“I am stunned,” I offered, sitting stunned. “We’ve literally been chasing around the known and unknown universes looking for you, and you never said a word.”
“It is not that simple,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“We could have been killed,” I stammered. “In fact, I was killed. By you!”
“It was necessary for you to prove your worthiness to receive the tlogwe.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” I asked, somewhat flustered. “Think how much aggravation you could have saved.”
“I did just tell you.”
“Yeah,” Michael interjected. “But wasn’t flying a pterodactyl worth it?” he asked with a big grin on his face.
“Not to mention flying, period,” Jean added.
“So now you’re all taking her side?” I poured myself a glass of wine. And chugged it. “How about we just cut to the chase and you tell me what exactly I need to do to prove myself worthy of you giving me the tlogwe.”
“I wish it was that easy,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I really do.” I dropped my forehead onto the table. “The tlogwe is not a thing that I can simply pick off a shelf and hand to you.”
“Then what is it?” I asked.
“The tlogwe is magic. It is a power that is acquired. It is not a material object. Say like a golden fleece.”
“Oh, if only. . .” I muttered. “Jason had it so much easier.”
“Jason?” Jean asked.
“Jason and the Argonauts, I presume,” Michael replied.
“Can the Taras shed any light on this matter?” Jean asked, glancing at Blue Tara and Red Tara seated around the table. Margarita growled and Jean glanced under the table.
“This magic of the tlogwe is not in our realm,” Blue Tara replied. “We can not help you with something even we do not fully understand.”
“So what do we do?” I asked. “What do I do?”
“Keep searching,” Kinqalatlala replied cryptically.
“That’s not very useful,” I said. “You’re right here in front of me. I’ve found you. I don’t get what more is expected of me.”
“Unfortunately, I do not know what is expected of you either,” Kinqalatlala said. “I only know that if and when you prove yourself worthy of receiving the tlogwe it will be granted to you.”
“If and when?” I replied. I could feel my face flush. “We seem to be moving backwards.”
“No kidding,” Jean added.
“Even I do not fully understand this being a tlogwala,” Kinqalatlala quickly replied. “It is new to me. It was probably a mistake on my part to admit to you that I am the tlogwala. That I am something that I do not fully comprehend.”
“Are you even sure that you are the tlogwala?” Michael asked.
“That is probably why you were able to keep this matter a secret from Hamatsa,” Blue Tara said. “Once he learns this secret he will come after you with every means at his disposal.”
“Is the tlogwe something that Hamatsa could take from you?” I asked. “By force?”
“I do not know,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I do not fully understand the scope of my abilities as tlogwala. I do not fully understand the magic of the tlogwe.”
“Then how do you even know you are the tlogwala?” Jean asked.
“That was my question,” Michael said, waving his hand.
“How do we know you’re not just making this all up?” Jean added.
“I wish I could explain it to you,” KInqalatlala said, reaching across the table and taking Jean’s hand in hers. For once, Jean did not pull her hand back.
“Then how do you know you’re the tlogwala?” Jean repeated.
“I just do,” Kinqalatlala repied. “Ever since I fell to earth, I have sensed that my destiny was to search for someone special. For a long time I never understood who this person was. Or why I was searching for him. Or even what I was to do when I found this person. I even feared that Hamatsa might be that person. When Hamatsa discovered me and enslaved me I sensed that there was purpose in my enslavement. That I was using Hamatsa as much as Hamatsa was using me. I came to understand that serving Hamatsa would eventually lead me to the one I searched for. And so it proved to be.” Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “I found you.”
I pulled my hand away from hers. “I’m flattered,” I replied. “I really am. But how do you know I’m even the right guy? You sure it’s not Michael here? Or Jean?”
“Ask Ekajati,” Kinqalatlala replied, waving at Blue Tara. “Ask her why she searched for you.”
“Because I knew you were the one to search for the tlogwe,” Blue Tara interjected.
“That’s great,” I replied. “But you still haven’t explained how you came to be the tlogwala. You expect us to believe that it just happened?”
“In a matter of speaking,” Kinqalatlala replied, “that’s exactly what happened.” She took hold of my hand again. “At Red Square. At your school. At the monoliths. When Hamatsa ordered me to kill you. I knew then that you were the one I searched for. That is why I saved your life. That is why I disobeyed Hamatsa’s command to kill you.”
“Okay,” I replied. “You saved my life. I thank you for that. You still haven’t explained what I need to do to prove my worthiness to receive this gift of the tlogwe from you. This magic. Let alone explain what I can do with this magic? If and when I ever get it.”
“Because I do not know the answer.”
“Terrific!” I exclaimed. I slumped back in my chair and stuck my hands in my pockets.
“I only know that the tlogwe will belong to the one who proves himself worthy of receiving the magic.”
“Is there more than one tlogwe?” Michael asked. Everyone sitting at the table except Kinqalatlala turned to stare at him. “I only ask,” Michael continued, “because it’s worth knowing whether someone like Hamatsa can take the tlogwe? Say, force you to give it to him? Could Hamatsa force you to give him the tlogwe if he found out about it? Could more than one person possess the magic of the tlogwe?”
“These are all questions I have no answer for,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think anything is possible.”
“We can not allow Hamatsa to gain possession of such powerful magic,” Blue Tara said. “Both of our worlds would be doomed if that came to pass.”
“No shit,” I added. “Think how much easier it would be if someone could just tell me what I need to do to gain the tlogwe.”
“We have the advantage of knowing who the tlogwala is,” Blue Tara replied. “Hamatsa does not. We need to use every advantage we have against Hamatsa.”
“Kinqalatlala’s understanding of her power as tlogwala seems to be growing with time,” Red Tara interjected. “By keeping her close to us, we will benefit when she fully realizes her power and her ability to use that power.”
“We just can’t sit around drinking wine and eating pizza and ceding the initiative to Hamatsa,” Michael said, glancing at Blue Tara.
“Well, we could,” I replied. “But I’m not sure that would get us any closer to the tlogwe.”
“We need to call it a night,” Jean said, jumping to her feet. She grabbed my hands and pulled me out of my chair. “I need to get some sleep,” she added. “I think we all do.” She pulled me toward the bedroom. “Anyone who wants to stay up and keep drinking wine is free to do so, but I say let’s get a good night’s sleep and figure this out in the morning over coffee.”
“I would like coffee,” Blue Tara replied.
“In the morning,” I said as Jean and I slipped into the bedroom. “Hasta Mañana,” I added, pulling the door closed behind me.
When Jean and I stumbled out of the bedroom in the morning, we were pleased to find a tray of relatively hot lattes on the dining table. Lattes from Jean’s coffee shop. “They put it on your tab,” Michael cheerily informed me.
“I don’t have a tab,” I replied, grabbing a coffee.
“You do now.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Jean said, picking up two cups. “My treat.”
As I rolled the coffee under my nose to take in the delectable aroma of hot caffeine, I noticed that the Taras were all back to their parrot forms, Black Tara excepted, of course. Red Tara and White Tara sat perched on Princess Tara’s play stand. Princess Tara stood on the table, her long cobalt blue tail trailing over the side of the table. Her head bopped up and down into her coffee cup, making her look like one of those plastic perpetual motion drinking birds that bop and down until they’re stopped.
Finishing her coffee, Princess Tara fiercely shook her beak, spraying milk foam over the table top. She took a couple of steps toward me, flapped her wings, and jumped onto my shoulder.
“That’s one damn fine cup of coffee,” she said, wiping her beak on my shirt.
“When did you ever start talking like that?” I asked, surprised. I craned my head to look into her gleaming yellow eye.
“I heard it on your Internet,” she replied.
“’Bout time you sleepy heads got up,” Michael interrupted. “We’ve all been up for a couple of hours. This is our second tray of coffee.” Michael took a sip of his coffee. “I can’t believe how much coffee a parrot can drink,” Michael added, nodding at Princess Tara.
“Coffee’s not really good for parrots,” Jean offered, getting a bark from Princess Tara in response.
“Well, she’s not really a parrot,” I suggested. “Though she is,” I added, turning my head to look into her big eye again. “So, what have you been doing for the past couple of hours? You could have waken us, you know.”
“You guys needed the sleep,” Michael replied, winking at me. “We’ve been monitoring the news.”
“What’s the latest?” I asked, scratching Princess Tara’s head while I sipped my coffee, watching her eyelid droop closed over her eye.
Princess Tara jerked her head up. “What is a Frappuccino?” she asked me.
“Frappuccino? What?” I replied, confusion creased across my face.
“Never mind that,” Michael said. “There was a Starbucks commercial pop up on the tablet.”
“I would like to try a Frappuccino,” Blue Tara added.
“Okay,” I said. “Whatever.”
“Once I get the tlogwe, you can have whatever you want.” I noticed a frown cross Kinqalatlala’s face. “Well, maybe not whatever you want. So, what’s the latest?” I repeated.
“Looks like the Deportation Police have locked down the city pretty tightly,” Michael said. “Roadblocks all around the city.”
“Good thing we’ve got Blue Tara to time and space bend us around any roadblocks,” I replied.
“No kidding,” Michael said. “And they’re not throwing up roadblocks just for the heck of it.”
“They’re looking for us.” I almost dropped my coffee cup. “Or to be more specific, they’re looking for a guy with a parrot. They’re looking for you.” Everyone turned to stare at me, including the birds and the cat.
“Well, I guess I won’t be taking Princess Tara out for a walk,” I replied.
“Looks like the mayor is still in hiding,” Michael added. “They’ve appointed an interim mayor, but haven’t revealed who that is yet. The feds are rounding up the Seattle police and detaining them for so-called reeducation.”
“Brainwashing, you mean,” I said. Michael shrugged.
“On top of all that, Dear Leader is coming to Seattle.”
“Oh yeah? What would be the purpose of that?”
“To take a victory lap. To demonstrate that resistance is futile.”
“To show how scared the regime is by the threat posed by the Taras,” Kinqalatlala interjected. She sat at the end of the table studying the latte art, a depiction of a bird in flight, covering her coffee. It seemed she feared to drink the coffee for disturbing the artwork.
“I don’t doubt that for a minute,” I replied.
“It is the only reason the Winalagalis would leave the safety of the capital,” she added.
“So Dear Leader is the Winalagalis,” I said, more a statement than a question.
“Winalagalis?” Michael asked. “The God of War of the North? That Winalagalis?”
“Yes,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Dear Leader is the Winalagalis. He would not bother coming to Seattle if he did not fear the power of the Taras.”
“This is some serious shit,” Michael added.
“This is probably a dumb question,” Jean said, “but why doesn’t the Deportation Police just knock on your door?”
“More like kick in the door,” Michael replied.
“Probably. . .,” I said, pausing to crane my head to look into Princess Tara’s eye, “. . . probably because we’ve kicked their butts. So far. That, and we have the protection of the Taras. Right?” Princess Tara sat unresponsive on my shoulder, her eye drooping almost closed. “Well, that’s my guess anyway. We should be really careful about going out alone.”
“You mean, we probably shouldn’t go out alone at all,” Michael replied. “However, having Blue Tara beam us into the coffee shop for coffee might draw more attention to us than we want.”
“Bend us into the coffee shop,” I clarified. “Not beam us in.”
Michael smirked at me. “Beam me up, Scottie,” he joked.
“We just need to be careful, is all I’m saying,” I said. “Not take any undue chances.”
“I need coffee,” Princess Tara suddenly said. She pressed her claws into my shoulder while she fluffed her feathers out.
“Ouch,” I said, reaching for her feet.
Kinqalatlala interrupted us. “There is a special bulletin on your tablet,” she said, turning the tablet so we could see the screen.
“What is it?” I asked.
Michael picked up the table and turned up the volume. “The Deportation Police are preparing to introduce Seattle’s interim mayor,” he said.
A pudgy spokesperson in an ill-fitting suit that reminded me of a visit to Soviet Russia decades ago stepped up to a podium at Seattle City Hall. “People of Seattle,” he said, reading from a sheet of paper he held in his hands. “There is a new order established here in your city. Obedience to its rules will be expected. Compliance will be celebrated. Resistance will be crushed. I am pleased to announce that our Dear Leader will be travelling to Seattle to install your new mayor and reveal his plans for your city. Until then, an interim mayor has been appointed to oversee the transition.” He gestured to someone off camera to come to the podium. A tall gaunt man appeared, clad in black leather from his boots to his gloves and fedora. Stepping to the podium, he removed his hat to reveal his pallid scalloped yellow skin.
“Hamatsa!” I exclaimed. I dropped my coffee cup on the floor.
Hamatsa motioned toward the camera and the floodlights snapped off, turning the podium dark. Standing in the darkness behind the podium, Hamatsa’s glowing sunken red eyes seemed to focus through the tablet’s screen directly at me.
“Oh. My. God!” I exclaimed as I jumped to my feet. “We keep killing this bastard and he keeps popping up again. Like dandelions.”
“Don’t insult dandelions,” Michael replied.
“It will take more than your puny weapons to destroy Hamatsa,” Kinqalatlala replied. “His magic is great.”
“You don’t need to remind me. We need the tlogwe. I need the tlogwe.”
“I need a Frappuccino,” Blue Tara said, jumping off my shoulder back onto the dining table. She started to knock empty coffee cups over with her beak. “I am out of coffee.”
“Good God,” I replied. “How much coffee can you drink?”
“We could walk over to the Starbucks on Market Street,” Jean said. “It’d be good to get out and get some air. No point in staying holed up in your apartment.”
“The parrots are going to attract some attention,” I replied.
“And we’ll have to count on the Taras to deal with any unwelcome attention,” Michael said. “And Margarita as well,” he added, glancing under the dining table to see the cat arching her back and stretching her two front legs. “We should get out and get an idea of what’s going on. How people are reacting to this situation. Anyone up for a walk?”
“Or a flight?” I added.
Princess Tara flapped her wings and jumped back up on my shoulder. “I’m coming with you, hon. Red Tara can ride with your lovely friend if she wishes.” Margarita sauntered out from under the dining table, looked up, crouched, and sprung up into Michael’s lap.
“Guess we’re all set,” I said.
Red Tara stepped up onto Jean’s outstretched arm while White Tara hopped onto Jean’s shoulder. We filed down the stairs outside my apartment and out onto the sidewalk. Once outside, White Tara leaped into the air and flew out of sight over the building. Red Tara climbed up Jean’s arm and perched on her shoulder. Margarita leaped out of Michael’s arms onto the pavement and scampered over to a tree which she used for a scratching post.
Jean and Michael and Kinqalatlala and I looked up and down the street. In place of the usual morning hustle and bustle of myriads of people going out for coffee or shopping or work, we found the street deserted and quiet. I jumped when a siren somewhere in the distance broke the silence. Two or three cars passed through the intersections at the ends of the street without stopping at the stop signs.
“I feel naked without my shotgun,” Jean said.
“Charlie’s shotgun,” I clarified.
“Whatever. Feels strange to be out without it.”
“I wouldn’t mind having one of those magic harpoons with me right about now,” Michael added. “Funny how you get used to having certain things with you, so it gets to be second nature.”
“Now that would definitely draw attention to you,” I replied.
“More than a shotgun?” Michael responded.
“Anyway, we’ve got Blue Tara’s battle axe and Red Tara’s longbow.” I craned my head to look up at Princess Tara perched on my shoulder. “We do? Don’t we?” I asked her.
Michael looked intently at the two parrots perched on Jean’s and my shoulders. “How do they do that exactly?” he asked.
“Do what exactly?” I asked in reply.
“Keep their weapons with them when they’re parrots.”
“Why, magic, of course. What else would it be?”
“That’s magic we need to learn,” Michael replied.
We trooped up the street toward downtown Ballard single file without uttering another word. The quiet seemed ominous and foreboding. I noticed that I didn’t hear the usual cawing of crows from the trees above us. Storefront after storefront along Ballard Avenue stood empty and deserted. A veritable ghost town. I felt goosebumps under my clothing. The old buried city in underground Seattle seemed livelier than the scene along this street.
The few people we saw on the sidewalks scurried away or hurried across the street to avoid us. I breathed a sigh of relief when we got to the end of the street. Both foot and car traffic picked up as we approached Market Street, the main drag through downtown Ballard. Here more of the shops looked to be open. Across the street I could see people walking into and out of the Starbucks on the corner. The usual cluster of chairs and tables sat on the sidewalk outside the shop. As we crossed the intersection, one passerby even slowed and smiled at us, then said, “I like your parrots.”
I parked Princess Tara on an empty table and glanced inside the store. “This looks better,” I said. “Grab some chairs and I’ll get the coffees.”
“Frappuccino,” Blue Tara replied, turning her head to the side to stare up at me with her big yellow eye.
“Okay, Frappuccino. How many frappuccinos?” I asked. Jean raised her hand. Michael looked at Jean and raised his hand. “Kingalatlala?”
“Nothing for me,” she replied.
“I’ll get you a Frappuccino too,” I said. “You’ll like it.”
“Or else,” Michael smirked, sitting down.
I walked into the store.
I walked back outside about fifteen minutes later with a tray of frappuccinos and an iced Americano for myself. Not surprisingly, the coffee shop seemed a bit understaffed. Princess Tara jumped on my arm as I pried the cover off her drink. Frappuccino foam quickly dotted the front of my shirt as her beak bopped in and out of the cup. And my iced Americano as she alternated between sticking her beak in her cup and in my cup. Curious passersby paused near our table and gawked at the parrots. Although it became apparent to me that more than one guy paused to gawk at Kinqalatlala.
I noticed a Seattle Police cruiser pass through the intersection outside the coffee shop. It made a quick U-turn and slowly drove back. Instead of the usual cops in blue I recognized two black Deportation Police uniforms. I kicked Michael in the shin under the table and nodded toward the intersection. “Look up slowly,” I whispered. “Don’t be obvious.” Michael jerked his head up out of his drink and stared at the cop car passing by. “What part of ‘Don’t be obvious’ don’t you understand?” I grumbled. The police cruiser passed out of sight.
“Do you think they recognized us?” Jean asked.
“I doubt there are too many people with parrots out and about the city right now,” I replied.
The police car appeared on the cross street and pulled to a stop kitty corner from the Starbucks.
“Just act cool,” I said. “Tara?” I tapped Princess Tara on her head.
“I need another Frappuccino,” Princess Tara replied.
“Oh, geez,” I said. “You drank the whole thing? How is that even possible?” She knocked over the empty cup with her beak and tilted her head to stare up at me with a somewhat defiant look on her face, if parrots could be said to present defiant looks.
“Okay. I’ll get you another one,” I replied, getting up from my chair. “Don’t do anything rash until I get back.”
About fifteen minutes later I walked out with another frappuccino for Princess Tara. I froze at the door when I realized the two Deportation Police goons stood at our table with their hands resting on their pistols. I took a deep breath and hurried over to the table. I leaned over to step Princess Tara up on my arm and then set the drink in front of Jean. “Here you go hon,” I said. “Everything okay?” I asked, glancing up at the cops. I eased into my chair and put my hand on Princess Tara’s feet to try to keep her on my arm.
“Apparently parrots are a problem,” Jean replied.
“Oh?” I grunted. Princess Tara struggled to break out of my grasp and clamped her beak on my hand. “Ouch!” I exclaimed, releasing her feet. She jumped onto the table and sunk her beak into the new cup of frappuccino.
“Sorry citizen,” one of the cops said, a short middle-aged man sporting a noticeable paunch and a Tom Selleck mustache. He wore sergeant stripes on his shirt. He didn’t appear to be a laxsa. “You are in violation of Seattle’s new order banning dangerous exotic animals.” I noticed him looking at the bleeding bite mark on my hand. I took a napkin and surreptitiously tried to wipe away the blood. “Animal Control has been called to confiscate the birds before they injure anyone else.”
“I know perfectly well Seattle doesn’t have any such ordinance, officer,” I replied, pressing the napkin against the bite. “I researched Seattle ordinances before I got the parrot.”
“You’re also in violation of orders against unrestrained pets,” the cop added. “Is that your bird?” he asked, pointing to the top of the building. We all looked up to see White Tara perched on top of the building.
“She’s not harming anything,” I replied. Yet, I thought to myself. “She likes to fly around.”
“It’s good exercise for the birds,” Jean interjected.
“You need to get the bird down,” the second cop said. Younger. Tall and gaunt, his skin seemed quite pale, even for Seattle. The black hair falling out from under his black wool cap seemed unusually long, stringy, and unkempt. I couldn’t see his eyes underneath his black wraparound sunglasses, but I suspected he was a laxsa.
“She’s a free spirit,” I replied. “She only comes down when she wants to.”
“I’m giving you an order,” the second cop added. “If the bird doesn’t come down it will be destroyed.”
“Let’s back up,” Michael said, jumping into the discussion. “Let’s back up to the part about exotic birds being banned. When did that happen?”
“A new directive from the mayor’s office,” the first cop replied.
“This isn’t a dictatorship,” I said. “The mayor doesn’t rule by decree. The city council needs to pass an ordinance.”
“Maybe you haven’t heard, citizen,” the second cop said, with a note of sarcasm in his voice. “The city council has been abolished by order of the mayor. Decrees come directly from the mayor now. And the mayor has ordered the police to confiscate all exotic animals.” He stepped toward the table and reached his hand out toward Princess Tara.
I squeezed my eyes shut and reflexively pressed my hands to my ears when Princess Tara screeched. I heard a scream. I opened my eyes to see a severed hand laying on the table top. The second cop held his handless arm with his other hand and screamed in pain as blood spurted across the sidewalk. I jumped to my feet. The cop dropped the arm and fumbled with his holster. Blue Tara stood next to me in her crystalline blue-skinned naked Amazon glory, swinging her battle axe in her hand.
The cop attempted to pull his pistol out of his holster. He toppled over onto his back with an arrow sticking out of his head squarely between his eyes. The arrow split his sunglasses into two pieces revealing lifeless sunken bloodshot laxsa eyes. The sound of people screaming assaulted my ears. Passersby and customers knocked over chairs and tables and coffee cups as they scrambled to get away.
Then I noticed the first cop, the older one. He stood next to our table with his hands in the air. “Please don’t kill me,” he pleaded. “I’m not one of them. I was on desk duty for chrissakes. I’m a Seattle cop. They forced me to join up. Or else.”
Kinqalatlala stood up. “Get in your vehicle and leave us!” she commanded. “And do not show yourself again.” Margarita walked out from under the table on her two hind legs and growled at the cop. Looking down at Black Tara, he stumbled backwards and tripped over the curb. He turned and ran to his car, jumped in, and gunned the engine. Tires squealing, he sped away and disappeared.
I slowly looked around me when I noticed people had stopped screaming. Blue Tara stood next to me, blood dripping off the blade of her battle axe. Red Tara stood behind me, an arrow nocked in her longbow. A bloody severed hand lay on the table next to my coffee cup. A Deportation Police goon lay dead, sprawled across the sidewalk with an arrow sticking out of his skull between his sunken laxsa eyes. A growing crowd of people gathered around us, staring at Blue Tara and Red Tara. Like they’d never seen a naked crystalline blue-skinned Amazon warrior with a battle axe and one breast and one eye. Or a scantily clad red-skinned four armed goddess sporting a longbow.
“This is not good,” I said to no one in particular. I couldn’t keep from staring at the severed hand next to my coffee cup. I badly wanted a drink of my iced Americano to sooth my sandpaper dry throat. “Tara. Do something,” I muttered under my breath. I covered my ears with my hands. “People are staring.” I forced my eyes closed as Blue Tara screeched.
“Are you going to sit down and drink your coffee?” I heard Jean ask. I slowly opened my eyes. Jean and Michael and Kinqalatlala sat around the table sipping their frappuccinos. White Tara sat perched on Kinqalatlala’s shoulder. Red Tara sat perched on Jean’s shoulder. Princess Tara stood on the table bopping her beak up and down into her drink. I tentatively looked around me as I lowered my hands. No cop car. No goons. No severed hand next to my coffee cup. Customers walking into and out of the coffee shop with coffee cups in their hands. Passersby pausing to stare at the birds. Margarita lay curled up in Michael’s lap. I did notice Michael’s face seemed unusually blanched.
White Tara spread her wings and hopped onto my shoulder. “Miss me sweetie?” she asked as she rubbed her beak against my chin. “My sister Ekajati fixed things as you asked.”
“Blue Tara rewound the clock,” Michael added. “Now maybe we can enjoy our coffee without interruption.”
I sat down and drained my coffee cup. “How many of those are you going to drink?” I asked Princess Tara. A young woman walked out of the shop with an iced latte in her hand and stopped near our table to watch Princess Tara drinking her frappuccino. “Is your bird really drinking that?” she asked.
“Loves the stuff,” I replied.
“Isn’t caffeine, like, bad for parrots? That’s a parrot, right?”
“Right on both counts,” I said. “But I let her have a treat every once in a while when she’s a good girl,” I added, grinning. “A little coffee never hurt anything.”
“She seems to be drinking a lot of coffee,” the lady observed.
Princess Tara tilted her head and glared at the woman with her big yellow eye. “Mind your own business,” she said, loudly and clearly. The woman froze. A look of shock creased her face. She turned and stumbled away, trying not to drop her coffee cup.
“Well, then. That went really well,” I said. “How about we not insult the citizens?” Princess Tara looked at me and went back to drinking her frappuccino.
“So Hamatsa abolished the city council and is ruling by decree,” Michael said.
“I’m sure the whole country will be next,” I replied.
“The question is, what are we going to do about it?” Michael added.
“What do you mean what are we going to do about it? Why is it our responsibility? Seems we have enough problems of our own, what with the Deportation Police hunting us.”
“The only way to stop the implementation of the New Order is to fight Hamatsa and the Winalagalis,” Kinqalatlala replied. “The whole purpose of finding the tlogwe is to gain the magic to take the fight to the seat of power.”
“It sounds like we’re going to have the perfect opportunity to strike, what with Dear Leader coming to Seattle to coronate the new mayor,” Jean said.
“And isn’t this why we signed on with the Taras?” Michael asked. “To help them overcome the Winalagalis? They can’t do it without the tlogwe.”
“Sitting here drinking coffee,” I replied, “it just seems less urgent. . .”
“What the fuck?” Michael interrupted. “We just killed a Deportation Police goon. You think they’re going to let up on us?”
“They’re going to keep coming after the parrots,” Jean added. “After the Tara’s.”
“Well sure,” I replied. “Don’t get me wrong. It’s one thing to go after Hamatsa and his goons. To keep the parrots safe. It’s another thing entirely to go after Dear Leader. He’s going to have the entire police power of the state at his disposal.”
“Well yeah,” Michael said. “What’s the problem?”
“The problem is, dear friend, we’re not going to get far with one battle axe and a quiver of arrows against the organized military might of the state. Are we Tara?” Princess Tara paused, fixed her big yellow eye on me, and went back to drinking her frappuccino. “No worries,” I added.
“I have to say,” Jean said. “I’m scared to death.” I reached across the table and took her hand in mine. “I don’t see what we’re going to be able to do even if I had Charlie’s shotgun.”
“We need information,” Kinqalatlala replied.
“What kind of information?” I asked.
“Information about Hamatsa’s plans.”
“How exactly are we going to get that? We can’t just waltz into city hall.”
I would not believe that Hamatsa would reveal to anyone that I broke with him. I can waltz into city hall and find out the information we need.”
“Is this an appropriate time to be dancing?” Princess Tara asked, taking a pause from her drink.
Kinqalatlala glanced at Princess Tara. “I can walk into city hall. They will never question me or impede me.”
“Are you sure? Could be dangerous. What if you run into Hamatsa?”
“I will need to make sure that does not happen.”
“How are you going to get the information to us?”
“Leave that to me. I will work something out.” Kinqalatlala stood up.
“Are you going now?” I asked.
“Yes. It is time.”
“How do you plan to get there?”
“Simple.” She whistled and waved her hand. A police cruiser appeared seemingly out of nowhere and pulled up to the curb beside her. She leaned into the open window and talked with the cop behind the steering wheel. The cop motioned her inside and she opened the door and got in. The cop activated the cruiser’s light bar. He darted through the intersection and disappeared up Market Street.
“Well, that was just too damn convenient,” I observed.
“I still don’t trust her,” Jean replied.
“We still have no evidence that she’s even the tlogwala,” Michael added. “Beyond just her word for it.”
“We need a plan,” I said. “A good plan that won’t get us killed. Simply sitting around drinking coffee and bullshiting doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.”
“Coffee makes me happy,” Princess Tara said. She climbed up my arm onto my shoulder and wiped her beak on my shirt.
“Well, I’m happy for you,” I said. “But what’s our plan? Hamatsa has his goons out looking for us. Apparently rounding up every parrot in Seattle. And now we’ve lost Kinqalatlala.”
“We have to take that black witch at her word,” Princess Tara replied. “She is the key to finding the tlogwe. But we should take the fight to Hamatsa. For once, we know where he is. He does not know where we are.”
“What do you propose?”
“We pay Hamatsa a visit. Catch him off his guard. He will not be expecting us to. . . how do you call it? Dance into his city hall.”
“Waltz into his city hall.”
“Dance. Waltz. Whatever you call it.”
“And once we drop in on Hamatsa. Then what? What do we do? Kill him? He’ll have a ton of security to protect him.”
“His laxsa. We can deal with them.”
I am making this up as we go. Unless you have a better plan.”
“I have no plan right this moment.”
“If we kill Hamatsa and he comes back to life will not the citizens of Seattle realize that something is not right? Hamatsa and his goons hide in dark places out of the light of day. We need to shed light on his plans and schemes. Make your people know who and what Hamatsa really is. What the Winalagalis really is.”
“You know what?” Michael said, looking up from his smartphone. “There’s a farmers market outside city hall tomorrow morning. We could use that for cover, assuming we haven’t heard from Kinqalatlala by then.”
“What are we going to do until then?” Jean asked.
“Drink coffee,” Princess Tara replied. “Until it is time to eat pizza.”
“Do you ever worry about putting on weight?” Jean asked. “Me. I gain weight just by looking at food.”
“She probably just makes it all go away with her time and space magic,” I smirked.
Around the corner and out of sight of the Starbucks where we sat drinking coffee a convoy of armored SWAT vehicles pulled to a stop at the curb. Squads of black clad Deportation Police goons exited the vehicles and assembled on the sidewalk, large machine guns with short barrels slung over their shoulders. Several of the cops in command carried magic harpoons.
Kinqalatlala stepped up to the security checkpoint at Seattle City Hall. Black clad Deportation Police waving machine guns stood guard in place of the usual city police. “I am Kinqalatlala,” she said to the guards. “Take me to Hamatsa.” The guards pointed their machine guns at her. “Take me to Hamatsa,” she repeated, “or I will carve you up and feed you to the furies.” A cop wearing a standard blue Seattle Police uniform, with sergeant stripes on the sleeves, hurried out of an adjoining room.
“Stand down!” he ordered the guards. They lowered their weapons. Kinqalatlala recognized the cop from the Starbucks. “Follow me,” he told her.
Once out of earshot of the guards the cop asked Kinqalatlala, “What are you doing here? You’re taking a big risk. I know who you are.”
“Why are you here?” Kinqalatlala replied. “I told you to leave us and never come back.”
“Someone needs to fight back from the inside,” the cop replied. “Not everyone on the force supports the new regime.”
Instead of taking the elevator, the two walked to an unmarked doorway and descended a couple of flights of stairs to the SPD’s secure command center in the subbasement. Hamatsa found the dark depths of city hall much more amenable to his temperament than the airy mayor’s office on the top floor of the building. The cop swiped a pass card through a card reader and pushed the door open.
Just as at the Control compound in the other Washington, a bank of computer monitors along the back wall provided the only illumination across the room. The cop led Kinqalatlala to a solitary figure standing in the shadows to the side of the monitors. The darkness nearly swallowed his tall lithe frame clad in black leather. But the darkness accentuated his glowing red eyes.
Kinqalatlala stepped up to Hamatsa and bowed. “I am here to serve you, my master.”
“Where did she come from?” Hamatsa bellowed at the cop.
“She walked into the building, sir,” the cop replied.
“Where are the others?”
“She came in alone, sir. There was no one else with her.”
“You are either showing off for your new friends,” Hamatsa said, “or you are very stupid.”
“I am here to serve you, my master. This officer is not who he appears to be,” Kinqalatlala added, pointing at the cop. “He is part of the resistance.”
Hamatsa seized the cop by his throat with a gloved hand and lifted him off his feet. He bared his fangs and bent over to take a bite out of the man’s neck. Before he could do so, Kinqalatlala raised her hand to her face and watched her fingers turn into a narrow steel blade. She stabbed her hand through the cop’s chest. Hamatsa released the man’s neck and his body crumpled to the floor. Blood seemingly as black as the room pooled out around the body.
“I have been expecting you,” Hamatsa said. He motioned a couple of attendants to come over.
“Clean up this mess,” he commanded. “Where did you get this ridiculous outfit?” Hamatsa asked Kinqalatlala. Pulling her away from the body, he grabbed her flannel shirt and ripped it off of her, flinging it to one of the attendants. “Much better,” he said. He placed his gloved hands on Kinqalatlala’s breasts. “I missed these. Bring my slave some real clothes! he barked at one of the attendants. “You will find them in my quarters.”
“Yes sir. Right away,” the attendant replied as he turned to run out the door.
“How did you know the officer was part of the resistance? Hamatsa asked.
“He fell across the path of the witches at a coffee shop in the part of the city where the man with the parrot lives. The witches killed his partner. A laxsa.”
“How did this one escape?”
“I allowed him to escape. I would have killed him then if I had known he was part of the resistance. I killed him now to prove my loyalty to you.”
“It is a shame you did. I would have feasted on him to make him a warrior. To replace the laxsa I lost to the Taras.”
“There will be many more to take his place once you complete the subjugation of this city.”
“So tell me, slave. What do the witches, the Taras, plan to do next?”
“They know that Dear Leader is coming to Seattle to install you as mayor. Most likely they will plan an attack on you and him.”
“Precisely as we have planned,” Hamatsa said. Hamatsa’s attendant reentered the command center with a stack of Kinqalatlala’s clothing in his hands and presented them to her. “Put that on,” Hamatsa ordered.
KInqalatlala stepped out of her shorts and slipped on a pair of black leather pants, a black leather vest, and a black leather jacket. She pulled a pair of black leather boots onto her feet. “Are you done staring?” Hamatsa asked the attendant. “This slave belongs to me.” The attendant stumbled backwards and disappeared into the darkness.
“Much better,” Hamatsa said, looking up and down Kinqalatlala’s sveldt body. “When Dear Leader comes to this city to install me as mayor I will have the entire police power of the state at my disposal. I will be able to destroy that coven of witches and crush the resistance once and for all.”
“Why wait until then, master? Why not crush them now?”
“I am preparing a strike against them,” Hamatsa replied. He could not see the surprise on Kinqalatlala’s face in the darkened room. “Unfortunately, I do not yet have complete control over the Deportation Police. And the Seattle Police are yet too unreliable. They have not been completely cleansed of seditious officers as you have discovered yourself. The Taras are still too powerful to eliminate with the forces I have at my command.”
“What are your intentions?” Kinqalatlala asked.
“I will harass these witches with whatever forces I can muster. Keep them on the defensive. Prevent them from striking the regime.”
“You are striking them now?”
“Does that concern you? Where do your loyalties lie, my slave?”
“With you, my master.”
Hamatsa’s gloved hand darted out and grasped Kinqalatlala’s throat. “You know what your fate will be if you disappoint me.”
“Yes, my master,” Kinqalatlala managed to reply.
“You need to insure that the witches carry through with their plan to strike at our Dear Leader. It would be a shame if they succeeded and I was forced to take his place.”
“It would be your destiny, my master.”
“I would be forced to use the power of the state to crush those witches and those that serve them. To crush the resistance. To wipe it from the face of this world.”
“Absolutely, my master.”
“And you would take your place as my queen at my side. Together we would start a new race of warrior kings to rule this world for all time. A world of slaves to serve me.”
“It would be my duty, my master.”
“What of the tlogwala?” Hamatsa asked. “Do the witches believe your story that you are the tlogwala?”
“It would appear so, my master. The one with the parrot believes himself to be ordained to find the tlogwe. The blue witch has him sucking at her breast.”
“What a fool. When I am coronated I want to see his head mounted on the wall of the mayor’s office of my city hall.”
“It will be done, my master.”
“And the heads of the Taras will be displayed on pikes at the front door of my city hall.”