20 Answers & Questions

“What?” Tom asked, walking over to David and looking over Avram’s shoulder.

Avram walked up to the mirror and held up the note for all to see. “I should have seen it. The word is reversed. That’s what David noticed!” The mirror revealed its message: ‘Malphas.’

“Malphas,” Tom whispered, and there were a few gasps around the room.

“What does that mean?” David asked.

Tom looked at the boy and said, “Bad news. Malphas is not some rank-and-file soldier demon; he’s the real deal, highly ranked in the hierarchy. He’s powerful, wise, and cruel.”

Judah nodded, and added, “He is the commander of many demons, legions of them actually, and he knows our minds, and can reveal them to our enemies.”

“What can we do then?” David asked, finally sensing the true gravity of their situation.

“It depends on what he wants, David,” Tom said, squeezing his shoulder.

“Aren’t they just trying to summon him?” David asked, and Tom saw others shared his question.

“No, I don’t think so,” Tom said. “He’s already here.”

“You don’t know that, Tom?” Judah challenged.

“The darkness I’ve felt, the demon that’s been taunting me and the boys, the ravens? It all adds up to Malphas. Someone summoned him, and now Malphas is calling the shots. God only knows what he’s up to,” Tom declared. “And to be honest, worrying about it will get us nowhere.”

“We do know,” Judah declared, “that he’s after the Azazel Codex, and we have it.”

“You all should check out of the hotel,” Tom said. “We’ll pile up here. Safety in numbers. We’ll give them less opportunity to divide and conquer.”

“Agreed,” Judah said. “And we must set a guard full time on Aiden’s room.” Then the rabbi looked at the priest and said, “Tim, can you join us here? There’s precious little time and much for you to learn!”

“I’ll take some vacation time. I haven’t had any in years and there are no holidays looming,” Tim replied.

“Good,” Judah said. “Avram and I will ride with you to your place for you to pack your things, and then we’ll go collect his things and mine….

“Misha, Alexa, Dietrich and Cho, go, but stay together!” Avram instructed.

Meanwhile, Tom called Peter and asked him to come home immediately, and to bring Billy with him. “Roy,” he said to the investigator, “I think it’s best if none of us travels alone from here on out, so when you go out, take one of us with you….”

“Explaining this to Micky and Doreen,” Roy shook his head. “I’m just glad it isn’t me!”

After some additional basic planning, Tom looked around and said, “I’ll be watching over Aiden tonight. If a couple of you will take the day shift in the morning, I have class….”

“You’re going to teach?” Avram asked, mystified.

“Are you going to pray?” Tom retorted pleasantly.

“Well, yes,” the man replied with a shrug.

“And I am going to teach,” Tom smiled. “There are empty rooms and extra blankets in case you have to find a floor,” Tom said.

Peter soon arrived, looking panicked, with Billy in tow. “What’s wrong?” he demanded. “Is Aiden alright?”

“Yes, Peter,” Tom said, putting his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “It’s something else. At the hospital today, one of your parents’ associates was killed by … unusual means.” He added the last with a hard look at Billy. “We’re all in danger. That’s why I asked you to bring Billy.”

“I don’t understand,” Billy said.

“You know about Peter’s parents?” Tom asked.

“I know what they did,” Billy said darkly.

“What I’m about to tell you must remain absolutely confidential, and I doubt you’ll even believe it, but Peter’s parents were cultists, part of a dark coven aiming to raise a group of demons to do … who knows what,” Tom said. “Now their associates are cleaning up the mess.”

“So some psycho phonies want to cover up their weirdo cult?” Billy asked.

“Psychos yes,” Tom sighed, “phonies no….”

Billy looked at him incredulously and said, “You mean to tell me that….”

“It’s all real? YES!” Tom said. “I don’t have time to talk you through this. I need you to stay here under our protection so they can’t use you and Peter against me!”

“What are you going to,” Peter began to ask, but fell silent as Tom’s lips began a silent chant and the whites of his eyes began to luminesce. A white orb hovered in the air between them and began to expand into a throbbing ball of light which circled the boys before shooting through the ceiling and out into the world.

“What the fuck?” Billy whispered.

“Guys,” Tom said. “Help him wrap his mind around this. I’ve got to get going!” Then he asked Dietrich and Cho to accompany him to the hospital to bring Micky and Doreen home safely. As they rode in silence Tom made a call.

“Hello?” a woman answered.

“Hi Rachel,” Tom smiled.

“How’s Aiden?” she asked.

“Steadily improving,” Tom answered. “I know it’s late, but….”

“He’ll meet you there,” she said with a smile. “Tell Aiden I said to get better soon!”

“Thanks Rachel,” Tom said.

“They’ll need to be under protection too,” Dietrich said.

“I know,” Tom said. “But we’re spread too thin. I need to talk to Alasdair about bringing in some of his friends. If this is Malphas, and he wants the Codex, we’re sinking here.” A dark pall fell over them as they drove through the dark night to the hospital.

At three different locations around the town that night a similar scene played out. In each case, a group of two or three dark-cloaked figures bound a struggling nude figure to a post or, lacking that, a tree. Two captives were young women in their late teens. The other was a healthy young man of twenty-three, and it took three cultists to restrain and bind him.

Then the hooded men and women, ignoring the complaints, threats, and begging of their captives, began the work of the evening. A set of complex circles, bolstered by symbols such as candles, crystals and sacred objects, was erected to contain the magic.

Then came the chanting – ominous Latin. It was seemingly interminable, but each of the captives knew it would end, as well as what must eventually come. But when the chanting stopped and death did not come immediately, each felt a cruel hope.

Then, at each site, one of the cloaked men stepped out of his robes, head remaining covered, and into the circle. The masters of ceremonies explained, “Commence the profanation of the flesh….”

The young women were raped forcibly, while the young man had to be subdued at knife point. The male captive gasped and jerked as the big man behind him, holding an impossibly sharp blade to his neck, violated his virgin hole. He barely felt the blade nick his neck, but he did feel the thick warm liquid slide down his muscled chest. The captive tried not to cry out, but failed as his attacker brutalized him.

After hours of repeated violations by various cultists, the masters of ceremonies slit the sacrifices’ necks. As the blood and cum flowed into the ground, the words of the cultists rose to new heights until, in the depths of darkest night, three new figures stood on earth, bound to the location of their risings.

When Alasdair arrived, Tom invited him man inside. Aiden was asleep and medicated, so they spoke without worrying about disturbing him. Tom apprised his old friend of the situation. “Hell, Tom!” Alasdair explained.

“Exactly,” Tom said dryly. “You need someone to protect your place, and I’m overwhelmed Alasdair.”

“Tom,” Alasdair said, shocked. “I could contact my coven in England for assistance.”

Tom nodded, thankful. “Send Rachel away, Alasdair? Just for a few weeks….”

“She’ll never go!” Alasdair said.

“Explain the danger,” Tom pressed.

Alasdair replied, “She’d never leave knowing we’re all in trouble.”

“Tell her to do it for the baby, Alasdair. Whatever it takes, get her and the baby to safety!” Tom pressed.

“Alright,” Alasdair said.

“I’d prefer if you just took her to England and stayed with your family until this is over, Alasdair,” Tom suggested.

“Now you’re asking too much! You can’t ask me to run off and leave you here! I know you’re not alone, but I want to fight by your side,” Alasdair said.

“Your child, Alasdair! I … I can’t bear the thought of him growing up without his father!” Tom pleaded.

“What kind of father could I be if I left my best friend here to fight without me?” Alasdair asked. “I’ll send Rachel away tomorrow, if there are seats. But I’m staying!”

The next morning Tom was awakened by Aiden hugging him. Tom smiled and snuggled into the man and kissed him on the cheek. “Good morning baby,” Tom whispered.

“Morning,” Aiden said. “Can I get out of here?” he groaned. “I’d rather be in our bed!”

“You’ve got some nasty gunshot wounds,” Tom said. “But Alasdair and I did more healing work last night while you were out so I hope we can get you out of here soon. Home is better defended.”

“It’s that bad?” Aiden asked.

“And getting worse,” Tom said, explaining things. “I mean, I’m powerful enough to exorcise a manifested demon, and Avram and Judah can handle it as well. But Malphas? He outmatches us all. It’ll take all we can do. And that’s presuming he doesn’t get this coven established. Thirteen fully manifest demons? We don’t even know what they’re up to!”

Aiden rubbed his arm and said, “You’ll figure it out. I know it!”

“How?” Tom asked, his frustration boiling over.

“What kind of magic would you need a coven for?” Aiden asked. Tom looked confused, and Aiden said, “Most people, if they can do something like that alone, would. I’m guessing a badass like Malphas wouldn’t get his flunkies together for something he could do on his own. What kind of magic would you need a full coven for?”

Tom smiled. “Brilliant! For healing I might call in people better versed like Alasdair. For cleansing, perhaps a holy man. But a full coven?  Malphas doesn’t need training. The kind of work that requires that kind of power is pretty limited: a killing spell, resurrection magic, and summoning a spirit way out of our pay grade.”

“So which is it?” Aiden asked.

“Summoning,” Tom said. “Malphas is powerful enough to handle the rest on his own.”

“Can’t Malphas summon more of his own kind into this world?” Aiden asked.

“No, not yet anyway,” Tom said. “Maybe with the book….”

“So why not get the book and just do it himself?” Aiden asked.

“No wonder you’re a cop,” Tom smiled. “He wants to summon someone of his own level or higher.” After a moment’s pause, he said, “Definitely higher, nothing he’d be in competition with.”

“So who is above Malphas, and why bring them?” Aiden asked.

“Who’s above him? Not too many, but the presence of any of them would be disastrous: Beelzebub, Belial, Sammael, Satan, Asmodeus, and a handful of others. Who knows how many forgotten deities swell that number?” Tom asked with a sigh. “As for the why, we may never know.”

“Why bring a superior into the world? Wouldn’t he rather be top dog here?” Aiden asked.

“Perhaps,” Tom mulled. “Perhaps the demon he seeks can offer him something without Malphas perceiving him as a threat. That gives me somewhere to start….”

“Hey, lovebirds!” Alexa smiled, leading Misha into the room. “We’ll take this watch.”

“Thanks,” Tom said, making his introductions.

“By the way,” Misha said, “your in-laws are demanding answers!”

“I’ve got to go teach,” Tom said. “Can you talk to your parents?” he asked Aiden.

Aiden nodded. “I’ll tell them how we met, and about what I’ve seen,” he promised.

Tom kissed him, before slipping out to avoid Micky and Doreen. Then he ran home and showered, gathered his things and got to his first class just in time.

He received lots of well-wishing from students, and took a few awkward questions about his ‘situation,’ as one polite but embarrassed boy called it. At last he was approached by the persistent Maggie Radner.

“Ms. Radner,” he sighed and smiled at her as she approached.

“What did you think of the article?” she asked with a smug smile.

“Overblown,” he said. “A puff piece if I ever saw one!”

“A poof piece you mean,” she smirked. “This isn’t for you. It’s for a bunch of kids who need a good guy to look up to!”

Tom grimaced, and grabbed his bag. “Sell them a line, that’s your business I guess.”

“Damn right it is,” she replied. “I’m the press!”

“Glad to see you aren’t taking yourself too seriously,” Tom teased.

“So tomorrow night there is a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting,” she said, following him.

“This isn’t the best time for me to take over a new duty, Maggie,” he grumbled.

“We’ll do all the work, arrange the events and things. Just review our finances and be our fearless figurehead?” she insisted. “Come on! The old lady said she’d be glad to dump this off on you! Should someone like that hold us in her hands?”

Tom sighed. “My boyfriend is in the hospital, Maggie!”

“Just come? No commitment. Meet some of kids, talk to some people? Half an hour, tops,” Maggie begged.

“If I promise, will you leave me alone for the rest of the day?” Tom groaned.

Thank you!” she said. “I’ve already announced that you are our guest of honor!”

YOU WHAT?” he yelled at her back as she walked away on that announcement.

After his last class, Tom returned to find Dietrich and Cho sitting with Aiden. Cho was laughing and talking with the injured cop, while even Dietrich wore an amused smile. “You relieved the twins?”

“Ja,” Dietrich nodded, rolling his eyes, “it seems they needed to go shopping.”

“God only knows what they’ll find in town,” Tom replied, and the German nodded. “Avram and Judah?”

“Accompanying the investigator,” Cho said. “Tracking down the remaining people on your list, checking their connections.”

“David’s in school,” Tom nodded. “So Peter and Billy?”

“Promised not to leave the house,” Cho said.

Tom nodded thoughtfully, before pulling out his phone. Peter answered quickly. “Tom?”

“Just checking in…. You boys okay, need anything?” Tom asked.

“If someone can take us to pick up some videos for the evenings,” Peter said. “And Billy can’t just stay here. He has work and classes!”

“Shit, I didn’t think about that,” Tom said.

“And what about the Halloween Ball?” Peter asked.

“We need more people,” Tom said. “And we need them soon. Tell Billy I’ll escort him to and from his classes, or he can skip until we can get some help….”

“Skip?” Peter asked.

“Hush!” Tom laughed. “It pains me to say it!”

“So who is this Roger Marx?” Avram asked impatiently from the back seat.

“Nobody,” Roy said. “Mid-level banker, yet somehow, richer than sin….”

“So his job is just a cover then?” Judah asked.

“Exactly,” Roy said. “When a man rich enough money to live comfortably goes to work at a dull job that pays 70k a year, that interests me!”

“But there’s more?” Judah followed up.

“With these people there’s always more, it seems,” Roy nodded. “Roger Marx’s brother-in-law is a dirty cop in the county sheriff’s office.”

“How do you know he’s dirty?” Judah wondered.

“There’s a 67-foot clipper registered in his wife’s name docked in the Gulf of Mexico, and he’s never inherited any money. Wasn’t born to it either,” Roy said. “This guy is   tight with Hal Fuller, also on your list. When one of the attacks happens, our cop calls Hal up, and Hal calls his cousin, who’s the assistant chief of police in town!”

“So the local police are riddled with this,” Judah sighed.

“Police, city hall, city council, prosecutor’s office. It even penetrates some into state government,” Roy said. “Most of these guys have no clue what they’re connected with, it’s simple bribery and favors in kind. But this group has been working for years developing these contacts, and they’re rich and powerful.”

“So,” Avram began, “we’re going to … what?”

Roy squinted at the man in his rearview mirror and asked, “Are you as stand-up as my boy, the German?”

“At the very least,” Avram said with a cold and steady glance that convinced Roy.

“Every Wednesday, Roger Marx takes the afternoon off and checks into the Super8 on the edge of town under the brilliant cover of Mark Rogers…. Don’t know what we’ll find there, but I’m guessing Marx doesn’t want his wife to find out. She’d take him to the cleaners and, with three kids, she’d get what she wanted. She may not even know about the millions, so I’m hoping he’ll talk,” Roy explained.

“Unlikely,” Avram said. “The people he works for can threaten far worse. What do you intend to do in that eventuality?”

“Well, we’ll tie him up, and then I figure you fellows can do things to guys that don’t leave marks?” Roy said, with an icy intensity. Avram’s nod said they understood each other.

At around 4, David was ushered in the front door by Alexa, Misha following close behind with a cross look. “David,” she whispered, “he didn’t mean anything by it. My brother is stupid! Just … please don’t say anything to Tom?”

A very angry looking David glared at Misha and said, “You’re lucky I don’t know any magic. As angry as I am, I COULD PROBABLY HURT YOU!” Then he stormed off.

“Why do you say things like that?” she asked, rounding on her brother. “YOU KNOW HOW TOM FEELS!”

“I just suggested he might want to play,” Misha pouted.

AND HE SAID NO! RATHER POLITELY I MIGHT ADD!” Alexa whispered with the intensity of a yell. “What you said about David and Tom was absolutely out of line!”

“Well,” Misha pouted, “what else could it be?”

DAVID IS STRAIGHT? MAYBE JUST MAYBE? AND TOM LOVES HIM AND HE LOVES TOM? For fucks sake, Misha, there are bigger things right now and you just … what the hell is wrong with you?” Alexa demanded, losing her temper completely.

“I’m sorry,” Misha said, collapsing into a seat. “Sometimes, I … before I even realize what I’m saying, I….”

“It isn’t me you need to apologize to,” Alexa said.

Misha sat for a long time before grumpily trudging down the hall. “GO AWAY!” the boy yelled.

“Please,” Misha said, putting his hand on the door. “I’m sorry! I want to apologize!”

Misha heard the boy surlily approach the door and opened it. “Can I come in?”

David opened the door wider and made Misha walk past him. Misha sat at the desk, so David sat on the bed silently and waited. “David,” Misha said softly, “I’m … a selfish, arrogant, spoiled brat. I always get what I want, and when I don’t … I don’t handle it really well.” David looked at him expectantly so he continued. “Tom knew I had my eye on you, and I know I shouldn’t have pushed. I shouldn’t have blamed your disinterest on Tom.”

“Damn right you shouldn’t have,” David grumbled. “I can’t help it I’m straight….”

“We can’t all be perfect,” Misha teased gently, sensing the boy softening toward him.

“Misha,” David said, closing his eyes tightly, “you don’t know what we’ve been through! We were tortured for years. We were … violated by our brother and friends of our parents.”

“I’m so sorry,” Misha said, aghast.

But David didn’t open his eyes. Instead he shook his head and added, “What you said hurt … because when I get scared, when I feel like the world is crumbling around me, I go to Tom. I want to be as close to him as I can. I don’t know why, I just want to crawl into his arms and hide there! Maybe it’s something weird because of what happened to me, I don’t know. I’m not a shrink. But I do know it makes me feel safe, and you made it sound dirty.”

Misha was silent, and at last David opened his glistening eyes to find the young man crying silently. “I … I didn’t know.” Misha very tentatively put a hand on David’s shoulder and whispered, “David, I … I’d like to give you a hug!”

David nodded and felt the young man’s strong arms wrap around him chastely. Once he relaxed David teased, “Just keep it above the waist, pervert….”

Misha laughed and squeezed him tighter. “Thank you for confiding in….”

“What’s going on?” Tom demanded sharply.

David saw the fear in Misha’s eyes. “Nothing,” Misha gasped. “I was just … we were … I mean….”

“Tom, it’s okay,” David said, wrapping his arm around Misha. “I was just talking about my family and I was crying!”

Tom looked at Misha and said, “I’m sorry, then! I shouldn’t have assumed.” After an awkward moment, Tom said, “I’ll be in my office if you need anything. Carry on….”

David laughed and Tom, in a show of faith, closed the door behind him. Misha hugged David tight and said, “Thank you!”

“Why are you so afraid of him?” David asked.

Misha looked ashamed for a moment, but nodded. “Tom and I never really got along great. Cats and dogs, you know. And, you might have guessed, I’m the dog!”

“I’d kinda got that,” David teased.

“Well it always kinda sucked because Tom is so powerful! I know Avram wonders how he developed so fast, coming from a non-magical upbringing,” Misha said.

David almost corrected him, saying Tom had learned magic on his own as a kid, but clearly these people did not know that. Maybe only David did. The thought made him feel special.

“And as we developed, he grew exponentially more powerful. Eventually there was no keeping up. Don’t get me wrong, I can work a complex spell with the best of them, but Tom is in another class, maybe beyond Avram! Who knows how far he’s gone?” Misha added.

“But why are you so afraid of him?” David repeated.

“Because he knows how I like them, and I know how he feels about you,” Misha said. “If Tom ever took the notion, there would be nothing I could do. Avram looks after me like a favorite nephew. Tom would be judge and jury, and maybe executioner!”

“Well, control yourself, and there’s nothing to fear, then!” David teased, poking his ribs.

“I know,” Misha said. “But it’s hard….”

“Pervert,” David said with a laugh.

“That’s not what I meant, ingrate!” Misha laughed and ruffled his hair. “We okay?”

“Sure,” David nodded and smiled as the man left his room.

Upstairs, Tom was on the phone. “How did it go with Rachel last night?”

“She’s pissed, but she’s going,” Alasdair said. “She knows you’re right, Tom, but it’s hard for a proud witch to run away….”

“We’re short on help, more kids than we can protect. Any help you can offer?” Tom asked.

“My old master is sending some young, but well trained, wizards to help,” Alasdair answered. “They’ll make good bodyguards for the college boys. And they’re in New England, so they’ll arrive soon.”

“Fantastic,” Tom said. “Thanks!”

“Anything, anytime,” Alasdair said.

After they finished their conversation, Tom leaned back and let his mind wander a bit. He was so nearly overwhelmed. Avram and Judah would be great helps, but he still felt the weight of it on himself. Thinking about Peter and David, and Aiden, added so much pressure.

“You look fragile, Tom,” Father Tim said, leaning on the frame of the door in a white shirt and jeans.

Tom couldn’t help but laugh. “Father … you look like a normal guy.”

The man smiled. “As we all are beneath the collar! Now, are you feeling alright?”

“It’s like a train wreck, Tim,” Tom said with a deep sigh. “Every new thing is like one more car driving full speed into the chaotic mess in front of it, and I seem to be helpless to do anything but watch.” Tim nodded and Corman continued, “As we sit here trying to figure out what they’re doing, they are out there raising the demons they need.”

“You want to be proactive?” Tim asked.

“Exactly,” Tom replied.

“Well, you looked at all those cases. Which ones of them were demonic summonings and which ones were diversions? Send a few more home. Delay them!” Tim said.

“There were so many, and sorting it out would take so much time,” Tom replied.

“Then make a list and divide us into a couple of teams to search the scenes,” Father Tim said. “Let’s get out there!”

Tom thought for a moment, and picked up the phone. “Chief Pryce, please?” Tom asked.

“The chief is out of town,” the desk officer said. “Can I take a message?”

“No,” Tom said. “Wait, what about Jim Reynolds?”

“Officer Reynolds is here, let me transfer you,” the man reported.

“Reynolds,” the man answered a few moments later.

“Jim, it’s Tom!”

“Is Aiden okay?” the man asked.

“Fine,” Tom smiled. “I doubt they’ll be able to hold him beyond Sunday, the way he is!”

“That’s great!” Jim said. “Now what can I do for you?”

“I need a list of addresses, Jim,” Tom said. “Those cases I was going over….”

“The chief said those files are not to leave this building,” Jim warned.

“He didn’t say anything about a list of addresses though, did he?” Tom asked. “Listen Jim, this may help us catch these people, and whoever was behind Aiden getting shot!”

“Give me a bit. I’ll drop by your place on the way home,” Jim said.

“Thanks,” Tom replied.

“Just find them,” Jim said.

“Oh, I will,” Tom said darkly.