Holiday

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Just Old Al
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Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

There is a story behind this story.

A month or two ago the usual suspects and I were chatting, and I made the remark that Al gets himself in a depressing amount of trouble. The why was the question - and I made a random remark about a demented leather pixie sitting on his shoulder urging him on.

At the same time, an idea for a story for Al had been percolating in my subconscious - he really needed a holiday. Between battles, businesses and the stresses of home repair and construction not to mention learning how to have a family the old gent's about to have a permanent meltdown.

This story I'd planned to write solo - just to prove to myself I could carry that literary ball.

So, here it is - however not as I'd planned. My co-author, Dinky, was invaulable in dealing with the magical world and the characters involved therein - especially Ialin. She turned what would have been a boring travelouge with interesting additions into a fun story - with much more depth than it would have had otherwise

Thanks to the other usual suspects - Sarge, Glytch, and JWH for their characterizations and dialogue additions/supervision.

Lastly, this story is complete to the last word (over 65,000 of them!) - anyone who has to have it NOW can PM me for a link - but I'm going to be mean otherwise and not release it till I'm done.

Lastly, if you have any comments please put them in the COMMENTS thread - not here. i'm trying to keep this readable.

Just Old Al.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

PART ONE:
1 - A Situation


The world was closing in – and Al was damned if he was going to let it. Ten days was left until the expiration of the ultimatum given him by his dam – and he’d need every minute of it to get things ready for his absence.

Reports to customers for both the front and back shops, arrangement of tasks requiring his supervision, placating customers, arranging backup for Ari and the mechanics of needed, covering the MIB commitment…there were not enough hours left between now and his departure to accomplish all he felt was needed.

In trying to accomplish things, he was driving himself harder – and his staff as well. Ari had taken to avoiding him, spending as much time as possible on the engineering floor. The mechanics absorbed themselves in tasks whenever he left his office…and morale was going to Hades in a handbasket.

Even the circle of family was noticing, and the situation was not taken well. Greg had taken to avoiding the shop unless Al was busy, and this added to the stress as neither had someone to argue with and break the cycle of tension.

Through all of this, Glytch kept a very careful, and almost absolute, silence. Al was reminding Glytch very much of his father... And Glytch wouldn't dare voice that opinion. To him, saying someone was behaving like his father was the highest insult.

Al dove into the pile of paper on his desk, trying to sort one more item before he went home though it was again well past his normal leaving time.

In a phone call earlier that day, his majordomo had sought relief from his spouse - to no avail.

”Mrs. Alexander, he’s impossible. As far as he’s acting no one will be able to do anything at all without him – and frankly it’s just not true. Things are set now and have been for a week – he could leave today and we’d be fine without him – and I wish he would!” Ari was beside herself, both at Al’s obsessive pathology, and at the affront to her personal standards.

“THIS, young lady, is exactly why I threatened him with gunfire to get him to take a vacation. He is driving us all nuts.” Daisy agreed unreservedly with the angel – this was just getting to be too hard to deal with.

“To tell you how bad it is, he hasn’t been into town for coffee in two weeks! WEEKS! He won’t even stop and argue with Greg – he’s head-down at his desk and in the back labs, making sure everything is perfect. What does he think I am – an idiot?”

“No, it isn’t you. He’s never left his business running when he’s gone away – he’s always arranged to just shut down whenever he’s gone anywhere – not like he did all that much of that even before. It’s his personality – and it’s damned annoying.”

The phone rang on Al’s desk – his personal number.

“Al Richer”

“If you are not in your car in the next 5 minutes and headed home for dinner – LATE dinner, I might add, that bullet is going to be headed in your direction. Maxi-14. Remember?” Daisy’s growl was that of a wolf alpha disciplining a cub…and Al completely ignored it.

"I'll be there when I get there - I have several sets of instructions to finish tonight and other things after that. Go ahead and eat - I'll grab something here in the AHI cafeteria and be along when I can."
Frustrated, Daisy hung up - and vowed revenge if this continued.

Hanging up the phone, Al rested his eyes on the heels of his palms. This was harder work than just working - and he realized he was wrong...and didn't see a way out of it other than plowing through.

He was just so damned tired....


*crack!*

The report of the bullwhip echoed loudly in the office.

Al was suddenly made aware of a tiny presence on his desk...as it bellowed in perfect mimicry of a drill instructor.

"Al! AL! SERGEANT-MAJOR RICHER FRONT AND CENTER!"

It was tiny, female, dressed in a very vampy (it even had the high cape collar), low cut leather mini dress (despite trying valiantly to avoid it, he could see her bra and ample cleavage) adorned with many tiny belts woven in a sort of pattern.
Black and lurid violet striped fishnet stockings (one of which was torn on the left knee) stuck in tall, black lace up boots, with a very thick tread...steel toes if he were to wager a guess. Very practical.
Her pointed ears stuck out of a messy bun holding a shock of black, blue, and lurid violet hair...held in place by what looked like mini hidden daggers, and a violet headband.
Even her wings were a shock of black, blue, and violet, like a violently crafted stained glass window designed by Tim Burton.

"Wuhhhh?" Al said with a start, "Who, and/or what are you, young lady?"

"I'm original, unique...very hard to define or explain away.
I am Ialin, your common sense's worst nightmare... wait, you think I'm a Lady?" She giggled, blushing.

"Oh, I'm going to absolutely adore you."

Al starts again - and realizes he dozed off at his desk.

"What a dream...best not mention it...ever."

At home that night, he sat at his desk. He could organize his thoughts here, then just follow through in the morning. Daisy had been quite frosty when he got home, and this took some getting used to. However, needs must, and somehow he needed to plow though and get things set up.

Reporting, check. Materials sources and pre-shipments...that was going to need attention. Component stocks for the remanufacturing setup...that needed help too...

Damn, it was late....

"Hey Stoopid! Listen!" Ialin was floating above his head, and Al tried desperately to not see under her dress (not that there was much left to see).

Al said with a violent start, "Bloody hell, young lady, you nearly scared the life out of me!"

"This working yourself ragged is working sooo well for you, isn't it? You're not making any friends here, hotshot.” She stared down at him, disgustedly.

"You really should let them do their jobs, yanno. Isn't that why you trained your Majordomo in the first place?" she sneered, thwacking him on the nose with a tiny tube of rolled-up blueprints.

"Is there a point to all this?" replied Al, nettled.

"That's up to you, Goldeneye." smirked the pixie.

"Not again," he groaned, jerking upright. The hour was late, and he’d dozed off at his desk, with the accompanying crick in his neck to prove it.

“Off to bed for me…this is entirely too much. Pixies, now. The nightmares are bad enough, but hallucinations…no. Time for bed.”

The next morning Daisy came down to breakfast to find Al still at table, reading the “Paranormal Press” on his tablet. She was surprised – of late he’d been gone from the house every day long before she rose, and back late at night despite her threats.

She came up behind him, bent to hug him and collected a kiss. Heading for the coffee pot, she asked “I’m surprised, love – thought things were still hot and heavy at Building 2 trying to get ready. Thrilled to see you slowing down a little, though.”

“Can I ask you a question, dear?” The phrasing on this put Daisy somewhat on her guard – it had his “I have a problem” tone to it, and that never boded well in her estimation.

“Sure, dear – ask away.”

“Have you ever seen a pixie? Other than in a story book or some such?”

“No, can’t say I have. Why?” Now she was concerned. Hallucinations?
“No reason. I dozed off at my desk last night and had the strangest dream. A pixie was berating me for overworking, and not trusting my staff. She hit me with a blueprint, of all things…”

“First off, the way you’re overworking I’m surprised you’re not seeing Sphinxes in lingerie and stiletto heels, never mind just a pixie. Secondly, the pixie was talking sense, wherever it came from.

Third, I had nothing to do with it.”

“She said her name was Ialin…she wore a leather dress..black and blue and purple…boots and stockings…purple underwear…don’t ask me how I know, it’s embarrassing.”

“Wow. You have one helluvan imagination. Describe the boots.”

“Black knee high, lace-up, with thick soles. Looked like work wear – steel toes.”

“Wow.”

“She called me Goldeneye – there’s no one outside the family that knows that – even your friends at “Paranormal Press” haven’t got hold of that even though this family is their media darling.”

Al was silent for a moment, then came to a decision.

“I need to go to 2 – going to spend an hour or two with Wing going over things, then I’m coming home. Clara needs to be prepped and loaded, and my time is getting short. I have to let Wing do her job – she knows more of what’s going on than I do.”

Daisy was very concerned. This was a complete course reversal from where he was yesterday. “I hate to ask this, but are you feeling all right? This is an about-face – and you never do those. Indecisive, you call them.”

“I need to get a good night’s sleep and maybe an afternoon nap. This pixie thing has me a little concerned.”

Back before lunch, Al enjoyed a sandwich and soup with his wife and Rosalita, then clad in coveralls and his LR cap headed for the garage.

Clara was there – and every time he saw her back in her livery it just lifted his spirits. Now in prime condition, they were going to take a good long trip together.

He opened the back. The camping equipment had been refitted – the bunk to the right, and a cabinet with a cooker, Peltier fridge, sink and storage to the left. The storage lockers contained camping gear and supplies, and the dual batteries for light and auxiliary power were in place with their special charging systems.

Warm, bright and homey…down to the tea towels from home in the washing-up box.

Slowly and methodically he checked the contents against his checklists. Tanks, full. Pumps for water manual and electric – working. Cold box – working. Cooker - Working. Dishes, cookware, teapot…all present.

The vinyl-clad bunk looked inviting even without a pillow and bedding, and he stretched out on it – just to test it out, you understand…

“Al! AL! Look at me!”


Sighing to himself, Al opened his eyes, and saw Ialin, fluttering just out of reach of a good smack against the bulkhead. As had become typical, Al ended up averting his eyes to avoid the utter lack of modesty his little assailant seemed to have.

“Naughty, naughty! No playing “Whack The Pixie”!

“What is it with you and the leather wear, anyway? This is just not what I expect.”

Thoroughly bemused, Al grumbled “Wear what you like. Go naked, for all I care. I must be going insane – every time I doze off you show up and start talking to me. Why in the dark and cold are you here, anyway?”

With that statement, Ialin settled to the countertop, and with a few hand movements her outfit changed – as did her demeanor.

"Oh, thank the Gods Al! I don't mind playing the slinky Dom for witless worms, but you're...you're not really the type. It's too vanilla, n'est ce pas?"

"Naked? Really?" She wriggled her nose at him,
"You only half wish that, but refrain from completing the thought, because A, you are a gentleman through and through, and B, yer Dam will eviscerate you with a rusty spork once you tell her about it...and I know you would."

Ialin was in a cozy jumper(no doubt made of natural fibres), patterned like a soft forest, paired with loose fitting dark brown trousers, and steel toed work boots(she apparently had a thing for practical footwear).

Her hair and wings were still that strange combination of black, blue, and lurid violet, but softer and more relaxed, as her hair was pulled back into a neat, practical ponytail, and her wings weren't garishly backlit. She sat on the sink edge, playfully swinging her legs.

"Go away!" He grumbled, anticipating her response.

"Can't. You apparently still need me. But you've made a remarkable adjustment rather quickly. I'm proud of you. You're less a shambles than earlier. Maybe we'll have some tea and biscuits. Later old Chappie!"

She smiled softly at him and waved...

Al started, nearly falling out of the bunk. “All right, then, afternoon naps are right out. Whoever or whatever she is she doesn’t seem to show up if I’m in bed properly asleep, so regulating my sleep cycles seems to be in order.”

“And I really have to stop talking to myself.” This was replied to by a tinkling laughter, tiny and far away, that for some reason filled Al with a sense of incipient doom.

Finishing his tasks he closed up the back of the ambulance and headed back for the house. Clara was in decent condition, and with the addition of perishables, staple supplies in sealed containers and his baggage was essentially ready to go.


Suitably chastened, Al settled into a routine. Early to bed, late to rise, a good breakfast, then off to the plant for a few hours of consultation on present issues over coffee and biscuits. Returning to lunch with his wife and the cook/household source of information (joining them in the routine they’d observed for years) he spent the afternoon packing his equipment and doing any jobs that were needed on his traveling kit.

Morale at Building 2 and the Alexander spread improved immeasurably now that he was not acting like a hang-fire grenade, he noticed. Disgusted with himself, he made an effort to relax, vowing that he was going to stop being a twitchy old fool.

One day, then two, then three counted down, and with them Al’s blood pressure. After lunch Daisy came over to where he’d settled, a shy smile on her face.

“Feel like an afternoon nap, dear?”

“Perhaps not, love…” he said, worrying about the pixie, till he caught the shy smile and twinkle of anticipation in her eyes. “Then again perhaps so, lovely idea…”

An hour later, stretched out in the cool darkness of their room, Al heard the voice again.

Al. AL! HELLOOOOOOO! Earth To Grumpy!

Startled and utterly annoyed, Al looked up to see a pixie again just out of swatting range. Pulling the sheet up to modesty level on his dam and checking his own coverage, he looked up infinitely annoyed.

“Is this going to become a feature in my life from now on? A man tries to have a postprandial nap and he finds himself visited by winged pests?”

“ ‘Postprandial nap?’ Is that what they’re calling getting your bones rolled nowadays?” Al blushed, and tried to think of a dignified response. Failing utterly, he asked, “Look, exactly what is it you want from me? Last we met you said you couldn’t go away yet. What will release you from annoying me?”

“Oh, now don’t be like that.” She settled to the bedpost and squatted on the rounded end like a butterfly on a mushroom, looking delightful in her grace.

“Simple. Someone has decided – names I will not mention – that you need to be reminded how to relax and live a normal life.”

Her mien grew more serious, and she fluttered down to the coverlet, her wings waving butterfly-like behind her.

“Ever since you got your life blown out from under you you’ve been working – and working hard. You’re shell shocked – and you’ve forgotten how to have live any other way. Things other people are doing are making it worse, and you’re making it worse yourself by trying to do everything and satisfy everyone – your customers, your family, and the rest. You’re hurting her, too – she needs you to learn to be you again.

You need to be reminded how to be a kid again – and this vacation is when it’s going to happen. I wouldn’t have popped up before, but you showed such serious signs of screwing it up that a head-whack was in order.”

Al considered her words – not an easy thing to do when one is staring down a pixie when clad in a sheet and dignity – and both are slipping.

Decisive as always, Al said “OK, we’ll try it your way. Can I see you without being asleep, or is this your method of communication?”

She giggled, delighted in his acceptance. “Let’s leave it as is for the moment. We’ll see where it ends up. I’ll let you go back to your ‘Postprandial nap’ now…someone’s waking up.” She snickered evilly, and Al sat up in bed.

“ ’Samatter honey?” he heard slurred from the other side of the bed, and answered “Nothing…nothing at all.” And settled back down into the warm embrace of his dam.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Fri May 06, 2016 1:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

2 - Read The Fine Manual

Glytch stood in his kitchen, one fist pressed against the counter and his right hand cradled against him as he stared at the remnants of his dinner, mulling over the situation with Al.
Well, I've heard he's stopped putting work before family. Good. Crusty bastard is still pissed to high hell at me. I don't like it. No... I won't apologize for what I did. But I can't stand having him pissed at me... It's gonna turn toxic for everyone else if we don't get this figured out. I am sorry I hurt him...

Well. I gotta do something. He's about to go off to who-knows-where, and I'm not gonna disturb him by VORPing into the middle of his vacation. Daisy might actually shoot me in the ass for that.


Glytch breathed a deep sigh, as a slight grin began to twist the corners of his mouth. I gotta start somewhere... Give him an olive branch. Something to at the very least make the first step. Nothing like gifts to improve someone's opinion of you, eh?

Glytch picked up his plate and tossed the scraps into the "compostables" bin, leaned back against the counter, and closed his eyes. What the hell kind of gift do I give to him? Something about tea? No, that's obvious, short-lived, and nothing special. Gift certificates are out too. Cash is useless. He's about to go on vacation... A much-needed one. How can I make it better... Or ensure it doesn't go sour on him?

Threads of thought suddenly burst forth in his mind, and Glytch couldn't help but smile at the familiar and well-missed feeling as he was suddenly flooded with ideas. "Oh, that's better..."

TICKETS.

Glytch's eyes snapped open, and his somewhat docile smile twisted into the crazed grin everybody knew, loved, and despaired at the sight of. "A 'Do Not Interfere' flag on Clara's plates oughta do the trick." With a dangerous chuckle, Glytch headed for his laptop and got to work.

"Arright Larry, I need a favor from you." Glytch had run into some difficulties trying to get Al's plate flagged from the comfort of his own home. A single glance at the security protocols around MIB's traffic division was enough to convince Glytch to look for another way to get the job done... Which involved bothering a cubicle worker named Larry the next morning.

"...Mister GlytchMeister? What are you doing down in the cube farm?"

Glytch smirked and shook his head. "I'm too disreputable to be a Mister. Just Glytch. And I need you to flag a license plate for me."

"...ok. I can pull that off. Who do you need pulled over?"

"Actually, I need someone to hang a sock on their door. I don't want them being disturbed by anyone. Local cops, state patrol, U.S. Marshalls, FBI, MIB... If they have a badge, I want them off this guy's tail."


Larry ran a hand through his hair, eyes wide. "Damn. That's a lot harder. Why don't you just send out a memo?"


"When was the last time you read a memo about a license plate?" Glytch crossed his arms and leaned back on his heels.


"Yeah, alright. Good point. What the hell is up with this vehicle? Twitchy cargo?"


"The man driving it is on holiday. If his holiday doesn't go well, his family and friends stand to lose a lot. And whoever is responsible might just have to convince a seven-foot-tall Felinoid, two half-elves, two mages, a Salamander who can burn the universe, a former sergeant with enough medals to decorate the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and Mrs. Alexander-Richer to NOT obliterate them."
Larry lost five shades of red and gained two shades of green, and began to visibly sweat.


"I'd do it myself, but I'd first have to familiarize myself with the MIB traffic division's software and security protocols, which are heavily protected due to how important this division is to a FireSale hack, and I don't have that kind of time. So I'm offering you a box of doughnuts in exchange for a favor." Glytch held out his hand and caught said box of sweet doughy goodness as it VORPed in. "Might settle your stomach, too." Glytch gave Larry a lopsided smile.


Larry took a deep breath and nodded before turning back to his computer. "What's the number?"


Glytch held out his phone, displaying a picture of the plate in question.


"Ok..." Larry pulled up the plate and began to select the various flags and warnings to display to anyone who ran the plate. When he tried to save the changes, however, an admin password was required. "Uh..."


"I don't suppose you're an admin, are you?"


"No. And Cally won't authorize this just for a vacation."


Glytch growled. "Fine, move over, let me see if I can get it past."


Larry stood and Glytch replaced him. "Why don't you just ask someone higher up?"


"Ya ever heard of this stuff called 'Red Tape?' It's sticky and slows everything down." Glytch grumbled. "MIB isn't the worst, but every organization like this has oodles of red tape." Glytch opened up several windows and inserted one of the USB drives on his key ring. "One of those programs might extract the password.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to find the scenic route."


"The scenic route?"

"They don't call me GlytchMeister for nothin’. Lots of programs have roundabout ways of navigating that lead to places that are supposed to be locked. Kinda like how the camera on iPhones was a while back. The interstate might have a roadblock, but the backroads probably don't."


Glytch ran a scan on the program and pulled up what appeared to be a fractal spiderweb. "Yikes. That's a mess."


"What is that?"


"It's the entire MIB traffic division's computer network. Every program, every computer. The whole shebang. Here's where I need your help. You know the system. Teach me how to read this map by doing your job while I watch."

Glytch watched the map and Larry's program as Larry navigated and performed actions, occasionally telling Larry to try to perform various actions. Whenever he tried something that was locked, Glytch noted that area flashed briefly as it rebuked Larry. Every flash was marked and highlighted. Eventually, the marks began to add up, revealing a cohesive zone that Larry wasn't allowed into. Glytch pointed his programs at the security wall surrounding that zone, forming a crawler swarm that worked to find a hole somewhere in the protocol. A few minutes after he sent out the swarm, however, both Glytch and Larry got text messages demanding they report to Billens' office.


"Oh no... Oh no oh no-"


"Relaaaax. I'll take the heat. Ok? Here," Glytch pulled up the password window and typed in his own MIB password, getting a rejection in return. Then he deactivated his various programs and deleted his crawler swarm before pulling out his USB drive. "There. It's all on me."

Glytch and Larry made their way to Billens' office; Glytch's gait spoke of confidence and calm... Larry was a nervous wreck.

Once they were in the elevator, Glytch peered at Larry from under his hood, calculating what to say. "Hey,"

Larry started and turned sharply to Glytch.

"Listen. Everything you did was because I told you to. Ok? Billens won't be mad at you, and I'm not gonna be mad at you either. Billens is probably gonna be moderately annoyed with me, and I can handle that no problem. Easy-peasy."

Larry nodded as his movements began to smooth out. The elevator dinged and the two stepped out into the hallway.

Glytch pressed on. "So just take some deep breaths, shake out the jitters, and you'll be fine."

By the time they reached Billens' office, Larry was almost back to normal.

Glytch knocked.

"Come in."

They entered to find Billens sitting behind a mahogany desk, arms crossed and his face a perfect picture of annoyance.

Must've been working on that expression for a few minutes to get it right. Glytch flashed a roguish smile. "Aw, don't make faces like that. It'll stick that way!"

"Glytch, I know you hack us on a regular basis, but usually you have the decency to do it from your own computers."

Glytch made a show of hanging his head. "Yeah, not my finest work there. Rush job, y'know."

"No. I don't." Billens' expression did not soften as expected.

"...ah. So that's why you actually seem annoyed. You actually don't know what's going on." Glytch quickly recalibrated his approach, shifting to a more serious tone.

"Enlighten me."

"Ahem. So, Al and I are... Well, we hit a little snafu. I would've done this myself, but I don't have the time to hack, crack, and glitch my way through the security, so I tried to take a shortcut." Glytch leaned toward Larry. "Important lesson there, by the way. Shortcuts tend to be a tiny bit more risky."

"What were you trying to do in the first place?"

"Well, he's going off on a long vacation in Clara, and I was gonna try and give him an olive branch by flagging his plates with warnings and "do not disturb" orders, to keep cops and such off his back while he drives around."

Billens hunched over, pinching the bridge of his nose as he took a deep breath. "Ok... And what about you, Larry?"

Glytch jumped in. "Remember that time I built the first DEMP?"

Billens rolled his eyes. "Yes... You've really got to stop doing that. I don't know how you do it, but it causes all sorts of problems."

Glytch shrugged, smirking a little. "He was just doing what I said. I think I outrank him, so..."

"Alright, Glytch, you've made your point. Larry?"

"Yes sir?"

"Stop listening to Glytch."

"Y-yes sir."

"Alright. Get back to work."

Larry nodded and made for the door. As he left, Glytch stage-whispered after him. "I told you it would be fine!"

Billens leveled an intense stare at Glych. "For him, perhaps, but I'm not done with you." The agent pulled out his phone and began to look for Al's phone number.

"Ah, sir? With all due respect, calling Al here might not be in his best interest-"

"You'll VORP him here, to make things easier on him."

Glytch groaned inwardly. "Eh... With me still in the room?"

Billens made no reply, as his phone was already attempting to call Al.

Billens' phone burred, then Al answered.

"Al Richer"

"Mr. Richer - this is Billens at MIB. I need you here to discuss a situation that has just come up in my offices - involving an issue with Glytch."

"First off, Billens, you know damn well not to call me that - I work for a living. Secondly, whatever you choose to do to your employees is your problem - especially that one." Al was thoroughly peeved, both at the interruption, and at the mention of Glytch. That wound had not scarred over yet.

"Nonetheless, I need you here. I can have you transported here - can you spare twenty minutes?"

"As you wish - I can spare the time for a good customer...fire when ready." Billens nodded to Glytch, who with a few swipes of his phone located the old man and engaged transport.

*VORP*

Al appeared, holding his coffee cup. He nodded at Billens and asked conversationally, "So what is so important you need to interrupt my morning?”

To Glytch he gave no sign of acknowledging his existence.

Al continued, sipping from his cup. "So, Mr. Billens, what is it you need?"

"This morning, Glytch set off every security protocol in the place - and he did it trying to put a flag on your ambulance's license plates."

"Oh, dear. Sloppy."

"That is beside the point. Did you or did you not request that this be done?"

"No, I did not. Hardly - it would never have occurred to me. Mind if I ask a question?"

"No, please do."

Al turned to Glytch and said one word - "Why?"

"Holiday."

The brief answer disconcerted the old engineer. "Please elaborate." was his next question.

"Simple. Three purposes.

One, you are going off in an odd vehicle - this attracts attention from law enforcement. Deflecting that would make your holiday better.

Two, lowering your potential exposure and stress level benefits everyone including MIB. The happier and more relaxed you are the more effective and brilliant you are.

Three - it was a serious attempt at making up for some of the stress I had to put you though with the questions I asked."

Glytch stated all of these matter-of-factly, though Al heard the heartfelt sadness and regret behind the third. “Do you honestly mean what you just said?” Al asked, blank-faced.

“Yes, I do. I wish there had been any way to find out what I needed to know – and I’m sorry you had to answer for my…issues with my father. This is why I was trying to help.”

"Indeed. We will discuss this in greater detail later…however that answer will suit me for the present."

Turning back to the increasing case of irritation behind the desk, Al said "Seems to me, Mr. Billens, I was wrong. I do remember requesting this. Call it a mistake by a doddering old man."

"Then why in Hades didn't you do it through channels?"

"Channels? There are channels for this?" Glytch was truly puzzled. it hadn’t occurred to him that there was a right way to do this.

Billens stood up from his chair, face reddening a trifle. "Didn't ANY of you read the contractor status sections of the contracts manual - or the employee handbook? ANYONE?"

"There's a section in the rule book that applies to me?" Glytch scratched his head, clearly absolutely unaware.

He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and held up his hands like an Old Testament prophet. "Once, just once, I would like to see a senior ANYTHING read a policy manual...JUST Once..."

"I'm a senior something?"

Billens sighed, his patience rapidly diminishing. Al stood there, face impassive but radiating a certain unholy glee at the confrontation between Glytch and Billens.

"Why would I read the rule book if nobody told me it had anything that applied to me? Come on, how many mad scientists does MIB have on their payro-"

"Somewhere around six hundred."

"Uh... Ok... And they are all just sorta kept on hand so if they make cool stuff, MIB has dibs?"

"About one hundred. Though very few are of your caliber... And they blow themselves up far more frequently than you, and they aren't nearly as sane."

"Well, now, that's certainly a frightening thought."

"That's why we have rules. More the point, do you mean to tell me that you DID NOT, I repeat, DID NOT read the four-inch thick stack of paper that you got when you hired on with MIB?"

"Well, no, I didn't read it, I was too busy being a mad scientist, building a distributive cloud supercomputer for a civilization-sized insane overmind, deep-frying my brain, and finding and destroying a highly dangerous, equally insane Lanthian necromantic AI."

Glytch spoke with a completely flat voice.

"Mad science... Or boring rule book. Mad science... Or boring rule book. I think it's easy to understand why I didn't read the boring rule book."

Billens sat behind his desk again, leaning forward to rest his elbows on the immaculate surface. He removed his glasses to painfully rub the bridge of his nose.

"And let me guess, Al - you would have reenacted the 'light reading' scene from Die Another Day just to test the Aston's guns?"

"Well, that goes without saying, now dunnit?" Al said sarcastically.

"All right, Billens - you caught the lad. No harm, no foul, if you look at it. He tried to give me what I was entitled to anyway - just in a slightly unorthodox manner. And to be honest you want me to have it anyway - especially if things like hauling Lanthian killing machines are still on the potential menu. Can you picture the grief if Prroul and I had been pulled over by the Minneapolis Police?"

As a complete non sequitur, Glytch suddenly said "You know, I haven't been allowed within fifty meters of that beautiful Aston-Martin of yours, Al." Glytch flashed a wicked grin at Al. "I'm beginning to suspect this isn't by happenstance."

Al took on a horrified expression before Billens leapt to the rescue. "You're bad enough with your own toys, Glytch. And don't change the subject."

"Which was?" Glytch peered at Billens from under his hood, his grin becoming deeply unsettling.

Billens grumbled something in what sounded like Greek, then said firmly, "We have two orange EZ-pass transponders, both to MIB accounts, one for the ambulance and one for the Aston. Anything more, you'll have to go through Brandi." He seemingly mumbled a "thank GOD" after that. "Your current MN Pass accounts will be transferred over once your balances are cleared; forward any nastygrams from the state patrol to us, 'kay?"

With great dignity Al said, “I accept – thank you very much, Mr. Billens. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll be going.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

3 - Doubts, Fears, Elves And Mages

Things were settling down around the Alexander compound, but Daisy was still worried. Al had settled down drastically despite this whole pixie thing, but his trip was looming – and that had her worried.

Despite his meticulous over-preparation a thousand things could still go wrong in that old truck of his – and that had nothing to do with the highways, truck drivers, plain old stupid humans and everything else.

Lastly, despite his regeneration he was still not a young man – and it was well within possibility that he could get sick or be hurt – and being alone, there’d be no one to help him if it happened.

She didn’t dare say any of this to him, of course, the first part he’d scoff about, go into one of his speeches about the best of many armies trying to kill him and failing, and then still not be careful. The latter…she just didn’t think would go over well in his present state of mind.

Daisy decided it was time to call in some specialized help.

Waiting till Al was off at Building 2, Daisy picked up her phone and said “Sterling”.

The phone burred, then burred again, and a chipper voice answered.

“Hello, luv! How are you and that spunky daughter of yours? How's the old gearhead?”

Daisy started in – this seemed so silly, all of a sudden.

“Al is the reason I need to talk to you. I need your help – and I don’t know what to ask for, or how.”

Sterling’s voice grew cool and intent.

“Just go on – tell me what you need to tell me – and let me figure out the what and how. I don’t like it when you’re this serious, luv – it scares me.”


“Al is taking – a holiday. A long one. He’s burnt out, and I threatened him into taking a month off and traveling. It’s about that I’m calling you.

Any normal person with his resources would hop a plane wherever he wanted to go, rent a car and live the good life. My idiot husband, on the other hand, has re-equipped the old ambulance he owns and is going to drive it across two countries to Atlantic Canada and back again. That’s 4,000 miles…which is a very long way for an old man and an old truck.

Frankly, I’m worried sick – but I don’t want to say a word to him about it. He’s been…difficult the past few months.”

“Oh, Daisy…why didn’t you call me sooner? I’m sure I could have helped. You say he's been difficult...difficult how?”

“He’s…burnt out. Nightmares from his military years, exhaustion, inability to cope with adversity…the works. It's overwork combined with residual PTSD I suspect.”

Sterling thought hard for a moment, then answered decisively.

“When is he leaving?”


“Four days.”

“Oh luv. You should have called me sooner. This is going to be a rush job – but it can be done. I’ll get back to you. He’s seriously driving that old crackerbox of his? Brilliant and mental. What a combination.”

“Yes – Miss Clara. He can handle it – but it’s the what-ifs I worry about. What if he gets cut off, or has to …”

She stopped, helpless to express the vague fears that haunted her.

“Daisy – leave it to me. I will do the best I possibly can within my power to make sure his trip is a successful and safe one. Let me worry about it – I understand how you feel, and I understand what he needs.

Please leave it to me now, luv – he’ll be back hale and hearty with endless stories to tell. I swear it.”


Reassured, Daisy hung up the phone. Sterling, however, was nowhere near as confident as the image she’d projected.

“What’s up, Cuz? That sounded bad. Problem?” Flashburn, asked, concerned at his cousin's expression. He was in town working with her on a project with deadlines, but nothing is more important than family matters.

“Got a bad one. Remember Da--Rosalynd (she remembered at the last second only family knew her nickname) and her husband?”

“I certainly do. She’s that gorgeous redhead and then she has that lovely daughter of hers. What’s the problem?”

“He’s burnt out and going on a wander – 4,000 miles in a 30-odd year old truck. Old truck, old man – lots of miles. This is a recipe for disaster or so his wife thinks – and I can see it from her end.”

“The question is – what can I do?”

“The question is – what can we do? We, because they're your friends, and we're family...which makes them mine by proxy. Remember what I taught you about shielding when you bought Red?"

"Yeaah...ohhh! Cuz, you are a genius! How about beacons and crystals?"

"Let's see what we have to work with."

After 'porting to his flat and back, Flashburn unwrapped several silk wrapped bundles, laying out the contents on her dining room table.

Sterling gasped in amazement.

First, he held up Rose Quartz wands.

"Rosalynd will have to help to imprint it with lots of love and protections." he grinned, and deflected the ice spell.

Next, Herkimer Diamonds.

"They're from the same matrix...it's to link Al and Rosalynd in several ways." and deflected the ice again.

The third - Amethyst wands.

"To keep negative spirits away, and allow Guidance, Hope, and Wisdom to advise."

Now, nodules of Hematite.

"For healing, but he'll get the joke later."

Polished stones of Jasper came out from the silk.

"It's more ground to Earth...though I'm more fire myself, it's always good to balance them."

Following them, Onyx emerged.

"It's used for calmative purposes, boosts confidence. Stops stress from draining you physically.

Sterling went into her room, then came back with a small bundle wrapped in a tie-dyed cotton 'po'.

Placing it on the table and untying it, she pulled out a section of carved abalone shell with a wand of sage tied to it.

She grinned sheepishly. "Maggie showed me this one...says it connects you to your spirituality. I suspect he's like Maggie, and follows the same Path."

Next from the po was a beautiful polished section of Turquoise.

"The Tribes use it for Healing."

The po then yielded a lump of Garnet:

"It's given to bring friends hope when it seems impossible to attain. Al really needs this one."

Now, Peridot came from the cotton.

"It's more than a 'birthstone'. It's kept for emotional healing and depression. Yes, I still have them Flash."

"That will work nicely. Well done."

More confident than when she first learned all of this, she continued.

"We'll also shield his truck, making it a grounding point where negativity cannot remain, nor malicious shades. In fact, unscrupulous individuals will actively avoid it as if it was going to eat them.

It's a self-replenishing energy source while in motion, so he can also tap it for a bit of chi energy as he needs it.

While driving, if he puts the stones on the dashboard in a holder we provide, it will purify them as he drives, drawing the negativity out of them.
We'll give him a large packet of sage wands to use to clarify an area for camp, and wands to break to signal for help...and I pity any fool that crosses him.

This is going to work better than I thought. Thanks Flash."

After collecting what they could, and Sterling explaining that the 'Ambulance' was a retired military vehicle, Flashburn 'ported home and back again, this time with several tied bundles of dry herbs and grasses.

"We're gonna need to smudge the Hell outta that, and I'm afraid I mean literally. You're a Vet, so I shouldn't have to tell you what's clinging to that thing. He doesn't seem the priest type, so we're gonna cleanse it Mage-style. Remember Aurum's classic Charger?"

"Gremlin you mean," Sterling said laughing at the memory, "I swear that thing was possessed!"

"Well, this is the same thing. Houses of Healing always have to deal with the clinging residue of the dead. That, and the creatures that piggyback along for the free meal."

"Why didn't I think of that?"

"You said when you last saw it, it was a wine truck. Probably didn't twig to its prior Service use because of the domestic dramas. That actually might be part of their problem. Personally, I'd go through the houses and cleanse them too, maybe get my Dad to come over and bless them. Shield everything. Once they learn what a clean house feels like, polluting it with drama will be on their list of things to avoid."

"Looks like you listened to Uncle Fergus' lectures after all. Good thing too, I'll need every bit of help I can get."

"Hey, just because my Dad could bore the world to tears doesn't mean he isn't knowledgeable in the field. I just learned to tune out the extra words."

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

In another place, others sensed issues, but had no idea what to do about them.

Emerauld had been pacing so much, she left furrows in the earth. Everything felt unbalanced, despite the extensive forms she had just whirled through.

Sitting in the lotus position, she thought-spoke to her sister, remembering the last time she acted hastily.

"Al, al deirfiúr beag. Dos satiir saph Uoi'nota...blynol cearcaill d'ol. Cé a dhéanfaidh mé ... ina luí ?("Well, well little Sister. You feel like Hell...several circles of it. Who do I need to...persuade?")

"Nobody. I feel off-balance. Something is wrong. The Earth here weeps, but it is not taint, nor malicious intent, the trees cry, but have no idea why. I've searched every inch of the properties, followed the leylines, and found everything just...wrong. This whole place is in pain. Tall, dark, and Grumpy is out with John presently, so if you can slip away for just a few minutes, maybe you can help me. Please?

"Tha. Ie. 'S urrainn dhomh dà leòmhann nóiméad, xor ud'phuul tu'elghinyrr."("Ahh. Yes. I can spare two minutes, or we're both dead.")

Before she could thank her, Safyr stepped from the shadows, and instantly dropped to her knees. Emerauld rushed to her side, only to be brushed away.

"Niml. Iad treemma mhaighstir orn naut yutsu. Iad ph'cardota udossa ulu sslig'ne ukta."("Grief. They fear the Master will not return. They are begging us to protect him.")


Handing her a beacon crystal, and an ornate dagger, she took a deep breath and stepped into the shadows.
Once back, she breathed raggedly and thought-spoke.

"I am sorry for leaving that way, Eme'. I have not felt that much grief since...

Someone is leaving, and is bound to the land. We must learn who, and protect him.
Someone connected to you and I, as well as the land.
Someone who has the Wanderlust. I must clear my mind now. Keep me informed."

"I will. Thank you."


Racing to the giant metal box Buck had given her, she closed her eyes and scanned in all directions, finding what she sought. She knew who they wept for now, and cursed herself a thrice-damned fool for not realising it sooner.

Walking a short distance, she knelt down and drew a packet from the spot she had hidden it, then went back to collect her sister's gifts, and traveled to where the leylines converged.
Wordless, she intoned a prayer, and set the items on the ground, bared her arms, and waited. She felt the power well up, and become entwined with them, white fire racing across her runes, channeling Ancient wisdom and magic, which filled her with Understanding.

When complete, she thanked the Lord and Lady, wrote a short letter to the recipient, collected the items up, wrapping them in the cloth along with a wand of Blackberry and Ivy woven around a Rowan branch, and changed.

Flying faster, faster, faster, Emerauld-the-Eagle soon felt what she was after, and landed near. Changing again, she set down the bundle, changed again, and picking it up in her mouth, crept into the open door, and hopped into the green vehicle. Sensing the rightness of it, Emerauld-the-Wolf cub placed the bundle where it would be hidden until it needed seeing, and stole away, preparing to be cute and cuddly if spotted.

Fortune gracing her, she managed to get to the woods, change, and fly away without being caught, though there were a few random folk that would swear they saw a puppy. Landing back in camp, she dropped into stance and whirled through forms, drawing until glutted, them stumbled into bed, hoping she would wake in a timely manner, as she thanked the Lord and Lady again.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Al was under Clara’s bonnet again, replacing a few random hoses that showed potential wear, when a loud “AHEM” startled him.

When the stars cleared from his eyes he turned around to roast the individual responsible for the grease stain on the back of his cap…and stopped.

It was Daisy – but a Daisy that he was unused to. Wearing a nicely-fitting pair of coveralls on her nicely-curving frame and tennis shoes, she looked delectable – especially topped with an AHI ball cap.

“How’s it going?” she purred, walking over. “Thought you could use some…help.”

“Well, certainly. Love to have your…help, dear.”

Al stepped down off the bumper, turned round, took his dam in his arms, and into his ear she purred, “I want your…holdout.”

“My what?”

“Your holdout. Hand it over. You are not taking that damn Walther on your trip.”

“But Daisy…”

“But Daisy nothing. I am not going to end up driving or flying into Canada to bail your arse out of some Canadian jail on a weapons charge. Hand it over.”

“Oh, VERY well.” Al climbed up into the cab and reached behind the left seat to an oval panel. Pressing the top two pop-rivets on the panel there was a click, and the panel swung down, revealing a PPK/S in a silicone rubber grip.

He removed it, ejected the clip and locked the slide before he handed clip and weapon to Daisy, who put one in each side pocket.

Task completed, she gave him a peck on the cheek, then reached down and pulled the zipper on her coverall down to her navel, revealing a flash of lace and red.

“Don’t work too long…”

“YES, dear…coming right along soon, dear…”


On her return to the house (having restored her decolletage to its previous prim setting first) Daisy saw the message light flashing on her cell phone. Picking it up, she noted it was from Sterling and checked the message.

"Hello, Luv. Flashburn and I have a solution to your problem with the old war horse - but it's pretty extensive. I wanted to talk to you about it first - I think the old man is going to need a bit of prep for this before we come waltzing in. Call me!"

Amused by the imagery (warrior Al may be, equine he was not) and intrigued by the possibilities, Daisy called her.

"Rosalynd, Hello! My cousin Flashburn is here as well, so I'm going to put this on speakerphone so we can all talk. He's up to give you a hand as well, so we've been collaborating on this."

Daisy felt foolish - all these people going to trouble over her vague fears and concerns.

"Dears, you're going to so much trouble. This is all the fears of an old dam who is scared for her foolish old husband-"

"No, it is NOT silliness, and it is NOT foolish. You have very real concerns, and we're going to help address them and more."

Sterling was firm with this - she could feel Daisy's reluctance and self-deprecation over the phone clearly and was having none of it.

"Dear, you have a burned-out old man driving a truck that is a pesthole of negative energies from its life in various war zones with him. We need to deal with both - and we have plans for that."

And more, Sterling thought, but I'm not going to get into that on the phone. That can wait till we’re in-person and it will be harder for you to refuse.

"We're going to take it in two parts. First, Al is getting a personal gifting from us - stones and crystals to connect you and to help him recover. He is also getting wands that will signal us for help no matter what - if he carries them and breaks one we will know - and come."

"That's perfect - go on!"

"The second part is Clara herself - she's a mess from having been a military ambulance. She needs to be cleansed of all negative energies and have a bit of magic work done on her to help him heal. She's absolutely filthy with the residue of the dead, like all Houses of Healing, and those energies need to be cast off or he'll never heal. The old girl's been doing him no favors all these years, but it is what it is."

"This is not a quick 'wave-of-the-hands' thing or we'd have just popped in and done it - the old girl is going to take some time to cleanse, and some specialized help from my Uncle Fergus - that's Flashburn's Dad."

"Lastly, you need to help prepare some of the gifting items with us - and to prepare him for the 'Attack Of The Mad Mages'."

"I understand. This is going to be a big bite for him to chew, even given his beliefs. Let me talk to him, and I'll get back to you. Sterling, I don't know what to say, you've done so much..."

"Thank me later, luv, when he's back and boring you with stories of his holiday...just don't invite me over for the slideshows."

Al wandered in soon after, Clara's engine compartment reassembled and cooling system purged. He was somewhat disappointed to see she’d changed back into her usual immaculate dress of slacks and a blouse, but fun and games could wait till later.

He embraced Daisy, collecting a kiss in return. They sat in the kitchen, coffee cups filled and steaming.

"Dear, I've gotten you a gift - but I'm not sure how you're going to react to it."

"If it's from you, I'll cherish it. What is it?"

"I've called in a mage. I've been awfully worried about you and the length of your trip, and the fact that you'll be alone. I decided some help might be in order, and I called in Sterling, who's called in Flashburn and his Father."

"Stupid."

Daisy was taken aback. WHAT did he say?

"I'm so bloody stupid," he said, drawing a hand over his face.

"Of course...you're right, absolutely right. I should have thought of this myself."

Al got up and kissed his wife on the forehead. He then stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her close.

"I should have thought of your feelings here. It is just plain damn idiocy on my part. I'm so used to wandering the world without a care...that I forgot."

Daisy breathed a great mental sigh of relief.

"So, what are we getting from the crazy mage and her associates?"

"The whole kit-and-kaboodle. We are receiving a gifting of crystals, and signal wands. This way, no matter what, I will know you're OK and if you're not - you can call for help."

"Endless sense to that. What else?"

"Clara is having a 'mage spa day'. She's being smudged, and a load of work to cleanse her and make her a fit place for you to spend a month or more. Sterling is also 'bringing in the big guns'. Her cousin Flashburn and his Father are coming to 'put boot to arse'. She's not happy with Clara having been where you've been and being what she was, long ago.

"Of that I have no doubt. I did have her smudged, long ago, but that was not the most apt of practitioners."

"Sterling has only just met you, and she's gotten her family together to help you. Can't you now see how you inspire such love and loyalty in people, you bloody infuriating man?"

Daisy said the last part with her head buried in his chest, drinking in his scent, trying not to cry.

"You are completely right, dear - I have been foolish. Thank you - what a wonderful gift." Al held his dam, finally realizing the depth of the distress his trip was causing her, and grateful that the mages could help both her and him.

“So, what am I going to have to do for this to happen? I assume they’re going to need access to Clara for her smudging and blessing – where do they want her?”

“Seems to me 2 is the best place – that’s where she lives most of the time. Clear her and her environment and be done with it. This way she doesn’t have issues from her environment afterward.”

“Good thought – I’ll take her down there – if you want to follow me out there we can drop her off – and I’ll want to be there for her smudging and magical work in any case. When is this happening?”

“Soonest possible. I think we should get down to 2 – I’m expecting a phone call for them coming in any time now. The sooner we get moving the better – as we normal mortals still need to drive.” She grinned, and said “I’ll follow you down there. This way if we want to we can leave Clara there – as we might want to get the garage here cleansed before we bring her back.”

“Endless sense there – the garage here is likely as messy as 2 when it comes to these things. I wonder if Sterling and her family would do this for us?”

“Somehow, I get a feeling that it wouldn’t be a problem.” To herself, Daisy was grinning. This had gone far better than she’d expected, and was going to let her relax and let him enjoy his holiday.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

4 - Planning and Execution

As the doorbell chimed, Sterling opened it to a massive mountain of a man, long black hair drawn back in a tail, his beard impeccably groomed, dressed in a simple grey suit, wooden walking stick in hand, as well as a small duffel. Behind him, her cousin, also in a simple grey suit, had several carryalls.

"Hi Uncle Fergus. Flash. Welcome. You look well. I've got the checklist, and this carton for all of the crystals and stones, the herbs are in this tote..."

"Lass, be calm! You look as nervous as you did when asking us to meet your Military crew. You don't make bad friends. It's simply not in your nature luv."

"Yeah, Cuz. Just because he's got a good-looking stepson is no reason to be ner..."

*whack!*

His father's huge hand smacked the back of his head.

"Ow!"

"Your cousin isn't like you. Stop trying to tar her from yer own bucket son."

"I was just trying to get her to not be...ow! My God that's cold!"

His father conjured a snowball to 'cool him off'.

"You'll never get grandkids at this rate!"

"I have another son!"

Sterling giggled helplessly. She knew they were right, but she'd also experienced Al's problem from the other side. That she wasn't completely crackers was due to her family supporting her over time. Al got an instant one when he married. Wiping tears away and taking a calming breath, she gathered things up, and set them on the table. Her car was in the garage waiting to be loaded.

"Coffee? Tea? Got a Banana Bonkers for you, Cuz."

Packing done, they had a quick meal of juice, porridge and tea (and yes indeed, Flashburn had the Banana Bonkers and enjoyed it despite his continual glowering at his cousin for it).

Setting up the portal with his son and niece, Fergus then settled himself in the front seat, leaving his son in the backseat with the gear that didn't fit. Sterling was carefully not laughing at this, and in fact, avoided looking at her cousin the whole short drive.

With three mages, 'porting to RE was simplicity, as one set shielding to prevent being seen appearing suddenly, and another to prevent popping in on a vehicle, and the third for the portal itself. Traveling down her street, then poof! - there they were on the main road into RE.

Activating her Bluetooth, she pushed the button once to dial the caller she had primed it with.

"We're nearly there, so we'll need access to the gates. Ta for now." Driving down the street, she turned into RE’s drive, bumping over the slightly rough surface.

The gates were irising open as they drove up to them – the remote connection from B2’s security was quite effective. Driving up the rest of the drive, Fergus and Flash remarked on the beauty of the old brick building – its industrial Gothic design was quite unlike any of the modern buildings in the area.

Pulling into a spot, Sterling, Flashburn, and Fergus exited the Pontiac. She shot Al and Daisy her usual dazzling smile, and walked around to join her family.

As Fergus exited the car and stood up, Daisy and Al looked up...and up...and up. This caused both Flash and Sterling to grin, madly.

“’E’s a BIG ‘un, inn’e?” Al reverted to the clipped slang of his youth, not something he did except when VERY surprised. Daisy nodded, adding “Indeed!” with an appraising, quite appreciative sweeping glance.

With the older couple appearing a bit shell-shocked (which was typical a reaction for those meeting her Uncle for the first time), Sterling began introductions.

"Al, Rosalynd, this is my cousin Flashburn, and my Uncle Fergus. Uncle Fergus, Flash, this is Al Richer, and Rosalynd Alexander-Richer."

"Fergus Brighton, a right pleasure ta be makin' yer acquaintances," he said slowly, shaking Al's proffered hand with his own massive one. I hear ye be needin' a re-christ'nin' of yer ve..."

"Uncle Fergus. We're in America. Proper English please?"

Colouring slightly, Fergus coughed, and began again.

"Sorry folks. I'm used to the whole 'thick Scotsman' treatment, so I've gotten rather used to speaking very slow and a bit heavier on the accent."

“You are more than welcome to speak that way should you wish to, sir – some of us are used to dealing with Scotsmen and their accents.” Al grinned mischievously, tossing in a slight jab at their differences in the society they both came from.

“Aye, sorr, and I would nae be wantin’ to confuse yer fine lady with me babble –as obviously ye do with yer fine gentlemanly prattle.” Fergus fired back and they both laughed appreciatively.

“Truly, it is a pleasure for both of us to meet you – and we sincerely appreciate you taking the time to help us.” Daisy spoke from the heart – the time and trouble that they were all going to was so welcome – and she’d find a way to make it up to them.

“Indeed, sir – please accept my sincerest thanks for your visit with Sterling and Flashburn. My wife had the genius thought to call in Sterling, and she called you all in. If there is anything I can do for you, please do not hesitate to ask.”

“Yes, there is. You can enjoy your trip and rest, and when it is over, offer us hospitality for an evening and regale us with your stories of travel. Speaking for me and mine that is all we desire. Also, please call me Fergus – all of this sirring and ma’aming is draining.”

“That being said, please call me Al – as an old military man the word ‘sir’ is anathema. This as you know is my wife Rosalynd-“

“Daisy. Please call me Daisy. It’s my – nickname, and what close friends and family call me.” Daisy had immediately taken to the tall, broad-shouldered mage. His gentle manner was such a juxtaposition to his imposing physical stature, and Daisy found herself quite drawn to him.

Privately, Fergus was shocked at the old gent’s condition. Pain, fear, exhaustion, regret, more pain all the way down…all warring just beneath the surface – a surface carefully kept tranquil at all costs. That has got to be playing havoc with his peace of mind – not that the poor man has any, Fergus thought.

This needs to be fixed – and fixed properly. We can’t allow this to go on. There’s going to be some power expended today – and it will be well worth the expending. Fergus steeled himself for the task ahead – this was not going to be a cakewalk even with three mages on hand.

As the older folk chatted, Sterling and her cousin unpacked a large amount of gear, and started carrying it into the building, laying a large, colourful quilt out to set it all on on the floor.

With the supplies moved indoors, the participants prepared for the first part of the cleansing – smudging Building 2 of its negative energies – the residue of many years of occupancy.

Flashburn took a proffered herb bundle, lit it with a snap of fingers, and touched it to Sterling's. Silently, they lazily swirled counter-clockwise from their centre to the outermost reaches, trailing smoke in a continuing spiral, walking around the whole shop leaving fragrant blooms of White Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, and Lavender smoke in their wake. Every inch they could possibly envelop they did, slowly working towards Al's majordomo, Ari, who took in the sight in fascination as she stood on the stair.

Ascending the stairs, they walked down the corridor of the office, leaving fragrant clouds of tranquil smoke in their wake. Walking to the end of the corridor, they stopped at a door obviously long unused.

Quirking a brow simultaneously, they opened the door, and wandered down a stair where Sterling could feel that time had frozen in sorrow. Expending a bit of magic, she silently drew a grid in smoke, bidding the heaviness to leave and only peace to remain. Flashburn followed suit, adding his energies to the grid, willing this to become a gearhead’s safe haven, as it once was.

Bundles expended (Flash had incinerated the stubs and threw the dust in the air, bidding the room to be at peace.), they silently returned to the quilt, and gathered fresh bundles to begin again, this time entering each office and work bay, again setting up grids with the same thought; peace. Sterling even entered the range, to purge the negative energies from the day the nosy newsie had walked into her live fire exercise, her cousin adding to it a serious tone that all who entered respected this place, and the purpose for it.

Finally, they returned, and requested permission to draw from the energies of the land, which Al granted easily.

Moving into stance, they whirled in form, in perfect harmony, though Flashburn had a slightly less fluid motion. Each form a dance, drawing in and out with every breath, cleansing themselves as they ground out the residuals of what they had just worked on. As they finished, they bowed to each other, then to Daisy and Al, right fist on left palm.

They then collected two bottles of water and drank slowly, but deeply.

Water in and a moment’s rest taken, Flash and Sterling moved toward Part Two of the cleansing – Miss Clara, the old ambulance.

She sat in one of the work bays, parked over a hydraulic lift. Placed as she was, the mage team could reach any part of her needed to help her to shed the negative energies of her past.
Walking towards the Ambulance, Sterling ran a loving hand along her fresh paint, admiring the caring restoration, and tried not to buckle as all the emotions flooded her at once.

Pain, fear, loneliness, exhaustion, anger, hopelessness, and death-rattles, they came at her in waves, and only her training kept her standing, a mask of sorrow and pain covering her usually placid face.

"Ground it out cuz'! Keep your center and ground it out," her cousin entreated, as she began to break.

Grabbing two herb bundles, Flashburn burned them instantly, tossing it in the air, surrounding his cousin with smoke and leaving her dusty with ash. Grabbing two more, he lit them on the way back.

"Here, take it, we need to smudge this now.”

"Her. We need to smudge her now. Clara is a very strong, stubborn girl, and needs a bath, because she's absolutely filthy. Thanks for having my back, cuz'."

Blank look. Oh shit. Not now.

"Great, another gearhead. Only a gearhead names a car." Flashburn said, baitingly. He needed to pull that wall down, and fast.

"What, I rather like Jezebel. Fast and loose...just like certain individuals I know..." Sterling replied weakly.

"Mustang! It's a 1967 Mustang fastback!"

He saw an opening, and took it.

"She's a cheap whore, a painted up tart!" Flashburn scorned the Mustang, hoping that would get a rise out of his car-crazy cousin.

Colour began returning to her face. Time for another needle – get her to reconnect Flashburn thought. Damn gearheads.

"Well that 'painted up tart' could run rings around your pathetic little Pontiac!"

He continued to chip away at the wall, and grinned as his cousin began to emerge.

"In your dreams! Name the track prettyboy! My Red is gonna make you eat her dust!" she said, snatching the smudge bundle from his hand viciously.

"Welcome back, Sterling."

They smudged Clara lightly, lovingly, scrubbing away the first layer of stored energies.

Bundles expended, they grabbed another and began again, and again, this time clambering into the back and attacking from the inside.

Walking to Ari, Flashburn gave her a megawatt smile and asked her if the vehicle could be lifted up, and blushing, Ari did so. Unfortunately, Sterling had just gotten back inside with fresh bundles when she was suddenly lifted towards the ceiling.

"Oi cuz! Work now, get off later!" she called out from the back of the now lifted ambulance.

Swift as lightning, Ari's wings materialised and she flew towards Sterling to assist, only to have her sort of float down towards the ground.

"Thanks luv. I've gotten into the habit of him doing that to me, but I appreciate the rescue attempt.”

"Yeowch that's cold!”

"Good, now you're ready to work. Thanks for the lift. Let's finish the first stage.”

Grabbing two bundles each, he lit them, and then they lazily drew counter-clocked circles, letting the plumes of smoke saturate the undercarriage, as they began to form the grid.

As before, they drew power to create the shielding, this time with the intent of protection and cleansing energy.

With a quick request, Clara was lowered, and they continued to form the sides, wrapping the ambulance in an invisible to most grid of power, willing it to protect and cleanse itself and any occupants of negativity, finally going inside and finishing the process, with Sterling placing a holder on the dashboard for the crystals.

Climbing out again, they stumbled back to the quilt, powered through their forms, bowed in respect to those present, including Ari, drank water, then Sterling signed for a time-out, and promptly dropped into that familiar lotus position and closed her eyes.

"Okay athair , feumaidh sinn fois ... a-nis"(Okay dad, we need a break...now.)

"Math obair clann."
(Good work children).

Flashburn bowed again, and joined his cousin in meditation.

Observing the scene, and the mages reaction to Clara, Al was shocked – and through him, Daisy.

“Al – what the hell is wrong with Clara? Why are they so…exhausted?”

She looked at him, her eyes bright with distress for their friends.

Al sagged – he was ashamed.

“Daisy, Clara is…guilt ridden. She’s got a burden from every soul in pain that ever traveled in her, every young lad that died in her arms, so to speak. And that burden attracted another – an overlay of pain and fear and hopelessness from those who tried to care for the dead. In short, she’s as ridden with pain and fear as a churchyard – and I did nothing to solve it, it seems.

Long ago when I bought Clara and got her going again, I had her purged of all of this – or thought I had. I knew the practitioner I hired wasn’t the best, but he was the best I could find. It appears his labours were inadequate.”

Fergus, hearing this, moved to intervene before Clara’s pain telegraphed to Al worse than it already had.

“Yes, they were. This is none of it your fault, and you shouldn’t feel it is. You tried – but by the time Clara reached you, she was too far gone for anyone but a mage to clear – and let me guess, the one you hired was not a mage but a practitioner.”

Al nodded, dumbly.

"What did I know of Mages or any of...this..." he motioned all around to all of the mystical and paranormal around him. I figured a practitioner of the Lord and Lady should be able to smudge an auto. The Chaplain back then was young, inexperienced. First battle...he was shellshocked, and as long as he quoted verse and scripture, they figured him fit for duty. He could barely keep it in for Mass. I often sat there to give the lad moral support."

Fergus frowned. ”Indeed. He or she did not have the energy or training to perform the tasks we need to perform here. It has gathered a host of 'guests', which need to be told to move on, the party is over. There is no way a mere practitioner could have done such tasks. However, they need to be performed, or no one who ever spends time in Clara will be safe from the pain. She’s done you no favors, Al – though fond of her we know you are.”

With that, Fergus subtly….changed. From the affable giant they’d met, he subtly altered, becoming one with his ancestors. Both of them could feel the power being summoned, drawing from the leylines till he was ready to battle with the shades for Clara’s tranquility. Even his voice changed – the modern English replaced with the dialect of his ancestors.

"I cannae lie to ye Ailean, this is very bad, 'twas a wee bit more'n half yer issues with Miss Clara. Even a Chaplain shoulda blessed it daily in service. I cannae see any work o'th sort here...other than a light dusting o'smoke by a...wha's th'...ah, treehugger of a blasted hippie."

Al's shoulders sagged, but before he could speak, he felt a tiny *whack!* on the back of his head (which went unnoticed), and Fergus moved on.

"But...it isna hopeless."

He drew one from amidst the packages brought in by his son and niece, and unwrapped several herb bundles. Selecting two, he lit them with a thought, and walked towards Clara, plumes of smoke, rich with the fragrance of Scottish pine, fir, spruce, and heather billowing.

As he did, he intoned a single starting note, then, singing in a clear baritone;

"Seinn an duan seo dhan Innis Àigh
(Sing this song to the Happy Isle)
An innis uaine as gile tràigh
(The green isle of whitest sands)

He walked her perimeter, gently banishing the clinging shades to their rightful deserving rest, and drove out the clinging sluagh who were desperately trying to retain their situation.

Bidh sian air uairean a' bagairt cruaidh ris
(Though storms at times threaten severely)
Ach se mo luaidh-sa bhith ann a' tàmh
(It is where I love to be)

Fergus climbed into the back, and a fragrant cloud of smoke drifted softly outward and upward, along with the lonely restless spirits.

Càit' as tràith an tig samhradh caomh
(Where does summer come earlier?)
Càit' as tràith an tig blàth air craobh
(Where do trees come into bloom sooner?)

At this last line, all Al could smell were the warm breezes and the heady scent of fragrant blackcurrant blossoms on his Uncle's land, and unbidden, a happy memory surfaced – nothing to do with Summer, but with late Autumn – the evening when he and Daisy walked together for the first time, and he felt her sweet, soft touch of her lips on his, and her love touching his heart, which responded eagerly. He clutched her hand, and she his, as they watched the powerful mage work his will on the ambulance.

Càit' as bòidhche 's an seinn an smeòrach
(Where does the thrush sing more sweetly)
Air bhàrr nan ògan 's an Innis Àigh
(On the tips of branches, than in the Happy Isle?)"

Al could feel the raw power flowing from Fergus into Clara, and the lines drawn in smoke forming a shield, and was struck with a sense of awe and wonder.

Lazy circles drawn around the room, smoke drifting into lines, then into a grid.
His bundles expended, he turned them to fragrant dust, lifted a hand, and two more drew to him, lighting as his hand grasped them, to continue where he left off.
Walking around the various offices and workshops, he continued on, stopping briefly into the hidden room, finishing what was started.
As he left, Ari silently motioned to the lift, and sent Clara up. Bowing, Fergus used the last of his bundle to smudge and enclose the shielding with the now accessible undercarriage.

With this being done, Fergus flashed the remains of his bundle into ash and spread it about, willing the last of the spirits and hangers-on to be gone. With that, he sagged – the effort to do the work he’d done had drained him considerably. Walking toward the blanket, he bowed to those present, asked for and received permission to harvest energies from the land, and then performed his forms, grounding and nullifying the negative energies he’d collected, moving swiftly and gracefully for a man his size.

Bowing to the three present, he settled onto the blanket, drank deeply of the water, and closed his eyes to reconstitute himself.

With Fergus settled and resting, Sterling and Flashburn opened their eyes, rose and re-entered the fray.

“With what we and Uncle Fergus have done, Clara is as clean as she can possibly be – and will stay that way. Luv, she was an AWFUL mess – only a mage of Uncle Fergus’ caliber could have gotten her clean between the residue and the sluagh. Now, she’s as clean as she was the day she rolled out of the factory – cleaner, really.

She’s also shielded so that nothing negative can attach itself, and people of bad intent will run from her like she’s one of the hounds of Hades. All of this will be self-recharging when she’s on the move, so you’ll not have to worry about it.”

Al was deeply happy – Clara was now what he’d always hoped for her – a haven to spend miles and time in on holiday – and a restful place to lay his head on the road. He began to speak, “I don’t know how to thank you enough for all the effort you three have put into-“

Sterling patted his cheek. “Oh, luv, we are NOWHERE near done yet. Clara is the best we can make her, but you…you we have to work with. We have much work to do here – and aren’t done yet.”

Sterling and Flash led them outdoors, into the wooded area next to the building and between it and the park.

“The first gift we have for you both is wands of rose quartz, amethyst and Herkimer diamonds. These will keep you both connected at a deep level, no matter where either of you ever goes.” Turning to Daisy, she said, “No matter what, you will know he is well, and if he’s thinking about you.” Turning again, “And you will know she is well. No matter how far, no matter where, you will KNOW.”

“Each of the wands has its affinity. The rose quartz is for passion – it’s an aphrodisiac, and intensifies romantic love – not that you two need any help, from what I’m seeing.”

“Unfair, cuz! You’re stealing my lines!” Flashburn mock-complained, grinning all the while.

Haughtily, Sterling sniffed and continued. “Now that the peanut gallery has had its say, let’s continue. The amethyst is a curative for those who are overworked, overstressed, and under emotional strain. It is the stone of balance, and will help you restore yours. Clara’s grounding and shielding with intensify its effect – the time you spend in her and with these stones will help you back onto an even keel and let the spirits of Guidance, Hope, and Wisdom through to advise."

She paused, then began to speak again. “The third is a Herkimer diamond – and the two you will receive were cut from the same matrix. These are the stones that will keep you in touch – so each of you will know the other is well. It’s not telepathy or anything like it – it’s a soul-to-soul connection that will allow you to be together even though you are apart.

The Herkimer diamond will also intensify the effects of the other two, so the three stones together are far more powerful than they would be alone. This way, no matter how far apart you will have each other’s love, balance and security.”

“Now, we need to program the stones. Each of you is going to ‘pre-load’ the stones that are given to the other – this is the way with these things, as you know, Al.” She turned to her cousin, also noticing that her uncle had risen from his meditations and joined them outdoors.

"Here Flash, take him into the clearing," Sterling said handing him a silk-wrapped bundle.

"Normally I'd throw in a crass joke, but I think my cousin here might kill me.”

"And if she didna do so, I would.”

"And so would me Father, so behave I will. Let's go.”

He saw Sterling hand Daisy a bundle, and walk with her to the other side.

"Pay attention. We are going to impress upon these crystals just how you feel about that gorgeous creature that's walking with my cousin.”

Before he could respond, Flashburn opened the bundle and rolled them into Al's hands.

Al noticed these were large crystals, precision cut by a master into wands. The smoky one and rose one were obvious, but the third one however, he was not at all familiar with. It glittered like a diamond, with infinite ethereal rainbows trapped, eternally reflecting their kaleidoscope within.

Laying what looked like a cloak on the ground, Flashburn then directed Al onto it.

Drawing an herb bundle from seemingly nowhere, he lit one end. Al could feel the heat radiating from him as it happened. Fragrant smoke issued from the glowing end, and he immediately was reminded of that odd lovely little moment when Fergus was cleansing Clara, and he thought of his Uncle’s currants, and walking with Daisy.

"Take one memory in time, any memory, where your love for her was strong, or a bunch of them. The important thing is you put a bit of yourself into those. You’re going to give them to her afterward, and she will know how you feel, that you are well, and thinking of her.’

He put the bundle into a small bowl, also appeared from seemingly nowhere, and backed off, murmuring softly.

"There are too...many. FAR too many. How can I choose?"

Al's mind was awhirl. Memories of the strength of his love for her swirled in his mind, starting with the first time they walked together, to her crying on his shoulder after the floor collapse, to lying on a concrete floor, bleeding to death, trying to reach her collapsed body. Others followed, interwoven with the first, or from their time together since.

"Give them all to her. She will give them back to you with her love, and more. You will not lose them - give them.”

Al concentrated, hard, summoning each memory as brightly as he could, and attaching a part of himself to it. Memory after memory, each with its bouquet of love and happiness. Large and small, each bearing its burden of care for her.

Again the smell of the flowering blackcurrants, tinged with the love...it was a dizzying mixture. Al basked in it till the smoke faded, gone as the herb bundle burned itself out in the bowl.

"Damn, Al. I guess you meant what you said. I've never seen anyone charge quartz and Herkimer diamond that highly - I had a little trouble dealing with it.”

On the other side of the wooded area, Sterling laid a cloak on the ground, set a bowl with an herb bundle on it, then motioned Daisy to settle on it.

"Where in Hades did that come from?”

"Mage. Open your hands, luv.”

She then opened a silk-wrapped bundle with three crystal wands, one pink, one sort or dirty coloured, and one that glittered with rainbows, and rolled them into Daisy's waiting hands.

"Ooh, how beautiful! Sterling, what's wrong?”

Sterling had picked up the bundle of herbs, and was whispering over it, her face a mask of pain. After a moment, the bundle lit, and a plume of smoke issued from the glowing end. Blushing, she spoke.

"Fire magic is not natural to me, so I have to work at it. I'm fine, really."

"Take one memory in time, any memory, where your love for Al was strongest, or even a bunch of them. The important thing is you put a bit of yourself into those. You’re going to give them to him afterward, and he will know how you feel, that you are well, and thinking of him."

She stepped back, and murmured softly.

Daisy's thoughts were scattered. Flashes of her time with the madman she'd married surrounded her - patient practice on the shooting field, him holding her in firing position, his breath warm on her cheek.

Him, in his khakis, boots and fedora, on her back, walking from the field, with him declaring his fierce determination to protect her and her family at whatever the cost was to himself.

Walking the fields, rifles at the ready, and just talking...talking.

Standing horrified and proud in bath robes at the breakfast table, as Al declared his love for her despite the floor collapse.

Watching him chasing Castela around the lawn on a Summer afternoon.

Sitting over tea on a bright morning - hand in hand across the table for no reason but that they were there.

Driving in the Aston, holding hands over the console like teenagers.

All these things and more came cascading from her memory - it was impossible to choose just one from all of them. She decided to give them all - there was no sense trying to do anything else. Concentrating on each, she poured them into the crystals, with the scent of the lilacs of the estate boundaries strong in her nostrils. Mind whirling, she luxuriated in the smell and the memories till both faded, then returned to herself.

“Wow. Charged they are – amazing. I guess you do like the crazy old man.”

Sterling was a trifle shaken – she’d never seen wands brought to that level of charge that way. Al was truly blessed to have a spouse who cared for him as she did.

The charging being done, the mages re-collected the wands in the silks with which they’d been wrapped, then the two groups came together back at the building where Fergus waited.

Sterling produced two leather pouches – one larger than the other. “These are for the wands and the stones we’ll be giving Al in a moment. With a few swift motions, the wands were put in the pouches, the silks discarded at that time. Each mage handed the pouch to its recipient.

To Al and Daisy, receiving the pouches was a shock. Each knew the other loved them, and knew they were loved in turn, but the fact made manifest in the emanations of the stones was overwhelming. Both began to leak at the eyes a bit, and they turned to each other, embraced and kissed fiercely.

Fergus cleared his throat loudly, then again, and Flashburn snickered, getting thumped in the back of his head by his Father for his efforts.
Sterling basked in the warmth and enjoyed its power, and gloried in the simple rightness of it all.

Fergus cleared his throat again. “Aye, much as ye’d like to curl up in front of a fire and spoon, we’ve things t’ do yet. Sterling, can ye give Al the other pressies ye’ve made for ‘im?”

With that, Sterling opened another pouch, and tumbled from it the stones and wands that she and Flashburn had prepared earlier in the day.

“Al, these items are specific for you – and your exhaustion.” In measured tones she explained the significance of each of the stones and its purpose, along with the abalone and sage that she learned to do from Maggie...no, Emerauld. She was never going to get used to that. It was a comfort to know she had siblings that cared enough to give her the life she needed, and skills that helped her. With it, she in turn was helping her friends.

Al took them, gravely, and reverently put them into the pouch with the wands. “Thank you. I owe you so much...”

"Ye owe nothing, ye old tosser! They want to help, I want to help. There isna a person alive th' deserves this much sorrow. So quit being daft, and let us help ye wit' th cleaning."

“The best is yet to come. Now, we need to go to Maple Plain – the last part of the job needs to be done. Uncle Fergus – can you take them there, and Flash and I will meet you? Thanks.”

“Last part? You folks are exhausted – no – this is more than enough. I can’t allow you to exhaust yourselves and expend more energy on my account. Clara is clean, and as long as she lives here she’ll stay that way. You’ve given us so much – no more. It’s too much to ask.”

Fergus walked forward, catching Al’s gaze and holding it with his own. “Al, the job’s nae done. ‘Tis a fine thing we’ve done here for tha ambulance, and tha shop is calm, but it’ll do ye nae guid to go on holiday and return to an unclean hearth and home.”

“But you’re all exhausted.” Al said, helpless in the face of the Scotsman’s determination.

“Aye, but ‘tis nothing a few minutes rest and tha leylines in Maple Plain can help. Sterling’s told us of the power of tha lands.”

“Then, please, let us go and do what you say. I – we put ourselves in your hands.” he said, looking back toward Daisy, who nodded.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

AN: None of this would have been possible without my collaborator and friend Dinky Inky. Thank you, dear, for all your hard work.

Enjoy....



5 – Maple Plain

The party met up again a few minutes later, in the curving drive at the front of the houses. Daisy and Al, never having traveled by mage before, were a bit shaken but recovering quickly. Behind them a minute or so came the Pontiac with Sterling and Flashburn inside.

As the two drove to the house, they talked.

“The tough part should be over, but I’m not looking forward to the old Alexander House – that’s over a century old, and was Ground Zero to the battle planning back a year or two ago from what you’ve told me. That is gonna be tough to scrub.”

“Not so tough. You and I set up the framework and then Uncle Fergus comes and knits the whole thing together, chasing away any undesirables.

Remind me to hit the garage and the quarters as well – that’s where Clara lives when she’s here – and it shouldn’t really be a big deal but it needs to be cleared too.”

“So – two houses, garage and the quarters?’

“Yep. Hope you drank all your Banana Bonkers, cuz – ‘cause we're not done yet.”

With that, the two youngsters unloaded the car again – the bundles of herbs, the blanket, the ritual equipment that had been used at Building 2 to such good effect.

While they began with New Alexander, Fergus, attracted by the feel of energy, walked into the kitchen, trailed by Al and Daisy.

Startled by the presence of the man-mountain in her kitchen, Rosalita stood mute as the giant unerringly went to the bell hanging on the wall – the source of the protective spell he’d been feeling.

“Daisy, where does this bell come from?” he asked, while examining it and noting the Elvish script engraved inside.

“That was the dining room bell of the ‘Queen City Belle’ – Ebbie Alexander’s ship. Parts of her are built into the original house, and the bell hung there until this house was built – when my husband went over and brought it back, insisting it wanted to be with the Alexanders.”

“And right he was – there’s a powerful enchantment on this bell placed here by someone who loved you all very much. As part of the cleaning of the house, may I add to it?”

“Please do.”

Al was unsurprised at the powerful mage’s words – he had known for a long time something was up with that bell – and now he knew – and had a very good idea who’s door to lay the enchantment at.

With that, Fergus turned to Rosalita, bowed deeply, and said, “And with the lady of this space’s permission, I think I will begin my work here.

With your permission, I am going to bless this space and all who come to it. Nothing I say or do will be in conflict with your faith – which I know is like your mistress’ and unlike Al’s. May I?"

Rosalita, taken by the bluff giant’s gentleness and courtesy, curtsied and said,


“If this has the permission of the Señor and the Señora, I grant mine happily. Please do.”

With that, Fergus left the kitchen momentarily, to return with a plain silver censor. Priming it with incense, he asked “Where are your kitchen herbs?” and Rosailta pointed to a storage cabinet. Opening it, he took pinches of several of the more fragrant of the herbs and dropped them into the censor. Lighting the incense, he closed it and began to walk through the kitchen and its attached spaces, chanting the following prayer.

"Beannaich bhiadhlann is gach poit .
Beannaich an àmhainn a 'còcaireachd biadh agus a' cumail mo e teth .
Beannaich gach inneal , preas , agus drathair .
Beannaich an cidsin seo , gu bràth tuilleadh.
Beannaich am fear a 'còcaireachd le gaol
Thoir dhaibh slàinte agus bho Serenity seo agus gu h-àrd ."


(Bless the pantry and every pot.
Bless the oven which cooks my food and keeps it hot.
Bless each appliance, cupboard, and drawer.
Bless this kitchen, forever more.
Bless the one who cooks with love
Give them health and serenity from here and above.)

The incense, heavy and churchlike, was leavened by the pinches of the herbs included with it. The smoke swirled and eddied, touching everything but lightening rather than obscuring the atmosphere of the space.

With the smell, Al complained,

“With that wafting about all I want is a pie and a glass of cider to go with it!"

Fergus laughed and answered,

‘’Tis naught to do with the incense, you old glutton!” As he said it he realized that with the herbs in it, it just might indeed be, and grinned sheepishly, colouring slightly.

After walking the kitchen and its spaces, Fergus set down the censor and allowed its cargo to go out.

Bowing again to Rosalita, Al and Daisy, he summoned energies from the land, recharging the losses he’d taken as part of the blessing and grounding the few negative energies he’d collected.

“Shall we go see how the children have done?” he asked, as he headed out the door. Bemused, Al and Daisy headed out the door to the main hall as well, while Rosalita said a prayer of thanks to the Virgin for the blessing her kitchen had just received.

As they walked out, the air in the main hall was heavy with the fragrant smoke of the smudging being done by Sterling and Flash. They were descending the main stair as they came into the hall, looking tired but satisfied.

“Smudging is done, grids are set up – you need to tie them together, Athair.”

Sterling nodded, and the both of them sat on the blanket for a momentary rest. As they drank water and rested, Sterling looked up and said, “We’re headed over to the old house to do the same – can you join us there, the quarters and at the garage when you get done clearing here?”

“Aye, that I will. Do not overstrain, children, we will do this together.”

The two young mages headed over to Old Alexander, the trappings of their work carried between them.

“Now, ‘Tis time to tie all of the childrens’ work together.”

Returning to the kitchen, Fergus charged the censor again with the church incense, adding the herbs again to the proper balance. With it lit, the three toured the house, poking into every room as they worked their way from the top down.

As they did, the feeling of the house was lightening – not a lot, but quite noticeably. Daisy asked Fergus as they walked,

“I feel lighter somehow, not sure how else to describe it - is this normal?”

“Aye, ‘tis. Tha haven’t live here long enough for the house to be heavy with negative energy, but ‘tis some. Tha are feeling it depart – and it will stay gone, with the work the young ones have done. Ye’ll feel it more next door. There’ll be a change there tha will notice.”

New Alexander done, Fergus performed his forms, grounding the energies and replenishing his stores. They walked over to Old Alexander, where the young ones had been hard at work.

With the linking of the individual grids to each other and the protective spell from the bell which still lingered, the atmosphere in the old home changed dramatically. Like the lifting of blinds and shades will illuminate a room, the spirit of the house lightened.

“Amazing – it's just amazing.”

Daisy felt it – she’d spent most of her life there, and the breath of fresh air was a revelation.

"‘Twas a wee bit clogged with emotion – the work here will keep it clear – though we would nae turn down an invitation to clear it every few years.”

Fegus grinned, though the strain of the work was showing on him.

“Consider it done – and please rest a few minutes.”

“Na, best to keep on. Th’ work the children have done will no' last without the finishing work. Two more places, then we’re done.”

The work continued, prayers, lightening, then grounding the negative energies and replenishing from the leylines.

The centaur quarters were, compared to the old house, a triviality – while people had lived there, the concentration of interaction and energy had been in the big house.

The garage, last on the list, was a surprisingly difficult problem. For a simple structure, a few things had happened there, and Clara’s presence those months when she was still laden had helped nothing.

As the older couple and Fergus entered, Sterling and Flashburn were finishing a pass with bundles of herbs. From the clouds of smoke in the air it was easy to ascertain that it had not been their first.

Grounding the negative energies, the pair collapsed to the blanket to rest.

Sterling, winded, reported.

“Uncle, the shades are stubborn. There is so much unhappiness here – also there's a one of a life cut short that did not want to finish. Says it needs to finish.”

Daisy clutched Al’s arm – and Al knew.

“Rock.”

Daisy turned to Fergus, a stricken look on her face.

“Please be gentle. That is my husband – he died here, working on a car with his brother. Heart attack.”

“Aye, lass. We will free him of this place, and his shade as well from its connection.”

Lighting the censor, he began to walk the walls, circling toward the center. As he did, he chanted:

“Tha an latha air a dhèanamh, tha an solas air falbh,
Uile a 'dol gu leabaidh, cadal an cadal na dìreach.
Go, spiorad, agus fios a tha thu a ghràdhaich,
Cadal an cadal a tha thu air a dhiùltadh.
Rest, caraid, airson an dealachaidh a tha beag,
Agus an Veil ni sam bith ach an àm."

(The day is done, the light has gone,
All go to their beds, to sleep the sleep of the just.
Go, spirit, knowing you are loved,
To sleep the sleep you have been denied.
Rest, friend, for the separation is slight,
And the Veil nothing but time.)

Around and around the walls, censor smoking, he recited the prayer, and things changed. The air somehow lightened, even with the addition of the smoke to the air. The atmosphere became more tranquil, and the eddies of smoke nothing more than what they were.

At the center, Fergus stood, censor held high, and recited the prayer one more time. Then he lowered it, and his shoulders slumped, exhausted.

Flash and Sterling took deep breaths, and their shoulders slumped as well, with relief.

“It’s done. The spirits here – the ones Clara brought and the one that was unhappy – all of them are gone.”

Daisy turned to Al and gripped him fiercely, crying into his shoulder. He held her till the storm blew out, as even the fiercest emotion can only be sustained so long.

Once Daisy subsided, Fergus walked forward and gently said,

“And now, we shall take our leave. Things are clean, and will stay so. Enjoy your travels Ailean, and come back to your family whole and sound.

We must rest. Please excuse us.”

“Can we do anything for you? Please, you’ve done so much-"

Daisy, despite the storm of emotion, felt deep concern for their friends, as did Al.

“No. We need rest. Remember us when your travels are done, and let us come and share your tales, not before. Thank you.”

With that, they left, leaving Daisy and Al standing in the middle of the now-tranquil space.

Returning to the house, Daisy and Al sat quietly on the couch in the alcove, him holding her hands. After a small while, she spoke.

“I had no idea…no idea at all that Rock had stayed. I assumed he was gone, as he was from my life. It’s a shock to realize that some small, unhappy part of him had stayed behind in the garage, there, where he died.”

“You couldn’t know – there was no way to. Be glad, be very glad, that you found out – and were able to release that part of him to the peace he deserved. That part of him is lucky to be free. Had you cared less – about me, and about him – he might have been there forever and been stranded long after all those who remembered him were dead. Then he would have been truly alone.

Now, he is free – and he left knowing he was loved. Fergus told him, for you.” With that, Al recounted the meaning of the prayer that Fergus recited in the garage when he cleansed it. With that, the look on Daisy’s face changed from unknowing, to understanding, and still sad but willing to release him.

With the recounting of the words of the prayer’s end, “Go, spirit, knowing you are loved, to sleep the sleep you have been denied. Rest, friend, for the separation is slight, And the Veil nothing but time.” she broke down and cried, held in Al’s arms till the storm was over.

Cleansed by the tears, she smiled, a little weakly, and said “I’m glad we were able to help him. He deserved peace.”

“Indeed.”

With that, Edward entered the room, a trifle noisily. He announced “Dinner in ten minutes, mistress, Al.” He then withdrew, realizing this was not a place for him at present.

“I must look a mess,” she said, starting to get up from the couch. She rose, as did Al, who put his arms around her waist, looked her straight in the eye, and said “You have never been more beautiful to me.”

She twisted, slightly embarrassed by his frank admiration. He took her face in his hand, gently, and turned his lips to hers, kissing her gently, and saying again, “You have never been more beautiful to me.”

“I love you.”

With that, he put his arm around her waist, and she his, and they walked to the dining room, touching and unwilling to be separated.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

Warrl: Cope. :)

6 - Finished Preparations.

That Thursday dawned clear and bright – and with a sense of anticipation. Twenty-four hours from now, for good or ill, they’d be on the road East.

Clara had never been in better condition. Her systems had been gone over with meticulous care, and from tyres to roof vents she’d been carefully prepared. However, even the best machines can need care, so a representative sample of spares had been packed in Clara’s lockers, along with manuals, tools and test equipment.

The human factors had been dealt with as well. The interior was comfortably furnished, with crisp sheets, soft blankets, pillows and all the amenities. A large supply of paper books had been loaded, as well as the same electronically on a tablet.

Clothing, necessities, supplies of all kinds filled the spacious lockers, eliminating the need for traveling bags. Cozy as an English cottage, Clara’s interior promised comfort and solace – especially since her cleansing and grounding.

For all intents and purposes, Clara was ready to go anywhere.

Her owner, however, was suffering from serious second thoughts – and preemptive loneliness.

For a man who had had family for such a short time, his pangs at being parted from them even temporarily were sharp. However, he needed the time off – this was blindingly obvious. Even the respite from routine imposed by Ialin’s interference had shown him how overwound he was.

Why did he have to go away from all he loved, though? Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that, but really?

He stood, staring at the ambulance, pondering his thoughts.

Behind him, the faintest fluttering sounded, almost musical.
The scent of the forest, cool, green and earthy gently drifted along on the vagrant breeze tickling his right ear.
A slight pressure blossomed on his shoulder, and he turned to see Ialin, hair drawn back except for a few wispy strays, wearing what looked like Elven leathers, and his mind briefly conjured up a memory of Emerauld in her mottled forest greens, laughing as she showed Daisy a few Elvish gardening tricks...just before hitting her with a conjured snowball. Only Ialin's steel-toes marred the memory.

“I’m not asleep, am I?”

Concerned and a bit confused, Al pinched himself – and found he was quite awake.

“You've grown a bit more Al, so no, you are quite awake – this is the next step in the journey. If I am to help you grow young again, I can hardly do this with you dozing in the sun, now can I?”

“You do have a point. So what’s the drill?”

She slid off his shoulder, wings fluttering, and settled to hover in the air in front of him, hands on hips.

“First off, the drill is there is no drill. No rules, lists, plans, conditions, though you are allowed a single contingency plan for emergencies...no wait, your mate and your friends created one for you, so I take it back, no plans."

She stuck her tongue out at him impishly.

"Secondly, stop being such a damn sad sack. I could feel you moping from…where I was, and that’s just not the name of the game here.

You need this Al. You need an adventure that is for one time in your life NOT life and death! You and the old girl need to go slay some dragons that aren’t going to slay back for Goddess’ sake!

They will all be here when you get back, and with the gifts you carry they will know you are well and you them, so you can go with no fears or qualms. They will miss you and you will miss them, but both will be glad in the end when you return.

Now quit moping out here and go have your breakfast!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Al snapped to attention and snapped off a proper English salute, then pivoted neatly on a toe and marched toward the house, with the delighted giggles of the pixie floating in the air behind him.

Breakfast was always a happy meal for him, good food, coffee and another day ahead of him. This particular one was festive – Rosalita had pulled out all of the stops, producing a classic English breakfast down to the fried tomato and beans.
As he consumed bite after bite from the crammed-full plate of food, she stood there, alternately beaming and urging him to eat it all – as “he wouldn’t have her cooking in that silly truck of his”.

“My dear lady, I can assure you that I will hardly go hungry by falling back on my own resources! I fed myself for many years before I fell under the spell of your cooking – and while I will dearly miss it, I will survive!”

“Nonetheless, Señor, you will miss me?”

“Of course I will. Where will I get a magnificent breakfast like this unless I go out and shoot it myself?”

She giggled, and left him in peace to finish his laden trencher.

After breakfast a thought struck him. He wasn’t expected at Building 2 at all today, so why not a run into the city for coffee? He had nothing on the agenda for the morning. With the thought in mind, he tracked down Daisy, who was about tasks of her own.

“Dear, would you mind if I ran into the city for a bit – I feel a need for a coffee shop run. You’re more than welcome to come, if you wish.”

She kissed him, then gave him a gentle shove toward the door. In a wicked imitation of his own accent she said,

”Go on with you then – off to your slatternly friends!”

Laughing delightedly he made his way to the garage and unlocked the Aston-Martin.

Oh, there’s a thought. Have to ask Buck or Daisy to drive it while he was gone – wouldn’t want the battery to run down. Milk runs out to Minnetonka would keep the battery charged – and he’d been warned about that by AHI Runnymeade. Something about munitions timers…

*thwhack!*

"You bloody grackle, 'geroff!"

"Stop planning things! Buck knows as much about this car as you do. Leave something for them to think of!"

She winked out before he could retort.

On the run into Minneapolis he listened to his usual satellite radio. Moody Blues, Procol Harum, Zombies, Velvet Underground, Thomas Dolby…all played as he mused on the vagaries of fate – wondering yet again how he managed to end up where he was.

As he parked near the shop (parking was getting worse every year – time to start taking the portal, maybe) the familiar strains of the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’ ” filled the car.

“…What a long, strange trip it’s been…”

Al laughed heartily, waiting till the song finished before hopping out and walking down the street.

The bell on the door tinkled as he entered, and Tina looked up, a broad smile on her face.

“AL! I was wondering if we’d see you before you left!”

I've seen better auras, but I've also seen worse - on you.
They thought.

“Yes, dear – I had to come in for a cup of the city’s best coffee before I left. The usual, please.”

Turning, she prepared his order, and handed over a laden tray. Coffees, chocolate croissants, and a bag of ground coffee adorned it.

“Your partner in crime is at his table – go visit. Catch me on the way out – and the ground coffee’s a present for the trip. If you get lonely, make a cup and we’re there.”

She smiled, a little crookedly, and shooed him off.

“Gods – they let anybody in here!”

Al needled his old friend and blood brother – Gods protect him from the times when they had to speak frankly to each other.

“Yep – sureashell do – you slid in under the door – or was it up the drain? Good to see you, Al. I was going to drop out and say hello before you left, but this is perfect.”

Al dispensed the coffee and pastries, and set the tray aside for cleanup. With that he sat across from his old comrade, and they sipped from their cups.

"So, got the scrapheap ready to go? I am NOT shipping you parts when that thing breaks down in East Goat Rodeo. Not like you'll find parts for anything but that engine out there, anyway."

"Fear not - first off my staff is taking bets on whether or not the old girl will let me down. The pot's up to a few hundred - you might want to get in on it - I know some of the chaps from AHI are in. I'm in for 'No Breakdowns' - waving a red flag in Murphy's face."

"That just means if you can fix it yourself no one will ever hear about it."

"Would I do that?" Al feigned shock and surprise, hand over heart and a shocked expression on his face.

"Save the bullshit for the officers - I know better.”

Greg chuckled and took a pull from his fresh coffee, and stole one of the croissants Al was zealously guarding. Tearing into the flaky pastry, he listened while his friend and partner snickered, then grew a bit more serious.

"How are you all in all?"

"Tired, enervated, sad at leaving. I know I need to go, but that doesn't make me want to. Once I'm on the road it will be different, but right now I'm missing them already.

I had a...friend yell at me this morning. She told me that "I needed to go out on a mission that was NOT life and death, for once." She was right.

Is it just me, or do you feel like everything you do and every step is life and death, and a misstep is fatal?"

Greg took a pull at his coffee and finished his pastry, then set his cup down and sighed.

"Not all the time - just about 1,440 times a day. People like us never lose the feeling that everything is a mission - right down to fetching a gallon of milk from the store.

It's why we get angry, and treat things too seriously. It's a hard habit to break."

Al nodded, finishing the last bite of his croissant as well.

“She said that if I’m going to become young again – her words, not mine – that I need to go and adventure – and learn to treat things as they should be treated – serious or not – and do the not-serious ones just for the joy of it. I’m not sure what that’s all about – but it seems like a plan.” Al looked behind him, expecting to get thumped for mentioning the word 'plan'.

Greg nodded, saying nothing to the statement, or his twitchy movement. He merely added,

“Wise friend you have there.”

“Indeed. Someday I hope to be able to introduce you.”

Soon, they parted – Greg back to the Okanogan and his gunsmithing, Al to the Aston.

Al drove aimlessly – not really knowing where he was going. Driving along, of a sudden he found himself on a very familiar street five blocks from Mucho Mocha – a dirty industrial alley lined with the roll-up doors of warehouses and small workshops.

He pulled into a parking lot – one that had once fronted a building much like the others. Now, it was a vacant lot, with a FOR SALE sign from a local realtor hammered into the dirt where the razed remains of the industrial building still littered the ground.

Nearly unconsciously, his hand shut off the key and he stepped out. Dust from the earth of the lot coated his shoes as he wandered the area, now weed-strewn and still littered with bits and pieces of building debris.

He bent, and picked up a scrap of melted aluminium, flecks of yellow paint still clinging to the unburned corner. Unbidden, memories of his life on this spot, in the small, shabby building that was once here came to visit. The busy days, the lonely nights with his memories, his tools and collections the only companionship - all came to mind.

Throwing the aluminium back to the earth, he walked away. He felt a sudden, ungovernable yearning to see Daisy’s smile again, to hug his stepchildren, to play with his grandchildren – to return to the life he now had.

That Al Richer was gone – it was time for this one to grow young again.

Hovering out of sight, a slight breeze catching her hair, Ialin smiled.

"Starting to understand, eh old timer?"

Inserting the key (notch up, as always) he started the Aston and drove away, turning towards home and those that loved him – and always would.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

PART TWO:

7 – One Turn Of The Wheel


Slowly, clattering as a Diesel will, the ambulance rolled out of the gate of the Alexander estate the next morning. No one saw him off by his request – he despised good-byes, and much preferred to slip away and be elsewhere.

However, pairs of eyes watched him and the old truck as they rolled away – and not dry ones. Daisy, watching from the second floor, saw the brilliant Union Jack on the white field of the roof and prayed she would see it again in a month or so. Hand in pocket gripped around the stones in their pouch, she knew he was well, but a bit of sadness escaped her eyes at the parting.

The children were still asleep, but Katherine, standing near the kitchen window in their home, heard the Diesel drive out and quietly smiled. She wished him safe journey, and hoped he’d return with stories and tales to tell.

Rosalita and Edward, who’d just begun the day’s labours, stopped as they heard the Diesel’s rumble. Rosalita stopped, crossed herself and whispered a prayer to the Virgin for his safe return – she knew he wasn’t a believer, but the Virgin would still watch over him.

Edward said, “He’ll be back in a month or thereabouts – and God willing he’ll be fine.”

“Yes, but it will be quiet here without him, like the old days. I like it better now – the Señora is much happier even with the craziness. It’s good to have someone in your life, even if he is a lunatic.”

Connector roads to highway, he plotted his course east. Music on the stereo, Diesel thudding away, Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away” came on as his front wheels touched the tarmac as he rolled the power on. Coming up to a steady 70 miles an hour the first of many miles rolled under his wheels.

The hours flew by – the road rolled along under the ambulance’s wheels. Every few hours he pulled off for coffee and bladder exercise, and once filled the ambulance’s tank with Diesel. Lunch was from the larder, sitting at the side of the road in Iowa, looking out over the flat, clear land under a brilliant blue sky.

Every now and again he touched the stones in their holder on the dashboard. Each time he did he could feel Daisy’s presence, calming and comforting. She was thinking of him, and she knew he was thinking of her.

The first evening found him south of Crawfordsville, Indiana, in a small, cozy campsite on the Sugar Creek at Shades State Park. They had a space for him, and directed him to a small site at the far back of the campground, well away from the families with children and the sites of partying adults and canoeists.

Once he parked the truck and pulled out his camping equipment, he lit a fire in the fire ring (need coals for dinner) and then pulled out a bundle of sage – one of the ones given to him by Sterling and Flashburn. In a ritual that he hadn’t practiced in years, he lit the bundle, and starting at the left side of the entrance drive, walked around his campsite, finishing at the right side of the entrance. That completed, he sprinkled the ashes across the entrance of the campsite to shield it, and left the rest of the bundle of sage on the table in a holder to purify the air and more pragmatically, help with flying pests.

Simultaneously he felt foolish and more at peace. It had been a lot of years since he’d done the simple rituals that used to give him comfort – and perhaps it was time to go back.

With the rustle of the leaves overhead and the distant sounds of water and of children at play, he settled into a chair near his campfire. Dinner was simple – a thick steak cooked over the coals, potatoes and carrots baked in foil in the ashes of the fire, and a salad prepared for him by Rosalita for his larder. He sighed, contented, waiting patiently for his dinner to be ready

Getting up from his chair, he walked to the back of the ambulance, pulled out his journal, and walked to his picnic table in the late day. He sat at the table, enjoying the colour of the sky and the surrounding greenery. Pulling out his Cross pen, he spun out the ballpoint and began to write, the pen scratching slightly on the rag paper.

Holiday – Crawfordsville, Indiana:

My fate is in the laps of the Gods, to paraphrase the immortal Biggles, gentleman cracksman.

My, doesn’t that sound ominous. It is not meant to be, by any stretch of the imagination. As Ialin has told me, this mission has nothing to do with life or death – and is quite simply a relaxing journey.

This concept is simply incomprehensible to me. However, there it is, and here I am doing it. She says that to grow young again I must learn how to treat life as an adventure and not as a mission – and on this trip I will learn how to do this.

I’ve been on holidays before – but to be honest never one as nebulous as this. For example, today’s route. I had intended originally to follow I-94 to I-90 and take that all the way across the country to the East Coast, and from there go to Maine and hence to Nova Scotia via ferry.

Instead, I find myself just west of Indianapolis, having spent most of my time wandering south and east. As I got up this morning, it had occurred to me that I’d never been to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio – and why shouldn’t I do just that?

Madness, utter madness. I threw away my plans and simply did as I desired. Somehow, my heart feels all the lighter for it. If this is what spur-of-the-moment feels like, I will be doing more of it. I will likely renew my acquaintance with my original route somewhere past Pittsburgh and ascend northeast from there into New England. Till I do, it doesn't matter.
In any case, my dinner is nearly ready. More on the morrow.


With that, he retracted his pen and put it and the book away in the locker.

After dinner, dishes washed and put away, campsite carefully policed, he went for a walk. Locking the old ambulance securely he took the signal wands that Sterling and Flashburn had given him, slipped them into a pocket, picked up a briar staff from a holder in the corner and went for a stroll by the side of the river.

The gravelly sides of the banks provided an ideal footpath, and he walked casually along, sans camera, phone or any modern addition. The length of the staff set a natural pace for him and he strolled along, enjoying the sound of the water and the coolness of the shade after the warmth of the day in the cab of his truck.

After a half-hour of walking he found himself on a small shelving beach, gravel-covered, with a step back into a mossy bank. Seeing this natural lounge, Al sat and just stared at the water.

After a while, he picked up a handful of the pebbles and started to skim the flat ones on the moving water. It was a curiously Zen moment for the old engineer – no plans other than sleep, no schedule, nothing urgent to do.

It felt ODD.

Reaching down for another handful of pebbles, he was struck by one of the handful. Smooth, rippled on one side, dark, glassy and quite water-worn, its composition was quite at odds with the gravel of the bank. Wondering what it was and deciding to examine it later, he dropped it in a pocket and returned the rest to the river bed one by one.

Noticing the evening was beginning to darken, he got up, dusted himself off, and headed back upstream to the campsite, pulling out his tactical flashlight as the day grew dimmer.

As the day closed, he changed into his scrubs and settled down in the brightly lit cabin of the ambulance, reading a well-thumbed copy of an AC Doyle novel. Tiring, he fell asleep, the stones connecting him to his dam held to his chest.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

8 - Decisions and resolutions.

The next morning was disorienting. Waking just before dawn, Al looked up at the light green walls, the locker overhead and had no idea where he was. The presence in the back of his mind of his sleeping spouse given by the small pouch in his hand steadied him and the sound of the breeze in the leaves above brought him back to reality.

On the road. Dayton today! Pulse quickening slightly, he turned on the Teasmade to heat water for coffee, then let himself out for a trip to the facilities.

On the way back he marveled at his surroundings. The fresh air, bright green of the foliage, rushing of the water and calm atmosphere despite the children playing was a tonic to his spirit.

“Should have done this years ago. Really need to stop talking to myself…”

Taking a walk round the ambulance to see that all was well, he let himself back into the interior to be greeted by a slightly steamy atmosphere as the teamaker pumped hot water into the catch pot. Letting it finish, he spooned Tina’s coffee blend into his French press, filled it with the piping-hot water and set it sit.

Ah….routines.

Potable water…check
Grey water tank…check
Battery voltages…check

Coffee ready, he sat on his neatly-made bunk (some habits never die) and sipped his coffee. Al savoured his first sip - the warm, slightly stuffy interior of the old ambulance was comforting, and he'd slept the sleep of the just for the first time in a long time. Coffee, breakfast, a wash and brush and back on the road.

It was a wonderful morning. The sweetness of the day was leavened perfectly by a wisp of loneliness for his family - but the crystals gave him the connection he so needed - and that made life just perfect.

To his left, the now familiar earthy scent and fluttering popped in as he sat on his neatly-made bunk. To say he was surprised at no longer being surprised was an understatement – and he allowed himself a chuckle at that.

In a hearty voice he said "Gooooood morning, Ialin - and how are you this LOVELY day?"

"Oh, my - someone's full of piss and vinegar this morning! Slept well, I presume?"

"A long day of travel, a good dinner, and a quiet restful night - indeed I did. Should have done this years ago."

"Good. VERY good. By the way, someone left you a gift here - I just spotted it."

"Gift?"

Between the bunk frame and the pedestal - there's a package. Surprised you didn't find it when you made your bunk." Drawing out the bundle, he noticed two things right away. Mottled green and brown patchwork and...short strands of coarse hair - Wolf fur?

Emerauld.

Looking to the Heavens and sighing as his heartbeat quickened, Al opened the bundle, and read the scroll.

As he held it open he felt the power bleeding off it, and realised it wasn't written in the Queen's English, though he understood it in English, which made little sense to him.

"Al ussta abbil, qualla tlu sreen'aur. L'Har'dro ghil niye a l'ssiggrin d'dos neitar a 'tilleadh.
Udos kestal dos inbal rèidh dosst tinn àbhachdas, lu'ph'plynnin natha Sos. Ge be dè, udos daewl dos al, lu'inbal pàircichte ghil belbolil whol dosst sreen'aur.
Ussta dalninil pande natha madari slacan ulu lar ilta wun draeval d'ssrig'luin, lu'natha keeshe nindel, vel'drav a dhèanamh sers dos veldrinus dal verin, xor rhag busnesa solen. Wun p'totis Usstan inbal zho'aminth ulu sevir dos xuil fol, Usstan ichl sevir madari slacan ulu tlu t'larryo wun ssrig'luin, d'elezz Usstan tlun naut 'zil zhennu natha sargtlin 'zil il...ji lassrinn ilt ust.
Ussta keeshe zhah utilitarian tlu coimeas, fridj natha tah'entil velvel, naubol mzild.
L'inlul sporan zhah faer wun arlathil, ji zhal'la dos ilfu'da Jabbuk Prroul, sevir ol rathrea.
Wu'suul ph'shol'va lu'ky'hul ulu k'olah dosst sel keeshen, ailbhinn, skikudis, lu'bundles d'sage. Kl'ae ol ulu ghlanadh dosst gwersyll...lu'dosst biotáille.
Zhaun nindel far a bheil sin dos ph'lu'vel'bol dos xun, dos inbal Dalninin wun Athiyk...lu'biu pahntar ki wun udossta gwersyll.
Safyr tanaleth'u J'bober miannachadh uk orn lann..."Malon Tape" phor ukt norrs lu'tlu venorik rena dos ilfu'da. Lluniaeth al wun dosst aistear, Dalninuk."
To'ryll Drathmir
Uuthli Drathmir


("Al my friend, please be safe. The Earth here weeps at the thought of you never returning.
We hope you have reconciled your ill humours, and are taking a Holiday. Regardless, we wish you well, and have enclosed here gifts for your safety.
My sister includes a signal wand to summon her in time of need, and a dagger that, when carried, keeps you shadowed from evil, or prying eyes. In case I have forgotten to leave you with some, I too leave signal wands to be broken in need, though I am not as great a warrior as she...so break hers first.
My dagger is utilitarian in comparison, just a hunting knife, nothing more.
The small purse is magic in nature, so should you visit Master Prroul, leave it behind.
Inside are oil and cloth to clean your new daggers, flint, steel, and bundles of sage. Use it to cleanse your camp...and your spirits.
Know that wherever you are and what you do, you have Sisters in Spirit...and an open seat in our camp. Safyr says J'bober swears he will wear..."Duck Tape" over his mouth and be silent while you visit. Fare well in your journeys, Brother."

To'ryll Drathmir
Uuthli Drathmir)


As Al stared at the letter certain details began to come to him. First off, this was To’ryll’s handwriting – this he knew. However, the signature at the bottom – Uuthli Drathmir – was different in form.

Safyr. Had to be Safyr. Al felt awed and humbled – Safyr had shared her private name with him, in a straightforward way as was her wont. Setting the letter aside – this had to be preserved in with his personal papers – he began to examine the contents of the bundle.

Inside were an ornate black dagger and sheath, with a fine maille chain. He remembered seeing its like before...on Glytch and Sarge.

Also a small leather pouch with a wrist strap. The pungent, yet peaceful scent of sage practically burst from it.

"Ahhh. That's why she said to keep it away from Prroul. It can be worn. Endlessly practical."

One wand pulsed with an inky blue...presence. It wasn't quite right, but it was as close as he could come to in thought. The other was endlessly swirling with ribbons of green, and as an afterthought, touched it, and felt the lifeblood of the forests coursing through it.
Thoughtful, he touched the blue one, and felt cool, peaceful, darkness. It wasn't the pulse-pounding fear one has in the dark, no. This was the silence of night.
Engineer's curiosity getting the better of him, he drew out the other bundle he had, and looked at the other two. One was undulating like waves...of metals and water. The other looked like a live fire, or a volcanic eruption.

Gingerly, he touched Sterling's wand. Molten silver, snow, ice, crystalline water...laughter? Touching Flashburn's wand, fire. It was pulsating with barely contained fire. Such a wild riot of crimsons, scarlets, and violent gold. All this and a quiet reserve. He could smell the ancient pages of massive tomes.

He put everything down, ran his hands over his face, and breathed deep.

This was mad. Utterly. Mad. What was that crazy elf trying to do to him now-

*THWACK!*


"Hold it there, big guy. She had zero, absolutely nothing to do with that. Pick them up. Go on. Do it!"

He picked up the wands, and looked at them again. Just ordinary quartz wands.

"Bloody hell. Did YOU do that then?"

"Nope. You couldn't pay me enough to have that sort of magic."

"Then what--"

One at a time, he picked up items, trying to get that strange effect to happen. It wasn't until he noticed the flat rock on the floor (that had come from the riverbank where he was skipping stones) and picked it up that it all went strange.
Examination of it showed two strange runes that seemed to have been created within, and only uncovered by its constant tumbling in the river.

"What is this, can you read it?"

Her face and manner sobered, and she quoted a well-loved children's book:

"Make your choice, adventurous 'stranger',
Strike the bell, and bide the danger.
Or wonder 'til it drives you mad,
What would have followed, if you had."


"Sure ya wanna go down that rabbit hole?"

"No plans, remember?"

"Loosely translated, it means, 'Gift of Truth.' While you have that, nobody can ever lie to you. No spell or glamour can hide or deceive.

Look at me Al if you don't believe me. Here's your chance to find out who I really am."

Carefully looking straight ahead, Al asked, “And I take it a cute little pixie with an odd colour palette and a taste for industrial footwear isn’t it?”

“Wellllll, no. No, not really. Not by a long shot.”

Al stood still, balancing and weighing the thoughts.

“All right then. How do I get rid of this thing safely?”

“Hand it over.”

He passed the stone back over his shoulder. There was a dry, gritty sound of someone cleansing their hands with pumice and a softly intoned chant.

“Turn around.”

He did, and on the tiny countertop was a pile of glittering dust, sitting on the tea towel he’d used for the dishes.

“Why don’t you take that down to the river and then come on back – we need to talk a bit.”

As bidden, he took the contents of the towel and emptied them back into the waters, which swiftly swallowed them and carried them away.

Sitting back down with his coffee, Al stared at the pixie, swinging her legs on the edge of his countertop.

“I was warned about this. As your friend the 'Kitty Kitty' said, you are a magnet for this stuff – it sort of finds you.”

Bitterly, Al said, “Well, so much for the concept of relaxing. I will never be able to now – it will always keep finding me – and I can never let my guard down.”

*THWACK*

Where she hid that blueprint tube was beyond him, even a baggy jumper didn't have that much room.

“Minotaur crap! Of course you can. That’s what I wanted to talk about.

Through every last bit of the insanity you’ve been through there has ALWAYS been an out, or a way through. Whatever is tossed at you, you always handle it – and in the vast majority of cases it ends up for the positive.”

“Need I mention the name Arania? Or for that matter Rosalynd?

This stuff finds you, this is true – but when it does you always have a way to handle it for the betterment of everyone -- and you always will.

That stone was not sheer serendipity – I smell the hand of my bosses on it...I'm really not happy about that either, believe me Al. It's unseelie droppings...which make lousy fertilizer. You are what you are."

“And what would that be – a freak caught between two worlds and belonging in neither?”

“No, one of a very, very few humans gifted with the knowledge of both worlds – and the ability to live unfettered and unashamed in both. You love, you are loved (your family, Sarge, Glytch, Sterling, Emerauld, Safyr...I could keep going here) and you bring the wonder and perceptions of one world to the other – witness the Launcher, and the endless amount of work you do for MIB and for the para world in general.

Now, you need to learn when to come OFF guard – and to enjoy being who and what you are and stop treating everything as a threat. You are what you are, but need not be ruled by it, n'est ce pas?”

“Not going to be easy – and who did you say your bosses were, by the way?”

The pixie snickered.

"No, no, no, nonono, oh no Al. Not right now. In good time, my dear man, in good time. Now, get yer arse up off the bed, have your breakfast and let’s hit the road...but ah, not with yer fist. My healing is subpar, and yer dam would not be pleased with me."
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

9 - Travel, Panic and Fish

The trip across the country had been long, but relaxing. Spending the better part of a half-day at the museum in Dayton was fun, but had slowed his progress. As he kept telling himself, this was what a vacation was all about – doing things, not just rumbling along at best speed.

Stops – Moraine State Park, near Pittsburgh. A private campground bordering the state park provided a quiet corner unfortunately far from water and noisy with other campers near, but tolerable for a night’s stay. Following his routine, an early dinner and a quiet evening walk punctuated his day, with reading into the evening then an early night’s sleep.

Today found him in Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. He grimaced at the thought of the first campsite he’d inflicted on himself – a great empty lot strewn with a few scraggly trees, equally overpopulated with the tin boxes of permanently parked caravans, elderly idiots in golf carts and beer-drinking louts. That lasted exactly one hour and 12 minutes before, disgusted with the sadness of the earth in that place (Ialin, he noted, was huddled in the passenger seat tearing up), he drove to the office, demanded and got his camping fee back, and drove on in search of quieter pastures.

Spotting a police car as he pulled out, he followed it till it stopped at a light, then flagged it down, pulling into the lot of one of the endless strip malls that populated the Route 1 area. The police car pulled in behind him, and the driver, a short, running-to-fat policeman who spent too much time dealing with tourist idiots, returned Al’s greeting.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Al gritted his teeth – now was not the time for that argument.

“I’m a visitor in town, and I could use a bit of advice, lads.” He detailed his disgust with the park he’d been in, and the policeman and his partner nodded sagely.

“Yes, sir.
*twitch*
Not one of the better places in town. However, sir,
*twitch*
we’re not allowed to make recommendations on places to stay. Perhaps if you tried at the Chamber Of Commerce up on –“

His partner was poking him, none too gently. As Al had been speaking with them, the passenger had been, none too charitably, running Al’s plate looking for violations.

The report returned had been short and succinct.

MICHIGAN REGISTRATION MSCLARA.
1991 LAND-ROVER DEFENDER 110 XMOD TRUCK
COLOR: GREEN
VIN: SALLHAMV…..

OWNER:
MR. ALLAN RICHER
3401 ALEXANDER ESTATE
MAPLE PLAIN, MN 55357
MN LICENSE #: S348….

NOTE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSONNEL:
DO NOT DISTURB. DO NOT APPROACH. IF APPROACHED, RENDER ALL ASSISTANCE POSSIBLE. GOVERNMENT PRIORITY 1.

The driver turned to his partner, whose eyes were bugging out of his head at the information on the screen.

“What?”

“Read this.”

He swiveled the laptop screen toward the driver, angling it so that Al, standing outside, could not see it.

Meanwhile, Ialin had fluttered noiselessly behind the officer, seen only by Al (who became suddenly expressionless), reading the screen over their shoulders, and suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth and vanished.

The driver’s eyes widened at the data relayed to him. He wasn’t sure what kind of a government type this guy in the old Army truck was, but he sureashell was not going to mess with him.

AT all.

“Sir,
*twitch*
If you will follow me please I will take you to the station. From there, I am very sure we can find a proper place to accommodate you and your Power Wagon.”

Al was utterly nonplussed for a second, then he realized that the cop in the passenger seat had run his plate.
For a moment, he wondered what the report had said, then he decided that he had no particular desire to know – and in this case ignorance was not only bliss, it was a good operating policy. He wasn’t even going to correct him on calling Clara a Power Wagon…this was just too rich.

Starting Clara, he followed the police cruiser, now with its roof lights on.

Next to him, lying prone on the passenger’s seat was Ialin, literally breathless in hysterical laughter. Wings fluttering with attempts to breathe, she pounded her fists on the upholstery.

“Oh..My..Gods…wh...wh…did MIB set...up…on your plates?” she gasped out between laughing jags.

”I have NO idea. NO idea whatsoever. Whatever it was, it was good, though. We’ve gone from pesky tourist to honoured guest in the time span it took them to run Clara’s plate. Once I get done with these guys remind me to text Billens and Glytch and call off the dogs.”

Cruising along behind with the holidaymaking traffic parting like the Red Sea, a few minutes saw them at the police station on Drinkwater Road. Ialin had conveniently disappeared, so Al disembarked and was escorted into the building to the Chief’s office.

“Mister Richer – I’m Chief Dirsa – it’s a pleasure to meet you. What can my force and I do for you today?”

“Chief, many thanks for the assistance and for letting me take up your time. I’m just visiting – passing through, headed for Canada, actually – but I’m looking for a place to stay that would be quiet, and preferably close to water.”

“I’m sure any of the hotels would be able to take you and your vehicle – let me –“

“Thank you, Chief, but I was looking for a campsite. The truck is equipped, and there are things in it I don’t like to just leave parked in any random lot with people about.” he added, mischievously. Al had NO idea what these people thought, but that should get him what he wanted.

“Yes, sir. If you’ll hang on for just a minute – can I offer you a coffee or a cold drink? – I know just the place for you.” With that, the chief left his office and Deputy Chief Allen came in to keep him company – obviously not at her own choice.

Al and the deputy chief chatted pleasantly for a few minutes, then the chief returned.

“Mr. Richer, we’ve got just the spot for you. It’s not far from here, and it’s a campground run by old friends of mine. They happen to have a waterfront site empty and I’ve reserved it for you. Is there anything else you can use before I have the officers escort you over?”

The reality of that statement was quite different. Upon leaving his visitor in his office, the Chief walked out, picked up a phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Shirley, it’s Chief Dirsa in Hampton Falls. Put yer Dad on the phone. No questions, just DO it.”

The Chief fidgeted anxiously as he waited for the elder to be brought to the phone.

“Terry, it’s Tommy Dirsa. I need you to boot the occupants out of FP1 and FP2 out by the pond. Yes, I KNOW it’s high season and those spots are full – just do it.”

The phone squawked angrily, and the few words audible were by no means proper English.

“Look, I don’t care how you do it – give them other sites and refund their camping fee for the week. The city will pay for it, or I will.”

“Why? I’ll tell you why. I have a government spook that just showed up in town with an old Army truck and he needs a place to camp. YOU are going to accommodate him.”

“No, I do NOT know what a government mucky-muck is doing in town. No, I do NOT know why he wants to camp. I DO know that Wakeda is the nicest, quietest, most out-of-the-way place I can find him and that he’ll be comfortable there. Any questions?”

“Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know, and I don’t WANT to know. Get those sites cleared and I’m sending him over there. Yeah, you can have a quick kick at my butt next time you get into town. Yeah, same to you. Later.”

With a few more minutes of pleasantries Al was escorted to the campground, to be turned over to the care of a very nervous-looking set of proprietors. After filling out the registration and paying his fee, he was escorted to a quiet site by a pond, surrounded by tall pines and scented with their leaves. Left to his own devices at last, he turned to the other occupant of the cab, who was wiping her eyes from the tears of hysterical laughter.

“Call...Billens...you...want to...call off...the dogs...remember?” she hiccupped.

Dialing his phone, Al heard the ringing on the other end.

“Billens.”

“It’s Al. My plate got run. Call off the dogs – nothing is happening – couple of local cops I was talking to ran my plate as a matter of routine. What the hell kind of notations have you got on my registration, anyway?”

“Glad you’re all right – I heard about it, and was hoping you’d do what you did. Notation is the standard MIB – do not approach, do not stop, and render assistance if requested.”

“Well, that notation scared Hades out of the police force of a small New Hampshire town. Thanks for the assist, and I’ll try not to bother you again. Al out.”

Closing the connection, Al noticed Ialin had disappeared again – probably off to wherever-it-was to catch her breath. He couldn’t blame her in the slightest – this whole thing had a comic flavor of Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole.

However, he was not going to argue.

His new camp was a quiet, calm, tree-lined spot with a fire ring, outdoor table and nothing else. The waters of a small pond lapped nearby, a bit green but still tranquil.

This was more like it.

Digging out a winding of sage from the package on his wrist, he did a cleansing – though the spot really didn’t need it, he felt a comfort in the ritual. Realizing he’d forgotten, he drove back up to the site office to purchase an armload of firewood for his dinner (steak again – he really needed to vary his diet but hey, he was on holiday).

Walking into the wooden frame building framed by a riot of colourful plants he noted that the conversations stopped when he walked in. They didn’t peter out – they stopped.

Oh, dear. Poor folks. Not sure what the police chief told them, but there is a decided odor of spook here – and it’s me. Got to settle things down. Al thought, still greatly amused but a bit chagrined at the trouble he’d stirred up.

“Hi, folks. Looking for some firewood – any chance I can buy a bundle?”

“Sure. It’s stacked in baskets round the side. Six dollars a basket – ought to hold you for a couple nights.”

“Only going to be here the night, but that’s fine by me. Next person there gets a bonus of whatever I don’t need. By the way, I’m Al Richer – thank you for setting me up for the night. Folks around here are really friendly – never expected all the help I got.”

“Quite the rig you have there, Mr. Richer. Land-Rover, right?”

“Just Al, please – I work for a living like everyone else. Yes, Clara is an ex-military ambulance – long retired. I bought her when her time in the service was up, and she and I have hit a few continents since.”

A thought struck him – he was tired of eating alone.

“Actually – let’s hold off on the firewood – where is there a good restaurant close by? Been eating alone since I left the Midwest and tired of it right now. Need to get some supplies, too – out of cream and eggs and a few other things.”

“Well, you likely want to stay out of Hampton, Hampton Falls and all that – it’s Summer, and the Canadians are in in droves. This is the Riviera of Quebec in the Summer. Actually, let me say that again - you want to go off Route 1 except for the groceries. Actually, do you like seafood?”

“Mate, I grew up on good English fish – love it. Certainly don’t get it in Minneapolis.”

Okay – if you’re willing to deal with crowds let me tell you where to go. If you go into Seabrook (South of here) on Route 286 there are two fish houses across the road from each other – Markey’s and Brown’s. Pick one, though don’t be surprised if the locals at either spend time saying the other is horrible – locals hereabouts are funny that way. It’s hilarious – both places buy from the same lobstermen and fishermen, and the fish is as fresh as it gets. There is no real difference between ‘em, but folks do take sides. They’re funny that way.”

“For your supplies, on the way in from here there’s a farm stand about a mile up. They have dairy and perishables as well, and could likely give you what you need without braving the tourists in that nice old truck.”

“Thanks – sounds a treat. Haven’t had good fish in years – the Midwest isn’t noted for ocean fish, as you can imagine.” He grinned. “Never did learn to like trout – it’s just not the same. Actually, let me have a basket of firewood as well – give me something to sit next to and keep off the mosquitoes.”

Al thanked them and paid for his firewood, and set off.

A few hours later, stomach and larder full, he sat at his campsite, the comforting bulk of Clara nearby.

The farm stand had been everything advertised for it – local produce and dairy, all fresh, and all perfect. He’d refilled his refrigerator and added some local vegetables to his cabinet – perfect for the fire-roasted treatment in a skillet.

The fish restaurants had been everything advertised – including the crowds. Buffeted, battered, slinking along the wall to keep from being run over by the hordes of tourists, he got his tray and went outdoors to one of the picnic tables to enjoy it.

It was worth it. Fresh steamed clams with drawn butter and a lobster with the same treatment happily occupied his time and taste buds. Savouring every bite, he enjoyed the light wind and the smell of the tidal flats on which the restaurant was built.

Seagulls wheeling overhead, he closed his mind to the din around him and focused on his dinner – and it was wonderful.

Finishing, he got back in Clara and headed for his site, and another quiet evening.

“So, how was dinner?” Ialin, sitting in her spot on the edge of the counter asked. As they were near the ocean, her outfits had changed to the blues of ocean and sky, though the industrial footwear was still much in evidence.

“Lovely. Haven’t had a feed like that in years. Midwesterners are hardly noted for their culinary skills with clams and lobster. Surprised to see you here – usually by this time of the day you’re elsewhere.”

“Just wanted to check in with you – I left kind of suddenly today – couldn’t breathe.”

Dryly, Al said, ”Yes. I have no doubt about that. I did go by the office here and make doddering-old-man noises to reassure them somewhat. I don’t want to do that again – I’ll have to be careful going forward.”

Ialin nodded. “Not such a good idea to freak people out unnecessarily. Speaking of that, do you have your wands?”

“Yes, I do. I am wearing the arm pouch Eme gave me, and they’re in that. I took out the pouch of sage and stowed it – lovely stuff but the smell was a bit overwhelming when I wore it.”

“Good. Humor me. Wear the Elven knives for the next day or so. These crowds make me nervous – and the people that prey on them. I don’t want you getting in the way of stupid human tricks.”

“You trying to not-tell me something? Speak up, pixie.”

Ialin looked hesitant. “No, not trying to tell you anything in particular. This is just a little rougher than I like it – not here – this is wonderful especially compared to that pit you booked into at first – but the whole tourist thing – and that will be all the way through Calais.”

Al saw the sense of it. To be honest, the crowds and hordes of people made him uncomfortable as well. He’d never been comfortable in crowds – too many possibilities and nowhere to go.

“Will do. I concur. Thanks for the heads-up - I felt much the same but was having trouble figuring it out.”

“I’m all for you relaxing and growing young again – but sometimes relaxing is just a bad idea.”

Al paused, a thought had struck him. “I do need some information from you, however. As you know, I have two knives – one is from a wood elf, and the other is from a Drow. I’m not sure of the magic with these – one is an excellent hunting knife and I’m going to wear it at my back. The other, as the gifting one said, “Will conceal you from evil, or from prying eyes.” To be honest, her archaic speech is sometimes a problem – and I’m not sure what she means.”

Al dug out the knives and placed them on his bunk.

The first was a classic knife, in almost a Bowie style but with a much thinner and finer symmetrical blade. Beautiful etched scrollwork adorned the blade, and the guard and large pommel were of a silvery metal, and Al resisted the urge to ask her. It was intricately cast then carved in a scroll pattern with chased highlights. The grip itself was stacked leather washers, roughed to shape, smoothed then oiled to present a near-solid grip that was nearly impossible to slip upon.

Its sheath was worked leather, laced and designed to clip to a belt or a boot top. Dyed to match the oiled leather of the grip, the entire knife glowed with the quality of its craftsmanship.

The other…was quite different. Sheathed in dark leather was a long knife – one truly deserving the term dagger. Al slid it from its sheath, and under the bright lights in the cabin the dagger glowed dark – absorbing the light and returning nothing.

Made of a dark metal, the pommel and guard were decorated with dark cabochons, in muted reds, blues and blacks. The grip was wrapped in dark silk in an oriental style, giving a grip that a wet or bloody hand could not slip on.

The blade was of the same dark metal as the pommel and guard, and intricately etched on both sides of the blade nearly to the edge.

The heavily-inscribed sheath that had been removed had a maille chain and fittings of the dark metal, obviously made to be draped over a shoulder to retain the knife. Al had no doubt it was the exact right size for him to wear – with none of the elves’ gifts had there ever been the slightest issue of fit.

Ialin drew in a long breath on the display of these treasures.

“This is some very, very fine work – and some seriously powerful magic.

The first is a top quality Elvish dagger – conventional, but very strong and nearly impossible to break. If you ever feel the need to stab a Tyrannosaurus Rex – use that one. It will slide into just about anything with no effort, and out again. Be very careful with it.

The other – is something else entirely. It has all of the characteristics of the first, and magics that equal its physical characteristics. In short, this blade will allow you to engulf yourself in the shadows. You will be able to hide in plain sight. Should you need to conceal, or perhaps 'Get the drop on the dirty rat', this will keep you out of sight.”

“What if I’m injured or die in that state?”

“Good question. Were you of strong will, you could stay hidden until you were safe, then reappear where you could summon help. Were it a Drow (or a half-Drow) you summon, you could stay hidden, because they have an innate affinity with shadow and darkness. If not, you would reappear – were you a strong magic user trained to such that might not be the case, but your will would not be acting on the dagger any longer and it would revert to neutral. What a lovely thought, by the way.”

“Ialin, I’m a warrior. I think as a warrior – always have. It’s one of the reasons…the real world and I don’t see eye to eye sometimes.”

“Understood. When necessary as it is at this moment – it’s admirable. Other times…well, the whole world is not a target – and we’re going to keep working on that, RIGHT?” Ialin looked him squarely in the eye, and he returned her gaze just as steadily.

“Right. Now for the fun bit – how does it work?”

Simple. Wear it. If you walk into danger it will know – and it will activate. You will feel a coolness envelop you, like walking from a warm room to the cool outdoors – and you will know there is danger. It will allow you to strike if need be from concealment – but you will be exposed by your attack. It is not an assassin’s weapon – a Velg’larn could not use this, for example. That’s a –“

“Yes, I am well aware of the term – please do go on.”

"I'm sorry Al, I forgot," Ialin said, looking uncomfortable.

"Hmm? Forgot what?"

Recovering quickly, she finished with,

“That’s really all there is to it. You will be shielded when needed, but cannot act from cover. You can also disperse its effects by an effort of will, or activate it the same way, I believe.”

“Interesting. VERY interesting.” He re-sheathed the Drow weapon, and draped the chain over his neck and one shoulder, suspending the dagger under his arm. The chain as he suspected, was the perfect length, and the dagger did not restrict his movements.

“Thank you. I think this is going to become a new addition to my wardrobe, for at least the next few days.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

10 - I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Early the next morning Al awoke, in the way that was becoming familiar and welcome. Within the quiet of the dawn-lit campsite and the slight water-lapping sound from the pond he came to consciousness, the comfort of his wife's presence in the back of his mind. Stretching, he reached to flip the switch on the teamaker to prepare hot water for his coffee.

Rolling out, making the bed and preparing his coffee was a matter of minutes, then a quick walk to the pavilion for facilities took a few more. When he returned, the water was ready, and soon so was coffee.

Al was excited - tonight he'd be in Atlantic Canada, if things went well. Up I-95 to Route 9 in Maine, then 9 across to Calais. After that, the holiday truly began - miles to go, places to explore and perhaps friends to see again Gods willing. Still a lot of miles between here and there, but it was good straight travel.

Clara had shown no signs of crankiness on this trip, other than a slight tendency for the temperature gauge to rise on long extended hill climbs on the motorway. That was forgivable - the surface area of the ambulance body, combined with the restricted radiator size for the TDi engine, meant that long slogs at high power could cause issues. He was more than willing to accept that - and he really needed to compliment the prototype shop lads on Clara's operation. Just brilliant...

While he was preparing his rashers and eggs on the stove, the familiar presence and scent of the pixie appeared.

"Good morning, Ialin - how are things in Pixieland today? Can I interest you in a fryup?"

"No, but a demitasse of that coffee and some toast would be nice."

"!! I'm sorry, it never occurred to me..." Alarmed, Al realized he'd never offered his companion food or drink - a heinous oversight in his hospitality.

"Al, RELAX. My needs are well met - I was just going to sit and eat with you to be hospitable. However, take this as a lesson - an oversight is not a critical problem - deal and relax."

"In any case, the coffee and toast will be a minute. No worries. Cream and sugar?"

Food prepared, Al and Ialin shared breakfast and discussed the next leg of the trip.

"So - where to from here? We into Canada from here, or do we stop again in the States?"

"No - tonight we camp in Canada, border crossing permitting. We're headed up the highway, then straight over on 9 to Calais. A friend told me it was a good place to cross - not as rule-obsessed as dealing with Quebec, and not as busy as it would have been had we cut over earlier and gone via the Thousand Islands and upstate New York. Less time traversing Ontario and Quebec as well, and cheaper fuel costs through the US, not like it matters."

Breakfast done, washing up done as well, he bade his hosts farewell after discerning the location of a Diesel fuel stop. A pleasant 20-minute run reached a small truck stop several miles from the highway, hence having decent prices and hopefully well-maintained tanks. Al pulled up to the Diesel pump, but a minute or two of trying to authorize the pump had him mystified.

Turning from the pump, he walked to the old-fashioned store building. As he neared the open door, his skin cooled, as though he were walking into a Winter's snow. Warned after the conversation of the night before, Al was immediately on his guard – and...

Walking through the open door into the store, the problem became evident - three customers lying on the floor, and a terrified young girl behind the counter shoveling the contents of the till into a plastic bag with a perfect example of the dregs of society pointing a gun at them all.

“MOVE IT BITCH! GET THE CASH IN THE BAG AND YOU MIGHT LIVE! MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!” the vermin screamed, waving the cocked pistol around and covering the clerk and the patrons lying on the floor.

The clerk moved faster, stuffing bills into the bag and weeping hysterically.

The assailant was a beefy, brutal-looking man carrying what to Al's trained eye looked like a badly abused .357 revolver. On his entry the thug looked hurriedly in his direction, but the gun did not turn, nor did he acknowledge the new threat.

Al smiled - having the acquaintanceship of Elves can be a very handy thing. Blessing the dark dagger that Safyr had gifted him with, he crept closer to the thug, drawing the dagger from Emerauld from its sheath at the small of his back.

With a quick thrust, the carved pommel of the knife was applied to the back of the thug's head, disorienting him. A second application caused his knees to crumple and his corpulent body to hit the floor, with Al stepping to the side and relieving him of the cocked .357 before it hit the floor and discharged.

Al said to the suddenly screaming clerk, "Rope, tie-wraps, anything?" The clerk continued screaming and collapsed to the floor. As she did, the woman who had been among the prone patrons went around the counter to help soothe the poor hysterical girl. Another of the customers jumped up from the floor and ran to the camping section, procuring a length of cotton clothesline and returning while the third, somewhat befuddled from a wound Al noticed on his temple rolled over and sat up on the floor, holding his head.

“Mister, where the hell did you come from? One minute the scumbag’s got a pistol on us, the next you’ve knocked him out cold – and I was looking right at him – you just…appeared.”

“I was there – I just walked up behind him. No mystery – he was too busy screaming at you folks and that poor girl to notice me. It must be the hit in the head you took from the pistol barrel that’s befuddled you.”

Changing the subject, he asked the patron with the clothesline to help him deal with their assailant. Between them they securely bound the thug, turning him on his side to allow him to breathe.

Directing his attention to the wounded man, Al said,

"Call the police, please - tell them there has been an attempted robbery and that Al Richer is here and he'd appreciate their presence ASAP."

No more than a few minutes passed before a cruiser from the North Hampton police arrived, siren screaming, and two officers came in, guns drawn.
Happenstance smiled on Al – the two officers were his friends from the day before, and their attitude changed from wary to respectful as they observed the scene.

"Mr. Richer - got the call - what happened?"

Less than gently toeing the still-unconscious body on the floor, Al said,

"This USELESS MORONIC WASTE OF PROTOPLASM was in the process of robbing the store when I walked in. Thankfully he didn't notice me and I was able to get close enough to thump him a good one. I would appreciate it if you would take him off their hands - I'm sure they'll be happy to testify to his activities - and please leave me out of it."

Word had obviously been passed. With a "Yes, sir" *twitch* they handcuffed the thug, removing the improvised restraints.

Al walked up to the shocked clerk - poor thing couldn't have been more than 25 - and asked politely,

"Would you mind authorizing the Diesel pump for the green truck, please? Here is my credit card."

As he did this a slight fluttering in the open rafters of the old building caught his eye - and he steadfastly ignored it.

Ialin was in the rafters – hysterical silent laughter erupting from her in gales he could feel. The pixie and he were going to talk about this…Al smelled a rat and it had wings and combat boots.
Last edited by Just Old Al on Mon May 09, 2016 11:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Re: Holiday

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11 - Never Trust A Laughing Pixie

On the highway and headed North, Al cast an accusing glance at the pixie.

“And WHAT, pray tell, was all of that about back there? More the point, given the warning I got the day before…did you KNOW that was going to happen?”

Ialin looked uncomfortable, so Al pressed a trifle.

“Look, if that shadowstepping knife hadn’t worked I could have ended up a colander – though admittedly that useless excuse for a protozoan likely couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn let alone me.”

“Al, I can tell you honestly I did not know THAT was going to happen. I did have a bad feeling about the area – and I told you that completely honestly, if you recall.”

“I smell a rat – and she’s wearing combat boots. Or would you prefer pigeon?”

“RAT! RAT, ME? I AM NOT A RAT! I will have you know…”

“Save it for the Marines – the Army won’t believe you.”

“InDEED!” Ialin sat and sulked, wings fluttering slightly as she sat on the edge of the seat. One second stretched to two, then two to ten, and fifteen….then “All right. OK. So I knew something was going to happen. I did not know the exact form it was going to take, but I knew something was up.”

“You know, that would have been nice to know straight out.”

“Why? So you could get all worried and paranoid about it till it actually happened – if at all? This type of prescience is not an exact thing – and probabilities alone never mind the butterfly effect” she flapped her wings for emphasis “can negate anything. Come on, Al – you understand quantum physics far better than you will admit Mister 'I’m nothing but a simple mechanic' with a PhD.”

“It shouldn’t surprise me you know that, though there are few people who know about my detached duty in Oxford.”

“Paid off for Her Majesty, and good for you too – no plain old artificer sergeant-major is going to get the contracts you have with MIB.”

“Have you been reading my file? Nosy little pixie. However – back to the point. I…will concede your point on the nature of quantum events. However, just keep me in the loop. If you feel the need to do it again the way you did, fine – but let me know.

I am going to keep the Drow dagger handy, though, and the Elvish. However, I will not be wearing them through the border checkpoint – they’re going into the kitchen box.”

“Kitchen box? Really?” Ialin laughed. “You are going to put those exquisite works of art in with the dish towels?”

“What more natural place to find a carving knife but in a kitchen drawer? If anyone asks, they’re old and handmade, and no I have no idea who made them as I bought them in an antique shop in Minneapolis.” Al grinned, wickedly. “Are you planning on telling the people who gifted me with them?”

“Who, me?”

“What is this – name two pronouns? More seriously, they’ll draw no notice there – and if I try to hide them completely that fact might draw attention if they decide to search the old girl. Border police are very, very odd that way.”

“Works for me, and no one will hear a word. So, how long to the border?”

“Up I-95 to Route 9 East – then East to Calais. Call it eight hours.”

“Lovely.” With that Ialin fluttered up to the stereo, punched a few buttons, and the sound of Wings filled the cab.

“You and my majordomo Wing would get along well – she loves this stuff. Considerable improvement over the Justin Bieber she started out torturing me with.”

”I think it’s the group name, but hey, that works too.”

With the music on, the pair settled back for the long slog to the border.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Calais was a small, shabby little town on the border. There were two places that the border could be crossed – the commercial terminal leading directly to Route 1, and the original crossing from Main St. via a bridge across the St. Croix River to St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Al chose to avoid the commercial terminal – this was likely to be a high-pressure place with trucks everywhere, and Clara was not the most maneuverable of vehicles at slow speeds. Cruising along at a steady 30 miles an hour, Al drove across the bridge to the Canada Border Services customs post, noticing amusedly that the pixie was wisely nowhere to be seen.

He pulled into line, leaving the proper space between himself and the next vehicle in line. Pulling forward as each car was passed through, he reached the head of the line, where an immaculate member of the Canada Border staff sat in her booth.

Al passed over his passport (the UK one) and awaited the questions.

“Where do you live?”

“Maple Plain, Minnesota.”

“Where are you going, and for how long, sir?”

“Spending a holiday in Nova Scotia, there and back. Likely two weeks in Canada. I have no firm plans other than camping tonight in St. Andrews.”

“Do you have any liquor on board?”

“No, none.”

“Any cigarettes?”

“No, none.”

“Any weapons?”

“No, none.”

“Thank you, sir. Have a good vacation.” The guard returned his passport after stamping it, and Al was on his way.

With a flutter, the pixie settled on the passenger’s seat. “Lovely folks. You were an absolute mouse. You didn’t even twitch when she called you sir.”

Al chuckled. “Indeed I was the absolute soul of discretion. These lads and lasses have no end of trouble, and a very difficult job. I have always made it a point to never give any kind of a C&E type any reason whatsoever to think I was up to anything at all – especially when I was.”

“Oh, DO tell!”

“Sorry, still covered under the 'Official Secrets Act'. Can’t say a word.”

Ialin snickered as Al accelerated to the permitted 50 KPH, headed through St. Stephen for NB Route 1. Once to Route 1, he picked his pace up to the legal limit and moved along, the pixie drowsing on the passenger’s seat.

Taking Route 127 South, they drove down the finger of land out into Passamaquoddy Bay till they reached the picturesque town of St. Andrews. A few more minutes saw them at their campground – recommended by the owner of the site in Hampton.

The campground was a hill and fields overlooking the bay, running gradually downward to a gravel beach. Pointed to his site (a nominally tent site he had little difficulty getting into in Clara) he breathed the clean air blowing in off the bay, and stretched out the kinks from the day in the cab.

Smudging his campsite (this was becoming a habit), he noted the fineness of the light, and the silence from man-made noises. Other than the occasional truck passing on the road above and children playing, the area was tranquil.

Oh, firewood. Al thought. Despite having a very functional gas cooker in the ambulance he preferred his meals cooked outdoors, at least for dinner. With the light dimming he walked back to the store by the highway and entered.

“Hello, folks. Looking for a bundle of firewood – and wondering what you have for fresh meats.”

“Firewood we’ve got – five dollars, and the bundles are on the porch. Beef – not much, I’m afraid. Care for some venison? We have farm-raised venison – very lean, and not at all gamy compared to the wild version.”

“Sold. I’ll also have a pound of bacon if you have it – venison needs to be larded to cook properly.”

Packages wrapped, Al headed back for his campsite, having also bought some local vegetables. Fire lit and burning down to coals, Al dug out his cast-iron skillet and lid and set the skillet over the fire to heat.

Wrapping the vegetables in foil they were inserted into the coal bed for a roast. The venison was larded with the bacon and seared in the hot skillet, then the skillet was set in the coals covered to cook slowly.

While this culinary miracle was taking place, Al dug out his journal, and parked himself near the fire ring so he could monitor the cooking.

Holiday – St. Andrews, NB, Canada

O Canada, terre de nos aieux
Ton Front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!


I remember altogether too well Commonwealth officers from Quebec having a few pints and singing that song. Caused some absolutely glorious rows in the mess.

However, as I am now here I will not express an opinion as to the turgid sentimentality contained in it. Most other national anthems are much the same.

In any case, barring a minor adventure today involving an armed thief and the butt of my knife, the trip has been uneventful. Clara is running flawlessly, and the roads have been kind. The accommodations have been other than a mistake in Hampton comfortable – and the one I am in tonight no exception. I am parked in a grassy, tree-surrounded area, with one side opening to the Passamaquoddy Bay with a view toward what I am told is Deer Island in the distance.
This trip has been a tonic. I have driven each day, gone to bed tired, slept soundly, and awoken refreshed. My traveling companion Ialin provides company when she wishes, and leaves me be when I prefer it. I have rarely traveled with a more convivial companion, despite her penchant for whacking me with a blueprint tube when I stray from my path.

The one thing that makes this trip a joy despite my separation from my dam and children is the gift that the mages gave us, The Herkimer diamonds give a connectedness – nothing psychic or even particularly overt, but having them lets me feel her in the back of my mind. I know she’s fine, and thinking of me, and she knows the same is true for me – and this let her let me go with no fear for my well-being.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder – rubbish! Absence causes grief and fear - this small contact is a steadying tonic in my quest to “grow young”.

The “safety net” provided by my friends also helps to allay her fears – she can know that were I to grow ill or be injured, a snap of a quartz wand would have VERY powerful help on the way in a very big hurry. Hopefully they will collect nothing but dust on this trip – but I find them a comfort as well.

I am here – the adventure is on. Now for dinner, a walk by the sea and then bed – more for the morrow.

Al closed the book, putting pen back in pocket, and wandered over to the campfire where the smell of perfectly-done venison attracted him.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Re: Holiday

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12 - Living Well Is The Best Revenge

Four days later, the serious work of relaxation had begun in earnest. – not that the previous time had been at all stressful. Wandering down Canada 1 to 2 to 104, Al traversed the miles, stopping as suited him, going as suited him and doing nothing that he did not want to other than the dishes.

“PULL OVER! PULL OVER!” Ialin shouted, startling Al nearly out of his seat.

“WHAT THE HELL?”

“Get out and look right.”

Al got out and was staggered. A tranquil cove, surrounded by marshes, and on the far side a village in the old settler’s pattern, centered around a white church building. Al drank in the beauty, despite the traffic whizzing by in the immediate background.

“You’re doing it again – moving forward to the detriment of looking around and really SEEING where you are. This is not here for you to just pass by – it’s here for you to LIVE.”

“From now on, there is something you are going to do for me.”

“Sure – what’s that?”

“If you feel like it, I want you to get up and enjoy sunrise – and whatever you’re doing, enjoy sunset. Enjoy the stars at night, enjoy the scenery as you travel. NOTCE WHERE YOU ARE – and thank your Gods that you have lived to see what you have – and will see more.

LIVE, DAMNIT!”

“Will do. Thanks for the reminder and KEEP reminding me – it’s hard to remember.”

He and Ialin motored the roads, making good time to Halifax except for the slog through the Cobequid Pass – that was windy, and decidedly difficult driving in an elderly Land-Rover despite its power upgrade.

They spent two days in the environs, with Al immersing himself in the study of history – specifically of the Titanic and of the explosion that claimed a good portion of Halifax in World War I.

Immersed in the records at the Maritime Museum Of The Atlantic, Al eagerly dug through the Titanic documentation and the exhibits of items on display. Poignant and sad though the subject matter was, Al’s interest was unabated, having had a fascination with the ill-fated liner since his youngest days. Along with this, the ability to study the minutiae of the Halifax Explosion was not to be missed.

He perused the maps, the debris patterns, the photo galleries of the damage from the explosion of the Mont Blanc, and the endless personal stories recounted from the near-destruction of the city by a ship collision and explosion in the latter days of 1917.

The next day saw a visit to the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum – another passion. With the eye of a connoisseur he strolled the aisles of the museum, seeing many old friends on exhibit, and a few types he’d been behind the controls of himself.

PBY (the Canadian version), Harvard Mk. II, even an old JetRanger – Al walked among old friends, and enjoyed a bit of nostalgia. He really needed to refresh his skills – some dual time and then perhaps buy a plane – he and Daisy could certainly enjoy traveling that way…

He came down with a bump. Cal would not be pleased, considering what happened to his late wife. Al couldn’t do it to him – he’d grown to like and respect him despite the limited time they’d had to spend together.

Walking through the rest of the collection, Al finished his tour, and walked back out to the ambulance. Sensing his return, Ialin popped in in her usual position.

“What’s up?” She sensed her charge to be a bit darkened – something that hadn’t happened even digging into the archives at the Maritime Museum.

“Nothing. Got to thinking about getting back into the air – I’m licensed single and multi-engine – and then came to a quick stop on it. Realized Daisy’s brother-in-law would not be happy if we did that – and I’d hate to do it to him. Sobered me a bit.”

“Sucks to have family, doesn’t it?”

Al was a bit startled.

“No, it certainly does not “Suck” as you put it. Having someone to care about and someone to care about me – it’s…incredible, and I’ll never give it up.” With that, he reached over and touched the pouch on his arm that contained the gifted crystals and stones along with the quartz signal rods – an unconscious motion he’d taken to making often on the trip.

“Does have a downside, though. Can’t do exactly as you please – have to remember there are others that may not be depending on you – but are affected by your actions.”

“There always have been – but those in a command structure are not family. Band of Brothers, yes, but not blood. “

“I’m glad to hear you had this realization. I know you knew it in your mind, but now it’s ingrained – caring about Cal – who at the end of the day is no relation of yours – as you do, it’s heartening.”

“Are we done lecturing me about my social responsibilities or can we move along, now?”

“Not lecturing – just happy to see it. By the way – souvenirs? You HAVE been considering the issue of souvenirs, right? Family – souvenirs – tchotchkes?”

“Oh, yes. ‘I have a little list. Not one they will be missed.’ I even have an idea of what I want to bring each of them.”

He pulled out his phone, and tapped and scrolled to a note application.

“Daisy – wine.
Daisy – jewelry.
Daisy – clothing.
Katherine - jewelry
Buck – whisky
Rowdy – whisky
Castela – chocolates
Castela – clothing
Atsali - clothing
Atsali – books”

He took another breath to continue, but Ialin, laughing, stopped him.

“All RIGHT – all RIGHT! THAT plan I will allow you – I know how people would be disappointed if you forgot them. This is entirely acceptable – speaking of family and responsibilities. You really are starting to get the hang of this, aren’t you?”

Al began a retort – and then realized that as usual the damn pixie was right. Wrapping his hand over the pouch on his arm and holding the connection to his dam he responded, “And may I never again forget that “Till death do us part” is way too limited. Never parted – life, death, forever more.” With that he began to drip tears – fierce tears of pride and happiness.

“Damn, Al – I guess you have figured it out. Bravo for you. Now, let’s roll – we have other places to go.”

The next day found them again on the Bay of Fundy – today was to be outdoors. Camping at the Five Islands Provincial Park, Al marveled at the swiftness of the tide – the bore was incredible, and incredibly dangerous to those unaware of its power.

The pine forests, the grassy flats leading to vertiginous cliffs, and the exposed stone worn away from the action of the rushing water - all had a feel of timelessness – and the time outdoors did the old engineer no end of good. Having been cooped up in the cab of the truck for over a week had done little for his physical condition – and the miles on terrain not unlike the moors of home forced him to stretch his muscles, his mind, and his endurance.

Sitting and watching the sunset over the bay occupied at least an hour, a time savoured with cups of tea and a bite of dessert from a local bakery served al fresco. After that, reading and lights out, stones in their pouch held to his heart.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Re: Holiday

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AN: Again, to my co-author - could not have done this without you...thank you.

13 - It Takes A Village To Be A Pain In The Arse
It was the two days later when the trouble started.

Up before dawn, outdoors with cup in hand, he enjoyed the sunrise through the companionable haze of freshly-brewed coffee. Staring out over the Atlantic, he enjoyed the gradual pinking then bluing of the sky, and then the rising of the bright ball of the sun over the trees on the island offshore.

Camped in a small campsite in Lockehaven off of Nova Scotia 3, he settled further into the Adirondack chair and just enjoyed the breezes, and the salt-tinged air. Today and for the foreseeable future was rest – he had tired of driving, and wanted to sit and enjoy the world passing him for a while.

The campsite he was in was a tiny place, run by an expatriate Brit much like himself. No more than a dozen spaces, each screened from the other by a feature of the terrain or plantings, it was quiet – serene, really – exactly what he wanted.

On arrival yesterday he’d dug out a bundle of sage to smudge the camp – and stopped. This place didn’t need it – the action of sun, wind and water nearby kept it freshly swept and any more work would be unnecessary and an interference with the natural processes.

With relish, Al had settled in. Pulling the last of his frozen meats from the larder he realized that tomorrow shopping was going to be on the agenda – either that or the local rabbit population was going to be taking a hit. Smiling at the thought, he settled in to his evening routine, starting a fire for cooking, and the inevitable maintenance and checks that any machine needs.

After coffee, breakfast filled his thoughts. With the back doors open for the fresh breezes, he cooked his eggs and rashers, music from the truck’s audio system in the background.

“Good morning, Al. You seem quite tranquil this morning – any reason for it?” Ialin, popping in, had taken pride of place, sitting crosslegged in the middle of the blanket on his bed.

“Nothing in particular. I have decided that other than local travel I’m not moving for a bit. This is a very, very nice place, and I think I’ll be hanging around for a while. The owner of the site seems to have no objection to us, and this is a very calm place. I think some serious decompression is in order.”

“GOOD for you! Going to run around and see the local sights?”

“Oh, yes. I am told that there are wineries not terribly far from here, and I need to pick up a few bottles of the product of a Cape Breton distillery I’ve heard of for the gentlemen at home. Then there’s the souvenirs for the kids – and some jewelry for Katherine and-“

“OKAY! Okay!’ Ialin said, raising her hands and laughing. I said you could have that plan, but don’t overwork the poor thing. “

“I’m not, really. I need to run into town and do some laundry and restock my supplies, in any case. Then I’ll do what suits me when it suits me. I do want to stir about and enjoy where I am – as someone reminded me – but the family’s on my mind in any case.”

“As it should be. How’s Daisy?”

Hand to arm, Al thought quietly. “Up and about – I can tell when she’s awake. No distress, and happy. I suspect she’s in her routine right now.”

“Most people can’t get that level of detail. Interesting.” She thought silently, Quite a bond he’s got there. The mages did a good job, and he’s been working at it as well. Amazing the latent powers of the human mind.

With that level of casual banter breakfast was prepared and disposed of, then dishes done and kitchen secured for travel. Pulling up to the road, Al went in and visited his host.

“Good morning sir! Coffee?”

“No, thank you. Please, call me Al – sir between two old gits like us is just stupid.”

“Please call me Ben, then. You’re right – formality at our age is a waste. In any case, settling in well?”

“Lovely. With your permission I’d like to stay for several days – indeterminate at present. I’ve been on the road for over a week and I’m tired of driving. That spot is so tranquil that it feels a good spot for a rest.”

“Certainly. Not a problem at all. More than happy to have a gentleman such as yourself in my establishment. The site is yours. Now, what else can I do for you? You didn’t stop by just to pass the time with an old man such as myself.”

Al smiled – passing the time with Ben would be no problem whatsoever as far as he was concerned. However, errands and chores first, then perhaps a coffee with the proprietor.

Oh – coffee, need that, and have to get some- NO. Stop that.


“Actually looking for a bit of town information. Need to restock my supplies, and find a laundry – the ambulance is full of laundry – scandalous mess. Can you direct me?”

“Again, little trouble. The best grocery in town is Frenchy’s – yes, the name is stupid but if you’d met our mayor – L’Heureux is his name though here we call him Frenchy – it would make sense. He owns the place and can be found there if not at City Hall. More business gets done over the coffee pot there than ever in City Hall – but we like it that way.”

“You’ll probably end up in Shelburne to do your laundry – but from here that’s not all that big a problem – we’re on 3 anyway, so one direction is much like another. Were it me I’d just grab a book, go wash your pants, then head into Lockehaven and get my supplies.”

Suggestion taken, Al headed off on his rounds.

Pulling up in front, Al realized Frenchy’s was a store of the traditional model for small towns – they sold everything from groceries to petrol and Diesel. This is good – very good. One stop shopping, then back to my camp for an afternoon of absolutely nothing. I can well handle this.

Pulling up to the Diesel pump, he instructed the lad there to fill both tanks, ensuring he knew exactly which orifice on the truck was for fuel and which were NOT to be filled. Entering the store, he breathed in – the classic small-town smell of a general store made up of one part hardware, one part produce, and three parts everything else.

Walking up to the meat counter, he greeted the young lad behind the counter, who responded affably.

“So, what can I serve you today, sir?”

“Can you cut me three or four steaks of 350 or 400 grams each and cryopack them individually? I’m willing to wait – need to get some other things, anyway.”

“Sure – four steaks about ¾ pound each – not a problem. You want ‘em on the thick side and smaller or bigger and thinner?”

“Thicker if you can manage it. Can you let me have two half-pound packets of sliced back bacon as well?” Canadian bacon was all well and good, but too dry for Al’s tastes.

“No problem. Go ahead and grab the other items you want, and bring ‘em back to the counter. I’ll check you out, and we can add anything else at the same time.”

“That works. Got the lad outside fueling my truck, so need to pay for that as well. You do take debit cards, right?”

“Surely. No problem with that.”

With that, Al wandered off, gathered the rest of his staples and returned, along with cartons of cream and milk.

Setting the items on the counter, he watched the young man slice his steaks and vacuum-seal them in the tough plastic that prevented freezer burn. The lessons learned in comparative parabiology learned at Gryphon Night came to mind, and amusedly Al began to look at the lad behind the counter – is he or isn’t he human? Al expected nothing but a standard old human here, of all places, but it didn’t hurt to check for the signs just for practice.

Hmmm…wait a minute. Something here was just..not..right.

Large build – not fat, but broad at the shoulder and hip. Slightly coarse hair. Large pupils, and eyes slightly further apart than a regular human.

Bloody centaur!

Al looked again. Yep. No doubt about it. Bloody centaur.

Damn!

Keeping his face completely still and changing nothing in his manner, Al was bellowing in laughter inside. Come all these thousands of miles, and fall into a village of centaurs – for where there is one, there are most certainly more, as they’re convivial creatures.

While not the size of his stepson Buck, this lad was good-sized – large, skillful hands packaged his steaks surely and with no wasted motion.

On a whim, Al decided to make contact. Given the fact that there were other shoppers in the store, he decided a stealthy approach was in order.

“Lived around here long, lad?”

“Yessir, born and raised here. Left to go to college, then came back. I run the place for my uncle L’Heureux.”

Wonder if you could help me. Flew in somewhere around here more than a few years ago to a private field – place called Centaur Field. Had a Pegasus on the sign, and was run by a nice family named Alexander. Great folks – always joking and horsing around.”

The clerk stopped, tension radiating in every aspect.

“No, sir…I can’t say I remember hearing of such a place.“ The clerk’s mien had changed completely – from relaxed and affable to tense and wary. He studied Al intently, scanning him from head to toe.

“Nope, never heard of the place. You said debit on this, right?”

Handing over his card, Al’s order was rung up and packed with blinding speed and the clerk picked up his order and headed for the door with it, old Brit in tow. Order deposited in Clara, he was thanked in a perfunctory manner and the clerk went back in, to the CLICK of a door lock and the CLOSED sign being placed on the door.

The clerk glared at him through the window, picking up a pad and jotting notes on it, then turning away and disappearing. The pump jockey was gone as well – the store was effectively deserted.

Bemused and a little chagrined at causing distress, Al climbed back into the ambulance, heading back toward his campsite.

“Uncle – I didn’t know what to do! The guy scared the hell out of me – he was a human but he KNEW I was a centaur! Anyway what the hell kind of a mundane knows what a centaur is and can spot one who’s not feral?”

The young man was very upset – striding up and down the carpet in the back office of the store. The man behind the desk sat utterly still, fingers steepled and chin resting on the tips. A large, saturnine man, anyone would have been forgiven thinking him of Indian blood, with his slightly swarthy skin and shock of thick, black hair.

“Tell me again – what did he look like, and what was his name?”

“He was an old human – about 5’10”, grey hair, mustache to match. Dressed in khakis and a fedora, and either work or military boots with a military webbing belt. Moved well for his age, no shuffling or uncertainty.”

“You said his truck was odd. Describe it.”

“Full blown military ambulance – Land-Rover. Still had all of its markings though it looked freshly repainted. Minnesota plate MSCLARA. Damn good looking truck – the back was modified with cabinetry to be an efficient one-man camper. I saw the interior when he stowed his food.”

“Bien. Assez. Attendez une minute, s’il vous plait.” The man behind the desk picked up the telephone and dialed a number by heart.

“Fraser, c’est L’Heureux. Can you get a plate run in Ottawa? Don’t do it here – get one of your friends in the capital to do it – I have a bad feeling about this one. Come over when you get the information – we need to talk.” After giving him the plate information he hung up the phone, then turned back to his nephew.

“If he comes in again let me know. Right now, let’s just assume he’s not a friendly and act accordingly. You see him coming, lock the door. I’ll pass the word.”

The young man left, and minutes later he was replaced by the tall, massive frame of a man with a badge and a uniform – Andrew Fraser, the town sheriff.

“Armand, you were right. Good thing we had that plate run in Ottawa – it set off a half-dozen notices in the computers up there. Thankfully they managed to cut them off, but it’s not good.

This guy’s plate is flagged U.S. Government Priority One – this normally is accorded the same priority here.”

“So what is the guy – anything available?”

“Nothing. NOTHING. DO you know what THAT means? That means SPOOK. This guy is something high-powered, and that never means anything good.”

“Non. C’est pas correct. This guy could just be on vacation, and minding his own business…”

“Who has US Government Priority 1 tags on a CAMPER, L’Heureux? THINK about it. This guy is no tourist – he’s para-aware, and not shy to broadcast it. This means he’s a monster-hunter or something worse unless I miss my guess.”

“We have to get rid of this guy.”

“WHAT? ARE YOU INSANE! NON! NON! NON! We are not going to kill anyone – that would make us no better than whatever he may be…”

“WHAT? WHO SAID KILL? I Said NOTHING like that!”

L’Heureux waved his hands in the air, placating the upset sheriff.

“Bien. No, we are not going to kill anyone. We can however, make his stay a lot less pleasant. In short, we have to make him want to leave.

Unfortunately, he has several days’ groceries, or we could just close the store to him and he’d leave for food. He’s got a great campsite and Ben’s going to be hard to push – but I’ll have to work on that.”

“I could pull him over and hassle him – as long as I don’t run his plate that won’t get sent back to the spooks he works for. Not my style, but it’s doable.”

“Non. Pas de police. If you harass him, all he needs to do is call his masters and we’re done. It needs to be more subtle than that. I’ll just put the word out – he needs to be snubbed. Bad service at the diner, no service at the store, nothing good anywhere. If we make it unpleasant enough he’ll move on – problem solved.”

“That’ll be hard to do. Most of the folks around here won’t want to be mean to a harmless looking old guy like that, eh?”

“Vraiment. We need to make it happen, though. We don’t know what the hell this guy’s about, and we can’t take the chance.” L’Heureux looked Fraser in the eye and said “This is our survival we’re talking about here – we can’t afford to miss an opportunity to deal with this. Hopefully, a lesson or two and he’ll give up – but we need to make sure.”

“True enough. I’ll make sure the word gets out – he gets nothing, anywhere.”

Back at his camp, Al pondered what had happened. Wryly, he thought that perhaps his approach was a little too blunt – or was it not blunt enough? In any case, he wasn’t going to attempt it again – he’d leave the poor people be.

Siting by his fire waiting for the coals to burn down and deeply immersed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice Ialin’s appearance till she landed on his shoulder. The result was predictable.

“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” He launched out of the chair, and the pixie on his shoulder was summarily catapulted several feet in the air in a tumble, coming to rest under control in midair ruffled but undamaged.

“Al, what the Hades was all that about? Am I gonna have to wear a bell around my neck so you don’t launch me into the fire next time? Really!” Straightening her clothing, she resumed her perch, sitting on the shoulder of the adrenalin-shocked old man.

{huff} “Sorry, didn’t mean to do that. Was just so buried in my thoughts that you startled me.” Trying to restrain his racing heart, he took a sip from the water bottle he had, and tried to compose his thoughts.

“I’m a little peeved – I did something stupid today. When I went into town I spotted a para and tried to let him know that I knew what he was – and buggered the job very badly.”

Ialin lifted off, resettling on the arm of his chair, Feet swinging, sitting so they could converse, she asked, “Oh, DO tell. This has the earmarks of an absolutely EPIC fail. What happened – and how did you do it?”

Chagrined and more than a little embarrassed, Al detailed his moves, and the reactions of the clerk. By the time he reached the point where he’d been summarily shunted out of the store and had the door locked behind him, Ialin was lying on the chair arm, kicking her feet and beating her fists on the wood in hysterical, breathless laughter.

“WHA-WHA-WHAT IN HADES POSESSED YOU TO DO THAT!” she gasped out between bouts of hysterical laughter. “ ‘CENTAUR FIELD?’ ‘HORSING AROUND?’ WHAT IN HADES WERE YOU GOING TO ASK FOR NEXT – THE HORSE SHOE STORE?”

She collapsed to the chair arm again and resumed giggling helplessly. Al began to get concerned for her bladder control, and then dismissed that as an unproductive line of thought.

“Oh, come on now, it’s not THAT funny.” Al, somewhat disgruntled at the pixie’s enjoyment of the story, tried to change the subject. “In any case, I’m not going to bother the herd down there – spooky bunch of equines. Really, I’ll just leave them in peace and they’ll settle down again.”

“Really?”

“Of course, those poor souls don’t need some mad American coming in and stirring up things that are best left alone. The whole thing was a mess – and I’m going to leave them alone.” The more he thought about it, the more he realized he’d been foolish – and overreached again.

"Gee Al, I never pegged you for a quitter. So it's a bit of a cock-up, deal with it. Ya old tosser, get back in there!"

"Sod off you!"

Al was in a state. He knew now Ialin was here to help, but for the moment, he didn't care.

He noted that she'd taken to jumpers and trousers, and muting the glowing nature of her wings since that day he said he didn't care if she wore anything.
Today it was a jumper the colour of soft violets, blues, and blush pinks, mottled to resemble flowers or even birds. Even her pale green trousers softly belled out flower like. She still wore the steel-toed boots, though, ready to kick his arse, as it were.

She flew up, staring him in the face from a few feet away, and started to shake her finger at him.

"Seriously Al. This is every day. It's what you fought for, and hang the flag it was under! Taking the piss are ya? Well quit! Take chances! There's more to life than the next mission, and believe me, you are acting like it's a life-or-death mission. You won't be at Her Majesty's Pleasure if ya mess this one up, though your own Ladyship might be creative if you ask nicely...*wink*"

Al was shocked. He thought the pixie would be recommending the exact opposite – don’t take it seriously, let it go, it’s not life and death, after all…but she was recommending the exact opposite.

“Is this where I remind you, you annoying little pigeon, that YOU said YOU were ‘My common sense’s worst nightmare’ ?”

Ialin swooped in closer. “No, no need to remind me. Let me remind YOU that learning to do things for the delight of them is why I’m here – and this one, win or lose, is going to be one truly entertaining show. Remember when I warned you to wear the Drow knife? There’s none of that here – so go out there and ENJOY THE FIGHT. You may not win, but you will have one wonderful story to tell when you get home.”

Now get your dinner ready, and enjoy it. Tomorrow go off, and do whatever you want – but spend some time in Lockehaven and see what happens. Who knows?”
Last edited by Just Old Al on Tue May 10, 2016 11:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

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14 - 3.1415926536 x 11 FPS

The next day, breakfast had, coffee downed and not-plan in place, Al went wine shopping.

Nova Scotia as he’d been informed had a wonderful climate for grape horticulture and a burgeoning wine industry – and as Daisy loved red wines, a bit of shopping was in order and perhaps a few winery tours. Being a nondrinker now it didn’t attract him personally, but he knew Daisy would love it.

There were three vineyards within an hour’s drive or so of his camp, and that morning he toured all three, appreciatively tasting (if wetting one’s lips counts) of each of the offered vintages and buying a bottle or two of those most like what his love enjoyed.

Stopping for coffee, he inquired where one might find some of the other items on his list, and a stop at the Liquor Board got him the Cape Breton whiskies he wanted. Further inquiries turned up a boutique jeweler in a nearby town, and several pieces for Daisy, Katherine and the girls were purchased.

Truck laden with his purchases, he trundled back toward his camp for lunch – till a mischievous impulse made him turn toward Lockehaven – and its diner. He justified it to himself as being tired of eating alone, sandwiches were getting boring, he could use a hot coffee…when what he wanted was another crack at making contact with the local herd.

Ambling down the road into town, he passed into the village center. People stopped on the street and stared as he went by, little children pointed, and people watched from windows.

Well, this is just a wee bit disconcerting, he thought. Not sure I like this at all – though it is bloody typical of equines. Surprised they’re not lining up to stomp me into the parking lot.

He pulled up to the diner, and parked alongside rather than in front. Securing the front and back doors, he stepped out and headed for the entrance. “ ‘Grey Gull Diner’ – hmmm… As long as that’s not what’s on the menu this might be interesting.”

As he walked in the buzz of conversation stopped. It didn’t taper off – it stopped. Uh-oh.

Al walked up to the polished stainless-steel counter and sat down. As he did, everyone surrounding him got up, took their plates and glasses and left his immediate area.

By damn, I am not going to let this spook me. I want some lunch and by damn I’m going to get something.


Five minutes, then ten went by as Al sat there, waitresses passing him and the vacant section of counter. Watching them, he spotted the telltale signs of centaurs – sturdy women padded to the fine line between zaftig and chubby, with big eyes.

As one older women with a name tag wandered by, he spoke up.

Mavis? Could I get a slice of pie and a coffee, please?”

Mavis stared at him as though he was a bug on a plate – cold, clinical. “Sure. Not a problem. Chocolate cream OK?”

“Thanks - that will do nicely.”

She returned with a large fountain cup labeled ICED COFFEE – and as she walked up Al was about to protest he wanted hot coffee – as she inverted the cup and poured the contents ice and all into his lap. Al jumped up, screaming as the ice-cold liquid penetrated the fabric over his crotch adding severe discomfort to the shock.

As he jumped up Mavis took the opportunity she’d set up and gave him his pie – straight-armed. The pie with its foil pan, propelled unerringly by Mavis’ bicep, flew across the counter, holding vertical and impacted Al just below the fedora. On impact the pie exploded, with bits of crust and chocolate filling sullying what of his clothing had survived the assault of the iced coffee.

Mavis then asked, “Would you like whipped cream with that?” and gave it to him – a half-can’s worth onto his shirt front.

With that, the entire populace of the diner jumped to their feet, filling the air with a raucous noise of clapping, yelling, whinnying and catcalls.

Al, knowing well when he was completely outclassed not to mention outnumbered, picked up a towel from the counter, wiped off his face, and said “Thank you. That was very good. Check, please.”

Mavis replied, “On the house”, and Al took his leave for the ambulance with the sound following him outdoors.

Well, that went well…perhaps I’ll come back for dinner.
Starting the ambulance, he circled round and headed for his campsite - a change of clothes and a cleanup was in order - and no doubt the pixie would have something pithy to say.


“WHAT IN HADES HAPPENED TO YOU?” Ialin was dumbstruck, staring at the chocolate covering his usually-immaculate khakis, and the huge wet spot centered over his crotch and running down both legs.

“I went into town for lunch – and got dessert.” In a few sentences Al described the pastry assault with coffee accompaniment, arpeggios of whipped cream and standing ovation – to a goggle-eyed, openmouthed fairy.

“Oh. My. Gods. Oh. My. Oh, dear.” Fifteen seconds went by, then another fifteen… and the laughter began. Slowly, chuckling in her throat, the pixie tried to maintain a concerned, shocked expression, but to no avail. Within seconds she was sitting on the ground, doubled over and hugging her knees as he hyperventilated laughing.

While the pixie got it out of her system Al stepped into the back of the ambulance, divested himself of the chocolate-slathered clothing and cleaned up at the sink. Hair washed, face scrubbed and in a fresh set of khakis, he put on his spare boots and stepped out – to a contrite pixie.

“Oh, Al – I’m so sorry I laughed. But you, standing there covered in chocolate and whipped cream and just being so…dignified about the whole th-th-th-thinggg…” and she started laughing raucously again.

Once the latest storm passed, Ialin asked, earnestly, “Did you actually ask for your check?” Al sniffed and said “Of course. They served me, and if they wanted to be paid I would do so despite the service. Anything else would be déclassé. However, I was NOT going to leave a tip.”

“Yanno, I’ve always said it, Al, you’re a class act.”

After a sandwich from the larder (peanut butter – he really needed to get some meats) and a proper coffee not aimed at his crotch, he settled down with Ialin to talk.

“Somehow, I think I’ve lost this war. The pie in the face and coffee in the crotch has convinced me that these people really don’t want to be disturbed. Gods only know what they think I am and why they’re so negative, but then again that’s not my question to ask.”

Out of the corner of his eye Al saw movement, and turned to Ialin – who had already departed for other places.

“Ben – good to see you – can I offer you a French Press? Very good coffee, and I have all the accessories and some digestives.”

Ben was solemn – it was obvious he didn’t want to be where he was at the moment. “Al, I’m afraid tonight is your last night – I’m shutting the campground down for a week – I need to leave town.”

Al was unsurprised. “Let me guess – the inhabitants of a certain town a little further down the coast have applied pressure? Don’t worry about it, Ben – I was planning on moving along after the …warm welcome I got there today when I tried to buy a bite of lunch. Don’t let it bother you – I have no idea what the problem is there, but I won’t make a fuss.”

Ben looked relieved. “Thanks, Al – I sincerely apologize for this, but…you know. One has to live with one’s neighbors.”

“In any case, I owe you for the time I’ve been here. Please give me a total and I’ll happily pay you.”

Ben waved a hand in dismissal. “With what’s happened and the difficulties you’ve had – let this be on me. It’s the least I can do.”

“Many thanks. “ The two men shook hands, and Ben left, relieved.

With him gone Ialin returned. “I heard – so, we’re out of here.”

“No great loss – bloody equines. Their town, their area, their rules…and I’m all right with that. As you say, it’s not life or death. Tomorrow morning we’ll head back along the coast and over to the Bay of Fundy side again – there’s plenty in the Annapolis Valley we haven’t explored yet.”
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Re: Holiday

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15 – An Engineered Solution

Early the next morning Al broke camp. Sadly, he tidied the site, returning it to a condition better than when he found it. Water tank full, grey-water empty, he prepared to pull out. Perhaps Cape Breton, or back up into the Annapolis Valley was the way to go.

Wryly, Al thought to himself This going-down-to-defeat thing was not all that bad when it wasn't life or death. The centaurs had won this one, but there'd be good stories to tell from it despite the ignominy of getting decorated with a chocolate cream pie. Pity, though - he really liked it here and had enjoyed the time in this spot by the Atlantic.

Waving to his host, he pulled out onto 3, headed East. Noting the condition of his fuel tanks and the uncertainty of the availability of Diesel, he decided that he'd have to pay one more visit to Lockehaven and those wretched equines. Well, one fuel stop and this predator would leave the grass-grazers to their peace.

Ialin was quiet this morning - hadn't seen wing nor eyeballs of her. Wonder what was up there? Al wondered, then concentrated on his driving down the causeway between Lockehaven and the rocky coast.

Again, as he pulled into the town center people stopped to stare. Completely unconcerned, Al smiled and waved, receiving a few uncertain waves in return. "Heh, heh, heh...always leave them guessing..." Al chuckled to himself as he proceeded down the street.

Pulling up to the pumps in front of Frenchy's he noted amusedly the pump jockey scrambling for the phone in his kiosk. Climbing down from the cab, Al walked over, patiently waiting for him to report his Al-sighting. When he returned Al politely greeted him.

"Fill the tanks, please - I'm headed out and I'm not sure where the next Diesel is."

Startled, the young man (another bloody equine, Al noted) asked "Leaving the area?"

Al chuckled, and said "Yes. Not that I don't like chocolate cream pie, but I prefer to eat it rather than wear it. Got a paper towel? Need to check the fluids."

Blushing, the young man produced a handful of C-fold towels, and followed Al forward as he raised Clara's bonnet and began an underhood check.

"Damn, mister, that's a beautiful engine." The AHI TDi engine glistened under the bonnet - the prototype shop had thoroughly cleaned the vehicle after media blasting, and the nearly-pristine engine with its centaur logo glowed in its robin's egg blue in the morning light.

Never one to hide his pride, Al agreed. "Thank you - my stepson's company fitted it for me a few years ago. They make the engine as well - it's an Alexander Harvesters' 4-cylinder TDi auxiliary engine used to power the equipment on some of the bigger machines. Perfect fit to the truck, and runs beautifully."

"Did you say Alexander Harvesters?" the pump jockey asked, wide-eyed, as he started the Diesel flowing into Al's first tank.

"Yes, I did. My stepson Buck Alexander is the CEO of the company. I love their logo - a CENTAUR with a scythe." Al couldn't help driving in the needle just a bit - maybe these idiots would figure out why he knew what a bloody centaur was.

"Stepson?"

"Yes, he's my stepson. Rosalynd Alexander, though she goes by Alexander-Richer now - my wife - was widowed 15 years or so ago, and she and I met and married nearly two years ago now out in Minneapolis. Wonderful family. Rosalynd and her children have taken me in just like I was always there. I miss them dearly, but I needed a vacation - been working too hard."

Al realized he was now talking to himself - the pump jockey was back in his kiosk and talking into the phone again. Oh, well, not my problem. I will be putting this place astern and they can all go crop alfalfa together for all I care.

The pump clicked off, and Al closed his first tank and started Diesel flowing into the other tank. The pump jockey was nowhere to be seen - a bit odd. The store clerk was staring at him through the window, and Al smiled and waved.

A quiet voice said in his ear, "Al, turn around...slowly. Don't react to my voice and don't look around - you won't see me."

"What's going on?"

"Not sure. Turn toward the front of the truck - you've got company incoming."

Al locked the pump on at a slow pace, and turned casually toward the front of the truck, wiping his hands on a towel.

Headed toward him were three of the biggest centaurs he'd seen including Buck. The two to each side were fair and showed what looked to be Scots-Irish ancestry - appropriate for the area- as well as uniforms and badges. The third was tall, swarthy of skin and dark-haired - and bigger than the other two - and wore civilian clothing of good cut.

They walked up to him, and stopped.

"M'sieur Richer? Allan Richer?" The lead centaur said, slowly.

"Yes, that's me. Don't worry, I'm leaving as soon as the tanks are full - I know when I'm not wanted."

"Did my nephew hear you correctly - you're related to the Alexanders, of Alexander Harvesters?" The big man looked puzzled, and uncertain.

"Yes, he did. My wife as I said is Rosalynd Alexander - she and I married almost two years ago now. She still uses Rosalynd Alexander for AHI related company business, though for social purposes she goes by Alexander-Richer. As long as she knows who I am and I know who she is, I don't mind - I understand her position."

A look passed between the three - one made up of embarrassment, chagrin, confusion and more than a little self-directed disgust.

"M'sieur Richer, my name is Armand L'Heureux, and this is Andrew Fraser and his deputy James. I am afraid we owe you a very large apology for what's happened here. If you would honor us, we'd like to take you to lunch and explain - and if you are willing to accept this explanation I also think you'll find your campsite at Ben's is still open."

Al was immediately suspicious. Why of a sudden was this happening?

*thwack*

An impact to the back of his head was followed by a voice. "Look, genius - the kid who saw your engine and asked you questions figured this out. The fact that they're not just letting you leave shows serious balls - they could have just let you go and it would have been problem solved. SAY SOMETHING."

"Gentlemen, I find myself quite confused. Since soon after I arrived I have been treated like a pariah for no other reason than trying to strike up a conversation with a member of a paranormal species I am VERY fond of. I do apologize if I did it wrong, but I'm not used to meeting people "in the wild", so to speak. All the paranormals I know are quite frank about being so when around other paranormals, or the paranormal-aware such as myself."

"M'sieur-"

"Al, please. Mister in any language isn't my favorite word - I work for a living."

"Bien sur. Je suis Armand, et les autres sont Andrew et James."

The sheriff spoke up, hoping to allay Al's suspicions. "Al, to be honest we panicked. When I had your plate run by friends in Ottawa, we saw the notations and thought you were some sort of government spook. Who else would have notations like that on a camper?"

"That DAMN notation. I'm going to kill Glytch." Al swore fluently, then returned to the subject. "In that case, gentlemen, the apology is also mine. My engineering firm does some work for governmental agencies, and because of it I have that notation for when I am working on their behalf. I apologize for any concern it may have caused you."

"If my idiot nephew hadn't panicked and had just answered your relatively-oblique inquiry none of this would have happened. Believe me, he's going to get an earful from me when I see him next."

"Please, no. I was foolish to be as cloak-and-dagger as I was. In my former profession these games were needed, but I should have waited till the store was empty and spoken clearly. My fault, entirely."

L'Heureux spoke again, briskly. "In any case, this is a situation that can't be allowed to continue. Will you join us for lunch?"

"Certainly, as long as it's not at the Grey Gull. There's an attack waitress there...lady named Mavis. She scares me to death."

L'Heureux and his companions laughed. "Al, she scares EVERYBODY. You're a member of an exclusive club - she's done that to a few people over the years, but the whipped-cream chaser was a new one. Bravo!"

Tanks topped, ambulance moved and locked in a parking space, the four men headed off to lunch and a better understanding.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Re: Holiday

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16 – Assimilation And Reconciliation

As they walked down Hall Street toward the Town and Country Diner, the four men chatted. Most of the questions were new-friend ones, with Al asking about the town and its inhabitants, and L'Heureux, Fraser and James asking about Al and his conveyance. When they reached the diner, L'Heureux asked, "We can eat here, but we can't talk freely - the crowd here is mixed, as is the town's population." He then smiled wickedly and said, "Or we can go to the Grey Gull - your friend Mavis is likely working the lunch shift."

"I've done my laundry, so I have a spare change of clothes. Lead on, L'Heureux - and curs'd be he who cries 'Nay, enough'! "Al was jubilant over his turn of fortune, and inclined to be puckish. With that, they turned down Beech toward the waterfront and the diner. Once they arrived, Al, looking serious, said to Fraser, "Draw your weapon."
Fraser, confused, asked, "Why?"

"If she charges, you may have to use it. This time it might be cutlery and not a pie - we need to be on guard." With a gigantic horselaugh the four men entered the restaurant, L'Heureux in the lead "just for safety's sake".

Taking a booth in a quiet corner, the four men sat, and the conversation truly began. L'Heureux, trying to take a bit of the awkwardness off the meeting, started in talking about the town he was proudly mayor to.

"Lockehaven is an interesting place - there's been a fishing village here since the first colonization of the area - with the wonderful natural harbors behind the island it's a perfect shelter against the nasty blows we get in off the Atlantic. The people here were originally humans - we came in later - a few families, who sent for relatives...you know how that kind of colonization works.

Since then it's been what you see - a nice little town with good, honest hardworking people. Not too much trouble, and the local fishing fleet still does well and provides employment. We do lose more of the kids then we'd like to, but that's a fact of modern life.

Near as we can tell, the town is about 50/50 para and non-para. The non-para types are somewhat aware though not to speak of it - it's kind of an unstated fact of life here. That's part of why my IDIOT nephew spooked easily - he's never really had to deal with a stranger who knew our secrets. Hence, the panic button got well and truly stomped - and you know the rest.”

At that, Mavis came up, order pad at the ready though the fishlike stare was still present.
"Whad'll ya have, eh?"

Al opted for a fried fish sandwich with chips, and the rest had salads or other vegetarian fare.

Mavis looked at Al and asked, "That comes with dessert - whad'll you have?"

"ANYTHING but pie."

Mavis stared at him fixedly for a second, and then her lip twitched, and twitched again. A quiver struck her solidly-built frame, and another, and then she brayed with laughter. Slapping Al a bone-rattling thump on the back, she announced "Damn, you're OK. I'll get you a NICE big slice of pie - WITH whipped cream." Still laughing, she headed off.

The other three men sat there goggle-eyed. "Al, that took balls. Most people wouldn't have even come near this place. What do you do for a living - wrestle lions?" L'Heureux and James nodded, also struck by the evident madness of the old man.

"No, I'm just an old engineer. Before that I was 1 Para for a very long time, till I got my arse blown off on a deployment. Since then I've run a nice respectable engineering business in Minneapolis, doing work for whoever needed it. We do some arms and security, which explains the notice on the plates, but - "

"Maxi-14s! You're the ones that designed the Maxi-14s! We got a couple from Ruger in .50 BMG for bear and moose problems - those are NICE. They're perfect for moose - you can drop bad ones at a safe distance. Wow!"

"Actually, my partner designed that - I had nothing to do with it, though he and I have collaborated on a handgun meant for you folks as well. He does work out of my shop on occasion - I have a range and the machine tools for prototype work."

"Fantastic. Let me know when you get to the point of testing that handgun - send me a prototype and I'll put it to use out here and give it a field trial. We do a lot of our patrolling in feral, mostly because it's so much easier to get into the back areas on hoof than it is on foot."

"Done. I'll keep it in mind."

With that, the food arrived and they all dug in. The fish was excellent, and the chips properly cooked and fluffy inside. As lunch progressed, the conversation led around to Al's family.

"Al, you're a human, right? How did you end up marrying into a family of us?" Fraser asked, waving a French fry in the air for emphasis. L'Heureux and James looked a bit scandalized. "Now, that's not any of our business is it?" James added, fearing Al might be upset by the question.

"No, perfectly reasonable question. Short answer is my wife is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen on two or four legs, and I can't imagine life without her." The other men nodded - this was a sentiment they could understand.

"Long answer is - a very bad time brought us together. You gents read the 'Paranormal Press' right? Well, a couple of years back her son and a friend of ours ended up involved in a drug vendetta - a gang wanted them, their friends and families dead in no uncertain terms. Because of it, we ended up hiding out at the Alexander spread while we figured out what to do. My partner Greg and I were the military types planning the fight under the command of our general, Neil."

"Oh, wait - the Pillsbury thing! You were in the middle of that?" All three men looked shocked - they hadn't realized the connection.

"Yes, I was one of the leaders. My family and I were the high guard - using the Maxi-14 prototypes. Neil and Greg commanded the troops on the floor. That was a rough time - I was hit, as were all of the Alexanders in one way or another."

"However, due to some skullduggery by my partner and my general, Daisy, I mean Rosalynd and I were brought together. She'd taken a shine to me, it seems, but I was oblivious. After that, one thing led to another, and I proposed to her in the middle of the firefight. She accepted, and we married on Christmas Day that year."

"Damn..."

"Aye, damn indeed. So, as you can imagine...I have a fondness for your kind in general. When one has fought side-by side with people you develop a bond that can't be broken. When there was love there first, it's not a hard thing to understand how strong it becomes. I can't imagine life without her and her children anymore - they're more important to me than life itself."

"Daisy is her paddock name? Heard you say that and change it."

"Yes. It's how I knew her long before I had any idea what a paddock name was."

"Pretty. Seems to me we're at the point where sharing works - if you don't mind I'd like to offer mine. I'm Scout." Fraser held out his hand, and Al shook it, solemnly.

"Trooper." James held out his hand, and the ritual was repeated.

"Blackie." L'Heureux held out his hand, and a third handshake took place.

"That being said, gentlemen, I'm known as Goldeneye." The centaurs were shocked.

"You have a paddock name? But...”

"Yes, I do. Tradition in our family is everyone has one - if you join the family and you don't, you get one given to you. I drive an Aston-Martin, and my stepson is a Bond nut, so the choice was obvious. It was either that or Thunderball...and I was glad to duck that one."

The men laughed – they could see how that could be awkward.

The rest of lunch was convivial conversation. Pictures were pulled out on phones, and families compared and admired. Over dessert (Al got nearly half a chocolate cream pie drenched in whipped cream) Al asked, “So, what do folks like us do around here for entertainment?”

L’Heureux said, “Aimez-vous marchez? If you like to hike there are wonderful walks on the shore – rail trails and nature hikes. Bon – I have an idea. Settle in this afternoon, then come into town tomorrow morning – there’s some trails with views you’ll never find in the guidebooks. M’sieur Goldeneye, we’re going walking.”

As Al backed the ambulance back onto its patch by the Atlantic shore, Ialin sat in her usual spot on the edge of the passenger's seat.

Ben had been effusive in his greetings, and pleased to see the old engineer and his odd mount. They'd been told "You know where you're headed - welcome back!" and had sedately motored down to their spot by the sea.

"So, we're back. Amazing how things can change in the space of a breath, isn't it?"

"You saw this coming, didn't you?" Al's voice wasn't accusative or even surprised - that wasn't a question more than a statement of fact.

"Not so much. Had a good idea what was going on, and there were a bunch of ways it could have ended. Many were successful, many were not, and no I'm not giving you probabilities on this Mr. I-Am-An-Engineer. Remember the Butterfly Effect." she said, again flapping for emphasis.

"I can't predict the future or see it - though I can sometimes see probabilities. You managed all this on your own - though I will say I enjoyed 'putting boot to arse' when needed to keep you plugging. I am very surprised at two things, though.

One, you accepted defeat rather than going in guns blazing. Two, you forgave and forgot pretty quickly when the opportunity presented itself. I don't get it."

Al thought on it for a minute, then replied slowly, as if he were figuring things out as he said them. "Actually, it's not all that big a mystery - and it's two facets of the same thing.

First - no one was going to die because I took a pie in the moustache. It was a good story to tell when I got home - and everybody got a laugh out of it including me in retrospect. However, that shirt is never going to be the same.

Second - I really wanted to meet these people as they were - and now I'll have that opportunity. In short, I both lost and won - and forgiving when you win is really easy to do when the only harm is a ruined shirt."

Ialin nodded. "That's an interesting analysis. Not arguing with it at all - it's a damned insightful way to put it. You both lost and won - and by winning made new friends. Yanno, that works.“

"Works for me as well. Relaxed about it. Never a bad thing.

More seriously, holding grudges has never been one of my problems. I can and will hunt down an enemy when I have to, but turning an enemy into a friend in the long run is more productive and a lot less corrosive of the spirit in the long run."

Al's expression turned dark. "There have been times that's been hard to do. Emerauld - the one who gifted me with the light dagger - and I had a very tempestuous early meeting. She and I had issues - and I had the opportunity to hold the anger there - but I didn't. I am far the better for it. Learned that the hard way...over too many years."

Ialin, sensing his mood, changed the subject. "So, I heard you and L'Heureux are going walking tomorrow? Where's that going to end up?"

"No idea. Don't really care all that much, really. Wherever it is, it's nowhere I've been before, so worth the exploring. It's not like I have any issue hiking in deserts or sand, after all."

"True enough. And how did you do against 'Saddam's morons' as I believe you put it?"

"I'm here, they're not. I count that as a win. In any case, that's not a problem today - but I do need to check my hiking gear."

With that, Al hopped out of the truck - they'd sat long enough - and Ialin followed.

You're getting younger all the time,
she thought. Blessings on that, and I wonder if Daisy can feel it as well?
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

17 - Home Away From Home

The next day saw a change in Al’s routine. Up, washed and dressed, Al as usual made coffee and stepped out to enjoy the sunrise. However, rather than making his beloved rashers and eggs, he secured Clara and headed for Lockehaven.

Pulling up to the Grey Gull, he surmounted the steps and plunked himself at the counter. Rather than the prior time where people moved away, he was greeted quietly by the locals, with the head nods and “Morning...” reserve typical of folks in northern climes.

Mavis bustled up. “Whad’ll ya have?”

“Coffee and whatever passes for breakfast hereabouts will do nicely, dear. Lovely morning and I’m in the mood for good food.”

“Then whad the hell’d ya come here for, eh?” Mavis laughed and walked off to place his order, while the locals all looked at him as though he were mad. Returning momentarily with a mug and the coffee pot, she set down the cup and went to pour, as Al made as if to rise and flee. She laughed again, filled his mug, pointed to the cream and sugar containers on the counter and walked off to serve other customers.

The diner was just that – a quiet, comfortable place to have breakfast and meet. Groups of men in the clothing of their trades sat in booths discussing work, sport or what-have-you as they ate, as did couples and a family or two. Singletons like Al sat at the counter, friendly with its padded vinyl and chrome stools and foot rail for comfort.

The coffee was industrial, the surroundings comfortable and Al was enjoying the quiet conviviality – even though the coffee was marginal. Well, you can’t have everything – we’ll see what breakfast brings, Al thought.

Soon Mavis returned with two plates, with a third balanced precariously on the rim of the first.

The breakfast she set down was huge – eggs over lightly, bacon, sausage, hash browns, with toast, butter and jam on another plate and a small bowl of beans as an accompaniment. Stunned, Al looked up and said “Compliments to the chef – he’s outdone himself on this. I mean it.”

Mavis smiled – a phenomenon that transformed her face. “I’ll tell’im, but he likely heard you. Enjoy it!”

Al dug in. Utter bliss – the eggs, bacon and sausage were all local products and done to a turn. The hash browns were cooked with shredded onion in butter, and the toast was heavy with butter.

As al worked his way through the massive meal, Mavis retuned to refill his mug and ask “OK?” to which she was responded with an emphatic thumbs up. Smiling again, she went off, leaving Al in his gustatory nirvana.

As he ate, as always, he listened. The murmurs of conversations, clinking of silverware to plates and shuffle of folks entering and leaving was underlined by CBC Radio Two, broadcasting its usual mix of tunes. It seemed somehow right, and Al sat and just soaked it in.

“This is CBC Radio Two with Tom Power. Good morning Canada, I’m glad to be with you. Now for a change up, we’re going “Under the Covers”.

A cultured female voice took over, identified herself as Shakura Saheeda, and began to describe Eileen Jewell’s remake of the old Rock & Roll staple “Shakin’ All Over”. Al listened, amused by the difference to his beloved satellite radio as he thoroughly enjoyed his massive breakfast.

Wandering past again and topping up Al’s cup, Mavis asked, “Anyting else?”

“No, dear, that was just perfect. Could tell me though, where’s the mayor usually found most mornings?”

“Oh, ya, yer goin’ walkin’ today right? Ya want him check Frenchy’s – that’s City Hall for Lockehaven.”

Al was amused – it seemed as though the jungle telegraph had been in operation. “Does everyone here know L’Heureux’s schedule or is it me that’s on the radar?”

“Nope. Small town. Everybody knows everybody’s business – and I hear it all here. Not sure what L’Heureux’s got planned – you want a lunch?”

“Yes, please. One way or the other it won’t go to waste.”

Check paid, generous tip left and a gratifyingly heavy take-out bag procured Al went off to Clara and headed for Frenchy’s. As he walked into the store he ran into Blackie’s nephew, who immediately tried to apologize.

“Mister Richer, I’m so sorry I caused all that…”

Al cut him off. “First off, my name is Al – please feel free to call me that. Second it was NOT your fault – I was way too cloak-and-dagger on the whole thing. Third, it’s water under the bridge – I for one am not going to worry about it. Now, where’s your uncle hiding?”

“He’s out back – go on back.” He pointed to a door discreetly marked ‘Office’.

Al knocked, and from inside heard “Entrez!” he walked in to find a quiet, comfortable office, with Blackie sitting behind his desk.

“Bonjour, Goldeneye! Comment ca va aujourd’hui?”

“Just fine, Blackie. Slept well, got a good start, and stopped at the Grey Gull for a bit of pie…er, breakfast. It does seem everyone in town knows your schedule – Mavis asked if we were going walking today.”

Blackie laughed. “Not everyone – there are some ursamorph hermits in the woods that don’t know it. However, yes, this is a typical small town – and like it or not you’re a celebrity. Coffee?” he said, pointing to the steaming percolator off on a side table, cups and condiments on the table with it.

“Certainly. Had a great feed at the Gull, but the coffee was lacking.” Al poured himself a cup, adulterated it with cream and sugar and took a sip.

“Ahhh.. That is bliss. Tim Horton’s. Lovely.”

“Have a seat. Got a couple of things to go through here, then we can go for it. There’s a rail trail out of town – old line for the seaport – we can go out that way if you wish. Or, there’s other trails we can take where things are more off the track – and we can relax.”

“If by relax meaning you can be four-legged, I am entirely in favour. I haven’t seen a centaur since I left home a few weeks ago – I miss it.”

“Bien. You want to drive or should I? Non, come to think of it I want a ride in that ambulance of yours. Let me finish up, enjoy your coffee and we’re on our way.”

After a pleasant drive out 103 and 203 they found themselves in a quiet wooded area. Occasional houses were placed along the roads, but the majority of the area was untended and alternating copses of trees with open field between. The ground rose and fell, betraying its glacially contoured origin like most northern areas.

“Your turn’s coming up – on the right.” Blackie pointed to the right where a dirt track led off the road. Al slowed and turned, the ambulance waddling slightly as it left the pavement. They traveled for a mile or so on a rutted trail, the occasional branch scraping the sides of the box. Al winced slightly, but convinced himself that the clear coat applied by AHI would prevent brush pinstripes.

Finally, they opened out into a clearing. The trail, now a walking width, continued, but was gated off to prevent vehicles from entering.

“Pull off to the side – the ambulance will be safe here.” Pulling over, Al locked the parking brake on and the men stepped out.

The area was beautiful – wild and untended., The trail led off through a copse of pines, and the prevailing wind kept them breathing a quiet sound of movement.

Al walked to the back of the ambulance, stepped in and grabbed his pack and walking stick. L’Heureux stayed to the front of the ambulance, only to appear in feral a minute later.

Coming to the back of the ambulance, he presented a slightly incongruous sight – a tall, barrel-chested black stallion wearing a cargo vest, boonie hat and with a pack slung over his human shoulders.

“Bien, on va?”

“Certainment, mon vieux. Allons-y!” Al said, in French marred by his English accent.

Blackie was shocked. “You speak French?”

“How else do you think I was keeping up with your Franglish? Used to speak a lot more of it, but that’s faded along with the other languages I speak. When you wear the uniform, you get good at languages just to keep up with what’s around you. But, as I said, Blackie, Allons-y! - let’s be off, then!”

“Bon – Allons-nous!”

They walked down the trail, Blackie leading the way, Al striding along in a good-faith effort to keep up. Occasionally, Blackie would sprint ahead, then turn and wait for Al to catch up. Both of them were enjoying the exercise and the fresh air

The sun rose higher in the sky, and the water breaks became more frequent. Blackie was having little trouble with the trail, but Al, with his shorter stride found himself scrambling to keep up in spots.

“Mon Dieu! Come on there Goldeneye – you’d swear you’ve never been out for a walk before! Two-legs – have to wonder why you bothered to ever come down out of the trees considering how poorly you cover ground! I could have been back to town by now – and we’ve covered barely five miles!”

Sweating a bit and slipping on the gravel on patches of the trail, Al replied a bit hotly, “Look, you overgrown pack mule – I have two legs to your four – and your stride is double mine. I am moving along QUITE well for a man of my age, and will keep up.”

“Bien sur – but you’re so SLOW. J’ai fini avec ca – get on.”

“Pardon?”

“I said get on. I want to enjoy the walk and stretch – and the best way to do that is for me to be doing the walking for both of us. Get on.”

“You sure, mate? I’m no lightweight.”
“Not a problem. We can do this. Come on – let’s go.”

With that Al walked alongside, placed his hands on his friend’s back and vaulted up. Settling himself he said “Just be careful of tree branches. “ Blackie laughed and said “I’m right up here with you – don’t worry about it!” With that, the two trotted off down the path, both happy to be out and have someone to share it with.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

18 – If Murphy And MacGyver Had A Love Child

From that point a pattern was set – one which had the old sergeant-major integrated into the small Nova Scotia community. Mornings were no longer solitary affairs – up before dawn, coffee with the sunrise and Ialin for quiet but appreciative company, then off to the Grey Gull for breakfast and abuse from Mavis. Dropping into the mayor’s office for more coffee and a chat, then out and about being a tourist – or doing things with residents as asked.

Al found his steaks languishing in his cold store – the invitations for dinner (always one, and never a conflict) came, and Al accepted eagerly, being thoroughly tired of his own cooking by then. Then back to his camp, either to read and sleep early, or have long talks with Ialin into the night out on an Adirondack chair enjoying the starry night.

One morning, while lounging in the mayor’s office at Frenchy’s, the phone rang. Blackie picked it up, had a conversation and then hung up. Turning to his guest, he said, “You done anything to irritate local law enforcement?”

“No – saw Scout and Trooper at breakfast and they didn’t seem irritated.”

“They’re on their way over. Il veut vous parler.”

Lounging in a battered wing chair, leg up over the arm, Al sipped his coffee and said “Oh, dear. I’d better get my rifle, then. It’s obviously serious.”

Blackie laughed. “Ce n’est pas bien serieux. You got your hiking gear in the truck? I get a feeling they’re going to ask you to go out on patrol with them.”

Al sat up. This was too good to be true – Al was hoping for a chance at something like it.” Seriously?”

“Certainnement, mon vieux. Scout asked me, and I said I thought you’d go for it. I expect the local PP stringer will have something to say, though – he never has anything to submit and this would be a godsend for him.”

Al thought quickly – did he want that? “More than happy to oblige talking to him, but no pictures. I make it a point not to – part of the weapons business.”

“Bon. Ça va. If he doesn’t like it no interview. You’re a hard man, there Goldeneye.”

“Damn hard town you have here, Blackie. What with the flying pie epidemic and all…”

Soon Scout and Trooper arrived, walking into Blackie’s office like the old friends they all were.

Scout walked over, stared down expressionless at Al, and said “Mr. Mayor, is this the loiterer you want removed from your office?”

“Oui. He’s drinking all my coffee and keeps calling my Dare cookies ‘biscuits’. Get him out of here.”

“Al, Trooper and I are going to cover some of the remoter bits we’re responsible for – wondering if you want to come along. There is some animal risk, but it’s minimal.”

“So, what am I – bear bait? ‘No problem – we can outrun the two-legs, though chewing on him will give the bear heartburn.’ ”

Scout laughed. “Nope – can’t do that – Environment Canada would be all over us for poisoning the local wildlife, eh? You’ll have to get up on one of us if that happens – and I assure you we can outrun the most browned-off bear on the planet. Moose, not so much – that’s when things get dicey.”

“No problem – assume you’re taking a Maxi-14? We’re good, then.”

“You have hiking gear and water? You’re not dressed for hiking right now, and we’ll be doing some miles.”

“No problem – I have my gear in the truck – and if Blackie doesn’t mind I’ll just leave it here.” Blackie nodded – the presence of the ambulance was of little concern. “Should I get Mavis to pack me a lunch?”

“Got one for you – got stuff for us as well, so we’re all good. Just bring a few liters of water and some protein snacks and we’re good.”

“No problem – got that in the truck in my pack.”

With that, Al went off to the ambulance to change and prepare. Lightweight ripstop fatigue pants and blouse in desert tan went on over wicking undershirt for comfort, and hiking boots not unlike his old combat boots went on over wicking socks.

A web belt for canteen went over all, and his knife from Emerauld went onto that at the back. If he was going to be walking in the woods, a sharp knife might come in very handy.

Grabbing his pack, water bottles and snacks he came out, to meet Scout and Trooper by their Jeep. Or, he started to, then stopped, laughing.

“Eureka, really? EUREKA?”

Both of the law officers were laughing as well, knowing their joke had been appreciated.

Trooper spoke up. “We bought two new Cherokees for patrol work last year, and Scout here’s a “Eureka” fan – he’s got the whole series on DVD and he makes people watch it. I think it’s the whole Sheriff Andy thing.”

“It is NOT! I like Jo, personally…rrrrrow! When we got the new cars I asked Blackie and the town council if we could use the Eureka paint job and they agreed. Didn’t cost any more – we bought the cars with the right base color and the rest was just the way the graphics were applied. Hey, if you can’t have a little fun in your work – what’s the point? Moreover, it’s not like most of the perps are going to recognize it.”

“True enough. Let’s go – can’t wait to see you two in action.”

Piling into the Jeep the trio took off, driving over the causeway and onto the mainland. As they headed up Brighton Road, a question came to Al.

“Aren’t we kind of out of your jurisdiction out here? Lockehaven’s not that big, and we’re somewhat outside the boundaries.”

Trooper explained. “We’ve got some remoter areas along the rail trail that we walk, and along Lighthouse Route there’s some spots that local law enforcement can’t get into easily away from the power cuts – so we have a “gentleman’s agreement” between the local constabularies and ours to help. At a high level they’re aware of us, and aren’t afraid to let us do what we do well.”

“Well, that’s convenient. What if you run into someone doing something they shouldn’t – or is this mostly game work?”

“Backpacks – if we run into someone being stupid then we revert and make an arrest. Mostly, though, it’s game work – and feral is just so much easier to get in and out of there. We can’t rock climb in feral, but other than steep rocky slopes and heavy marsh where no one goes there’s nowhere we can’t go. I venture to say we can even give your ambulance a run for its money, Al.”

“That, indeed you could – she’s good but more of an open country type than a brush hog. I take it quads and the like are out for some reason?”

“Quite – the answer to that is noise. We’re quiet – hooves on dirt don’t make much noise. Quads are noisy motorized things – and even they can’t pick their way through brush the way we can.”

“Funny thing is – driving a car off-road is something none of us do well – we forget that cars can’t step over things and tend to run over things and mess up the suspension and steering.”

“Do tell. Let me give that some thought – there’s got to be some kind of a reminder we could build that would prevent that. Training would work, too, but that goes away when people get excited.”

“If you do – let us know. Out here we’d be a perfect pilot for it.”

Soon after, Scout pulled over on the side of Route 3, then headed down a badly-overgrown track. “Normally, the police just park on the side and walk in, but we need things a bit more private, for obvious reasons.”

“Obviously.”

Pulling in a quarter-mile or so, they pulled to the side of the widening track. Al got out of the back, donning his backpack and taking out his walking stick.

The sheriff and his deputy changed to feral, donning hats, vests and shoulder holsters, stepping to the back of the Cherokee and opened the weapons locker. Scout handed out a Maxi-14 to Trooper, and a second for himself.

“Al, I know you were military, but are you permitted to carry as a civilian?”

“Yes, I am. Full concealed carry, large-bore – the works.”

Scout reached in and pulled out an automatic in a belt holster. “If asked by the PP reporter we will undoubtedly run into when we get back, You NEVER had this, you have not touched a weapon in Canada, and this did not happen, eh?”

Al removed it from the holster noting it was a very nicely kept 1911, ejected the clip, and worked the action to ensure there was no live round in the chamber. Satisfied, he reinstalled the clip and put it in the holster, and clipped that to his web belt in easy reach.

“Thank you for the vote of trust – and I know nothing. Did note the caliber – that’s a nice big handgun. Reason?”

“The critters out here aren’t city squirrels. If you need to permanently discourage one a 9mm or the like is just going to piss it off unless you get very lucky. Even that is going to take multiple hits – if you need to use it aim for the head and don’t spare the ammunition.”

“Noted and noted. You chaps are really going to like the handgun we have in development – a serious leap over the stopping power of the .45 or even the Desert Eagle .50 caliber.

Design is calling for a slug in the range of 20 millimeter – depending on how we tool it up. It’s being developed for a specific customer, but will likely end up being released for the paras that can handle it, like you chaps.”

Trooper breathed out, reverently, “20 millimeter. Wow. Now THAT will be a perfect weapon for game work.”

“Indeed. The only issue is making VERY sure you have a backstop when you fire it – if you miss your target you don’t want to end up blowing a hole in a school bus or something a half-kilometer past.”

“True enough. That’s with any proper weapon, though – you have to be careful.” He hefted the Maxi-14 and slung it over his shoulder. “Well, let’s be off. Al, no offense, but if you slow us down we’re going to make you ride – just be aware.”

“No worries, mate – if it becomes a problem I ride – understood.”

“OK, off we go. Al, you take center – I’ll lead and Trooper will bring up the rear.”

“What are we looking for? Just want an idea – not my first patrol, mate.”

“Good point. What we’re looking for is human incursion into the area – fires, campsites and the stupid crap humans leave behind. We’re also looking for animals that could cause a problem – if we run into them we’ll decide what to do.

That’s what the popgun is for – don’t use it unless you absolutely have to – and give us a heads-up if you see something that might require action. Better we do it than you, if need be.”

“Well understood, my captain. Lead on!”

With that the patrol sweep began. Hour after hour, with stops for water and snacks, they walked the rolling terrain, through the dense forests that covered the area.

Several times they walked out onto the power cut that bordered the northern edge of the area, to sight their bearings and for a bit of sunshine after being in the dense cover of the trees.

On one of these excursions a break was called, and Al sat down on a convenient rock. The centaurs merely stood, tails working to deal with the flies and midges that clustered about the three.

Al broke the silence. “Gentlemen, it is beautiful up here. I sincerely appreciate the opportunity you’ve given me today – it’s a marvelous place, and seeing it with you is perfect.”

Scout spoke, with a serious pride in the place he lived and worked. “Al, it’s our pleasure. It’s beautiful here, but relatively poor. Tourism is our major industry, as well as fishing and farming. In any case, it’s nice to be able to show the real Nova Scotia to a gentleman such as yourself.

However, we have more miles to cover – are you up to it, there two-legs?”

Taking another swig of water and popping a few more nuts and berries from his protein snacks in his mouth, he stood, stretched and said “Right behind you. As Blackie would say, ‘Allons-y!’ “

The trails continued, undulating with the terrain. They saw much game spoor – the local area was well inhabited with everything up to and including deer – but no spoor of larger, dangerous animals.

Despite that, none of the three let their guard down.

Daisy was having a late breakfast, reading the PP on her tablet as she took notes on her schedule. As had become her habit, the pouch with the Herkimer diamonds in it was in her pocket, warmed by her skin.

She stopped – something was wrong. Something in the back of her mind said something was wrong. Disquieted, she realized Al was very unhappy about something. The relaxed happy old man was gone, and the warrior was out.

Scout was mightily annoyed. “Take the old guy along, you said. Show him the beauty of the area – nice old guy. We never see anything worse than a pissed-off moose on these sweeps, you said – perfectly safe.

Well, NOW what, hotshot?” The two officers stood in a small pocket in the woods – and Al was conspicuously absent, as was the relaxed atmosphere.

“How the hell was I supposed to know this was gonna happen?”

Minutes before, the three had detected a chemical stink – ether, overheated metal, and a reek of plastic. On their guard, they stopped, trying to isolate the source.

“We’re near the power cut – and there’s a vehicle more-or-less path on that. Wonder if something’s out there and on fire?”

“No, not with a chemical smell like that. That’s not a vehicle fire – that I’d recognize anywhere.” Al was emphatic. He knew what a burning car smelled like, and that chemical reek was just not on.

“Then what the hell is it, eh?” Scout was confused – this was a new one on them.

Al suspected – and he didn’t like the answer, from hearing some of Greg’s stories of the Okanogan when he moved there.

“Meth lab. That’s the smell of a meth cook.”

Trooper snorted – he simply didn’t believe Al. “How can you know?”

“My partner – the man who conceived that rifle on your shoulder – spent a fair amount of time and energy rooting out meth labs where he lives when he moved there. I will not go into details, but what he described is the smell we’re smelling right now.”

“Well, we’re going to have to go have a look, then.” Scout went to make a move, but Al stopped him.

“If you’re going to sneak up on this and not give away the nature of your patrols, you’ll need to go human. You do that and you lose the ability to fire the Maxi-14s – no human can handle one – not even a humaniform centaur.”

“Damn. You’re right. Forgot about that – these issue pistols aren’t gonna be real useful if somebody starts shooting, eh?”

“Let me make a suggestion. Unlike you gentlemen I am trained for infiltration. Why don’t you two hang back here and let me go and have a look?”

“Look, Goldeneye – we can’t let you do that. If anything happens to you there’ll be hell to pay – the village will lynch us and Blackie will provide the rope for free.”

“You can and you should let me. You gentlemen are well-trained officers of the law – but I am an ex-Para sergeant-major with decades of military sneaky under my belt. Let me go – I can do this – and if I get killed my wife would probably give you a medal for making it look like an accident because she gets double indemnity that way.”

If I manage to get myself killed she’ll have the mages summon me just so she can yell at me, he thought, but didn’t say.

A complex nonverbal conversation went on between Scout and Trooper, and finally Scout looked at him and said sternly “Go, look. Do not approach if you find anything. Just get the lay of the land and get the hell out. If you get killed I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Yes, sir. Do not approach, scouting only.” Drawing the 1911, chambering a round, and sorely wishing he had the Drow knife that was in Clara, Al headed off into the brush, walking silently as only a trained soldier can.

As he moved off, he had a sudden feeling in the back of his mind – Daisy was unhappy. VERY unhappy. Stopping for a moment, he knelt to the earth, put his hand over the pouch on his arm, and thought thoughts of love and comfort to his dam. Hoping it would help, he rose again and moved off on his mission.

Ten minutes of cautious movement brought him within a hundred yards of the power cut, as the stink eddied and intensified. Finally, Al spotted a shape vaguely outlined in the trees. Moving closer he spotted a truck with the encumbrance of a camper on its back. Maneuvering around it, he scouted it best as he could from all sides, nearly running into two watchers fore and aft of the parked vehicle.

Withdrawing, he returned to the two law officers and reported.

“Mid-90s Dodge Ram 4 x 4, blue, with a white pickup camper on the back, NS plates” and he recited the number “with two guards – one 20 yards or so in front of the truck, one at the back right by the entrance they broke in from the power cut.

They’re a few hundred yards ahead, and drove in from the cut far enough to hide the rig. Definitely cooking – it’s a horrible smell – but I guess they didn’t figure anyone was going to notice out here.”

“Damn. To be honest they’re right – this is not an area where you get much of this stuff. – it’s a new one on me. Likely some of the local drug yahoos decided to start a DIY project using stolen pseudoephedrine cold tablets instead of buying from their suppliers.” Scout was disgusted – this type of nonsense was just not wanted here – and had to be eradicated.

“So, what do we do about it? We’re not going to take them on – no doubt they’ve got guns and it’s not like we’ve got our vests or anything else.” Trooper made a valid point – they were equipped for a patrol hike in the woods – not a firefight.

Al thought quickly, and asked “How fast can you get back to your car and your truck-mounted radio – and can you get anyone from here?”

“Moving fast, we can get there in 15 minutes or a little more. Radio will work fine – we can get to one or another of the local dispatchers.”

“OK. Here’s what you do. One of you goes like Hades to the car and gets help. The other two of us wait here till you get back – then we’re going to have a little fun. How many rounds of .50 BMG have you got between you?”

“Likely 50 or so – we don’t skimp, and clips don’t weigh much.”

“Good. I need at least 10 – a dozen would be better. Give.”

“What the hell are you going to do, you crazy old man?”

Al outlined his plan.

“You’re NUTS!”

“And your point is? Give.”

Taking the rounds and an aluminium water bottle from his pack, Al made a hole in the side of the container big enough to take the brass of a .50BMG round in a firm push fit. Disassembling all of the rounds with his paratool, he poured the smokeless powder into the container, sticking the cut-down back end of one of the rounds into the hole in the side of the container. He thought an apology to Emerauld – using her knife to cut brass was a crime, but needs must. In any case, he’d enjoy telling her of this adventure – if he lived through it.

After assembling the bomb, he crept forward again placing himself a hundred yards or so from the meth wagon and its unsavoury occupants and guards. Nestling the bottle into a pocket of stones and soil, he positioned his paratool’s screwdriver pointing at the cap, braced so a hit from the back would drive it into the cap.

Backing off fifty feet or so, he lay prone in the debris of the floor and awaited his cue.

Soon enough it came – loud crashing in the brush, voices, and a string of shots from the Maxi-14s. Steadying the pistol against his knee, he fired at the paratool – to no effect, as the bullet WHINGed off one of the cairn of stones.

Guided by the coppery glance left by the first, he fired again – and again.

The second did the trick, with the third disappearing into the explosion. The bottle erupted with a loud CRACK and flung the stones and piled dirt into the air – hopefully to create a visible plume away from the sounds the officers were making.

By the time the dust became visible Al was elsewhere, moving as fast as the tenets of stealth and quiet would allow him. Once far enough away he turned again toward the Dodge and its occupants – and enjoyed what he saw.

Alarmed by the shots and his petard, they packed up, backed up and made to leave the area – running straight into heavily armed and protected members of two of the local forces waiting for them out on the power cut, having come in from both sides from roads at the ends of the section. Satisfied, he headed back to there the two centaurs awaited him.

“Convenient, that. Your cover is not blown except in official reports, and mine is happily still concealed. I have had entirely enough of drug scum to last me a lifetime and more.’ Al was disgustingly pleased – these morons never had the foggiest inkling of what they’d backed into –and thankfully hadn’t had automatic weapons to dispute the point.

“How the hell did you set that off, Al? I saw the way you set it up, but how did you fire the .50 round’s cap?”

“Simple enough – and you owe me a paratool. I took the Philips screwdriver and propped it up pointing at the cap – and then hit the paratool with a shot from the .45. The sights on that thing are horrible – it took me two tries.”

“Al, you realize that this is going to be all over town the minute we get back if it’s not already – I have no doubt our dispatcher heard about this – and Blackie knows you’re out here.”

“Damnit. That means the PP stringer’s going to be all over it. Great. Just bloody marvelous.”

“In any case, Al – many thanks. This could have gone down a helluva lot worse than it did – and it’s down to you. Officially, please accept the thanks of the Lockehaven sheriff’s department – and I’ll make sure you receive the official thanks of the town or Blackie and the Council are gonna hear about it from me.”

“Thanks are not necessary – glad I could help. Sorry to see you’re having big-city issues out here, though.”

“We get the same problems – and some of our own like deer and moose jacking and animal problems. It’s no better or worse than anywhere else – but it’s home.”

The rest of the patrol was uneventful – much walking, but with its compensations. They had their late lunch on the summit of a small hill, with the verdant pines spread out below them, and a distant view of the sea out toward the town.

Walking back, the officers returned to humaniform, and Al returned the .45 to its owners after clearing the round in the chamber and returning it to the clip to properly safety the weapon.

“Good gun that – no surprise my partner’s fond of them. Remember to clean it, please – I had to fire it, so it’s dirty.”

“No worries – it’ll go in for cleaning when we get back. I’ll make sure of it.”

Climbing back into the Jeep, they headed back to town, with Al sneaking out to Clara and vacating the premises for the quiet of his campsite before the town descended on the officers – and him. Tomorrow at breakfast would be soon enough to deal with it – and tonight he could use a quiet dinner and a chat with Ialin – who would be quite annoyed with him.

He was right.

“Al, you are an IDIOT. You have a Drow knife that can conceal you from prying eyes and WHERE WAS IT?”

Ruefully, Al admitted it was under his bunk in the cloth bundle.

“YOU IDIOT – oh – I said that already. YOU WITLING. Do you realize how frantic Daisy probably is?”

“Yes, I know she was upset. I took time to send love when I figured it out – I hope it helped.”

“Look – before dinner tonight, just sit for a while, and watch the sea, and think of her. Let her know you’re OK the best way. I think calling at this point would make for too many questions and a lot more upset.”

Fire on for a grill-up, Al sat in the Adirondack chair in his campsite, and stared out over the sea. Daisy, who was never far from his thoughts, was at the forefront now. He could imagine her smell, see her smile, hear her laugh, and almost feel that she was with him now.

After an unsettling day – Al had been very upset, then he settled down, then was upset again, then settled – Daisy suddenly felt his love and thoughts, like a calming blanket. It went on and on, and grew stronger. Daisy sat in her chair in her office, closed her eyes, and felt his thoughts, realizing if he could think of her like this, he was all right. Inspired, she did the same, broadcasting waves of love and comfort to him.

Together despite the intervening miles, the lovers basked in each other’s thoughts.
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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Just Old Al
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Re: Holiday

Post by Just Old Al »

19 - No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The next morning all was stillness and bliss – until breakfast.

Al, though stiff and sore from the exertions of the previous day, savoured the aroma of a cup of Tina’s coffee while he watched he sunup, Ialin sitting on his shoulder with her own demitasse. Few words other than greetings were exchanged, the pair being familiar enough to not need to make conversation for conversation’s sake. Having watched the sun reddening then bluing the eastern sky they parted, Al to his new routine and Ialin to her own pursuits.

Wheeling the ambulance through town, Al was amazed. Everyone he passed stopped and waved, and small children pointed. To Al this was eerily reminiscent of his earlier shunning, though no one was unfriendly this time – if anything there was an almost manic feel to it.

Parking alongside the Grey Gull, he debarked, locked the door and walked into the restaurant. As he entered, a spontaneous demonstration took place – the inhabitants stood, whistling, cheering, whinnying in a few cases and clapping madly.

Embarrassed by the attention, Al waved his hands downward, which if anything made the locals laugh and applaud even louder. After a minute or so they settled, and Al made his way to his usual stool at the counter, where his coffee awaited him.

“Hey, Al. Whad’ll ya have?”

“The usual, Mavis. Actually, let’s change it up – can we skip the bacon and sausage and go with some ham this morning? I’m famished – got a lot of exercise yesterday.”

“So we heard. You and the sheriff’s department went head-to-head with some drug runners and took ‘em slick as a whistle. Even better, nobody got hurt, and they got caught red-handed.”

Mavis, you can’t believe all the stories you hear on the street. That was all down to the Sheriff and his deputy – they did all the work on it – I was just a spectator.”

“Al, bless you, that’s not the way the sheriff is tellin’ it. Way he says, you went in and scouted the bad guys while he and Trooper waited it out on the sidelines. He said you came up with the plan, too – something about a bomb made with an aluminum water bottle and powder from rifle rounds.”

Al quietly cursed to himself. So, hoping to avoid the publicity they’d thrown him under the town’s gossip bus. Well, two can play at that game.

“Did Mr. I-Did-Nothing and his deputy mention that Trooper RAN all the way back to the car – and coordinated the two other police departments coming in to take these guys when they ran for it? Or that they were the ones with the rifles and pistols, and I was unarmed? What kind of a sheriff would have let an unarmed man do a recce like that? The sheriff was having you all on, Mavis.”

Mavis was unrepentant. She leaned forward on the counter, speaking quietly for Al’s ears alone. “I know whad I hear, and I know whad I believe. Known
Scout and Trooper since they were colts – and I know who to believe here.” She smiled, and decided to play along.

“Oh, those kidders! I’m gonna give ‘em a piece of my mind when they come in for lunch!”

Suitably pacified, the townsfolk settled back to their meals, and Al was presented with his usual three plates of breakfast, much to his delight. Even the coffee was good this morning, and he mentioned it to Mavis.

“Yah, boss realized that folks were drinkin’ it ‘cause it was there and not ‘cause it was good. He changed up the supplier – and the number of pots we make has gone right up – folks like it. Not complainin’ – anthin’ keeps the customers happy is a good thing.”

Finishing his breakfast he decided to drop by the Mayor’s office, per his routine. As he got into the truck, a young, earnest man came pelting up, out of breath.

“Mr. Richer”
*twitch*
“Ed Swan from the…local newspaper. Can we talk?”

“Certainly, hop in. I’m about to go visit the mayor, and I’m sure we could chat in his office.” The young man climbed into the old ambulance’s passenger seat, and they thudded up the street the short distance to Frenchy’s.

“I’d like to interview you about the exciting events yesterday – and your part in them.”

“Well, there isn’t much to say, really. I was there – but I was not a participant, as I was unarmed and unequipped. All of the glory for that goes to Sheriff Fraser and Deputy James. I had the pleasure of watching them in action – truly an awesome sight.”

For the next 15 minutes Al spun a totally fanciful tale of the deputy’s valiant run to the car as he and the Sheriff watched the situation, then of the game-flushing action that the two law officers undertook to drive the drug runners into the hands of the police.

“And that’s how it was. I never took my hands out of my pockets the whole time – they did it all.”

Swan, who had had a recorder running as Al spoke, turned it off, looked at Al and said, “Thank you. I appreciate the interview – and that is the biggest pack of lies and half-truths I’ve ever heard at one time.”

Al was shocked. Obviously, the party line wasn’t going to work here – so getting imaginative was in order.

“And why do you say that, young man?”

“First off, sir *twitch* I live here. I know Sheriff Fraser and Deputy James – and neither of them is an experienced combat officer. This as-described had all the earmarks of a military operation even improvised as it was – they never would have come up with it.

Secondly, they’d have gone right in, been found out, and likely gotten killed. Believe me, I am not trying to block the anonymity that you seem to crave here – but this is a significant story and I’d like to be able to tell it.

Even they acknowledge your part in this – unofficially, of course – but you did a damn wonderful bit of work out there yesterday – why don’t you want anyone to know about it?”

This all sounded depressingly familiar – that Minneapolis reporter and her annoyance was still close enough to make Al seriously publicity-shy. However, needs must, so he’d have to be straight with this young man and see if it worked.

“Simple, Ed, simple. Do you remember the Pillsbury bloodbath in Minneapolis back a year-and-a-half ago?

“Certainly. PP had the only straight story – the mundane news outlets were locked out on all the paranormal details. “

“Then you know exactly why this needs to stay quiet. I can’t inflict that – risk – on my family again. That whole thing was down to a dead drug enforcer and the policeman who had to do that duty – and it turned into a vendetta that nearly cost me and my family our lives.”

“Now, I will happily give you a story about my visit here, and the friendliness of the town and all that - I know how the PP feels about the Alexanders – but this part needs to stay buried. The officers lay their lives on the line every day – I do not. They deserve the credit for all of it.”

“Run them next to each other in the same edition and let the people who know chuckle and touch their noses – they’ll enjoy the superiority of knowing – and the ones who don’t won’t know – and my family stays safe from the scum.”

Ed’s shoulders sagged. “I understand. So, shall we invade the mayor’s office for a cup of coffee and the ‘interview’ ”?

“Do, let’s.” With that, they exited the ambulance and headed into the store.
Entering the store with Ed Swan in tow, Al sat down at one of the small tables near the self-service coffee, and Ed joined him.

They chatted amiably, Ed asking the usual "Chamber of Commerce" questions and Al batting them back with the long practice of a noncom reporting to officers what they wanted to hear. Finally, they finished up and Ed turned off his recorder, completing the interview.

“Al, I will never publish it - ever - but I have to know what went on out there yesterday." Ed leaned forward, earnest, and said "I just can't believe what you told me - I know better."

Al sighed. He hated being pinned down.

"To be honest, what happened was two brave officers of the law who were going to do their jobs - and get hurt or killed. I stuck my oar into the whole mess, and managed to help create a more favorable outcome."

"What about the bomb?"

"WHAT bomb? No bomb. Don't know anything about a bomb. What are you going on about, Ed?”

"The bomb that was used to stir up the drug runners?" Ed looked at him skeptically, with a "are you having me on?" expression on his face.

"Ed, I never saw a bomb - I have no idea what you're talking about. Have you been listening to Mavis again?"

Ed sighed, and remarked "Not as if you'd say anyway, eh? Thanks for the interview, Al - and I will play it as agreed."

With that, the young reporter departed, Al watching his departing form with a sigh of relief. Getting up, he knocked on Blackie's office door, waited for the "Entrez!" and walked in.

Blackie was in a foul mood - the first words out of his mouth were "What the HELL were you playing out there - Carson Of The Mounties? You are a CIVILIAN - what kind of nonsense was that?" Blackie was so angry he forgot his usual Franglish, being forced to English to express his outrage.

"That, old nag, was me helping as best I could to keep your officers alive by using the trade I practiced for decades, that's what it was! Would you prefer I had just cowered behind a rock and let the poor bastards get SHOT?"

Al was just not up for this. First the reporter, and now Blackie...this was annoying.

Blackie suddenly bellowed in laughter, coming out from behind his desk and slapping a beefy arm around the old soldier's shoulders. "And a damn fine job of it you did! So tell me about the bomb!”

"Bomb? WHAT bomb?”

"Liar. The council and I have heard it all direct from Scout and Trooper - the debriefing you conveniently disappeared for. Call this your debriefing - and you know where the coffee is."

Cup in hand, in the wing chair, leg draped over the arm, Al began to speak.

"Blackie, there's not a lot to tell, really. We were in an untenable situation - and your officers were going to do their jobs, and there was no good way out of it. Rather than them getting hurt or killed, I went in and had a look, then I came back and we cooked up a plan-"

"Stop right there. Ç’etait pas 'Nous' ç'etait 'Vous’ ". That was all you, you sneaky old man."

"Nope. It was your officers, and all I did was contribute. All down to them, their training and intelligence."

"Oui. And pigs fly - but if that's the way you want it - that's the way it is."

"That is most definitely the way I want it. Your men do a fantastic job day in and out - and they don't need me hogging anything."

"Bien sûr. No problem. So, what about the bomb?"

"Simple - it was misdirection. I took a water bottle, filled it with smokeless powder from the 50-caliber rounds and used the butt end of one of the shells as a blasting cap. Blew a screwdriver into the cap with a .45-"

"AHA! You WERE armed! Neither one of them would admit it to me or the Council – but I knew sureashell that Scout wouldn’t have let you go in on drug runners bare-handed."

"I cannot tell a lie - I was. If you force me to admit it publicly I will lie like a cheap rug."

"I won't. I am damn glad Scout gave you a pistol, violation of the law though it was. We need to get you permitted in Canada in case you ever need it. Remind me to put that through the Sheriff's Department {ahem}."

Al grinned. To be honest he wouldn't mind that at all. Chuckling, he replied. “Give me the papers – I will happily sign them. I had to leave all my toys at home considering I was coming to Canada – didn’t care for that at all. A man gets used to being heeled, and I usually carry at home.”

“Bon. Ça on peut faire. This we can deal with. Glad to get you something out of this mess. Oh, that reminds me – what’s your schedule looking like?”

Al thought, then answered slowly. “I should be on my way by Sunday if I’m going to make it home when expected. As I haven’t been in touch since I left – I was threatened with a bullet in the arse if I did – that’s what I was planning to do. Nothing against the folks here – it’s grand – but I miss my wife and family.”

“Bon. Merveilleux. There’s a party Saturday night – and you’re “invited” “. Blackie made quote motions in the air over the words – and Al had to ask.

“All right – what’s that about, then? Why the quotes?”

Blackie hesitated a bit, then said “To be blunt, you’re the guest of honor. This idea was proposed about two drinks after the debriefing yesterday. It was passed unanimously by the Council, with the sheriff and his deputy as enthusiastic non-voters.”

Al thought rapidly - did he want this? Lots of noise, lots of acclaim – something he usually avoided like the plague. He hadn’t even gone to his own retirement party…

*THWACK!*

Well, that answered that question. Bracing himself for another roundhouse from the pixie, he said “Blackie, I would be honoured to come. I will warn you, however, I don’t drink, so I do hope folks won’t be offended if I don’t imbibe.”

“Ç’est rien. No one will mind – it’s not that kind of crowd. So, plan to come to “my house” for dinner – say at 6 – on Saturday night. Of course, you know nothing about this.”

“Again, I am honoured. One thing, though – are we going to have trouble keeping this whole escapade under the covers? Scout and Trooper really are the heroes here – I’m just a meddling old soldier.”

“Al, what you want is what will happen – the word will be passed. Everybody knows the truth, but we can play stupid as well as any bunch of fishermen.” Blackie grinned, then said “You really do deserve the credit for what you did – but if you prefer to stay in the shadows on this one – you can certainly do so.”

“And I do – thank you.”

After more pleasantries, Al wandered back to Clara and headed for his campsite. Some extended lounging with a book was definitely called for after yesterday – and he had a dinner engagement to rest up for…
"The Empire was founded on cups of tea, mate, and if you think I am going to war without one you are sadly mistaken."
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