No Space of Regret

Authors’ Note: 2020 has certainly been a year. I got a little behind on Ficmas due to a breathtaking head cold. But I’m back in business. Caleb Saint Claire first introduced himself to us a few years ago at Ficmas. He’s now a staple of The Arbitratus Universe. He has a bit of a cameo in Before the Dawn, and you’ll be seeing him in Book III, Fiat Lux, before too long. This story takes place a number of years ago. A certain blond demon has an uncredited cameo here as well. Enjoy.

“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

No Space of Regret 

Caleb skidded around the corner on icy pavement, almost wiping out. That would have been consistent with how his day had been going. He’d also lost his trainee a couple of blocks ago. 

Caleb would have to bring home the point that you don’t get to call yourself a Knight of the Order of the Temple of Solomon if you crap out after chasing a single homicidal demon eight measly blocks. Damned rookie was going to be hitting the hills every morning for the next month. 

That said, Caleb was starting to lose steam. Of course, he had the excuse of bleeding freely. He pressed his hand to the wound and increased his speed, not acknowledging what was driving him forward when he knew there was a recovery team on its way and he’d tagged the demon with a locator during their fight.

Speaking of, he was pretty sure this bastard’s claws were venomous, because he felt pretty woozy, too. Enough that he’d lost sight of their target. Damn it.

He ducked down an alley and reached for his radio to check on the status of their back-up. 

His next breath caught as he slammed with supernatural force against the cold brick wall. Two of the creature’s four arms pinned him while the others went through his pockets. 

“Hey there, Ormru,” Caleb said, wanting to see the demon flinch at its name.

He wasn’t disappointed. But it’s hot breath in his face made him cringe a second later. 

“Caleb Saint Claire.” 

It knew him, too. Great. 

“Taking out a member of the Order is an eternity long dream. To make them tremble at the name of Ormru. The fact that it’s you will be quite the feather in my cap.” 

Caleb flashed a tight smile as he wrested one of his hands free. “I imagine it would be.” 

“Doing it on Friday the 13th will be the coup of the century. Ought to add to the Order’s superstitions.” 

Ormru pinned him more securely and one of the claws grabbed his injured side. His cell buzzed in his pocket and the memory of the voicemail he’d woken up to helped him bite down on the urge to groan. 

Caleb leaned away from the stench of the creature’s breath and managed to free his hand again. A fraction of a second later, he sank the ceremonial dagger under the demon’s ribs. 

“That’s a myth.” Caleb walked away, cleaning his blade on his jacket, as the body flickered with the telltale stinking blue flame.

He reached the street as Novice Helms finally caught up. “Backup’s en route, sir.”

“Good.” Maybe he wouldn’t have to run the kid ragged after all. “I wondered where the Hell you’d gotten to.”

“I was right behind you, but that location spell I tried finally pinged back. I found where Ormru and his buddies have been crashing.” 

Caleb’s eyebrows went up, impressed. He buttoned his jacket before his young partner could catch sight of his injury. “Where?” 

Helms pointed at a crumbling apartment building up the street. “If I did the spell right, there are three more of them.”

Caleb grinned. “Well, isn’t this just our lucky day?”

The kid grinned. “Maybe, sir. But you’re bleeding.” 

Caleb grimaced. The kid was quick. “It’s not bad,” he said dismissively.

“You don’t look good, sir. Should we wait for the team?”

“How far out are they?”


“Jake, c’mon. Don’t try to bullshit your way through this one. Did you ask?”

“No, sir.”

Caleb nodded his approval at the kid’s honesty, even if he’d had to force it. He got on his own radio and received the disappointing news that backed up traffic due to a possible jumper on the Aurora bridge made their ETA uncertain. 

Caleb tucked his radio away. “Alright, kid. We’re on our own.”

He took off down the street ahead of his trainee, mostly able to manage the effects of his wound through what a voice from his past, the voice from this morning’s message, called, “A stubborn refusal to bend, worthy of Lucifer himself.”

Unfortunately, the entrance wasn’t just locked; it was enchanted, too. But they didn’t figure that out until after Caleb rammed it with his shoulder and delivered several solid kicks. Helms was the one to notice the spell, which let Caleb know the venom was working fast.

“Sir?” Helms put himself between his superior and the door. “Look.”

The young man held up the small circle that looked like nothing more than a watch glass. The sickly green glow revealed a reasonably powerful enchantment sealing the building.

“Damn it,” Caleb mumbled. “Do you think you can take care of the counterspell?”

“Of course.” Helms wasn’t normally one to question opportunities or orders. However, “Are you alright, sir?” was out of his mouth before he could stop himself.

“I’ve had better days.” Caleb reached out to steady himself against the wall. “If you can get us through the door, I can–” His knees buckled before he could finish, and he slid down to the ground. 

“Sir!” Helms helped him turn around to rest his back against the wall. 

Caleb opened his mouth to reassure his trainee, but felt like his tongue had swelled to three times its normal size. His chest squeezed like a giant hand wrapped around his ribs, and his heart stuttered, as his vision narrowed down to a pinpoint. He’d only encountered demons in their Hellforms a few times in his career, and he’d never been so careless as to let one get the drop on him physically. 

If he had any regrets … Well, he had a number, but they weren’t about this mission … it was that he might not make it back due to his determination to take out their opponent on his own. He’d told himself it was Helms fault for not keeping up, but he knew he’d outpaced the kid on purpose. Driven by his need to prove himself to be the best, again and again. He was probably going to die here on the cold wet pavement because he’d let the sin of pride rule the day.

“Sir! Sir!”

His eyes fluttered shut to the sounds of his young partner trying to get a response out of him.

“Goddamnit … Caleb! CALEB!” 

Helms looked around frantically for a moment, then, lacking anything more useful to do, he pulled out his radio to get an updated ETA and let their backup know they had a man down. He put the radio back in his jacket as the door banged open.

A tall blond man strode out of the building swearing under his breath and wiping a faintly iridescent yellow ooze off his hands onto the stone facade of the building and, when that didn’t work, onto his jeans. 

The ring on Helms right hand grew warm and he glanced at the stone. Normally clear and smooth as glass, it turned a tumultuous black, like rolling smoke. But it also had strange streaks of gold swirling through it, like it belonged to a powerful human aura. But the indication of a minion of Hell was more important than any inconsistencies in the enchanted stone.

“Hold, demon!” Helms said in as commanding a voice as he could muster, which, he had to admit, fell well short of the tone his mentor always managed.

The blond looked his way. “Oh, for fuck’s sake. Are the Knights so desperate these days they’re recruiting from the local high school?” He noticed Saint Claire bleeding on the ground at Helms feet. “It’s even worse than I thought.” He pulled a flask out of his light jacket and held the container of luminescent electric blue liquid out to Helms. The young man recoiled and the blond rolled his eyes. “Just take it. And dump some down your partner’s throat before he drops dead on you. Poison from these particular assholes works fast.”

When Helms still made no move to accept the potion, the blond huffed a sigh and put it on the ground next to Saint Claire. He wiped his hands on his pants again with another mumbled curse, then walked off down the street at a casual pace, as though a Templar wasn’t pulling a weapon full of consecrated bullets and aiming it at his back.

“I said hold!” Helms shouted at his back.

The blond half turned and in the shadow of the building looming over them, Helms caught his eyes glowing the same deep golden color that swirled among the black in his ring. He also caught a flash of white teeth. “Could do,” the demon said. “But your bosses are gonna take it real personal if you waste your time catching me instead of saving the life of their favorite son.”

Helms hesitated. “You….”

“Cleaned up the demons in that building already. And lucky for you I didn’t wind up needing that potion to keep from getting kicked out of my body. Put your gun away and save your partner.” He started walking again.

“You killed them?”

“Yeah,” the blond called, not stopping or turning around this time. “Fuckers can’t go around up here in their demon form. That’s against the rules.”

“Hell’s rules?”

“And mine.” He turned again. “Now, quit yapping at me. He’s fading fast. I ought to know because I used to collect souls, once upon a time.”

Caleb’s lips had gone blue, his breath slowed to shallow, irregular gasps. Helms holstered his weapon. He knelt and rested his fingers against his partner’s wrist and couldn’t find his pulse. From behind him, he heard, “Dude! Hurry up.”

Thinking he had nothing to lose at this point, since his backup was still at least ten minutes out, he tilted Caleb’s head back and poured the contents of the flask into his mouth. He was rewarded by a long coughing gasp for breath and a groan as Caleb’s arm wrapped around his injured side.

“There you go!” the deep voice called with approval. “You’re welcome.”

Helms spun to get eyes on the demon again and maybe perform an illuminating spell so he could give an accurate description to their sketch artist, but the demon had already disappeared.


Caleb drifted in and out of consciousness. Familiar faces passed through the fog he dwelt in. He had some sense of getting in and out of bed with someone on his elbow. But other than the ebb and flow of disembodied acquaintances, he had nothing by which to mark time. 

When he came around fully, he immediately recognized the infirmary at the Templar compound he’d called home for more years than he hadn’t. The room itself could have been any hospital in all of Creation, but the view of the majestic peaks in the northern part of Washington was too distinctive for him to mistake it for anywhere else. Even if his brain did feel full of cotton batting.

He took a long slow breath in an attempt to dispel the cobwebs in his brain, then felt for the remote control to raise the head of the bed. After he fumbled around for a minute or two, it raised, apparently of its own accord. Caleb blinked several times and looked around. None other than Novice Jacob Helms was adjusting his bed for him.

“Helms,” came out as a breathy rasp instead of the fully formed question he intended. He cleared his throat, but before he could speak again, the young man pressed a cup of water, complete with a straw, into his hands. He took a long, cool drink, then tried again. “How long have I been out?”

Helms looked around like he’d rather do anything other than answer the question. “Someone has been blowing up your phone, sir.” He gestured toward Caleb’s personal items on the table beside his bed.

“How long, Jacob?”

He hesitated, then puffed out a resigned sigh. “You haven’t so much been ‘out’ as delirious, sir.”

Caleb simply raised an eyebrow at him.

“Most of a week, sir.”

Caleb closed his eyes and pressed his head back into the pillow for a second. He made himself open them and engage with his young partner. “I guess I was right about Ormru’s claws being venomous.”

“Yes, sir. You almost didn’t make it, sir.”

“Good thing we called for backup when we did.”

“Oh, no, sir. If we’d waited for backup, you wouldn’t be here.”

Caleb shifted in the bed, peering at Helms with intense focus that made the young man squirm slightly. “Explain.”

“Well, sir, we were trying to breach the door on the building where the other demons were staying and….”

Caleb sat silently while Helms reported the events that led up to his awakening. Then he pinned Helms with a stern gaze. “What made you decide giving your commanding officer an unidentified potion from glowing-eyed, self-identified demon was a good idea?”

Helms didn’t even hesitate. “Your breathing was labored. Your lips were blue. I couldn’t find your pulse. Our medic was nowhere near close enough to help. At that point, neither of us had anything to lose, sir.”

Caleb looked at him for a long moment. “Dismissed.”

“Sir, can I–”

“I said ‘dismissed,’ Helms.”

“Yes, sir.” Helms got to his feet, snapped a regulation salute, and left the room without further comment.

Caleb sat thinking about what Helms reported until he was interrupted by Sister Lieutenant Caffee, an altogether overly zealous member of their medical team, bustling through the door to make a nuisance of herself. 

When Helms returned the following day, Caleb was sitting in bed, clicking away on his laptop. Caleb saw him standing in the doorway out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t look up until Helms ventured a tentative, “May I come in, sir?”

“If you like,” he said, concealing a smile. He gestured toward the room’s one chair. “Have a seat. I’m just finishing up some paperwork.”

“I already filed the mission report, sir,” Helms said, almost letting it be a question. Caleb didn’t respond right away, so Helms hurried to add, “I know it was without your signature, sir, so if I need to recall it after you’ve reviewed it, I can–”

“I’ve already reviewed it. You did a fine job.”

“Thank you, sir. I tried to remember everything you’ve said about those writeups.”

Caleb finally allowed his expression to soften into almost a smile. “You took those lessons to head and heart, most assuredly, Helms,” he said formally. “But I didn’t mean the report so much as the mission. You can credit that demon for providing the antidote if you like, but you were the one who made the tough call to use it without being able to consult with your training officer.”

“I’m just glad you’re recovering, sir.”

“As am I.”

“When will they be letting you out, sir?”

“I like how you make it sound like parole.” Caleb sighed. “Alas, I’ll be taking a disappointing Thanksgiving dinner right here. But by the weekend, I should be free of Caffee’s tyranny.” 

Helms gave an almost startled laugh. “Well, I’m sorry about your Thanksgiving, sir. But I’m glad you’re nearly well.” He frowned when Caleb started typing again. “Can I help with the paperwork, sir?”

“I’m afraid not,” he said and waited for Helms’s crestfallen expression at not being able to assist him. He grinned. “Because you can’t write your own recommendation for taking Holy Orders and becoming a full-fledged knight.”


“I just sent it to the printer in the main office. If you grab it for me to sign, we’ll be able to celebrate me getting out of here as brothers in the Order on Sunday.”

“Yes, sir!” Helms all but ran from the room.

Caleb’s phone chimed for perhaps the tenth time. He picked it up, looked at the text, and turned his phone off. He was feeling better, but not well enough to deal with that particular issue.


Caleb had to admit, Helms was coming along nicely. Sometimes new members of the Order let their performance slide the moment they received their first rank and a room of their own outside the trainee’s barracks. But not Helms.

He was no small amount of pleased that Jacob had chosen magic as his specialty and sought to apprentice with him as his next step. He knew the request might not be granted. Caleb was widely considered the exemplar for the Order’s training officers. And it was an important job. But an apprentice would mean less time doing routine missions or paperwork, and more time engaged in his own chosen field.

Almost as though his thoughts summoned his superior, a tap came on the frame of his open door. He looked up from his computer and started to stand.

The older man held up a hand. “No need to get up.” 

Caleb stood anyway and had to resist the urge to salute, but given that he was in his bathrobe and awaiting clearance, he didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact that he’d actually been working. Instead he inclined his head in the slight bow that passed for a salute in less formal circumstances. “Good morning, sir.”

“One of these days, I’ll surprise you into breaking protocol for a moment and call me Tom,” he said with fond exasperation. “But delirious with demon venom, you still called me ‘sir’.”

Caleb grinned just a little at the man who’d more or less raised him. “I should hope so, sir.”

“I suppose I’ll be grateful you didn’t escalate to calling me Father Abbot Brigadier General Edwards,” he chuckled as he sat on the bench next to Caleb’s desk.

“Well, I was apparently quite ill, so a slip into the familiar is embarrassing, but no surprise,” Caleb said lightly.

The Abbot laughed. “Always by the book, aren’t you?”

“I suppose so.” Caleb’s smile faded. 

“What is it, son?”

Caleb tried to put words to it, but found his mouth simply hanging open like it might have when he was a teenager. Fortunately, he knew the gentle question wasn’t a demand. It was more of an invitation, as it always had been. He closed his laptop and turned to face the Abbot more fully.

Another minute, helped him gather his confused thoughts. “I guess I’m grateful Helms hasn’t been working with me for long enough to have that drummed into him, too. If he’d gone strictly by the book, I’d have died on that street.”

The Abbot nodded thoughtfully. “Our books are there to guide us, Caleb, not to be all that we are.”

“So you’ve always said.” He sighed. “I’m afraid it’s one of your lessons that I’m still trying to learn.”

“Well, you had a great deal of … instruction … in the other direction, I suppose.”

“That’s certainly true.” Caleb shook off the introspective turn his mind wanted to take without his permission. “Not that I don’t always enjoy our visits, but … To what do I owe the pleasure of your company this morning, sir?” 

“Another masterful subject change,” the older man chuckled. “I wanted to give you the good news myself.”


“Helms has been granted apprenticeship with you by the Home Office.”

Caleb’s smile returned somewhat. “Fantastic. He’s really quite adept.”

“He certainly does have raw talent. You’re the best in the Order to help him refine that. And I know you’ll appreciate the respite from bringing along entirely green recruits and the paperwork that comes with it.”

“Yes, sir,” Caleb acknowledged like it was a shameful admission. “I’ll be happy to get back into the field in general after this.” He gestured at his bathrobe and the bottle of pills on the corner of his desk.

“I imagine you will. It should please you to know you’ll probably be cleared for limited duty later today.”

Caleb felt his slightly reluctant smile shift into one that was truly pleased. “Been bullying the infirmary staff on my behalf, sir?”

The Abbot laughed again. “More like they can’t wait to be quit of your dogged insistence that you’re fine!” He paused. “But … I do have an assignment I’d like you to take care of. And it will be a good one to begin Helms’s apprenticeship as one of our mages. It should be very low risk, but highly valuable.”

Caleb’s shoulders squared at the change in expression on the Abbot’s face. “Sir?”

“Ari Sinclair has been in touch. He’s concerned that someone has been tracking them again.”

“That’s not good.”

“No, it isn’t. But he’s certain it’s their RV and not them personally. So, he’s asked us to do a security review and upgrade.”

Caleb bit his lip as he contemplated the assignment. There was nothing more important he could do for the Order than ensure the safety of the wandering Scion and her father. “Is it wise for us to involve an apprentice with the Sinclairs?”

“I like that you finally question things. It only took two decades, but still, I’m pleased.” Caleb shook his head, blushing faintly, but he didn’t interrupt. “I normally wouldn’t dream of involving an apprentice with the Scion, but you won’t have any direct contact this time out.”

“What will we be doing, sir?”

“Mr. Sinclair will be dropping off their RV for ‘scheduled maintenance’ with one of our cloisters and taking young Malin on a holiday to her mother’s family in Canada. You will simply be going over the vehicle for physical and magical security issues and installing what you think would be best in both respects.”

“Is he finally going to concede to GPS tracking so we can keep tabs on their location relative to breaches in the veil, sir?”

The Abbot nodded. “He’s authorized whatever you deem necessary.” 

He appeared to hesitate, so Caleb prompted, “You seem uncertain, sir? May I ask why?”

“Nothing to do with the mission itself, Caleb. I’m just now realizing it may be a difficult trip for you personally, and I’m not sure I should ask it of you, especially while you’re still recovering, though there is no one I trust more with the task at hand.”

“Personally, sir?”

“He’s leaving the RV in Boston.”

Caleb glanced at his phone before he could stop himself, then cleared his throat. “It should pose no difficulty for me, sir.”

“You know he’ll hear of your whereabouts. He’s quite friendly with Abbot Major General Carmichael.”

Caleb’s chin lifted. “My duty is to the Order and the Scion. I will fulfill that duty, sir.”

“Of course you will, Caleb. I would never doubt you for a moment.” 


Caleb had been able to distract himself from troubling thoughts during their flight, due mostly to his amusement at Helms’s reaction to the jet. 

“But, sir,” he’d said, entirely wide-eyed. “We’ve taken a vow of poverty.”

Caleb nodded. “But, you may have noticed, the Order itself has not. Money buys invisibility. No one questions the comings and goings of those wealthy enough to arrive in a private jet. The airports we access this way even have security in place that can keep governments out of our affairs.”

The novelty wore off for Helms as he focused on reading the briefing materials. Instead of using the time to do his own reading, or even thinking, praying, or meditating as he might normally have done, Caleb closed his eyes and drifted off for the last leg of the journey. He told himself it was part of the recovery process, but, at least a small part of him understood, there was a certain amount of avoidance in sleep.

He was jostled awake by their touchdown. He’d no sooner taken his phone out of airplane mode than it chimed with a text. Helms head came up from rereading the briefing materials for what Caleb guessed was at least the twentieth time. “From the Abbot, sir?” Helms asked.

“No. From Lieutenant General Xavier Saint Claire, United States Marine Corps, Retired.” He cleared his throat. “My father.”

“I … oh.”

“What is it, Jake?”

“I just … I had heard….”

“Go on.”

“Well, I know you were raised in the Order, sir. The rumor is that you … Well, that you were an orphan, sir.”

Caleb glanced at his phone as another text came through. “I lost my mother when I was very young. My father was active duty. He sent me to the Order rather than take the compassionate discharge he was offered.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, sir. About your mother and … It must have been very difficult for you, sir.”

Caleb shrugged. “At first, yes. But once I left Boston behind, things were much better.”

“Ah, so you’re from Boston, sir?”

“Yes. And now that my father is retired, he lives here full-time again in the family home in Beacon Hill.” Caleb allowed himself a sigh. “He’s invited me to spend Christmas Eve with him if our mission has concluded.”

“That’s nice, sir,” Helms said carefully.

“You’ve never met my father,” he said ruefully. He was about to text back, but his phone rang. He sighed again and answered. “Good morning, sir. I was just about to call.”


Caleb waited on the stone steps, trying unsuccessfully to resist the urge to shift from one foot to another like a nervous kid. It bugged him. 

He was a grown man, a decorated Knight, and he’d been facing down demons and even the occasional Fallen angel since he was still a teenager. This shouldn’t be so unsettling.

He expected to hear the steady, almost stately thump of his father’s cane, but was caught entirely by surprise by the door cracking open. He had a second to be grateful the wound in his side that had been so slow to heal due to the nature of the demon’s venom finally didn’t twinge every time he moved before he was caught around the middle by two bony sticks that squeezed him with surprising strength.

“Mister Caleb!”

He looked down at a tangle of thin silver curls. “Mmm … Mrs. O’Hara?” he stammered with disbelief bordering on awe. She’d been about a hundred years old when he was still single digits himself.

She pulled away, smoothing her old-fashioned maid’s uniform before she wiped her eyes. “Well, of course it is, my silly boy!” She took another step back. “You come inside now so I can have a look at you.”

She took his hand and he let her lead him into the foyer of the stately home. He turned and closed the heavy door behind them before she could do it. She immediately took both his hands and looked up at him, positively beaming. “You grew into quite the giant!” she chuckled. Her ancient voice was like unoiled hinges, but in a way Caleb found pleasant, familiar, like the old wrought iron gate at the end of the walkway.

“Maybe you’ve just shrunk,” he said with a laugh, thinking she almost definitely had. He’d guess her bones were hollow by now based on how light she seemed when she’d hugged him outside. 

“I have, at that,” she said, laughing, too. “You don’t get to be my age without being humbled a bit by gravity.

“How old are you, Mrs. O’Hara?” he asked, plainly curious.

She cuffed him lightly on the arm. “Manners! Didn’t anyone ever teach you never to ask a lady her age?”

He might have thought he offended her, if not for the twinkle of her translucent green eyes. “My apologies. Is it just as rude to guess?” he asked with a big grin. “Because, if I had to offer an estimate….” He squinted dramatically. “I’d say you’re not a day over twenty-nine.”

She cackled, patting him affectionately, as though she’d seen him every day of his life, rather than twenty years ago. “At least you haven’t outgrown your charm. I’m sure your mother looks down from Heaven every day absolutely delighted.”

“I hope so,” he said, almost shyly. He opened his mouth to ask after her family, but it caught in his throat with the unwelcome bellow from the dining room at the end of the hall.

“What is all that noise, Nora? Or have you forgotten what day it is?”

Caleb held up his hand to stop her from scurrying in response. “I’ll go get you off the hook.”

“Oh, Mister Caleb, don’t you go getting yourself in trouble on my account.”

He tipped her a wink. “I’ll get into it on my own account then. For old time’s sake.”

She laughed again, but silently, behind her hands this time. She gestured for his coat, but Caleb shook his head. It was cold in here, barely warmer than outside, he thought. Although, he supposed the chill could have been coming from within since he grew colder the further he got down the dim hall. 

He glanced at the walls as he walked. As a kid, they’d been covered with family portraits. Now, there was just the same floral wallpaper he remembered, unbroken by any indication that the home was inhabited. 

When he stepped into the formal dining room, he knew the cold was all in his head because a roaring fire filled the hearth, just as it always had on Christmas Eve when he was a boy. It was a tradition his mother had loved.

It appeared that was the only tradition of hers still alive in the house. There were no evergreens dotted with red berries, no tree, no lights, no flowers. There was just a man with close-cropped steel-grey hair at the head of the table, posture so ramrod straight, if he didn’t know him, Caleb might have thought he was a statue. Where a plate of food should have been, given the hour, there was only a huge Vulgate Bible open in front of him.

Caleb’s mother hadn’t thought learning Latin was especially important for a kindergartner, but he’d known that book would be brought out whenever his father was home. He’d learned to read that Bible while most children his age had just been learning to read at all. He cleared his throat to announce his presence, but the older man didn’t look up. 

“General,” Caleb said loudly enough to overcome his father’s combat-induced hearing loss.

The elder Saint Claire finished the page he was on, slipped a strip of white silk close to the binding, and closed the book, finally raising his head. Even though the reflection from the fire on his reading glasses obscured the view, Caleb imagined he could see the ice blue eyes he’d been convinced could see every transgression when he was a boy. He’d inherited those eyes, and he’d spent time searching them as he shaved every morning, reassuring himself that his own held a warmth that his father lacked.

“Sir,” he said formally, realizing he was standing at parade rest inside his own childhood home. And feeling, whether rationally or not, that it was far too casual. “Thank you for having me here this evening.”

“It’s late. I wondered if you’d changed your mind.”

“No, sir. I was pleased to be given a pass.”  

“That’s unusual, is it?”

“I wouldn’t know, sir. It’s never come up.” He wanted to say he’d never been invited home, for a holiday or any other reason. That’s not fair, he admonished himself. His father hadn’t been home much until his mandatory retirement a couple of years ago. 

“Thank you for coming, Caleb.” Caleb thought he caught a flicker at one corner of his father’s mouth. “At ease.”

Caleb forced himself to relax. But he couldn’t make himself move from the doorway.

“Come in. Sit down.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Caleb reflexively chose the seat that had been his as a child, about halfway down the long mahogany table. He thought the table was even sadder now that he was sitting at it.

“Something missing?”

“No, sir.”

“You were expecting dinner, I suppose.”

“I had a bite with the brothers and sisters before I came here.”

“I assumed members of the Order fasted properly.” 

“It was a meatless meal, sir.”

“I said properly.”

“Total fasting was eliminated by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. But of course, you know that,” Caleb said stiffly.

“I’m aware. I was surprised though when Dougie told me the Order follows the newer model for things.”


“Carmichael. We grew up together. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that.”

“He’s discussed the practices of the Order with you?” Caleb asked sharply.

“Of course he has. I needed to make sure it was the right place for you when the local Catholic school failed to manage you and I knew you’d never make it in military school.”

Caleb’s jaw tightened. “You did? When I was eight?”

“No, you were eight when we tried the Catholic school. You were ten when I made the decision about the Order. Because Dougie thought you could be useful to the organizational mission.”

Caleb’s teeth hurt from how hard he was biting down. He forced himself to speak though. If Carmichael had violated security and disclosed the existence of the Line simply due to an old friendship, Caleb would have to make a difficult phone call. “So, the mission of the Order appealed to you, sir?”

“Well, yes, of course. Providing security to the Church’s most sacred possessions and its holiest people all in secrecy to ensure its not infiltrated by the enemies of God. I can imagine few missions nobler than that one.”

Caleb breathed an internal sigh of relief. Carmichael really shouldn’t have discussed the Order at all, but at least it was a harmless cover story. “It’s worthy work.”

“Do you enjoy it?”

Caleb’s eyes widened. “I suppose so, sir.”

“Perhaps enjoy is the wrong word. You find it meaningful?”

“Yes, sir,” Caleb said carefully. He’d always felt that conversations with his father were like navigating a minefield. The slightest misstep could always blow the whole thing up. Even when his mother was still alive. 

“Have you ever considered leaving?”

Caleb gave his father a hard look. The dancing flames were all he could see when he looked at his glasses and the set of his mouth revealed nothing. “What sort of question is that?”

“No need to get offended, boy. I’m just curious.”


“Well, now. That is a question, isn’t it. The one you always asked. Without ceasing. Regardless of what I said about it.”

“Curiosity is seen as a virtue in the Order.”

“I would think obedience would be the greater virtue.”

“Certainly.” Caleb ground his teeth again. “I suppose it will please you to know that I’m known for my adherence to protocol. For my obedience.”

This time Caleb was certain his father’s mouth curled up at the edges. “That does please me.”

“Though it may displease you to know that the Order frowns on blind obedience without consideration. At least my unit does. Questions are an important part of our lives.”

“Mmmm,” he said noncommittally.

“So, I’d like to return to my question. Why?”

“Why am I asking about your job?”

Caleb frowned. Now that he’d given himself permission to question the man at all, he found more questions bubbling up. “That. But also why the messages, the texts, the phone calls? Why the invitation to visit you?”

“I shouldn’t call my son? Shouldn’t ask to see him?”

Caleb pushed away from the table and nearly stood, but mastered the urge with a hard swallow. “With respect, sir, I’ve heard from you at most a few times a year and you’ve never asked if I would visit. Not once. Usually you only call to remind me of the anniversary of Mom’s death and you tell me you put flowers on her grave. And that’s it.”

“It’s something we should both remember.”

“Do you honestly think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think of her?”

“No. No, you were always the apple of your mother’s eye. I didn’t mean those phone calls as a judgement.”

Caleb shook his head sadly. “I didn’t assume you did. She’s the thing that ties us together.”

“Why did it take you so long to get back to me about today?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss that,” he said stiffly.

His father chuckled and nodded with an approving smile. “So, you were on a mission and not just avoiding me. And you were injured if I don’t miss my guess, based on how you’re moving.”

Caleb wasn’t about to violate security and confirm or deny any of what his father said. He let silence hang between them.

“Very good. Before I give you my why, I’d like to ask again, have you ever wanted to leave the Order? Perhaps to have a family?”

Caleb didn’t answer, just took a slow breath.

“You’re still as stubborn as the Devil himself. Alright. I’m asking because my brother’s boy found out he can’t have children. I have a friend who could, if I asked, find you a very nice position, either in the military or in intelligence work, if that’s more to your liking. You’d still be doing exciting, meaningful work. And you could fulfil another sacred duty. To your family.”

“No, sir,” Caleb said firmly. “I have no interest in leaving the Order.” He didn’t plan on his next words, but they escaped anyway. “They’re my family. And they have been since I was a child.”

“I suppose that’s fair.” The elder Saint Claire leaned back in his seat, contemplating Caleb for a long moment. “I don’t suppose this house and the family fortune could tempt you to reconsider? I’m planning on moving south anyway. You wouldn’t need to see me, wouldn’t even need to work if you chose not to.”

Caleb sighed. “No, sir. That doesn’t change anything for me.”

“You were always so caught up in those storybooks your mother read to you. All that happily ever after nonsense. You can’t tell me you’ve never thought of leaving for a chance at love.”

Caleb stood. “Love is at the very center of all that I am and all that I do. You introduced me to that life. And for that I’m grateful.”

“Very well.” His father rose as well and walked around the table, leaning on his cane. “Would you like to stay and attend Mass with me tonight?”

Caleb had assumed that was how he would spend the evening when he’d taken the taxi over here, but he shook his head. “I need to be getting back. I’m flying out this evening.”

His father extended a hand. “Have a safe trip. If you change your mind, call me.”

Caleb shook his hand. “Merry Christmas, sir.”

“Christmas isn’t a time to make merry, Caleb. It’s a time to remember the birth of our Savior and the start of His journey that redeemed us all.” 

“I can think of no better time to be merry than remembering all of that.”

“And what good does making merry do you?” his father demanded.

“I can’t say. But I know it has. I think perhaps I’d forgotten how much until tonight. So I’ll say it again, and I’ll mean it for both of us. Merry Christmas.”


Caleb dressed for dinner slowly, delaying going to the feast for as long as he could. Helms had provided a pleasant distraction on their flight by making phone calls to family and singing Christmas carols, and insisting on watching holiday movies the whole time. And Caleb felt lighter the moment he touched down on the West Coast, and lighter still when he’d gone to Confession. 

His Confessor had been understanding and encouraging, relieving his conviction that he’d committed a mortal sin in failing to honor his father. His education as a warrior priest told him his actions hadn’t risen to that level, and his own morals and ethics assured him that upholding his dedication and oath to the Order and to God were the right thing. 

But, for some reason, his heart still felt heavy.

Helms knocked but didn’t wait for an answer, just opened his door and leaned in on his way by, dressed in, what Caleb assumed was, the ugliest Christmas sweater on the planet, covered with blinking lights. “Are you coming, sir?”

Caleb laughed. “That depends. Are you going to turn down the Wattage on that thing?”

“Are you kidding? My mom sent this to me! I’d turn it up if I could.” 

Helms tossed something at him. Caleb snatched it out of the air. It was a red Santa hat. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“You could wear it. On your head.”

“Why on Earth would I–”

“You said you wanted to be merry this Christmas! This is a party. Ditch the tie and be merry then for Heaven’s sake!”

“I’ll think about it. And I’ll be down in a minute.”

“I’ll save you a seat,” Helms grinned and joined the crowd headed to their dining hall.

Caleb stood looking at the silly hat for a minute, smiling faintly.

“Something still on your mind, son?” The Abbot stood in his open doorway with an expression of gentle concern.

Caleb shrugged. “Glad to be home.”

“And we’re always glad to have you home. I meant more that you don’t look like a man who is at peace and I’m not used to seeing you that way after Confession.”

“That’s a very irritating habit, sir.”

“Prying?” he grinned.

“Mind reading.” Caleb adjusted his tie in the mirror to give himself a minute. He thought it might be easier to say if he didn’t have to look at the Abbot. “I think perhaps I have more to confess.”


“I had a second … Not more than that … Where I wanted to say yes to my father’s offer.” The Abbot stayed silent, but Caleb was warmed by the lack of judgement in it. “Not because I don’t believe in what I am, in what I do, completely, but because, a family of my own would be a chance to create the things I lacked after my mother died. A chance to … repudiate the sort of father I had.”

“I think that’s more than understandable, Caleb.”

“It was a selfish thought. And I regret having it.” He turned then and the Abbot was smiling at him.

“Don’t regret. Regrets make up with length and the breadth of the home you came to us from. Instead, live. And remember to make room for something other than study and regulations from time to time.”

Caleb felt his lips quirk up on one side. “Is that my penance?”

“No,” the Abbot chuckled. “Your penance is to remember that in addition to being your superior, I am also your friend.”

“I know that,” Caleb said solemnly.

“I wasn’t finished … It is also to call me Tom when we are not on duty.”

Caleb shook his head with a rueful grin. He couldn’t bring himself to get rid of his tie, but he did pull the Santa hat on and gesture at the door.

As they walked toward the dining hall, the Abbot fell into step with him and put a warm hand on Caleb’s shoulder. “Merry Christmas, son.”

“Merry Christmas, Tom.”

Christmas Presence


Authors’ Note: “It’s Christmas Eve Day. Both an eve and a day. It’s a Christmas miracle.” (Couldn’t help myself. It’s a thing I do every Christmas Eve. Pop culture references are my weakness.) Here we are at Day 12 of the Twelve Days of Fic-mas 2019. This is a pre-series story from The Arbitratus Universe. Wee baby Mal and her loving parents getting ready for Mal’s first Christmas. And an off camera sort of cameo from one of our favorite side characters. You can read Ari and Maggie’s origin story in Crimson Endings

Christmas Presence

“Ari! Can you get the door?” Maggie called. “My hands are covered in cookie dough!”

“I’m on it!” Ari hollered back, from his spot on the family room floor. 

Mal’s eyes followed his every move and she tried once again to push up to her knees from her spot on the blanket. At not quite five months, Ari didn’t think there was much danger in her figuring out how to crawl in the space of time it took him to get to the door and back. But since she was already sitting independently and seemed very determined to get mobile, he wasn’t taking any chances. 

He lifted her up and placed her in the nearby pack-n-play. She righted herself into a fairly confident sitting position against the nursing pillow they’d stashed in one corner earlier. She picked up one of the brightly colored teething rings recently added to her repertoire of playthings and started gumming it enthusiastically. 

“Be right back, Baby Girl.”

She gave him a huge, drooly baby smile in return, already confident he’d be there if she needed him. Other parents in their play group said their babies howled the second they were out of sight. Not Mal. She just seemed to trust life would be good. He hoped her infant optimism would survive teething.

Ari could see a delivery truck in their driveway. He checked the peephole. Standing on their steps was a man in the ubiquitous brown uniform, clipboard in one hand, and rather large package under the opposite arm.

“Hi there,” Ari greeted as he opened the door.

“Afternoon, sir. I have a package for you. Just need a signature.” 

The man seemed impatient, but Ari imagined he had a lot to do during the holiday season, and probably got very little in the way of gratitude for it. Ari took the clipboard and signed. “There you go.”

“Thank you, sir.” He handed Ari the box. “You have a Happy Holiday.” 

“You, too. Thank you!”

Ari closed the door. He hefted the package, heavy for its size. He looked it over carefully as he headed into the kitchen with it. No return address. Weird. 

“Who was it?” Maggie asked, not turning away from what she was doing. 

He put the package down on the kitchen table. “Delivery guy. Were you expecting something from your family?” 

“Not that I know of. But you know Daddy.” Maggie went to the sink to wash her hands. “He’s so excited to have a new grandbaby to spoil. I keep telling him if he keeps it up, we’re going to need a bigger house.”

Ari grinned. “And what’s he say to that?”

She shook her head, chuckling affectionately. “That there’s plenty of room at the main house now that Bethany has gone off to Loyola.”  

“That sounds like Paul alright,’ Ari laughed. He fished a utility knife out of their junk drawer. “Well, let’s see what we’ve got.”

Maggie joined him at the table and helped him move the packing materials out of the way.

Inside was a festively wrapped present, festooned with ribbons, a card tucked in on one side. Maggie frowned. “This can’t be from Dad. Everything he wraps looks like a kid did it.

Ari picked the card off the package. Scrawled across the envelope in a flowing, archaic hand was simply, “Merry Christmas.” 

Ari sat down. He didn’t know why a holiday card should give him such a sinking feeling in his stomach, but it did. Perhaps because the handwriting looked all too familiar. And with the familiarity came some unpleasant memories. He desperately hoped he was wrong.

“Are you going to open it?” Maggie sat down across from him, her brow furrowing. Clearly his emotions were apparent to her.

“Um…Yeah.” Ari slit the envelope and drew out a traditional Nativity printed card. He opened it and the writing inside matched the envelope. As his eyes scanned the text, his jaw tightened.

“What’s it say?”  

Ari cleared his throat and swallowed. 

Dear Sinclair Family,

Congratulations on the birth of little Lady Christ. I’m a little late with my felicitations. I’m sure you’ll forgive me. Or not. It really makes no never mind to me. 

Anyway, I hope this here Christmas present makes up for my oversight. Well, not really an oversight. I tried my best, of course, just the moment I heard. But, it’s almost like you folks don’t want to be found. 

Despite the challenges, I think I found the perfect gift. It was no easy task either, mind you. I mean, what does one get for the heir apparent of our good buddy Yeshua Ben Yosef? Yes, sir; it definitely was a challenge. Well, don’t want to keep you all from opening this up and sharing it with the little Miss. You all have yourselves a Merry Christmas and all that.

Warmest regards,


P.S. Tell Lady Christ Senior I love the new hair. It really works for her.

Ari set aside the letter. He was breathing too fast and his face felt hot. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly through pursed lips.

“I take it he’s not a friend of yours.” Maggie’s tone was the sort of worried saved for middle of the night fevers. 

“He’s no one’s friend.” Ari eyed the package warily, looking like he was expecting it to start ticking.

Maggie picked up the card. “Funny name, Cain. That’s an unusual Bible name to go for.” 

“No, Maggie, it’s not like a name from the Bible. This is like actual Cain from the Bible.” 

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open in a perfect surprised ‘O’. “Wait. Cain is a real person?” 

Ari nodded slowly. “He is.” Mal started to fuss softly in the other room. It sounded like maybe she’d tipped over and was frustrated with her efforts to right herself. “And he has no love or even respect for anyone from the Line. Probably especially you and Mal.”

Mal fussed again, louder. That meant she was sleepy. Ari rose and started down the hall to the family room to pick her up. He suddenly wanted to hold her anyway. Maggie followed, still holding the card and glancing at it with something like horror peppered with disbelief.

“Do the Knights know about him?” she asked, now genuinely distressed.

Ari scooped Mal up out of her playpen and her tears stopped instantly. He held her protectively to his chest. 

“They do. The Church actually shelters him now from what I understand.” He sighed. “Afraid he’ll cause trouble if he’s unsupervised, I expect. Although seems to me like they need to keep a better eye on him.”

“I guess maybe they should!” Mal whimpered at her mother’s anxious tone. “Here give her to me. She’s ready for a nap.” Maggie stretched out her hands to take their daughter. “Who’s Mama’s hungry girl?” 

Ari retrieved the nursing pillow from the playpen and helped the pair settle in the rocking chair by the Christmas tree. “All set? Want some tea?” Ari asked, hoping to ease some of Maggie’s anxiety by doing something comforting from their usual routine.

She shook her head, chewing her lip. “Ari, how did he find us?”

He sighed. “Who knows? But it’s not good. I’m going to go call the Templars.” 

“Do you think we’ll need to move?” Maggie’s worried look deepened. 

“I don’t know. Let’s see what the Knights think. You know they’d love to move us anyway.”

“I know, that’s why I hate involving them. But I guess we have to.” Mal was starting to doze already, but wasn’t quite out enough to move. Ari offered a reassuring smile, and started back toward the kitchen to make the necessary phone calls. Maggie stopped him. “Should we open the box?” 

“Knowing Cain? Almost definitely not.” 

“Okay. Let me know what they say.”

“I will.” 

Ari went to the kitchen, finally allowing some of the anger and fear he’d been trying to keep a lid on show on his face now that it wouldn’t worry Maggie more or upset Mal.

He started to pick up the phone, but set it back down almost immediately.

He picked up the box instead and walked it out to the container at the curb, dumping it in, and shuddering a little at the noise it made when it hit the bottom of the barrel. 

By the time he got back inside, the cool air had helped settle his mind, and he dialed the number to make arrangements to keep his family safe.

His anger and frustration grew as he listened to the ringing. He knew she wouldn’t remember it, but Ari hated that simple family associations might ruin his little girl’s first Christmas. 

Things went from bad to worse once the call was picked up. 

“We’re aware of the delivery, Mr. Sinclair. A security team has already been dispatched to your location to evaluate the situation.”


He hung up, dreading relaying the conversation to Maggie. 

“Merry Christmas, Cain,” he growled as he headed back down the hall, trying to regain his composure. 



Fantasy WIP December

Authors’ Note: Readers of this blog should remember Caleb Saint-Claire from tales of Fic-mas past. If you’re new to The Arbitratus Universe, Caleb is a member of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, or Knights Templar. In this world, the Templars are kind of like supernatural secret agents. And Caleb is their James Bond. Only, cooler. You can read more about Caleb in The Twelve Days of Fic-mas Volume I and Volume II. This story finds him a little older and wiser than past Ficmas’s. He’ll need all of this experience when he meets his cousin Mal.


Caleb put the car in park and pulled at what currently felt like a noose around his neck. He despised the Roman collar, and was grateful, for perhaps the hundredth time since he got dressed for this assignment, it was not part of the Order’s normal attire. But, like it (he didn’t) or hate it (he did), he had to look the part.

“You ready, Jim?” he asked the man fidgeting in the passenger seat.

The younger man ran his hands over his pant legs, trying in vain, once again, to dry his palms. “Ready as I’m gonna be,” he answered, nervousness now not just apparent in his gestures, but in his tight, higher than normal voice as well.

“Relax, you’ll be fine,” Caleb said in an attempt to reassure his inexperienced partner. Only barely out of basic training, Jim had been a wreck the entire flight in. “You’re mostly here to learn, kid. I’ll take care of the real work today.”

“I know. And everybody says you’re the guy … Well, you’re kind of the guy to learn everything from, but especially this.” Jim’s hands ran along his dark pants again. “Just … this is my first possession. I didn’t even really believe in that stuff until I got recruited.”

Caleb grinned. “Good Catholic kid like you didn’t believe in possession? I don’t buy it.”

Jim laughed nervously. “I mean, I didn’t not believe in it, I guess. Just never thought I’d see one, say nothing about being expected to do anything about it.”

“Like I said, Jim, you’re gonna be fine. I’m going to do the heavy lifting.”

Caleb shut off the car. The bright southern California sun overcame the remnants of the air conditioning before they’d even gotten their doors open. “Hard to believe it’s Christmas Eve,” Jim observed as they climbed out into the oppressive heat.

An early season warm front had pushed temperatures back into the upper 80s. It was unusual for the time of year, but not unheard of. Given his most recent assignment north of Moscow, Caleb might have actually enjoyed, it if not for the black wool his cover identity imposed on him. Still, even sweating already, Caleb turned his face to the sun and drank in the warmth and light for a minute.

“Yeah. No chance of a white Christmas here.”

“I’d say that was too bad, but I’m kind of looking forward to a morning run that doesn’t burn my lungs,” Jim admitted. “Assuming we’re finished here and can catch that afternoon flight back tomorrow.”

“We will be,” Caleb assured him, opening the trunk to gather his supplies. “Maybe you’ll even bump into a celebrity before we fly out.” Jim grinned, shaking his head. “Briefing has this as probably a pretty minor demon.” Caleb wasn’t worried.


Okay, so the kid clearly was.

“I’m not worried,” he said out loud for Jim’s benefit.

It did seem to relax his apprentice. On their few other assignments together, Jim had struck Caleb as the sort of operator whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt it. But then again, their other work so far and been of a much less metaphysical nature. More to give him something to do than because he needed the assistance, he handed a case to Jim and picked up the other one for himself. He nodded toward the house.

“C’mon kid. We’ve got this.”

“Yes, sir,” Jim agreed, his game face sliding firmly into place, despite his lingering nerves.

They made their way over the crushed stone walk of a cute pink stucco house with a red Spanish tile roof. It was a nice home, but not ostentatious. The door had an ornate knocker in the middle, but it opened before either man could use it.

“Thank God you’re here, Father!” the large man who swung open the door exclaimed in greeting.

Caleb stepped forward and the man gestured for them to come in. “Mr. Meyer?” The man nodded, closing the door behind them. “I’m Father Saint-Claire and this is Father O’Malley. Father Edmunds called us. How can we help?”

“Well, as I’m sure Father Edmunds told you, it’s our daughter…”

A harried looking woman entered the foyer. Without waiting for any introductions, she gripped Caleb’s arm in desperation. “Our poor Molly. She’s possessed, she must be. Father, you have to help us. She’s only a little girl and … It’s Christmas!” Emotion choked her voice and Caleb patted her shoulder with calm reassurance.

“I see. Yes, Father Edmunds does seem certain she is suffering from possession,” he said evenly. The child was around the usual age as well, not quite adolescent, but no longer quite a child either, though Caleb had seen people of all ages suffer at the hands of denizens of the Pit. The season was irrelevant. “Unfortunately, these beasts care nothing for the time of year.” The woman dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. Caleb found sharing mundane details was usually calming for civilians. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Meyer, I’ve talked to practically every official in the Diocese and I don’t recall your first name from my conversation with your parish priest.”

“I’m Amanda,” she replied. “Everyone calls me Mandy.”

“Well, Mandy, I wish we were meeting under better circumstances.” Caleb nearly smiled. One of his first encounters with a demon during the holidays had involved a Mandy. Considering how that turned out, he had a good feeling about this night. He wasn’t superstitious, but as a man of faith, he did believe in signs. “And you, sir?” he asked her husband.

“Karl. I’m Karl.”

Before he could add anything to that, his wife spoke again. “You can help us, can’t you?” Mandy pleaded, tears beginning to flow again.

“That’s what we’re here for, ma’am,” Jim offered this time. Caleb noticed Jim’s voice sounded totally steady now that he was faced with the victims of this infestation.

“You’ve got to!” Karl said, tears now coming into his eyes. “Molly is just upstairs, if you’ll follow me.”

“We will help your Molly very soon,” Caleb said. “I’ve read the local church authorities’ report and spoken to Father Edmunds at some length, but I would like to ask you a few questions before we begin.”

Jim pulled out a small notebook to record their answers as Caleb took the parents by the elbows and led them further into the house, out of view of the stairs. Mandy resisted walking away from the hallway.

“Why? Shouldn’t you just … Do an exorcism? That’s what Father Edmunds…”

“We will,” Caleb interrupted. “We absolutely will. But this is a dangerous undertaking, for all of us, and most especially for Molly. Something you know may be helpful.”

“Alright. That makes sense,” Karl nodded. “Come into the living room. We can sit and talk. Of course we want to help in any way we can.”

The room was decorated for the holiday, right down to fragrant garlands on the mantle and a fresh tree, brightly lit, dominating the room with its presence. Gifts that would likely remain unopened tomorrow unless he was able to do what he came here for were stacked up underneath it.

Caleb and Jim exchanged a look.

They were never interested in letting the forces from Below win in any situation. It went against both their faith and their training. But something about the time of year and the poignance of those brightly wrapped packages strengthened their resolve. Jim found it was just what he needed to shake off the last of his pre-mission jitters.

Jim sat down with his notebook ready, and Caleb joined him on the sofa, facing the distraught parents. Caleb offered a subdued, kind smile of reassurance. “I’m not going to rehash my conversations with the Diocese, or with Father Frank. Their reports were most helpful and complete. But I do have a few questions.”

“Of course, Father,” Karl replied, having mostly mastered his emotions for the moment. “Whatever you need.”

“Have you spoken to this entity since Father Frank was last here?”

Mandy shook her head. “We’ve tried, but it doesn’t really…”

“Has the entity identified itself to you at any time?”

Karl answered this time. “No, it just keeps growling and mumbling the most horrible things.”

“Anything like a name in any of these mumblings?”

“I’m afraid not, Father. It … It just keeps asking to be set free, saying terrible things about where it’s trapped.” Karl’s voice shook again, but there was a spark of anger this time.

“Has it threatened Molly with trapping her there as well?” That was pretty much SOP with these assholes, and Caleb was curious how far the demon had tried to push the parents to get them to interact with it. Possessing demons loved a little begging and pleading.

Karl faltered. “I … No. No it hasn’t. But of course the threat is there. Isn’t it?”

“You’re a man of faith, Karl. You know Molly bears no responsibility for what’s happening right now. You know it. And God knows it,” Jim said gently.

Caleb nodded. Misleading those surrounding the victim was pretty standard for these types of demons, too. Caleb hated possession. It was such an insidious thing to do. He’d take some honest cursed objects over this any day. But he was good at this. He was this little girl’s best chance.

“Has your daughter had any moments of lucidity? Any moments where it appeared she was in control?”

Mandy shook her head, fresh tears spilling. “No, not since it started.”

Karl frowned. “There was a day last week, just for a few moments, mind you, where I thought … at least it seemed like … I believe she was trying to come through.”

“When was this?” Mandy snapped, upset this was the first she was hearing of it.

He sighed heavily, but Caleb offered him an encouraging nod. “I’d gone up to try to get her to eat something and she looked up at me and said, ‘Daddy?’ It was just that, but it … It sounded like her. And her eyes were clear.” His head dropped into his hands.

“That’s good!” Jim interjected, wanting to do something to ease the parents’ misery. “It means she’s still fighting. It means she will be able to help us help her.”

“Yes,” Caleb agreed. “That is indeed good news. And she is young, strong by all accounts I’ve heard. Do not lose hope. We will help her and she will recover, have no doubt of that.”

A deep guttural howl bellowed down the stairs. The lights on the Christmas tree flickered and went out. The sconces with their little flameless candles rattled on the wall.

For the first time since they’d come inside, Jim looked nervous again. Caleb could see a fine sheen of sweat on his partner’s forehead. “Let’s…” Caleb began.

“Bring the priests to me!” boomed down the stairs in a voice that should never have been able to come out of an eleven year old child’s mouth.

Caleb stood. “Well, it has sensed our presence. Best not to keep it waiting.”

Jim rose as well, tucking the notebook into his pocket. He picked up both of the cases and nodded his readiness. He didn’t speak. He knew at the moment his voice might quaver and he didn’t want to undermine Karl or Mandy’s faith in them.

“I’ll take you to her,” Karl said, gesturing for them to follow him as he headed back toward the foyer and the board staircase off from it.

Mandy got up to follow, and Jim found his voice. “You wait here, ma’am. It’s better if it can’t speak to those who know her.”

Caleb gave him an approving nod, and the three men proceeded up the stairs. Karl stopped and put his hand on the handle of the door at the top of the stairs. Caleb stopped him. “Thank you, Karl. It’s better if you wait downstairs with your wife. As Father O’Malley said, it’s better if it can’t manipulate you. No matter what speaks the words, what you will see is your daughter.”

“I … Alright.” He turned to go.

Caleb’s voice stopped him again. “I have to warn you, you may hear some terrible things, but it’s vital that you and your wife do not enter once we begin the rite.”

Karl opened his mouth to speak, but a banging came from the bedroom and he paled. He closed his mouth and nodded, turning to make his way down the stairs.

Once he was out of earshot, and out of view, Caleb loosened the accursed collar biting into his neck. “Okay, Jim, your job is to just read the Rite of Exorcism. Reading is your only job. You are not to engage this demon or demons. Just read. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Jim answered, the slight quiver back in his voice. He cleared his throat. “Absolutely, sir.”

Caleb clapped him on the shoulder. “Just do what I say, and remember your training. You’re gonna be fine.”

“Follow orders, fall back on training. Got it.”

With one last encouraging nod at his young partner, Caleb opened the door. The room was dark; the blinds were drawn and the lights lay broken on the floor. Caleb tried the wall switch with no result.

From deep in the dim room, a low voice purred, “Welcome, Priest.”

Caleb turned to Jim. “Go ahead.”

Jim closed the door behind them. He started reading the Rite of Exorcism from the book he held in hands steadier than he’d expected them to be.

Caleb uttered a simple spell for light and the bulb overhead finally came to life, albeit dim and flickering.

On the bed sat a girl, just as she’d been described in the report. Young, even younger in appearance than she actually was, and pale, the pallor highlighted by her dark hair. But she didn’t look like a child who’d been suffering possession for weeks. She was small and slight, but not gaunt or malnourished as he was used to seeing such victims. She was clean, and someone had brushed her hair. Her skin was clear, too; no sores, or cuts; no gouges, nor burns, nor blisters.

That was unusual. The flesh of the possessed were almost always desecrated by their invaders. Her eyes gave away the presence of one of the damned though. Lit with demonic energy, they followed him as he set his case down on the white and pink dresser nearest the door.

Caleb watched her watching him as he removed what he needed from the case.

He closed his eyes and took a moment to center himself, uttering a brief prayer for protection and Heavenly aid.

He opened his eyes and turned to face the child, brandishing a gilded cross, and raising a bottle of holy water. He took a breath, ready to engage the creature. A small voice stopped him.

“No, wait,” it pled quietly. It wasn’t the gravelly voice from Below that spoke before. It was light and musical, a child’s voice. Molly’s voice.

Caleb clenched his jaw. That was the worst ploy, all too often used for him to be unfamiliar with it. Reminding the exorcist that a child was at stake, that it had the power to harm that child, had led to the fall of too many priests and warrior-priests alike. Ignoring the tiny plea, Caleb splashed the bed with the holy water.

In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”

He made the sign of the Cross.

Molly’s head tipped in the charming way children sometimes use to get what they want. “Aw, come on.”

He didn’t care for how it didn’t recoil from the symbols of the Church. He tried again to get a reaction. “Behold the Cross of the Lord, flee bands of enemies.”

Molly’s head shook. An almost friendly smirk curled her lips. “No, come on, man, I’m just here to talk.”

Caleb ran down the list of standard phrases, hoping to trick the being into revealing who it was, and making it a simple matter to send it back to where it belonged. After several frustrating minutes, during which Caleb could feel sweat pooling in the small of his back from his intense efforts and the black wool he was wearing in the overly warm room, he finally became impatient.

“The Most High God commands you, He with whom, in your great insolence, you still claim to be equal, give me your name!”

“Dude, seriously though.”

Jim’s chanting prayer became slightly more audible. He was clearly a little rattled at the demon’s lack of reaction. Caleb wondered if his curiosity about the being’s atypical behavior was making him less effective. He was fascinated. He clamped down on his natural urge as an investigator and brought his full focus to eradicating the beast as expediently as possible. He splashed it with holy water again. His powerful voice reverberated in the cozy room.

“Fiend from the Pit, I will have your name!”

The form on the bed flinched, just a little. Jim continued reading behind Caleb, some confidence returning to his voice. Caleb spoke again, quieter this time, but more firm, determined. “I said. Give. Me. Your. Name.”

“Fine. But in exchange, I will have yours.” Caleb glared in return. “Speak, Priest,” it ordered, once again using Molly’s own voice, but this time it held none of the little girl in it, only an irritated command.

He stepped toward the bed, holding the cross out in front of him. “I am Father-Captain Caleb Saint-Claire of the Order of the Temple of Solomon.”

“Whoa, no way! Seriously? I rated Caleb Saint-Claire. No shit.”

“Your name, foul creature,” he demanded.

“You know, I imagined you as taller.”

This time he splashed the holy water directly on the girl. “Give me your name, now!”

There was a hiss of steam and angry eyes met Caleb’s. “Fine. Jeez. I’m Brakken.”

“Who?”Jim said from behind Caleb, earning himself a look of rebuke. “Well, I’ve never heard of this one.”

“Seriously, O’Malley?”

“Sorry, sir.” Jim lifted the book to begin reading again, but was interrupted.

“I’d be surprised if you had heard of me,” the demon said. “This is my first trip top side. And it ain’t exactly authorized.”

Against his better judgement, Caleb’s curiosity overcame his training for a moment. “Come again?”

“I said this is my first trip. Possession has never been my thing. I was afraid I’d get some piss-pants kid like your buddy there and I’d never get a word in edgewise. I’m honestly glad it’s you.”

Caleb shook his head. “A sentiment you’ll soon regret.”

Some minor demon on their first forway to Earth wouldn’t give him much trouble. He doubted it would give Jim much trouble even if he were alone.

Molly’s hands opened in a placating gesture. “Look, Caleb … Can I call you Caleb?” Caleb’s mouth snapped shut in mild surprise. “I’m sorry to meet you like this and I gotta tell you, it’s not great for me either. Wearing a body like this is kind of gross. But you gotta be able to tell I’m not here on assignment. As you can see, I haven’t hurt the girl.”

Caleb raised his tools again, no longer even curious, and reminded once again that a child was caught up in this. “You’ve hurt her, demon. Plenty. And that ends today.”

“Come on, don’t you care why I’m here if it’s not for the Boss?”

“Not especially, no.”

Her hands came up again. “But you should. This could be a big deal for you and the Order.” Brakken could see that he had the priests’ attention. “I want to defect.”

Jim stepped forward. “The who with the what now?”

“Defect,” Brakken repeated.

Caleb put out a hand to keep Jim back, but was eyeing the creature with interest again. “That’s a new one,” he observed, gesturing for more information.

“Look, dude, Hell sucks. And I want out. I’m gonna need somebody with some juice to help.”

Caleb nodded. “I see. And you thought possessing a child was the way to go about getting that.”

Jim could see which way the winds of this conversation were blowing, and he was probably going to be filling out incident reports in triplicate for speaking to the creature at all, so he took up his recitation again, looking at the pages rather than the child and the creature inhabiting her. Molly’s face made a disappointed frown, but returned its attention to Caleb.

“Look, the Church is obviously not going to listen. I knew the holiday would get you guys out here faster than any other time of year. The hero complex you all have is legend. The Order is the only place I can get help.”

Caleb shook his head. “Help to which I’m not inclined. Helping demons is not my business. Getting rid of them is.” He stepped closer to the bed, cross held aloft.

“Oh, don’t be so high and mighty. Like you know which direction you’re headed when you finally bite it doing their bidding.”

“I have dedicated my life to the service of the Lord. I have faith. And that is enough.”

“Yeah, well, I had faith, too. Fat lot of good it did me … Does he seriously need to be doing that?” Brakken nodded toward Jim.

“Yes, he does. I’ve heard enough. It’s time for you to go.”

“No, wait, I can give you guys…”

Caleb didn’t wait. The demon would try all the usual tricks. He’d trafficked with it enough already. More than he should have. He joined Jim’s chanting of the Rite of Exorcism, a ritual he knew by heart.

In nómine Pátris, et Fílii, et Spirítus Sancti. Amen. Exsúrgat Deus et dissipéntur inimíci ejus: et fúgiant qui odérunt eum a fácie ejus. Sicut déficit fumus defíciant; sicut fluit cera a fácie ígnis, sic péreant peccatóres a fácie Dei.

Brakken was thrown back on the bed, losing control of the girl as the words ripped into him with the strength of Caleb’s faith and determination behind them now. He began to growl, the body around him to writhe. One last attempt was all he had.

“No! You can’t! It’s Christmas…”


A short time later, Caleb and Jim were back at their cheap motel, having called in their successful mission. Caleb was sitting on his bed filling out some requisition forms to restock his kit. Jim was sitting on his filling out an incident report for breaking protocol and speaking with the demon without the sanction of his superior.

After a while, Caleb thought Jim had been punished enough. At least until after the holiday. “Wanna go grab a beer, kid?”

“I … Are we allowed to do that?”

“Why wouldn’t we be?”

“It’s Christmas Eve and…”

Caleb shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe the number of bars I’ve wound up in on Christmas Eve, Jim.”

Jim set aside his paperwork. “I think I’ve heard about at least one of those times, sir.”

Caleb chuckled. “I imagine you have.” Jim had the clearance. And it was a good story. “Let’s go get some food.”

“Yes, sir!” Jim was on his feet almost immediately.

Caleb slipped into his light jacket even though it was too warm. It was meant to conceal what he carried not provide any comfort. They headed out the door to go find some place that was open. Caleb knew only too well they’d have to be careful about their choices.

“I’d just wrapped up a portal activation, and I was waiting out a storm. I was still a kid on one of my first solo assignments. It was Christmas Eve, and I found a bar that looked like exactly what I was looking for.”

“Was it?”

“Well, that depends on your point of view I guess.”



Lucky 13

Author’s note – Here’s another little piece inspired by our Instagram for Friday the 13th. It features Caleb Saint Claire, of the Order of the Temple of Solomon, whom you may have met in The Twelve Days of Fic-Mas. We never meant to have him turn into a series regular, so to speak, but he’s just too much fun to not keep having back.


Caleb skidded around the corner on wet pavement, almost wiping out. He’d lost his partner a couple of blocks ago. Damned rookie was going to be getting up and hitting the hills with a training unit every morning for the next month if Caleb had anything to say about it. And he did. You don’t get to call yourself a Knight of the Order if you crap out after chasing a homicidal demon eight blocks.

That said, Caleb was starting to lose steam, himself. Of course, he had the excuse of bleeding freely from several deep scratches. He was also pretty sure this bastard’s claws were venomous, because he had started to feel a little woozy, too. 

At least they weren’t far from the local safe house. Once the threat was neutralized, could have the counter-potion in less than ten minutes. Or sooner. He remembered his ability to call them it. It was kind of nice to not be all on your own occasionally. He ducked down an alley and reached for his radio to call for some assistance. 

His next breath was crushed out of him as he slammed with unsurprising supernatural force against the wet brick wall. Two of the creatures four arms pinned him while the others went through his pockets. 

“Hey, there, Ormru,” Caleb said wryly, wanting to see the demon flinch at hearing its name.

He wasn’t disappointed. The distraction did allow him to start to wriggle free, just a bit. But it’s hot breath in his face made him cringe a second later. “Caleb Saint Claire.”

It knew him, too. Great.

“Taking out a member of the Order is an eternity long dream of mine. The fact that it’s you will be quite a feather in my cap.”

Caleb flashed a tight smile. “I imagine it would be.”

“Doing it on Friday the 13th will be the coup of the week. I’ve always thought that unlucky slaughter worth duplicating.”

Caleb finally got his left hand around to the small of his back where he’d been inching toward. He thrust the ceremonial dagger into the demon’s middle with a grunt. Ormru crumpled to the ground, smoking already.

“That’s a myth.” Caleb walked away, cleaning his blade on the handkerchief he kept in his pocket for that purpose. 

He reached the street and Novice Helms ran up to him. “Back-up’s on its way, and I told them to bring a Healer.”

“Good.” Maybe he wouldn’t have to run the kid ragged after all. He’d have a chat with him about separating from his partner without a word, but at least the kid’s head had been in the game.

As though reading Caleb’s mind, Helms assured him, “I was right behind you, but I found a nest.”

Caleb’s eyebrows went up, impressed. “Where?”

Helms pointed at a crumbling apartment building back up the street.

Caleb grinned. “Well, isn’t this just our lucky day.”


Image by Daniel Dino-Slofer from Pixabay

Next Time, Duck

Author’s Note – More May Writing Challenge fun. Not necessarily in cannon, but it could be.

Caleb was still half dreaming of how he’d wound up here in an alley flat on his back.

The searing pain in his chest convinced him he must be dying. He must’ve said something to that effect because he gasped at the sudden increased pressure over a painful wound somewhere between his breastbone and his left shoulder.

“What the fu …?”

“Hold still, dumbass,” a deep voice snapped.

“Eh … Wha … happen … I’m …”

“You caught a bullet,” the voice snarled. It was more irritated than angry or scared.

“I … Yeah, I guess I did.” His breath hitched. “How bad?”

He could almost hear the eyeroll in the reply. “I’m guessing pretty damn bad. You guys are all nuts.”

The pressure let up for a minute and there was the sound of rummaging in a backpack.

“What do you mean ‘you guys’?” If the newbie had blown their cover, he vowed he’d live just to beat the hell out of him. Kid was worse than Charlie. It was a hell of a thing when your current partner made you think fondly of the long ago Tinkles the WonderDog he’d been saddled with his first go round as a training officer.

A snicker in the dark as wadded fabric was pressed into the wound. “Don’t worry, I only know who you are because you guys were hunting me. Well, you were hunting my boss. But it’s kind of the same thing lately.”

The pressure happened again and Caleb swore; the sort of curse that should probably be grounds for dismissal given who he worked for. “Did your boss shoot me?”

Another snicker. “Yeah, right. You guys act like he’s the bad guy, but he’s not. He saved my life when my girl’s brother in law stabbed me just trying to get money to feed her when she was sick. Quit squirming, dude. You’re not making this any easier, you know.”

“Sorry,” he groaned. “Hurts.”

“I know it. Sorry.”

“Not a good guy,” Caleb insisted. “Are you a demon, too?” His impromptu medic’s hands were so warm either he had a fever or he was just inhabiting the body.

The young man seemed to know what he was thinking. “He’s not a bad guy. And I’m not a demon. I’ve got the healing touch. You know what that is, Templar?”

“Strong Kirlian aura.” He snickered a little himself, then bit back the cry that wanted to follow the unguarded sound. “Ah, Hell.”

“I know, man. Help is on the way though. Boss is callin’ ‘em. Sent me in to keep you from bleeding out.”

“You see who …” Caleb lost the thread in a haze of overwhelming heat and ache.

“Just caught in the crossfire, pal. Welcome to life on the streets here. Where everybody’s got more guns than brains.”

“So nothing to do with those cursed specs?”

“Not a damn thing.”

Red and blue lights started bouncing off the brick in the alleyway. Caleb could see his rescuer couldn’t even be twenty. And here he was, loyal to a demon who’d been peddling cursed objects for decades, and asserting that demon was a good guy while he kept a member of the Order from bleeding out on that demon’s order.

The boy got to his feet and slung his backpack over one shoulder. “The cavalry’s arrived. I’ll point your partner to the right hospital once the boss picks those glasses out of his pocket. You’ll be alright. I can tell. I can always tell.”

The kid started to walk away.

“Hey, um …”

“Alex,” the boy supplied. “My name’s Alex.”


Voices were approaching them from the head of the alley. The boy glanced that way, then at the fence at the back. “Boss said it’d be a shame to let someone almost as good as him eat it in an alley … I mean … You’re welcome.”

He waited a beat.

“Boss also said to tell you …”

“Tell me what?”

“Next time, duck.”

The boy turned and ran at the fence, then vaulted over it. He must’ve been just out of sight when the EMS guys started jogging toward him.

As professional help reached him, assuring him that he’d be fine, he had the fuzzy thought that while Alex and his boss might not be good guys, as the kid asserted, maybe they weren’t completely bad guys either.



The Tenth Day of Fic-mas …


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.”

“Oh, shit.”

“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.”

“What? Why?”

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.

Merry Christmas,


“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.