When I woke up, I was happy I was still in the dumpster and no longer being thrown through the air, chased or stomped on. Once inside I had laid down and listened, but between the blood loss, the testosterone let down and no regular sleep for a while; I had fallen asleep. Not hearing any noise outside of the dumpster, I checked my watch; I had been asleep for 30 minutes. On the stupid scale that ranked right up there with offering dog biscuits to a werewolf on a rampage.
"Probably safe now," I thought, and checked my wounds. I had some serious road rash from being tossed around before I could get away. The bleeding had stopped, for the moment, and my arms looked like a bizarre barber pole. I was going to need some super glue and liquid skin to close up the wounds once I got out of here. I keep the "Whale Fin Reattachment" size superglue and liquid skin bottles in my med kit. Stings like hell, but boy, does it work.
I'd been called to Philadelphia to check on some missing hookers. A Sister Margret ran an outreach program to help get the women off the street, and several had disappeared. Cops were not interested as there were no bodies turning up. To the police it was just a matter of "They done moved on".
Word got to me when I was out in the wilds of central Pennsylvania. I was working on some disappearances that might indicate an evil presence. The answer was more mundane; turned out to be some kids trying to be cool by joining a biker club. The girls were passed around and the boys were turned into "probs"; the low level go-fers that have not yet proven their worth. The club's actions were illegal and kinda evil, but not really in my jurisdiction.
"Let secular law enforcement handle it," I thought. So, I sent in pictures of some drug deals along with locations of weapon and drug caches as well as a small meth lab to the local district attorney. There was going to be one very sad deputy constable when his friends found out about his "other" job. The package was sent anonymously, of course. People like me have to stay out of the limelight.
Having done that, I figured I could milk the assignment for a day or two of vacation. I was fishing when I got the call. I grew up in New York City and had never fished; figured it would be boring. When I was still in training, my tutor and I had to watch a lake house. Best way to observe it was on the water. A boat sitting in the same spot for a day is suspicious; a stationary boat with guys fishing seems normal. We watched the house for three days. By the time we were done observing, I was hooked. Now every chance I get I put a line in the water.
There I was in a rental boat waging war on the fish and losing when my cell phone rang and probably scared away every fish for a mile.
"Crap" I said, knowing my vacation was over. Few people have my cell phone number; my boss being one. Putting down the rod I pulled out the fun destroying machine from a pocket. When I checked, sure enough the screen read, "Brother Michael".
"This is Brother Maurice," I said trying not to voice my irritation. Three hours and all I'd caught was a tree branch.
"You finished with those bikers?" asked Brother Michael, his voice very soft for a man as large as he was.
"I am about done," I said, stalling for more time "I should be finished by tomorrow or the next day".
"If you got nothing to report you're done," was the response and he quickly brought me up on what Sister Margret was doing, why she was concerned, why the cops were not, and the general location of the area of city the girls were disappearing. "I want you to pack it up and head in to Philly to scout it out. If the women are just moving on, fine, but if not, call in the cavalry. You're a Roamer not a Hammer."
"Got it," I replied. "Do we have any activity or movement that we know about?"
"No. It may be a false alarm but either way you need to be very careful," said Brother Michael.
Brother Michael asked me about spiritual matters, and my soul. When I reassured him all was well he reminded me to "Stay grey," and hung up.
I put away the phone, reeled in my gear, and headed for shore. I had to come up with a good reason for returning early if I was asked. Tradecraft is all about planning ahead as much as you can and being flexible enough to react when the unexpected happens. Brother Gumby, roaming Inquisitor; that's me.
I got lucky. The rental guy, who had a Donald Trump hairdo and stained teeth, just grunted and pointed at a sign on the wooden dock where the rental boats were kept that read "No returns No refunds," when I returned. I did not bother arguing, keeping myself "grey" and unmemorable. I gave him a dejected look, which he ignored, and slouched off.
My pickup truck appears old, dirty, and held together by tape, bondo, and rust. It was red at one time but is now faded into a color somewhere between red and orange.
"Burnt Raspberry Marmalade," I declared the color to Brother Arthur. Apparently he was not a color aficionado like me and he just shrugged and said "Whatever, Brother Maurice."
On the back is a dirty white camper shell that looks like it will slide off at any minute. It's a sham. The body is sound—reinforced in some places like the bumpers. Brother Art is a mechanical and camouflage genius. He does all of our vehicles or modifies those we pick up. He also hates to be called Brother Art, so I do. That is why the front seat is vile green and shifts side to side when you turn to fast; a little reminder from Brother Art that I am on his "Irritating young pup that does not know his place" list.
The engine is a modified 350 short block, great for when I need to haul down the road. I am still waiting for the day I blow past some trooper doing 115. His expression would be worth going to traffic court. But I remain grey and smile on the inside knowing I can out run the kiddies in their little convertibles whenever I choose.
The camper shell has one-way glass and is reinforced while still maintaining that "I'm from the mountains y'all" image that most people deliberately ignore. The back has a small bed and couple of books, spare gear and some weapons I might need. I can roll in from the front cab without having to leave the truck. The bed is great for long stake outs. I have even slept there when I needed to stay very low profile.
It took me about five hours of steady driving to get to Philly. It took me another hour to get to the right district once I hit Philly. Maps are only so good and apparently if you are not a native of Philadelphia the city planners do not want you to know how to drive around town and find your destination.
"St Jude, grant me wisdom," I chanted for the first twenty minutes of wrong ways and streets that changed direction without warning. This quickly turned into "St. Jude, grant me patience," and then finally devolved into curses and grunts.
"Buy a GPS dummy," some might say, but a GPS signal goes both ways and can be tracked. Yes, I have heard GPS is one way, but who are you going to believe: the repairman at Radio Shack or Government propaganda? Since I am considered an escaped mental patient by the cops, and have supernatural enemies, a little paranoia is not a bad thing. It's why I use disposable cell phones and never set up mail delivery. I am not crazy, well not really crazy. Yes, I was sending thawed chickens to that gal on Fox News, but she was flirting with me.
In any event, I did find the right place. Philly, like many large cities, has beautiful parts, typical city locations and slums. I was in the slums of what was called "South Philly". The streets were narrow, in poor repair, lacking signs, and one way. Squat row houses, cheaply built decades ago, were worn and beaten down like their owners. Pawn shops, check cashing stores, money transfer booths and decrepit neighborhood bars where locals met strangers with hostile, bleary-eyed stares occupied the corners of each block.
Even in the sunlight the area seemed dark and furtive, like viewing a picture through a cloud of dark steam.
"But is it squalor or magic?" I asked myself as I drove around, getting the lay of the land and checking the map I had bought the last time I filled up. People shuffled along, heads bowed, already defeated by life and their own failures; everyone doing their best just to survive another day. I was not noticed. Dealers and hustlers worked the sidewalks during the day, at night the prostitutes would take over.
I needed to get out and recon the area on foot. On South Sheridan Street I was able to find a small parking lot that wasn't metered or watched by many houses. I pulled over, checked my surroundings and got into disguise.
I had purchased a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt at the gas station, and gave it that "lived in look" by rubbing it on the ground. I also changed into some old ratty Army pants with the extra pockets, a John Deere ball cap, and some beat up looking boots. The pants I kept in a sealed bag as I had urinated on them and wiped up some vomit with them a while back. If you look like a bum but smell clean it will be noticed.
"Keep people away and your disguise will last longer," said my instructors "when it's time to not be you, distance is your friend." My pants, with the aroma of urine and vomit, induced the gag reflex on the unwary. It's the little grins that mean the most.
I used some dirt and grease for my face and hair. I like to use a mix of Redman chewing tobacco and black ink to get the jack-o-lantern, rotting teeth look common to junkies and those living on the streets; a pair of cheap sunglasses to hide my eyes completed my sartorial ensemble.
I armed myself with a knife and spring baton of moderate legality. I wanted one of my pistols, but bums are frequently harassed by cops, and one pat down could land me in jail for a while. I pulled out a small clipboard and pen to make notes; so long as I did not look like I was casing a place but simply acting deranged no one would notice me at all.
Even though I stank, and had on old ill-fitting clothes, that was not enough. I was prey to all the other stronger animals, a beaten dog, and had to act that way. I had to stagger and slouch. If I walked around with my head up people would think I was an undercover cop. We ignore the normal things; it is when something is not quite right we start to look harder. Probably some left over instinct from when we still lived in caves. In a dangerous place like this, alone, and under-armed, I needed to be ignored.
"Yep," I said to myself, checking the side view mirror, "You look like crap". And I did, but I was not here to be pretty and get asked to the high school cotillion, I was here to hunt evil.
Properly attired, and moving randomly in fits and starts, I started out. It was warm out, not yet hot or the truly steamy days of summer where just breathing makes you sweat, but the sun was up to something. He's tricky like that. At the same time something was wrong. Maybe it was the dealers and hustlers watching for cops, or the shut-ins peering out of their windows like some poor brute at a zoo, but it felt like I was being watched. Not just in general, but specifically. Something was watching me. I had that feeling a deer must get; knowing something is hunting it, that danger is out there, but it can't see the danger just yet.
I noticed others acting the same way. Heads on a swivel, looking around, wary and frightened. God gave us the instinctual ability to detect evil and danger, it's just we ignore the signs. There was evil here, wafting through the air like the stench of a rotting carcass.
Behind my sunglasses I could observe and watch what was going on without being obvious about it. A few blocks down Sumpter Street, I felt it: a kind of cold wet clammy feeling like someone ran chilled seaweed down my spine. There was evil here. But where? I did not see the obvious signs, no abandoned houses or occult bookstores or palm readers or any of the normal disguises used by Witches when in an urban environment. I was sure I was in the right place but I could not pin it down.
No real point in calling in the cavalry and saying "It's somewhere over on Sumpter Street."
I'd have a bunch of P.O.'ed Inquisitors and I wouldn't blame them. Last thing I want to do on a Purge is walk around in the open looking for the target. Bunch of armed monks firing weapons at Witches and their minions tends to scare the neighbors and attract the police. All that blood and bullet holes with the occasional grenade can even hurt the value of the neighborhood. I had to get the location down to a house or building. I circled the block trying to locate the spot, or use my clammy feelings to pinpoint the source of wrongness, but something was not right. I could feel the evil, I knew it was around but there was nothing to indicate the presence of Witches. No minions, wards or likely buildings. I was getting more irritated as I walked about and I had to stop a few times and stagger to keep in character.
I sat down on a step to think for a second and figure out what the hell was going on. There was something here, but where exactly or what it was, I had no idea and it was starting to piss me off. Normally I'm pretty calm and cool when out on the job but today for some reason I was angry and angry over little things. Something was setting me off, and if little ol' mild-mannered me was angry, the rest of the folks must be ready to go full-fledged bathe-in-blood-berserk mode at the drop of a hat. I was sitting there watching traffic and people drift by when suddenly the street was empty. I looked up and then down and for whatever reason there was no-one visible on Sumpter Street. Survival mode went into overdrive and I swung my head to and fro like a drunk. I was trying to figure out what was going on before something jumped out, scooped me up, and started to nibble on my liver while I was still alive. A few seconds later I saw a black hearse pull up on a cross street a few blocks away. It was one of those old fashioned black ones with the back hump to allow easy entrance and exit of the casket. That was where the creepy vibe was coming from, the hearse. Since it was moving, that explained why I couldn't locate the source. I just shook my head with a rueful smile. About 120 years ago one of my order went on a bender with an author who came up to visit Saint Michan's church and whom had seen a bit too much there. So instead of killing him, the young monk took him to the pub to help soothe the poor man's nerves. There they proceeded to get rip-roaring drunk. Unfortunately the monk was not as good at holding his alcohol as the author and ended up revealing even more when questioned. Of course two drunks sharing secrets do not make the most coherent story but it was enough. When Stoker's Dracula came out it was huge, translated into a dozen different languages, and with just enough truth to make many believe it was real. Fast forward to today and you still have people thinking they should sleep in a coffin because they are evil. Some overwrought Goth chick dabbling in "magic" must have gotten into something a bit more than she expected. She graduated from cutting and histrionics over "mean" people and straight into actual evil, but her sense of the gothic dramatis had not changed and now she was being driven around in the back of a hearse. I actually laughed a bit; this Witch went from creepy chick with acceptance issues to an actually dangerous creepy chick, probably still with acceptance issues.
The hearse came down the road and turned off into a small alley a couple hundred feet away from where I was sitting. While I was tempted to check out the hearse, I knew better than to move for a few minutes. Predators are quick to spot movement and I did not feel like being prey. Soon the street was once again littered with people hanging out, drinking from paper bags on the corners, watching the public phones, or darting from one location to another. I waited just a little bit longer and then slowly got to my feet and crossed the street, walking in the opposite direction from where the hearse turned.
I was pretty sure the street was being watched even if I could not see where the watchers were located. Going straight to where the hearse turned would have been a giveaway that the Witch was under observation and could shorten my lifespan to zero.
I walked down the street until I was a few blocks away and not in line of sight of the alley. I re-crossed the street, went down a few blocks, and worked my way back. I went past Montrose street and circled back onto 16th. I saw where the hearse was going; there was a old single-story derelict stone church on the corner that extended in an 'L' shape. Tucked next to the short arm of the 'L' and sticking up like a leprous growth was a two story row house. A parking lot, or maybe a cinder covered play field covered most of the space between the two arms of the 'L'; directly behind the row house and a few feet wider was an extended outbuilding. Perhaps a garage or a very large storage shed with double doors facing the street. I couldn't see the hearse anymore, but standing in front of the door was a Muscle. Muscle was what we called the nearly human body guards that formed part of a Witch's coven. They were the expendable pawns, and they were not Boy Scouts. Most of them looked like they pumped iron for a living and fed exclusively on steroids. They acted that way as well; always ready to burst into violence and literally rip someone's arm out of the socket and beat them with it. Luckily all that meat made them a bit stupid. This one was going to stay right there until told otherwise. The entire squad of the NY Jets cheerleaders could walk by naked waving to him and offering to make his every fantasy come true and he wouldn't budge from his post.
I probably had enough to call in the heavies, but they would want details. How many Witches were there, was it one or a coven? How many minions? What was the response time of the police, and would they even show up? What were the ways in and out quickly with a primary and alternate route? Were there any allies or places to prep out of sight nearby? And on and on. Failure to get these answers made these guys grumpy. Irritating heavily-armed men who fought the supernatural for a living was never a smart idea.
There had always been some rivalry between area Inquisitors and Roamers. Since we traveled around a lot scouting and doing the prep work for an operation, but rarely going in on the Purge they saw us as slackers and called us loafers. Not to our face. Well, one did, once, and I think his new scar makes him look distinguished.
Normally, I would call in an Intel team to help with the scouting and go back to trying to reduce the fish population, but for some reason there was none available. At least that is what Brother Michael had said, and I was pretty sure he still liked me.
I shuffled back the way I came, backtracked a few blocks and did a wide circle around the abandoned church. On my clipboard I wrote a few cryptic notes, and drew a pony dancing on its back legs as camouflage. I was getting better; the ears in no way looked like a dog's anymore. I also moved in a block or so at various points of the circle to get a better visual of the place and see if I could tell more about what was hiding there. Once I finished my circuit I went back to a cross street that gave a good view of the place, and I was getting ready to settle down for a nice imitation nap when I heard singing. At least I am pretty sure it was singing. Cats, even magical familiars of Witches, were not meant to sing and really, I've never liked Gilbert and Sullivan.
Walking towards me and assaulting my ears with The Pirates of Penzance was a large black and grey cat with a red nose. It could have been out hunting, or it could be doing recon for its mistress. Either way, I was in trouble. Getting up and running was a bad idea, it would change and tackle me before I got a dozen steps. Magiked cats could transform up to a thirty pound beast a couple of feet long with fangs and claws as long as your little finger. They were also "linked" to their mistress.
It walked up towards me and stopped about ten feet away. An easy jump for it, but too far for me to do much, and sat down. Its eyes were a cross between lime green and sickly yellow. Inwardly I was pleased; when its eyes went red, that was when the "claw the Inquisitor game" would begin.
My safest reaction was to be a harmless drunk, so I was.
"Hello Pus looking for some mice. . . ice. . . ice. . . ice," I slurred out. I also moved my hand to my spring baton, knife to claw was a bad fight, but my baton gave me some reach.
It cocked its head to one side and said more to itself than me "filthy drunk, I shouldn't let you live". Just my luck, I run into the one evil magical cat in Philadelphia that has a hate-on for the homeless. I burbled to myself and fished out my baton, keeping it out of view.
"I think I will take your eyes first," said the cat "and then maybe I will roll around in your intestines". The cat stood up and walked closer to me in a sinuous motion, its tail waving back and forth. In a second or two it was going to change and claw on me for a while.
I braced myself and when it was just a few feet away I said, "Your singing sucks," and heaved myself up, swinging the baton back to snap it open and then towards the cat who did exactly what I expected.
It froze in confusion and said, "What did you—" before it reacted to what I was doing. It tried to spring away but I had guessed the distance correctly, and before it could really move or transform into a nightmare of feline fury my baton connected. It was launched to one side and smacked into the wall of one of the row houses. I doubt if I killed it then, so I stomped on it a few times to make sure. I guess I am more of a dog person. Or, maybe, I just hate opera.
A block away I heard the Witch's scream of rage and fury. It was the sound of a nightmare being born; that sound you hear just before you wake up covered in sweat in the middle of the night, ready to bargain with God and offer anything to make the monsters go away.
There was a flash of black light from a spell being cast and a second story window in the leprous house exploded outward. Right behind the falling glass a body leaped out. It was Muscle, come to avenge the cat. Now when facing an enraged man who can bench press a Hummer I prefer a nice assault rifle. Put five or six bullets in a Muscle and they are no tougher than anyone else. But right now, with a spring baton and knife, I did the brave thing and ran like hell.
The cat minion, the Witch's reaction, and a single Muscle chasing me told me quite a few things. There was only one Witch— young or weak. A cat as a minion was the sign of a weak to mid-level Witch; sure, she could kill a few dozen people and burn down a few square blocks, but in the magical world that's bush league. If it was a coven of Witches I would have several critters straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare chasing me with a half dozen steroid freaks as back up. Her reaction indicated that she was not used to losing a minion. After a while of being a Witch they begin to see minions, other Witches, and the rest of humanity as disposable and act accordingly.
When I was training to be an Inquisitor my preceptor made us run a lot. I was just a little chubby when I started, but by the time I was ready to take the Grey, I could run ten miles without difficulty. Right now I was running for my life with a head start. The bastard caught up to me in no time flat. I got two blocks and I heard him grunting, by three I could hear his feet hitting the ground behind me. And then I was flying through the air. He had picked up a trash can at full speed and thrown it at me. I bounced along for a bit, slid through some broken glass, slicing up my right arm and butt-cheeks, then I rolled up against a nice soft brick wall.
I got lucky, had he just kicked me a few times or stomped on me I would have been street pancake. Instead, he reached down, grabbed my right arm and lifted me bodily off the ground. I was a bit woozy but managed to grab my knife with my left hand and stabbed him in one meaty thigh. I gave the knife a quick twist and pulled it out, ready to carve some more. He let out a yowl, whirled and tossed me away.
On my second flight I was a bit more prepared. I managed to tuck and roll without stabbing myself, come up on my feet and run. After a few twists and turns I saw the corner of a dumpster in an alley and headed for it. I'd just managed to get out of sight when I heard him go storming past. I did a quick check and saw I was bleeding, I was woozy, and my head was ringing.
He was faster than me, way stronger, and eventually would catch me if I continued to run. Even if I did manage to slip away, a black guy running down the street, bleeding, and holding a knife is not in any way "being grey and blending in".
"Out of sight, out of mind" I thought. I decided to quietly climb in to the dumpster until it was safe.
After my refreshing but rather stupid nap, I had managed to stop bleeding. I pulled out my cell phone and called an old friend.
"Brother Rubin" said the monk on the other end. He was the Inquisitor for the area, and we had been in training together.
"Hello Rubin," I said "It's Maurice, I'm here in Philly, and I need your help in a Purge". There was no way I was going to miss the takedown of this dark soul, and so I gave him the details and got ready.
Tonight I was going to be hunting a Witch.