5 November 2006
The box was delivered with no introduction to a file clerk in an underground office building outside of Grove City. It was never signed in. The clerk opened the tape, verified the list, made a note about the missing items, then resealed the box and added a label with a case number. The box spent the next day sitting on a table in a locked room filled with files before it was picked up by another agent, who did not sign it out. This agent loaded it into the back of his van, beside the crumpled remains of a console pulled from the wreckage of a small town just across the state line in Ohio and a body bag labeled “Caretaker.” The van picked up the turnpike and headed across Pennsylvania, pulling off at Breezewood to grab some food at a drive-thru before turning south.
Outside of Washington, D.C., the van passed into a slowly gentrifying neighborhood, cruising past a third-generation barbershop that sat next to a cafe with drinks named in poorly-translated Indonesian before turning down a largely-forgotten alley. Here, tucked away from curious eyes behind a brick wall, was a loading dock. The van pulled up to it, the driver hopping out to ring a buzzer next to the doors. A gruff man opened the door, checked the driver’s ID, then went to the van to confirm its contents. Satisfied, he grabbed the box and walked it inside, barking orders to a few people in overalls watching a television. These quickly ran outside to grab everything else; he continued on his way, into an elevator and up to the third floor. With a practiced feel of the place, he navigated through the stacks and the shelving units until he came to a small section labeled “Jeremiah Bazyli Matteson.” He slipped the box onto an open shelf, rearranged a few folders that had fallen over, and left the room.
3 November 2006
The hall surrounding Henry’s office was empty of staff and students, the doors closed and office lights off, as everyone who worked there was either in class or at his funeral. The two agents passed by quietly, their eyes fixed on their target. When they reached Henry’s office door, one turned his back to the wall and watched for anyone passing by, while the other produced a key from a small envelope and used it to turn the lock. As soon as the door was open they both slipped inside and softly closed the door behind them. The second man put the key back into his envelope, and that into his breast pocket, before reaching inside his suit jacket and pulling out a list. The other man began opening drawers and pulling out plain-looking notebooks, scraps of paper, and trinkets. Each of them was briefly compared to the list, and placed either on one corner of the desk or returned to its place. They made fast work of the room, small as it was, and finished with one last pass to ensure they had checked everywhere. Two items on the list were still missing, and the man holding the list frowned at that, but the other set his focus to gathering everything into a box. The list was placed on top of the materials in the box, which was then taped shut. The hallway was checked and, being empty still, the agents exited the office. They locked the door again before walking away with the box, vanishing into a nearby stairwell.
The Mediterranean sun lazed across the sky, shimmering off the crests of the water and shining off white cliffs, filling the air with light. The only shade in sight rested under a small collection of broad umbrellas standing guard over small tables on a wooden balcony overlooking the sea. Most of the tables were empty, the tourists having left for now, leaving two women at one table alone with their discussion. One of them was tall and dark, with sharp features and sharper eyes that made the waiter feel like prey when they paused on him for a moment too long. The other was shorter, with a lighter complexion hidden under a wide hat and large sunglasses that hid everything but her perfectly sculpted body and invitingly warm lips. Both of them wore light, airy fabrics, in light shades; though the taller woman was showing less of her legs than the other. The waiter brought them their drinks, trying not to look directly at either of them for different reasons, then slipped back inside.
“He seems nice,” the shorter woman said, slowly running her finger down the side of the goblet and down its stem. “Do you want this one?”
“I have more important work than that this afternoon, Babylon.” Babylon huffed and delicately lifted her goblet to take a sip.
“You’re so much less fun since you stopped being a demon.”
“I didn’t want to be a demon in the first place. I was a goddess.”
“Yes, yes. Weren’t we all, in some way or another. The way my old priests and priestesses used to scream my name, I still get a rush just thinking about it. But you seemed fine with it while you were the Devil at the Crossroads.”
“Speaking of priests. How’s that son of yours doing?” Babylon sighed and set her drink down.
“He still follows his own path. Which is to be expected, I suppose, if he wasn’t such a little prick about it.”
“This is the problem you run into when you mate with mortals.”
“Don’t go acting like you’re little miss innocent yourself over there. I know all about you and your witches.”
“I don’t bear them little spawn to aggravate me decades later.”
“No, of course not. You like your pets to remain pets. I understand, there’s a certain appeal to it. Of course you know I’ve had my share of toys. On that note!” She turned and lowered her sunglasses to peek over them at the other woman. “I hear you’ve been on the trail of a new Anchor.”
“Where do you hear these things?”
“I have my ways, dear,” Babylon said, waving her hand as she leaned back into her chair. “People like talking to me, especially if they think I’m not really listening. Is he fun? Jules was fun.”
“I thought you usually just broke stubborn and left it in a heap.”
“This one is different.”
“Oh, so he is fun?” The taller woman glared sideways at Babylon, who giggled.
“He isn’t of much interest to you, I’m sure. He made that very clear. But he’s powerful. And there’s something off about him. I can’t place it, but there’s some way he feels…connected, in a more visceral way, to our realm than the others have.”
“You think this is going to be the one? After all these centuries?”
“Yes. He has the power I need, and I already have a witch working on him. He’s getting close.”
“And if you can’t get him to subscribe to your plan?”
“Then I’ll have to make him desperate.” The taller woman grabbed her drink, finally, and finished it in one tilt.
“There she is.”
“Who?” Babylon smiled and picked her goblet back up.
“The demon I started having these drinks with.” The other woman chuckled. “Listen, Hecate. All this stress, it isn’t good for you. What if you finally get to be a Spirit of the People again, but lose sight of what you want out of it?”
“You think I’m working too hard. But you weren’t made second act to a bunch of upstart, petty little kings from another land.”
“I think you’ll find I’ve had many kings try to get one over on me.”
“Were you under them at the time?”
“Sometimes. But the point is, you need to make sure this is the goddess you want to be when you get what you want. Because once those people lock you into whatever you’ve been showing them…”
“I remember.” Babylon nodded, then waved toward the door. Soon the waiter slipped back out, picking up the empty glasses.
“Another for you ladies today?” he asked. Babylon looked to Hecate, who thought for a moment before giving a faint nod.
“That would be delightful, young man,” Babylon said, smiling, as she slid her finger across his arm. “As long as it’s you bringing it.” He smiled, then cleared his throat, nodded briskly, and ran back inside.
“Don’t break him before you get what you want from him,” Hecate said.
“Do you need help with your new pet?”
“I don’t think so. But I’ll remember you offered.” Babylon purred and turned to face the water.
“Good. I miss Jules. Another Anchor might be nice.”
3 November 2006
As the small crowd made its way around the room to speak to John Matteson at McGonigle Funeral Home, Jeremiah slipped passed them quietly to take a seat out of the way. He watched his grandson, and paid attention to the people who seemed to spend the most time checking in on him or helping him manage the flow of people. A young Latin woman stood out, and Jeremiah made note of her. When he got up, he hovered around groups of people until he picked up her name (Jackie) and then made his way to the casket. He made note of a couple other people that were clearly friends on his way, attempting to gauge their relationship to John by the way they handled themselves and their friend. He skipped the line entirely, avoiding the damned small talk expected of people at these things, and rested his hand on his son’s cheek.
“Thank you for showing me points of weakness,” he whispered. “Enjoy your rest.” With that, he quietly disappeared out the door and then out of the physical realm entirely.