Damned cat, thought Jude, making sure he had every avenue covered before he crossed the street. He
had slept well last night, despite it not being his own bed, but that of a flop house in one of the seedier
sections of town. Still, the bed had been clean, and the wards he had set to protect him through the night
had remained undisturbed.
He didn't like the idea of coming back to his apartment, not with two sets of thugs looking for him. But
Santana was family, and no one had been at the apartment to feed him in a day. He had to take the risk. He
knew that. He couldn’t let the cat starve, or work to find a way out of the apartment where a Shadow might
pick him off. It had been his late wife’s cat, then his responsibility since she died. The plan was to dump
enough food and put down enough water bowls to keep him going for some weeks. His going to the
bathroom in the house was not a problem, that could be cleaned up.
Jude couldn’t see anyone hanging around on the street looking suspicious, though he knew trained
operatives were experts at blending in. He closed his eyes and recited a short spell, then opened them and
looked up and down the street again. There was no one enclosed in the red aura that would have indicated
they intended him harm. That didn’t mean there was no one in a building looking out the window at him, or
someone under deep magical cover. But nothing was perfect.
I’ve got to move, he thought, striding across the street and coming to the door of the apartment building
two doors down from his. He made a quick check of the street and then walked up to his entrance, turning
quickly into the stairs for his building and jogging up them. The door opened at his touch, recognizing his
aura. He closed the door behind him and scanned the lobby, then said a revealing spell that revealed
nothing. He hit the stairwell door soon after the spell took effect and started going up the stairs two at a
time. He hadn’t thought the elevator was a good idea, because he would be more or less trapped in there,
while the stairs gave him more flexibility in his response.
The smell hit him as soon as he opened the door onto his floor. The smell of loosed bowels and urine.
Feline bowels and urine. His right hand reached up and pulled the gun from his left shoulder holster, and he
looked around the corner of the short hall that led to the stairwell. Both ways were clear, but he could not
see his door due to it being recessed about a foot in from the hall.
Jude moved to the other side of the hall, holding his gun pointed down the corridor, then walked quickly
toward his apartment. His breath caught in his throat as soon as he saw his door, and the orange furry thing
that was attached to it. Goddammit no, he thought, stepping to the door, all of his concentration on what
someone had left him as a reminder of their attention.
Santana was nailed to the door, large headed fasteners through all of his paws stretching him out. His
eyes had been put out by something hot, probably a cigarette, and his belly had been slit open. The cat’s
mouth was open in a rictus of pain. Obviously someone had wanted to torment the poor animal, and leave
evidence of that torment for Jude to find.
rtJude closed his eyes for a moment, squeezing the tears through his shut lids. A wracking sob
threatened to escape his throat as he was almost overwhelmed by the sorrow that his beloved pet had been
destroyed so cruelly. Sorrow turned to anger, and anger to rage in a moment. He opened his eyes, and
swore bloody murder to whoever had committed the atrocity.
He heard voices coming from the apartment as soon as he got his own emotions under control. Barely
under control. He was about to reach for the knob and let himself into the apartment when he heard
footsteps running toward him along the hall.
“There he is,” yelled one of the two men who came at him. “He’s out here,” yelled the other.
Jude heard movement in the apartment, and knew that the men had him trapped, or thought they did.
What he hoped was that the men thought they were trying to trap a police detective, and one who might
have the powers of a forensics mage. From the way they approached him he didn’t think they had been told
of his Army career. And even though he had technically been in intelligence, the Army made sure to train
anyone in their service who had any tidbit of magical power in some offensive and defensive applications of
that power. And they had used him to command an infantry platoon during the riots that had erupted over
the sudden increase of the dead lands, those years ago.
Anger gave power. Jude turned and projected all of his anger into the spell he had said as he entered
the building, only leaving the triggering word off, saying it now. He pushed his left hand forward, sending a
ball of force toward the men. The distortion of the air showed that ball in motion, and the two men tried to
slow themselves, to fire their weapons, to do too much at once, all too late. The ball of force hit them at leg
height, throwing them into the air to hit the ceiling and fall heavily back to the floor. They lay there
groaning, not moving otherwise.
Jude raised the pistol in his right hand as he was flinging the spell, cocking the hammer and firing a
round off into the door. He continued to fire as he pulled his second pistol out of his belt holster with his left
hand, then went into an alternating fire with both pistols until the hammer on the gun in his right hand
clicked on a spent cylinder. He continued to fire the final three rounds from his left hand pistol into the door.
A quick move shoved both pistols into their holsters. He then reached behind his back at the belt line and
withdrew the two small automatics, at the same time kicking the door inward.
The door swung in to reveal three men who had all been caught in the line of fire. He recognized one, at
least by face, as a man who had been at the Daemon Corp building. That one was gasping out his life with
two big blood spots on his shirt. Another lay silent on the floor, sightless eyes looking up with a neat hole
between them. The third coughed on the floor, a hole in his stomach, trying to pull himself to his feet and
defend himself against Jude. Jude shot him through the shoulder with the .32 auto and walked over to him,
kicking the man’s gun away. His anger got the better of him and he put a bullet through the man’s left eye.
He then backtracked into the hallway and shot each of the two men trying to get back to their feet twice
through the heads.
Returning to the apartment he looked at his cat, nailed to the door. One of his bullets had gone through
the cat, tearing a big hole through its abdomen. He felt a sense of guilt, as if he had added to the
desecration of the animal. He knew that was nonsense, but he still felt it, and it brought the anger back up.
He stormed into the apartment and looked down on the man he had recognized, the only one of the quintet
still among the living.
“Who sent you?” he growled, glaring at the man. “Daemon? Stark? Who sent you?”
“I ain’t telling you squat,” said the man through gritted teeth.
“Yes you are,” said Jude, raising his pistol and shooting the man through the head. The thug jerked once
as the bullet blasted through the front of his skull, then lay still, his own releasing bowels adding to the odor
of the room.
Have to work fast, thought Jude as he brought the mantra to the forefront of his mind. It came quickly,
from all the recent practice, and in less than a minute he had calmed his mind and started to mumble the
spell. The spirits of the five men became apparent to his second sight, though he only wanted one of them.
He pulled the spirit of the man he just shot into the link, gaining his name and some other personal
information. Derrick Swartz, thought Jude as he looked at that spirit. Employee of the Daemon Corp. What
You killed me, came the voice of the angry spirit in his mind. Why did you kill me? I might have given
you what you wanted. You didn’t have to do that.
“I didn’t have time to try and interrogate you,” said Jude in a low voice. “Now who told you to kill me?”
Steiner Stark told us to stake out your apartment, said the spirit. We weren’t supposed to kill you,
though I wish we had.
“And Stark did this in his position as an officer of the Magara? And why did men working for Daemon
Corp become engaged in a Magara operation?”
The Magara work for Mr. Daemon, in his capacity as a member of the Mage’s Council, said the spirit.
There’s a lot of mixing and matching going on with the Government and the Corporation. The Corporation is
almost the Government, with Mr. Daemon in charge.
“That’s enough for now,” said Jude, realizing that he needed to get moving. “You can go to whatever
hell you are destined to.”
Jude started to walk from the apartment, then turned back to look at the spirit.
“Why’d you kill my cat like that?”
We thought it might get you upset enough to make a mistake, said the spirit. But it was only a cat.
“It upset me alright,” said Jude, turning his back on the spirit. “And it was more than just a cat. It was
family. Enjoy your time in hell.”