Tara piped up, "I want coffee." Michael almost fell out of his chair.
"If that doesn't take the cake," he said, righting himself. "Now I've heard everything. Does she really drink coffee?" I nodded. "There's usually a coffee cart or two parked on Red Square during the day. You buying?"
"Yes, he's buying," Tara stated unequivocally.
We headed outside, Tara perched on my shoulder, Margarita sauntering along behind Michael. We found an espresso cart parked by the steps to Suzzallo Library, and got in line. Several students complimented me on Tara while we waited to be served by the barista, a tall attractive African woman wearing a bright red hijab, and speaking with a distinctly British accent. One or two of the students bent over to pet Margarita, who clearly enjoyed the attention.
As we waited in line a couple of Deportation Police goons wandered by, intently staring at the barista and the waiting line of students. The Deportation Police rarely showed themselves in public in Seattle but were becoming more evident as the Free Seattle movement took hold. They sported standard Deportation Police black. Black boots. Black pants. Black sweaters. Black wool caps. Black bulletproof vests. Black sunglasses. The only part of their getup not black were the words
stamped on the back of their bulletproof vests in white print. The officers slowly walked along the line of students waiting for coffee. Several students decided to skip the coffee and leave. The others stared at the officers in a less than welcoming manner. The officers cut into the front of the line. One student shouted out, "Line forms in the rear!"
The larger of the two men, a husky bruiser with a Marine Corp haircut turned and walked back to the protesting student. "You got a problem?" he asked the kid. He probably outweighed the kid by a good hundred pounds. Michael turned toward the officer and repeated, "Line forms at the rear." Since we were the end of the line, he pointed behind us.
The other officer demanded that the barista show him her identification. The larger man walked up to Michael and said, "You looking for trouble?"
I interjected, "We're just looking for coffee, officer."
"What is this? Critter day on campus?" the cop retorted, noticing Tara on my shoulder. I could feel Tara's claws clamp down on my shoulder. Margarita hissed.
The first officer again demanded that the barista show him her papers. Several students suggested he leave her alone. Suddenly he reached across the espresso cart and grabbed the barista, pulling her across the cart while trying to rip off her hijab. The second officer grabbed my shoulder. Margarita hissed again and the officer kicked her, sending the cat flying several feet across the square. Michael screamed something obscene. Jumping back on her feet, Margarita let out an earsplitting howl and stood up on her hind legs. The black cat disappeared in a whirl of motion like a whirling dervish. I glimpsed what appeared to be a huge white claw slicing through the goon's neck. His head flew off his shoulders and rolled across the red brick pavement of Red Square. His body slowly toppled over as a stream of red blood gushed from his neck onto the red brick.
The other officer dropped the barista and reached for his weapon. Tara screeched. Suddenly a brilliant blue dervish rolled off my shoulder and jumped in front of the officer. I distinctly saw a flash of white steel and the second goon's head rolled onto the brick as his body toppled over almost in slow motion. I thought I heard people screaming and running.
Everything happened so fast it seemed like one of those bad dreams where hours of action are compressed into a few moments. I felt like I was suffering from shock. I couldn't believe what I had just witnessed. I pressed my hands against my ears and I squeezed my eyes shut.
I thought I heard someone ask if I wanted a coffee. Coffee? Surely I was dreaming. I hesitantly opened my eyes. The barista smiled at me with her dazzling ivory smile. "What can I get you?" she asked in her superiorly British accent. I glanced around. Tara sat perched on my shoulder. Margarita lay curled on the pavement, licking her fur. The only concession to what might just have happened, Michael stood behind me, pale as a ghost.
No bodies. No heads. No Deportation Police goons. No blood.
"What can I get you?" the barista asked again.
Getting our coffees, Michael and I walked over to a bench away in the corner of Red Square. Tara crawled down to my lap, dunked her beak in my coffee cup, and started drinking. Michael finally asked, "What. The. Fuck?"
"Tara?" I asked. Tara kept drinking. I finally took the cup away from her. "Tara?" I repeated.
"There were bodies without heads," Michael said. "And heads without bodies. I could have sworn!"
Tara finally responded. "I bent time and space so no one else could see what you saw. I disposed of the bodies. And the heads. The men were bad men. Agents of evil. I made them disappear."
"This can't be happening," Michael said.
"For all intents and purposes, I guess it didn't happen," I suggested. "Tara just disappeared the goons."
"Won't someone notice?" Michael asked.
"Most certainly," Tara responded. "But they will simply go missing, never to be found. Their bodies are shark bait out in the middle of the ocean."
"Something tells me this isn't going to end well," Michael said. "We can't go knocking off federal agents and no one notice? Can we?"
"It has started," Tara said.
"What has started?" Michael asked.
"The beginning of the end. The culmination of the scheme the Winalagalis has put into action."
Margarita raised her head and added, "You have our protection."
"I don't know if I can handle this," Michael said.
"There's nothing for you to handle," I said to Michael. "Besides showing us where the turndun is. And where the Boas field notes are. It seems to me the Taras are plenty capable of taking care of the bodies."
"Well, I can certainly show you where the turndun is. But I have no idea where the Boas field notes are located. Somewhere inside the Special Collections room. But the feds aren't allowing anyone to look at them."
I got up and started walking across Red Square. "Where are you going?" Michael asked.
"The Burke Museum. You're going to show me where the turndun is stored."
The Burke Museum is located at the entrance to the University of Washington in a drab square gray concrete and glass building of a kind popular during the 1960s.
We entered the museum through the staff entrance at the back of the building, Tara perched on my shoulder, Michael cradling Margarita in his arms. The woman at the security checkpoint recognized us. I remembered her from a couple of my archaeology seminars some years back.
"Oh, how cute," she said. "What a pretty bird. We don't normally let people bring their pets into the building."
"It's okay," Michael said. "We're just going to be a minute. I lost my wallet," he lied. "I want to check the lab and see if I left it there." She buzzed us in.
We walked down the stairs into the basement and Michael unlocked the door to the lab. Inside, row upon row of floor to ceiling gleaming white steel cases filled the immense room.
"This is going to be easier than I thought," I told Michael. "You have the keys to the cases? I can stick the turndun under my jacket and we can just waltz out of here. They'd never notice."
"You might want to take a look up," Michael said. "Act casual." I glanced up. Security cameras covered the ceiling, literally a camera above each case.
"That's different," I said. "Weren't any cameras when I taught here."
"That's the least of it." Michael added. "Follow me."
We walked through the lab until we reached the back wall. There we found a steel vault built into the wall. Locked, of course.
"There's the turndun," Michael said, pointing at the vault. "The lab director has the only key. The director is required to be here with me any time I want to study it. And it's on his schedule, not mine."
"Looks like you need to schedule a visit," I told him. "And you'll have company."
"Please tell me he's not going to lose his head," Michael pleaded. "Otherwise I won't go through with this. He's actually a pretty nice guy."
I knew the director from my teaching days. "I don't think anyone will need to lose their heads over this, will they Tara?" Tara didn't respond. "You make the appointment Mike, and let me know so Tara and I can join you. Just don't tell him you'll have company."
"You never told me what you're going to do with the turndun. You're not going to damage it, are you? It's a priceless artifact."
"Are you kidding. This is me you're talking to. Tara just needs to use it to call the Garuda, to summon the other nineteen Taras."
"King of the Birds. Messenger of the Gods."
"Sorry I asked," Michael replied.
"We'll give it back to you, soon as Tara is done with it. Promise. Right? Tara?" Tara again refused to respond.
In Level C of the basement of the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle, a federal agent of the Department of Homeland Security, monitoring a bank of computer screens in a top secret and heavily fortified room filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling with computer consoles received an alert on one of his screens. He retrieved a video file from a security camera mounted above the U Dub's Red Square on the roof of the Suzzallo Library. He tapped his bluetooth com and hailed his supervisor. "Chief, you need to see this."
A gaunt, balding and wiry man wearing black pants, a white shirt with a pocket protector stuffed with pens, and a green visor like a blackjack dealer would wear, came to the agent's station.
"What you got, Agent Cooper?"
"Chief, we just lost Deportation Police Team Six."
"Lost? Did they sign off their shift?"
"No. I mean we lost them. They vanished. There's no signal from their beacons. And check out this security footage from Red Square."
Agent Cooper clicked the replay button on the video feed. The two Deportation Police agents could be seen walking across the square and coming up on the coffee cart. The video clearly showed one of the agents confronting the barista. The other agent could be seen interacting with a couple of adult men at the back of the line.
"What is that?" the chief asked. "Is that a parrot?"
Suddenly the video feed blurred. There seemed to be a glint of steel in the sunlight. The agents vanished.
"Get this video to Control right away Agent Cooper. I need to call Washington," the chief said.