“Charlie, just … Let’s have some quiet time, okay?”
“Okay, but I’m not the asshole here, and …”
“Quiet time, Charlie. I have another pair in my jacket and I am willing to use them right the hell now.” He needed a break. Not like his recent confinement in the infirmary. A real break. Like a vacation. Maybe on a beach somewhere. For now he’d take getting to the nearby safehouse that was prepared to accommodate “guests”.
“What’s going to happen to her?” Charlie asked.
Caleb opened his mouth to answer, but swore instead, flipping on the windshield wipers. “I don’t remember seeing snow in the forecast,” Caleb muttered.
“There wasn’t,” Charlie said, stiffening, eyes searching the darkness around them, looking suddenly nervous.
Caleb appreciated the kid’s instincts. He knew Ronoven was close; he had to be. They had one of his artifacts, and custody of a person who had contact with demons, who coincidentally reported directly to Ronoven. His ring still felt heavy, still felt warm, but nothing had really changed since he’d been standing by the curb. He decided to try to break Charlie’s tension a little.
“So … um … Not much will probably happen to our Ms. Shea. We’ll question her, give her a strong amnesiatic, and return her to her home, cleared of all charges as far as the locals are concerned, because we definitely don’t want the cops doing any more digging around that wallet.”
Charlie cocked his head. “That’s it?”
“Well, I mean, I guess we could get out the thumbscrews if that would make you feel better, Castille, but she’s already made a deal with Hell. I somehow don’t think there’s anything we could do that’s going to be worse than the knowledge of eternal damnation, do you?”
Charlie shuddered. “I guess not.” He was quiet for a while. “This storm is getting really bad.”
“Yeah, it is,” Caleb agreed. They drove for a little while longer.
“What are you doing?” Charlie asked.
“Pulling over for the night,” Caleb answered, maneuvering the car into a fairly crowded motel parking lot and deciding he’d made a good decision when the vehicle fishtailed wildly. Despite the crowd, the sign still advertised vacancies. He left Charlie with the prisoner and went to make arrangements. When he got back, he and Charlie got the still-wax-figure-docile Patricia out of the car and Caleb gestured toward the exterior stairs. “We’re in 267. Second floor, on the end.”
Second floor wasn’t ideal, but they hadn’t been followed. And somewhere along their increasingly stressful drive, Caleb’s ring had cooled and lightened up. He felt like maybe they could actually relax a little tonight. A little.
He felt a little badly about how far away they had to park when he set Charlie to take care of their bags. Of course, he had to deal with Patricia. Leading her toward the stairs with his coat draped over her shoulders, more to conceal the cuffs than to keep her warm, he was grateful for the snow. Charlie made a return trip for the rest of their stuff while Caleb helped Patricia settle in. When Charlie got back, Caleb handed him a cup of black coffee from the room’s grimy coffee machine, and said, “We should be fine. I checked the weather, and the snow should pass by around midnight. Freak storm, I guess. Some kind of fronts meeting each other thing.”
“I love a white Christmas,” Charlie said wistfully.
“Sure. Who doesn’t? But, maybe wait to love it until we get to the safehouse. Now ward the door. You’ve got first watch.” He stretched out on the bed Patricia wasn’t occupying, closed his eyes, and Charlie was pretty sure Caleb was asleep before his coffee had cooled enough to sip.
The night passed uneventfully. Patricia was a peaceful sleeper, and Caleb and Charlie divided the watches in such a way that neither of them were too exhausted the next morning. By about eight a.m. the local news was reporting that the road crews had things more or less clear. Caleb made his way down to the car ro clean it off and warm it up before they brought down their prisoner and got on the road. He froze when it came into view.
Their car was absolutely spotless. Dry even. Not a speck of snow anywhere on it. No snow piled up around it like someone had swept it off either. The parking spot was even cleared in a perfect, dry rectangle around it. A large red bow was affixed to the trunk, with a note tucked into the ribbon, looking for all the world like an oversized gift tag.
Caleb made himself walk over, more curious than cautious, once the shock had passed. He plucked the note out from under the bow and began to read, his lips moving slightly.
My Dearest Caleb,
I’m so sorry to leave just this simple missive when we were so close to a face to face communication. I imagine the conversation would be sparkling. But, we are men of action, and thus, unusually busy. I did briefly consider throwing caution to the wind so we could have the heart to heart we’d both probably enjoy. I haven’t met a sorcerer worth half a damn in centuries and I think you might even be worth three-quarters of one if you put your mind to it. The prospect of that had me thinking that I should have a little fun and break your puppy’s (that’s you Charlie) wards. Although, I think you should be more diligent in your teaching, old boy. Because wards is a very generous assessment. They were more like a polite, but strongly worded suggestion.
I thought that might be fun, you know, make a grand entrance. We could have a few drinks, then I could kill everyone in the room for making me come out in the freaking snow, I could get what I came for and leave. But then I was like nah, that sounds time consuming, messy, and I’m betting Tinkles the Wonder Dog (you again, Chuck, sorry to say) will come through. And boy, did he ever.
Left a big marked evidence packet right on the back seat, in full view. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was at his unrelenting thoughtfulness on my behalf. So thank you both so much for thinking of me this holiday season. And for making it such a thoughtful gift. I couldn’t be happier.
I will be sure to drop the Father-General a very specific thank you note.
Since I didn’t have time to get you anything, I cleaned off your car.
“Yeah. Merry Christmas.” Caleb called on every ounce of his training to keep his temper in check and not put a dent in their rental car with his fists. “I’m gonna pay you back, Ronoven. You can count on it.”
Charlie hollered across the parking lot, “Caleb, what’s taking so long?”
“Be right there,” he called back.
Then under his breath he snorted with laughter.