24 Ports in a Storm

For the people in Tom’s basement, the wait was tense. First of all there were too many people in the subterranean space. Second, there were difficult questions.

“What’s going on?” Sebastien asked, his voice trembling. He looked to David for reassurance, but the boy was holding Catherine and looked as scared as he was. So Sebastien flew to the gruff but kind Avram, who had befriended him.

Avram looked down at the small, somewhat effeminate teen, who stood expectantly, inches from him. Judah shot Avram an annoyed look and a nod that communicated to the man that he should do something. Avram realized what was expected and put a comforting hand on the boy, who instantly wrapped his arms around the man’s waist and buried his face in his chest.

Avram embraced the boy gingerly and whispered, “It’s okay!” As he felt the boy relax, Avram’s own tension subsided somewhat. “It’s going to be okay!”

THE BOY ASKED A QUESTION, AND I FOR ONE WOULD LIKE AN ANSWER!” Micky demanded, breaking the silence. “WHAT IS GOING ON HERE, AND WHO THE FUCK IS THAT?” he has asked, pointing to the prisoner.

“The answer to the first question,” Judah said, “is that our enemies are attacking us. And this man is one of them.”

“That’s vague,” Micky snarled, but his face darkened as he looked at the man in the chair. This man’s group had tried to kill his son, he realized instantly.

“Micky, the kids,” Doreen said, grabbing her husband’s arm.

“Rabbi, father, Roy,” Micky said with a sigh, motioning for them to follow. In a far corner, he whispered, “Someone better give me some answers. What’s happening out there, and where is Tom? And why did you kidnap that man?”

“Mr. O’Connel,” Judah said, “I wish you’d take, ‘Let us deal with this,’ as an answer!”

“No chance!” Micky answered.

Judah nodded. “This house is under demonic attack, and Tom Corman is outside defending us from something terrible.” The policeman glared at him and looked to the priest, who simply nodded. 

“Roy?” Micky asked.

“I saw it with my own eyes. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for Tom,” the former cop confirmed.

Micky, still full of doubt, swallowed that pill and asked, “And him?”

Roy said, “That’s Hal Fuller. He’s part of the group that’s been killing kids and desecrating churches. The German and me took him. The others, well, we couldn’t take the risk….”

Micky’s eyes widened and he nodded. “I don’t want to hear any more about that, Roy.” In case of trial Micky wanted no details. “Christ this is real?”

“Real enough I wasn’t willing to take risks,” Roy nodded, giving pragmatic weight to the words of the holy men.

“Someone’s gotta talk to those kids,” Micky said. “They can’t go blabbing about this!”

“We’ll need Tom for that,” Judah said.

“Assuming,” Micky began, but was silenced by a loud knocking at the basement door.

Everyone tensed until they heard Tom call, “It’s me!”

Micky went to unlock the door, but Roy called, “Stop! How do we know it’s him?”

“We don’t,” Judah said, looking to Avram. Avram questioned him about personal details until he was satisfied, and Micky opened the door.

“You can all come up. It’s over,” Tom said.

“You repelled it?” Judah asked.

“No, it wasn’t an attack. It was more of … a conversation,” Tom said cryptically.

“You had a conversation with the people who tried to kill my son?” Micky asked angrily as the others filed up the stairs.

“This was … another faction,” Tom said cagily, looking at the children. Catherine and Sebastien were less scared than he expected. “We need to get you two home now….”

“What’s going on?” Sebastien asked, running to Tom.

“We thought that the person outside was one of the people who hurt Aiden. We were wrong. It was someone with information,” Tom said, trying to soothe the boy and his sister.

“So why do you have a guy tied up in the basement?” Catherine asked.

Tom looked stumped by that question, but everyone was shocked when it was David who spoke. “He was one of the people who killed those children….”

“You recognized,” Tom began.

David nodded, and said, “I’d forgotten him. He was one of the people who hurt Peter and me. He’d cut me while he was … doing things to me.”

Peter nodded, and Billy squeezed his hand. “I used to bleed for days,” Peter said softly.

“We took him to get information,” Roy said, covering the truth for Billy and the children.

Tom had tears in his eyes, and he stormed through the door as the room fell silent. The sound of his angry footsteps descending to the basement sounded ominous.

“You should stop him,” Micky said to Avram and Judah.

Avram stood still as a board, and Judah answered, “I know.” No one moved.

Downstairs, Tom strode over to the captive man and hit him so hard his chair tipped over backward. Then Tom began kicking him in the ribs. At last Tom drew a knife, and just when Hal Fuller thought his life was over, he found himself free. Tom had cut his restraints.

“I can’t kill a prisoner!” Tom snarled. “NOW, STAND UP!” Hal just lay on the ground holding his ribs and rubbing his wrist.

“No,” the man said, afraid.

STAND UP!” Tom yelled, grabbing him and dragging him to his feet. “I WANT YOU TO FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE!”

The dark wizard’s eyes darted around and he realized that was his only chance, so he raised his hand, conjuring a dark curse. His eyes widened as Tom raised two fingers, pointing at his curse, and the green-glowing haze withdrew into his skin. Tom had forced it back inside him.

Then Tom opened his palm and pressed it outward toward the man, who flew backward against the wall, getting the breath knocked out of him. Tom felt a rush of power and a darkness swirling through his core. He’d never used his magic in anger before, had never sought intentionally to harm someone who wasn’t an immediate danger with his power. A sick pit formed in his belly as he held the man still. Hal wouldn’t be standing were it not for Tom’s power.

Tom dispensed with words as he wielded his power on pure anger and hate. Red and black clouds began swirling around him, drawing all the heat from the room. Tom was so lost in the magic that he never heard the door slam, never felt the presence that had joined him in the room, until a hand reached through the cloud of fetid power and grasped his shoulder like a divine hand.

TOM, STOP!” David yelled, crying. “Please, stop!”

HE DESERVES THIS!” Tom replied, though the swirling cloud’s intensity diminished.

“Yes, he does,” David answered, tears in his eyes. “But I need YOU, Tom. I don’t need this! This will change you!” David said, stepping into the cloud, “I love you!”

Tom dropped his hand, and his head hung against his chest as he turned to face David, lowering his head to the boy’s shoulder and beginning to cry. He heard Hal hit the ground as the boy began to comfort him. David’s sobs mixed with his own.

Moments passed and neither of them heard Hal stand, or realized he had raised a powerful curse, until he said, “Never, ever let your enemy live, and if you are stupid enough to do that, NEVER turn your back on him!”

Tom tensed up and turned so he was between David and Hal, preparing to take the curse for the boy. Instead a loud crack split the room and Hal Fuller fell to the ground, dead. Tom’s head snapped toward the stairs, where Micky stood holstering his pistol. “He’s right about turning your back, you know,” the man said with a wry look. “Come on.”

Micky led them upstairs and closed the door behind them, giving Roy a nod. David hugged Tom tight, and Peter came and hugged them both. No one knew what to say.

At last, it was Judah who said, “Tom, the children really should be taken home.”

Sebastien hurried to hug Tom and the brothers, and Catherine kissed her boyfriend. After the goodbyes were said, Shirit and Elise took the siblings out to the car and drove them home, reminding them to keep the evening’s events to themselves.

“I need a fuckin’ drink,” Micky demanded, Doreen at his side with her eyes wide. “And if all you honchos are here, who is watching my son?” he asked collapsing into a chair.

“What would you like?” Tom asked, tending to business first.

“A lot,” Micky said.

Tom nodded and grabbed a bottle of single-malt Scotch and poured him a triple, no ice. Handing the glass to the man, he said, “My friend Alasdair Franklin is in his room right now, until he is relieved.”

“Can he handle the job?” Micky asked.

Tom nodded and said, “As well as anyone here….” Micky nodded and sipped, and Tom turned his attention to Doreen. “Are you alright, Doreen?”

The woman shook her head and said, “No! No I’m not alright!”

“Doreen, I’m sorry but,” Tom began.

“It’s just overwhelming, Tom,” she said, beginning to cry.

Micky looked embarrassed and stood, putting his arm across his wife’s shoulder and whispering to her. Then he said, “I think we need to relax. We’ll see you all in the morning….”

A chorus of subdued ‘Good night’s’ ushered them out. When they were gone, Tom said, “We all need to talk. Billy, you’re an adult, so it’s up to you whether you want to hear the truth and be sworn to silence, or to simply go to your room,” he added matter-of-factly. “In the end, you’re in danger either way so it’s your call.”

“I’ll stay,” Billy answered, squeezing Peter. “Something weird is happening here, huh?”

“That,” Tom smiled grimly, “is the understatement of the millennium! Please,” he urged them all into the study. “Billy, you witnessed the beginning of a demonic visitation this evening.”

Father Tim’s eyes widened and showed confusion all at once. “A what?”

Tom sighed and said, “Some of you are familiar with the three stages of possession: infestation, obsession, and possession. The phenomena are rare, and possession is far rarer than infestation. But there are two other ways that the demonic manifest themselves in the world. If they are summoned with sufficient power they may manifest as demonic spirits, like the demons Malphas is raising. But demons may also utilize their latent angelic power: in the Bible you read about many angelic visitations, angels doing God’s bidding, bringing messages, etc. These angels appear to humankind in a projected form. Angels don’t have bodies, of course, and can’t be seen, per se. But they can make themselves seen, heard, and felt as necessary in a visitation. Tonight I was visited by an ‘angel.’”

Before Billy could argue, David asked, “What did you see?”

Billy shut up and Father Tim said, “I’ve never heard of a demonic visitation!”

“Of course you have,” Judah smiled at his younger colleague. “Surely you recall the appearance of the devil to your Jesus?”

“Oh,” Father Tim said. “I suppose I never thought about it like that: I didn’t think it could be literally true!”

“Well, I’d never have worked with you if you’d never doubted literalism,” Tom smiled. “Also don’t forget the very famous cases of Martin Luther and others, who faced apparitions of devils in many different forms, appealing or terrifying.”

“And who was it?” Avram asked darkly. “One of the big boys I presume?”

“Beelzebub,” Tom said. “He said that Malphas is trying to raise the demon sometimes known as the Bearded Demon, whose true identity is guarded from sorcerers. He says the Bearded Demon has its own identity and when it’s all put together we’ll understand.”

“What did he want?” Avram asked.

Tom stood silently for a moment before answering, “He wanted to offer his assistance.”

“What?” Judah asked, scrunching his face. “Surely it’s a trap?”

“I don’t think so,” Tom said, shaking his head. “Not at all. He seemed … afraid!”

“What could make Beelzebub offer to help the good side?” Father Tim asked.

“Not Malphas,” Tom said. “That much is for certain. But he didn’t come on his own initiative. Hell is afraid: Satan himself dispatched Beelzebub as his emissary.”

“I don’t suppose he’s going to tell us who this demon is, either?” Avram asked.

“He says it’s too dangerous, since his name would open the Azazel Codex. That magic is too dangerous, he’s quite right,” Tom said. “But he did offer to teach me dark magic, perhaps powerful enough to stop Malphas before it’s too late.” David looked at Tom with a question in his eyes, and Tom sighed. “No, sweet boy, I told him I could never use it….”

Avram nodded heavily but put his head in his hands. “What then?”

“He said to enjoy the weekend,” Tom said. “It would be our last….”

Roy was drinking alone in the library a few hours later, staring out the window, when he heard the crystal decanter disturbed. He looked over his shoulder and nodded at the young German. Dietrich walked over and stood a few feet behind him and to the left, looking out past Roy. “What we did doesn’t bother you?” Dietrich asked.

Roy’s shoulders heaved in a bitter laugh. “I’ve killed people in their bed before,” he said. “Special forces.” Dietrich nodded. “You?” Roy asked, giving the young German a look over. The quiet man had a gravity far beyond his apparent age. He had the soul of a weathered man, though he looked perhaps thirty-two.

“I was a trained assassin,” Dietrich said quietly. “I too have killed my country’s enemies.”

“So you’re not German?” Roy asked, taking a sip from his glass.

“I am German,” Dietrich nodded. “But my home is Israel.”

“Mossad,” Roy said.

Dietrich nodded and asked, “Why did you leave the police force?”

“I was tired of having my hands tied, seeing the bad guys walk, having no way to right old wrongs,” Roy said. “As a P.I. I don’t need a warrant. I can follow who I want, when I want. I can bend the rules and make life miserable for scumbags who deserve it!”

“I was discharged from service five years ago,” Dietrich said.

“Why?” Roy asked.

“Mental disturbance,” Dietrich said with a soft smile. “I was seeing things, or so we all thought at the time. That brought me to Avram! But I couldn’t have continued. On my last mission, I accidentally killed the two small children of my target. They weren’t supposed to be home….”

Roy looked at him with understanding and put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said simply.

Dietrich smiled and stepped a bit closer, leaning in ever so slightly. “Thank you,” he whispered, raising his hand to Roy’s rough, stubbly neck, caressing his throat.

Roy stood still, unsure of what was happening, but he felt drawn to the young man with the deep, gray eyes. “Dietrich,” he said softly. “I’m an old….”

Dietrich closed the inches and kissed Roy softly on the lips, letting it linger and hoping Roy would return it. He stood tensely until he felt the man’s tongue against his lips; as he opened to receive it, Dietrich melted into Roy’s arms.

“I’ve never kissed a man before,” Roy whispered as Dietrich rested his head on Roy’s shoulder.

“Have you ever wanted to?” Dietrich asked.

“Tonight,” Roy answered, lifting Dietrich’s face by his chin with a finger, stroking his smooth cheek, and initiating a second, longer, deeper kiss. “Think we can find some privacy?”

“The attic’s uninhabited,” Tom said, startling them. Dietrich jumped but Roy held him tight. “There’s a bed. Just grab some sheets and blankets in the linen closet.”

“Thanks,” Roy said, and Dietrich nodded shyly, averting his eyes upon seeing Tom’s smile. After the men hurried out, Tom saw to it that everyone was secure and had what they needed before donning his coat and letting Judah and Avram know he was going to the hospital.

Peter and Billy cuddled up in a dark room, but neither could sleep. “I’m so sorry,” Peter whispered.

“For what?” Billy asked.

“For this,” Peter said pathetically. “You’d be better off if we’d never met!”

“I … I understand how you might feel that way,” Billy said honestly. “But given the choice, I’d rather be here with you than blissfully ignorant.”

“Why?” Peter asked, almost whining.

“It sounds like, if things go wrong, being ignorant won’t help anyone. On the other hand, if I’d never met you, I’d be alone and unhappy,” Billy said. “And loveless.”

Peter looked into Billy’s eyes through the darkness. “You … love me?”

“Peter, you changed my life,” Billy said, his voice growing husky. “All for the better!”

“I love you, Billy,” Peter said, tears in his eyes.

“I love you, too, Peter,” Billy smiled, kissing a moist cheek.

“Billy, I … would you make love to me?” Peter whispered.

“I’m not going to do it just because the world is ending,” Billy laughed.

“No, because I’m ready. Right now,” Peter said seriously. “Now I know!”

Malphas stood in his secret circle, monitoring the success of his faithful servants. By Friday morning, they’d be only three short; by Halloween, they’d be ready. “The book,” he whispered to himself, and he could see Tom’s house. All was quiet. All the white-hats were accounted for: Tom was on his way to relieve Alasdair; Shirit and Elise were sitting in a car across from the Peabody residence; a team of young wizards from England was approaching rapidly from the north; and the remainder of Tom’s coven had hunkered down for the night.

Tom’s house was too well prepared for him to enter in his present demonic state, and the dark wizards at his disposal simply weren’t up to assaulting Tom and his people. The weak point was Tom’s friends and ‘family.’ Malphas could attack the hospital or take one of Tom’s close circle hostage; he could force a trade. But would Tom trade, or would it simply be more killing? Malphas was a fan of killing, but if he failed, he knew eventually Tom would be able to banish him back to the pit. That was one outcome Malphas simply could not allow. His brother demon lords would destroy him and then restore him just to have the pleasure of destroying him again.

Tom understood what was at stake, and his own limitations. No, there had to be another way, Malphas decided, and began to consider his possibilities.

Tom arrived at the hospital and found Alasdair speaking with Chief Pryce in the waiting area. “I need to speak with you,” Tom said as he approached. “I thought you were away?”

“I was,” Pryce said, “but I got called back from my vacation. Assistant Chief Fuller has disappeared and he was covering me….”

“Well, that’s what I want to talk about. I believe Brian, and his brother Hal, are part of the cult,” Tom said. Alasdair stepped back and watched the man carefully.

“Impossible,” Pryce declared. “Brian would never!”

“I believe he’s one of only a handful who could tell us who the leader is,” Tom said.

“You don’t have any leads?” Pryce asked, his eyes arching and the corner of his mouth flickering strangely. “Well, if Brian shows up, we’ll surely talk to him, but I still can’t….”

Alasdair was muttering under his breath, unseen until the last minute. Pryce looked at him and his eyes widened. “YOU!” Pryce snarled.

Alasdair raised his hand, shooting out ropes of white light. Tom was confused until he saw Pryce counter-attack. Suddenly it clicked: Chief Pryce was the cult leader. Tom’s anger instantly bubbled up again and electricity crackled between his fingers.

Pryce, however, immediately realized he couldn’t take both wizards at once and created a sudden cloud. By the time it cleared, he was gone.

GOD DAMN IT!” Tom yelled angrily. “How could I have been so stupid?”

“Tom!” Alasdair hushed him. “No one could have suspected. He brought you in on the case for God’s sake!”

Tom shook his head and said, “I’m going to kill him.”

“We have more immediate concerns,” Alasdair said. “Reinforcements are on the way.”

“It’s not enough. Nothing is enough,” Tom said, collapsing into a chair. Alasdair sat down and listened as Tom passed along all the information he’d received from the demons.

“So what do we do, Tom?” Alasdair asked.

“We have to keep the book away from them,” Tom said. “It’s all we can do.”

“We can’t turn your block into an armed camp forever, Tom,” Alasdair said.

“Apparently, Halloween is important. The veil has to be very low for the spell to work. If we can hold them off until then,” Tom said.

Then what?” Alasdair asked.

I DON’T KNOW!” Tom yelled, putting his head in his hand. “I just don’t know! But it will give us another year to banish Malphas and that’s what we’ve got to do!”

Alasdair put his hand on Tom’s and said, “Go lay down with him and have a rest. We’ll figure it out together.”

Tom nodded and trudged to Aiden’s room. “Tom?” a weak voice asked.

“It’s me,” Tom whispered. “Go back to sleep sweetheart.”

“Is everything alright?” Aiden asked, hearing something in Tom’s voice. Aiden did his best to embrace Tom as the man could not answer him; all Aiden felt was Tom trembling and heaving against him, and the man’s tears on his shoulder.

Shirit and Elise watched the Peabody house in silence until the wee hours of the morning. Shirit was dozing when she felt Elise squeeze her hand. “It’s almost morning, dearest,” Elise said.

Shirit squeezed back and smiled. “Almost morning….”

“How does this all end?” Elise asked, trying to sound less nervous than she was.

“You mean presuming Malphas’s demon isn’t raised?” Shirit asked. “We have a long and bloody battle in front of us to destroy this cult and banish one of hell’s most powerful regents. The summoning of a demon prince in his own form hasn’t occurred in many centuries. If Tom, Judah, Avram, and Alasdair aren’t powerful enough, with our help, we’ve only postponed the inevitable.”

“What if Malphas succeeds?” Elise asked.

“When the children are at school, we should do something nice before we turn in,” Shirit said. She wasn’t avoiding the question: it was her answer.

Judah was up when Father Tim entered the kitchen in the morning in his cassock. The priest poured himself a coffee and sat next to the rabbi, smiling grimly. “I need to get to my church this morning for an early mass. I was hoping for some company.”

“Protection?” Judah smiled. “Right you are! No one should leave alone.”

“Tom isn’t afraid,” Tim said, averting his eyes.

“Tom is terribly afraid,” Judah said, “and he bears the weight of leading us. Such a young man!”

“Why him?” Tim asked.

“Why any of us?” Judah asked. “Why any great hero? The threat presents itself, and the hero rises!”

“But you could,” Tim began.

“No, I couldn’t,” Judah said. “I’m not strong enough!” Seeing the priest’s face, he quickly added, “Not magically, Tim. Either Avram or I could take the lead in this endeavor, but neither of us is as strong as Tom in the way that matters.”

“I don’t understand,” Tim said.

“You will,” Judah responded with a confident smile. “Now let’s see if we can find Dietrich! He can accompany you to….”

“I’ll do it,” Cho said, stretching. “Dietrich is … somewhere, with someone.”

“Is that a hint of jealousy?” Avram asked, smacking the man on his shoulder.

“He’s hot,” Cho shrugged. “Plenty of fish in the sea, I guess!”

Avram laughed and said, “First sign of trouble, call for backup And leave the priest alone: don’t take out your frustration on him!” Avram’s last comment made Cho smile and Tim blush deeply. Tim could no longer meet Cho’s eyes, but he allowed the man to transport him to church. Even at the altar, Cho would catch Tim’s eye and the blush would renew itself.

Soon, Shirit and Elise arrived back at Tom’s for some much needed rest. Before running upstairs, Shirit reported to her brother, “The kids are all safe in school now. Perhaps a few of you want to watch the place today, just in case?”

“I’ve tested the defenses,” Avram said. “I don’t think it’s necessary. Alasdair can call if there’s trouble.” Shirit nodded and began to climb the stairs. “The chief of police is the head of the cult,” Avram added, sending a chill up her back. The fight could get bloodier than she feared.

“Wake us at three?” she asked and he nodded.

Avram returned to Judah, who asked, “Shouldn’t we go to the school?”

“Alasdair’s colleagues just arrived. The place is crawling with well-trained mages,” Avram said.

“You don’t like him, do you?” Judah asked.

“I do, I do! I just used to be a little jealous of him,” Avram admitted. Then he put his hand on Judah’s and said, “No need for that anymore!”

Sebastien was on his way to class when a uniformed police officer asked, “Sebastien Peabody?”

“Yyyyyes,” the boy stuttered nervously.

“I need you to come with me,” the young officer said. He was handsome, and that was the only reason Sebastien hadn’t passed out from nerves yet.

“I … I … why?” Sebastien asked.

“A boy fitting your description was seen vandalizing a store, and we just need,” the officer began.

“I’ve never done anything like that,” Sebastien interrupted him in terror.

“We have fingerprints,” the young officer said, putting a hand on his shoulder. “If you didn’t do it, we can prove that pretty easily.”

Sebastien smiled and said, “I should tell my teacher!”

“I’ve already notified the office. Don’t worry, I’ll bring you back with a note!” the officer promised, his smile entrancing to Sebastien, whose eyes occasionally cut to the man’s impressive bulge. The boy blushed when he realized the smiling cop had seen him lick his lips. The man stepped in close and Sebastien could feel the heat. “You’re cute!”

Sebastien’s smile was luminous, despite the blush of embarrassment. He let the cop lead him down the hall and out the door. His car was waiting, and he let Sebastien sit in the front seat. Then they sat for a bit, the young officer just chatting with him, which flattered the boy. What he didn’t realize was that they were parked just outside of David’s morning class.

David was at his desk when his cell phone vibrated. He pulled it out and read, “Look outside.” Craning his neck, David could see the cop car, but it took him a moment to recognize the boy. When he did, there was a moment of shock, and then understanding. A second message told him, “Don’t say anything to anyone or the boy dies.”