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.
The crowd of people running up the street past the Starbucks gave me the first indication something was wrong. Several stragglers at the back of the crowd stumbled and fell to the pavement and lay motionless as goons with magic harpoons came into sight. Michael jumped to his feet. “What the fuck!” he exclaimed.
White Tara bolted off my shoulder and flew up to the top of the building.
“Something is not right,” Jean said. The sound of a machine gun firing gave me reason to believe something was not right. A string of bullets pockmarked a car passing through the intersection. The car veered into oncoming traffic, smashed into an oncoming car, and sent it spinning into a cluster of newspaper boxes on the opposite corner. Several pedestrians knocked down like bowling pins screamed in pain.
Red Tara launched herself off Jean’s shoulder and furiously flapping her wings climbed into the sky. Her feathers fluffed out, Princess Tara stood erect on the table.
The first squad of black clad Deportation Police goons appeared on the sidewalk, aiming directly for our table. Customers at the other tables scattered and ran, knocking over tables and chairs in the panic. This slowed the goons down long enough to give us a few extra critical seconds to react.
Jean jumped up and flung our table on its side, sending our coffee cups and Princess Tara flying. “Sorry sweetheart!” she yelled.
I jumped to my feet. Outright fear made my skin crawl like nothing had since the time I went to see the first Alien movie. By myself. A goon with a magic harpoon appeared on the opposite side of our sideways table. His pale skin and gaunt frame screamed laxsa, although his eyes hid behind black wraparound sunglasses. He pulled his magic harpoon up to aim it at us. Jean’s hand appeared next to my head holding a pistol. Jean pulled the trigger and the gunshot nearly burst my eardrum. The goon’s sunglasses split in two and the two pieces flew off his face. A hole appeared directly between his bloodshot sunken laxsa eyes. He flew backwards behind the tables as if someone with a stage hook yanked him off the stage. The magic harpoon flew forward directly into my hands.
I spun around to face Jean. “Where the hell did you get that gun?”
“Took it off that dead laxsa during all the confusion,” she repied.
“I love you,” I said. A feeling of calm settled over me
“Give me that thing, gawddammit!” Michael exclaimed. He grabbed the magic harpoon and yanked it out of my hands. “If you’re not going to use it. . .” He kneeled next to our overturned table and pointed the harpoon at a couple of Deportation Police goons. “Die you fuckers!” They crumpled to the sidewalk.
A burst of machine gun fire shredded our table, covering us in plastic shards. Michael pointed the magic harpoon at the goon just as he fired another burst of bullets. As he fell dead the recoil spun him around, his finger stuck on the trigger. The burst of bullets took out half a dozen Deportation Police goons running up behind him.
Another crowd of people running up the center of Market Street dodging horn blaring cars alerted us to the squad of Deportation Police goons trying to flank us. A goon with a magic harpoon stopped at the door to the Starbucks. He turned his magic harpoon toward me. Oh shit! I thought to myself. I heard a heavy thud. I realized an arrow pierced the center of his forehead. The force of the impact flung his body backwards through the glass door. I turned to see Red Tara, the four armed Amazonian witch, standing next to Jean and Michael. She smiled at me as she calmly nocked an arrow into her longbow.
The sound of machine gun fire reverberated along the brickwork facing the street. I ducked and slapped my hands over my ears as Jean raised her pistol at another target. Thankfully my hands muffled Princess Tara’s screech. I looked up to see two goons with machine guns standing over me. One raised the butt of his weapon over my head. I heard the swoosh of a battle axe whirling through the air and caught the glint of a steel blade in the sunlight. The goon’s weapon flew up into the air, along with his head. The body toppled backwards onto the sidewalk. As it fell the gusher of blood from the severed neck sprayed the second goon. He looked down at the blood sprayed across his uniform. He looked up. I heard another heavy thud. An arrow pierced his skull and threw him backwards. His machine gun fell onto the sidewalk at my feet and bounced into my hands.
Two more goons ran up to the two bodies sprawled across the sidewalk and dropped to their knees. They lifted their machine guns to their shoulders. A battle axe whirled past my ear and split the head of one of the goons neatly in half. The second goon hesitated. He tried to stand up. A black dervish jumped over my head, knocking me to my hands and knees. I caught the flash of steel claws as Black Tara separated the goon’s head from his shoulders.
Behind me I heard Jean scream “Damn it!” I heard the sound of a pistol clicking on an empty clip.
“Jean!” I yelled, spinning around. I flung the machine gun up to her. She dropped her empty pistol as she caught the gun. She racked the charging handle, aimed the machine gun, and pulled the trigger.
Blue Tara ran past me up the sidewalk. I saw her battle axe sticking out of the windshield of a parked car. Deportation Police goons blocked the sidewalk, machine guns in their hands. Blue Tara skipped into the air and knocked two goons down with her feet. She grabbed the handle of the battle axe and yanked it out of the windshield. Flinging it around her she planted it in the skull of a laxsa goon. Another goon swung his machine gun toward her. Before he could pull the trigger the black dervish that was Black Tara whirled between the two of them. I saw a flash of steel claws and the goon’s head flew off his shoulders. Blue Tara kicked the headless body backwards as she yanked her battle axe out of the laxsa skull she had buried it in.
I realized I was still on my hands and knees. I saw a magic harpoon laying on the sidewalk next to Starbucks’ busted door and scrambled over to pick it up. As I struggled to my feet a burst of machine gun bullets laced the sidewalk behind me. Jean screamed. I spun around, fearing the worst. Jean pointed up the sidewalk. “Tara!” she cried out. “Tara’s been shot.”
I turned to look for Blue Tara. She lay on her side on the sidewalk, her battle axe in her hand. Blood covered her legs. She struggled to push herself up with her elbow. A Deportation Police goon pointed his machine gun at her. I pointed the magic harpoon at him. He toppled over.
Two other goons ran up to Blue Tara and swung their machine guns toward her. The black dervish that was Black Tara jumped between them and lopped off one of their heads. The other scrambled backwards. He attempted to aim his machine gun at Black Tara. I pointed the magic harpoon at him. He crumpled to the ground.
Armored SWAT assault vehicles drove into view and pulled to the curb, smashing between parked cars. I ran to Blue Tara’s side. Blood spurted out of several bullet holes in her legs. “Hang in there,” I pleaded with her, putting my arm around her shoulders and pulling her upright.
“Take my blade, honey,” she said. She gave me a weak smile as she pushed her battle axe over to me.
Jean ran up to us. “We need to get out of here!” she cried out, telling me what already was painfully obvious to me. “Now!” she insisted. She stepped to my side and fired a burst from her machine gun at one of the SWAT vehicles.
“Tara,” I said. “We need to get out of here.”
“I would like a frappuccino right now,” she replied. A pained grin creased her face. I couldn’t tell if she winked at me, or winced from the pain.
“Please,” I pleaded. “Get us out of here.”
Blue Tara pressed her one big yellow eye closed and grabbed hold of my arm with one of her hands.
“Please Tara.” I pressed my eyes closed.
Blue Tara screeched.
I opened my eyes. I found myself kneeling on the floor of my Ballard apartment. I cradled Blue Tara in my arms. My head felt like it had been beat against a wall one too many times. I struggled to focus my eyes. Blood pooled across my hardwood floor from the bullet wounds in Blue Tara’s legs. Jean kneeled next to me, her hand on my shoulder. Michael stood behind her cradling Margarita in his arms.
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Jean said.
“We need White Tara!” I yelled. I looked around me. The apartment seemed like a blur. Red Tara stood in the bay window looking up the street.
“You don’t need to yell,” Jean replied. “We’re right here.”
“Where’s White Tara?”
“She didn’t come back with us,” Michael replied.
“What do you mean she didn’t come back with us? What happened?”
“My sister White Tara must have flown away from where we stood,” Red Tara said. She stepped to my side and knelt next to Blue Tara. Blue Tara placed her hand on Red Tara’s arm.
“Hopefully she’s not hurt,” Jean said.
“Or worse,” Michael added.
Red Tara turned to look up at Michael. “Ekajati and I would sense if anything happened to White Tara.”
“We’ve got to stop the bleeding,” Jean said, visibly concerned. “Before she bleeds out. She’s lucky. It looks like the bullets passed cleanly through her legs. I don’t see any bone matter in her wounds.”
“We’ve got to find White Tara,” I insisted. I motioned to Michael. “Mike. Go down on the street and take a look. Prop the front door open.” Michael headed toward the door. “Take your magic harpoon with you. Just in case.”
“We need tourniquets to stop the bleeding,” Jean said. “You guys give me your belts.” I pulled my belt off and handed it to Jean. “Michael! I need yours too!” Jean yelled before Michael got out the door. He stopped, pulled his belt off, and tossed it to Jean. Jean quickly wrapped the belts around Blue Tara’s thighs.
“We need to do something until White Tara shows up,” I said.
“I’m doing something,” Jean replied, cinching the belts tight.
“What else do you need?” I asked. My voice cracked from panic. It seemed to me Blue Tara’s crystalline blue skin slowly turned black. “Sheets? Hot water?” I blurted out.
“What are you talking about?” Jean asked.
“That’s what they do in the movies,” I replied lamely. “They’re always sending people to get all the clean sheets and hot water they can.”
“Seriously?” Jean replied, staring at me. “They do that to get the people out of their hair. However, you might want to get some hot water and towels to start cleaning up this mess,” she added, nodding toward the blood pooling on the floor.
“I’m not worried about that,” I replied. “Red Tara,” I called out, pointing into the kitchen. “There’s some towels in the cabinet above the fridge.” Red Tara retrieved the towels and placed them on the floor next to us.
“We should maybe call for an ambulance,” Jean said. “Before Blue Tara goes into shock.”
“Blue Tara reached over and took Jean’s hand. “No ambulance. I can not fall into the hands of the regime.”
“Please hang in there Tara,” I said. “I can’t lose you.”
“You won’t lose me honey.” She smiled at me. “We have yet much to do before I am done.”
“The bleeding’s pretty much stopped,” Jean observed.
“Oh thank god,” I said to Jean. “Don’t know what I’d do without you. I couldn’t believe how you handled that machine gun.”
“A firearm is a firearm,” she replied. “You and Michael did pretty darn good with those magic harpoons.”
I glanced around the room. “Did I lose it?” Jean pointed toward the corner by the door. A magic harpoon, a machine gun, a battle axe, and a longbow leaned stacked against the wall. “We’re building a nice arsenal,” she said.
“Bet Charlie can get us more ammo.”
“I grabbed some clips from some dead laxsa,” Jean replied.
“Damn, you’re good.”
“I didn’t think they’d mind.”
“Wonder how long the magic harpoons last? Hate to have to find out the hard way when they run out of juice.”
“Let’s not worry about that now.” Jean put her hand on Blue Tara’s leg. “How do your legs feel?” she asked.
“I can not seem to move my legs,” Blue Tara replied.
“Hang in there sweetie,” I said. I squeezed her shoulder. “I love you.”
“Hey,” Jean responded. “How about me?”
“Do you need to ask?” I said. I leaned over and kissed Jean. “You know I love you.”
“Where’s my kiss?” Blue Tara asked. She took my arm and pulled me to her. I kissed her. Her lips felt cold.
“Gawddammit!” I cried out. “Where’s White Tara?”
I heard footsteps pounding up the stairs outside the apartment. Michael burst through the door. White Tara sat perched on his shoulder. “I found her!” he screamed.
“Calm down,” I said, my heart pounding. “You don’t need to tell us the obvious.”
White Tara leaped off Michael’s shoulder and alighted on Blue Tara’s thigh. “I apologize for my delay in returning, my sister Ekajatia. I had not realized you were so badly injured.”
“Where have you been?” I asked. “We’ve been frantic.”
“I knew you would arrive in due course,” Blue Tara replied.
“Please do something,” I pleaded. “Talk later.”
White Tara turned her head and pinned her eye on me. “Of course, sweetie. I have every intention of doing something.” She stepped down Blue Tara’s leg and rubbed her beak across the wounds. Blue Tara closed her eye and groaned.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
The wounds closed and disappeared before my very eyes.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” I told White Tara.
White Tara hopped on my shoulder. “It was nothing sweetie. It is what I do.”
Blue Tara opened her eye and struggled to stand up. “Take it easy,” I said. “You lost a lot of blood. You should probably stay horizontal for a while and rest. I can get you some pillows and blankets.”
“I thank you for your concern, but I will be fine.” Blue Tara reached up to Red Tara. “Help me get up, sister.” Red Tara gingerly pulled Blue Tara up on her feet with her four hands. Blue Tara swayed, her eye closed. I put my arm around her shoulder to steady her.
“Jean. Grab a chair. Please,” I said. Jean pushed a chair up and we eased Blue Tara onto the seat. “Damn, you had me worried.”
Blue Tara looked up at me with her one big yellow eye. “It is not my desire to worry you.”
“Well, I couldn’t help it,” I replied. “This is the worst possible news.”
“What?” Jean responded. “What are you talking about? White Tara saved her.”
“Learning that our Blue Tara is mortal. The hard way. Which I’m guessing means all the Taras are mortal. I thought goddesses lived forever.”
“Come here,” Blue Tara said to me, patting her knee. I stepped over to her and she took my hand. “Only our visible form is mortal. Our spirit is eternal. The form can be killed. But not the spirit.”
“If one of the Tara forms is killed,” Red Tara added, “another will take its place. Eventually.”
“I am not a goddess,” Blue Tara continued. “Being a god or a goddess implies omnipotence. We Taras each possess our own powerful magic, but we are far from omnipotent. There are some like the Winalagalis who would have his followers believe he is a god. But in truth he simply only possesses a special magic. A special magic that gives creatures like him and Hamatsa the ability to act as if they were gods.”
“They don’t have snakes in their heads? Do they?” Michael asked.
“Never mind him,” I said. “I can’t believe there could be another Blue Tara like you. I don’t want to ever have to find out.”
“There are many others like me,” Blue Tara replied. “They just have not mastered the magic that I possess. I am not the first Blue Tara that ever was. I certainly will not be the last. But I possess the memories and knowledge of all the Taras that have come before me since the beginning of time.”
“Oh my god,” Jean said. “What a burden.”
“A burden and a duty,” Blue Tara replied. “But one that I have gladly accepted.”
“It’s hard to be a god,” I said.
“Not a god,” Blue Tara replied.
“I know. I’m joking. But still, I can’t deal with the thought that I might lose you.”
“I explained that to you. Would you like me to go over it again?”
“No need,” I replied.
Blue Tara grabbed the collar of my shirt and pulled me down to her. She kissed me. Her lips felt warm and moist.”
“You are the one I worry about,” Blue Tara said.
“There is only one of you. That is the weakness of your kind.”
“Until you are reincarnated,” Red Tara interjected. “But that might be some time.”
“Whatever did I do in my last life to be the one to suffer in this life?” I quipped.
“Me,” Michael interjected. “I want to be reincarnated as a bird so I can shit on all the people I don’t like.”
“Be careful what you wish for,” Blue Tara replied. “You might get your wish.”
“I don’t know about anybody else,” Jean said, “But all of a sudden I feel really really hungry. And thirsty.”
I walked into the kitchen and retrieved a six-pack of cold Rainier from the fridge. “A beer would taste really really good right now,” I agreed. I passed the beers out. We all stared as Blue Tara popped the tab open and chugged the entire can. I handed her another.
“You don’t suppose the pizza place is open?” Jean asked. “After all that’s happened today.”
I walked up to the bay window and looked across the street. “I see people entering the shop. So I think we’re good.” I retrieved my tablet from the kitchen table to look up the online order form. “Oh shit!” I cried out.
“What is it now?” Michael asked. He and Jean scrambled to my side to peer over my shoulders at the screen. I turned the volume up to maximum.
“Effective immediately,” a familiar voice stated, “a state of emergency exists within the city of Seattle. The mayor authorized me to state that a bloody insurrection in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard this morning has been crushed by the authorities. But not without the cost of a great number of our brave Deportation Police. All citizens of Seattle are hereby required to wear black arm bands in mourning of their sacrifice.”
“It can’t be,” Michael said.
“It was hardly an insurrection,” I replied. “And we were the ones who were attacked.”
“Not that. Look at the speaker. It’s Kinqalatlala.”
A svelte dark-skinned woman clothed in black leather, with long black hair flowing over her shoulders, stood at a podium inside Seattle City Hall.
“My god!” I exclaimed. “I thought that voice sounded familiar.”
“That fucking bitch!” Jean exclaimed. “I’m going to kill that bitch the next time I run into her.”
“She set us up for a fall,” Michael said. “She led us right into a trap.”
“And conveniently stepped out right before all the trouble started,” Jean replied. “That fucking bitch.”
“Listen,” Michael interrupted. “She’s talking about us.”
“. . . per order of the mayor, all citizens of the city of Seattle are hereby required to be on the lookout for a small band of rebels led by a criminal coven of witches that possesses the magic to confuse people’s minds. A criminal coven of witches that possesses the magic to make people see things that are not as they really are.”
“We’re fucked,” I said.
“This band of rebels is armed and extremely dangerous,” Kinqalatlala continued. “If any citizen encounters these criminals, do not approach them under any circumstances. Alert the authorities immediately. Let our brave Deportation Police deal with them.”
“Well, thank you very much,” I replied to the screen.
“This concludes this emergency broadcast,” Kinqalatlala concluded. “The citizens of Seattle will be notified when there are additional updates. The mayor commands that you stay vigilant and that you stay alert. If you see something, say something. Report it to the authorities immediately. That is all.” The screen went blank.
“Oh shit,” I said. “Now what?”
Blue Tara emptied her can of beer. “Pizza,” she replied.
We ate our pizza in silence. Afterwards, I poured glasses of wine for everyone.
“This kind of changes things,” Michael finally said to break the quiet.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“About trying to sneak into city hall tomorrow, is what I mean. Kinqalatlala would spot us.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. We talked about that after she left our little coffee klatch this morning. So she’s not privy to our plans. She wouldn’t necessarily be looking for us.”
“What exactly would be the purpose of our visit then?” Michael replied. “What’s your plan?”
“I’m making this up as I go. I don’t know. Take Hamatsa out.”
“Take Kinqalatlala out,” Jean interjected.
“Shock and awe,” I added. “Shock and awe. It would be a blow to the regime if we actually did something.”
“We seem to be losing sight of our original plan,” Jean said.
“What was our original plan again?” I asked.
“To find the tlogwe,” Blue Tara said.
“Precisely,” Jean responded. “To find the tlogwe.”
“And how well is that working out?” I smirked.
“Without the tlogwe we can do no more than harass Hamatsa,” Blue Tara added. “We need the magic of the tlogwe to stop Hamatsa and the Winalagalis. Right now, Hamatsa’s power is greater than ours.”
“So what are we going to do?” I asked. “Kinqalatlala was our only lead to the tlogwe. We can’t just sit here and drink wine.”
“I am still your best lead to the tlogwe,” a familiar voice interrupted us from across the room. We jumped out of our chairs, knocking over glasses and spilling wine across the table and over the floor.
“Jesus Fucking Christ!” I yelled. “How the fuck did you get in here?”
Kinqalatlala stood in the doorway to the apartment. “Your front door was wide open,” she replied. “I walked in. Your apartment door is unlocked. I thought maybe you were expecting me. I promised you I would be back when I had information to share.”
“You fucking bitch!” Jean screamed. She ran across the room and picked up the machine gun. She racked the charging handle and pointed it at Kinqalatlala. “And I promised I would kill you if you ever showed yourself again.”
“Jean. Wait!” I cried out. Jean pulled the trigger. The firing pin clicked on an empty clip.
“Shit!” Jean exclaimed.
“You would be doing me a favor if you could kill me,” Kinqalatlala said. “Can I come in? We have much to discuss.”
“Oh shit,” I replied. “Why not?” Jean put down the machine gun and reached for one of the magic harpoons. “Jean. Wait. Please,” I pleaded. “Let’s hear her out. Then you can kill her.”
Kinqalatlala walked across the room to join us at the dining table. Margarita growled and jumped out of Michael’s lap, trotting to the bay window. I toweled up the spilled wine as best as I could. “A glass of wine, please?” she asked. I poured her a glass and pulled a chair out for her. She looked resplendent clad in her skin-tight black leather.
“How dare you come back here,” Jean stated vehemently. “You lying piece of shit.”
“Don’t sugar coat it,” I said.
“We saw your performance on the news broadcast,” Michael said. “So you are still serving Hamatsa.”
“A performance is precisely what it was,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Nothing has changed. I am still working against Hamatsa. I needed him to believe I am still his slave. I yet want to help you find the tlogwe.”
“I no longer believe you are even the tlogwala,” I replied.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Kinqalatlala said. “But I know that I am the tlogwala.”
“Let’s cut to the chase,” I said. “Tell us what you have to tell us.”
Kinqalatlala drained her glass of wine and reached it up to me for a refill. “Hamatsa plans to assassinate the Winalagalis when Dear Leader comes to Seattle.”
“What?” I replied with some astonishment in my voice. “Why would he do that?”
“To take his place as ruler of the New American Order. I am to be his queen.”
“Lucky you,” Jean responded.
“Well, that’s good,” I replied. “One less bad guy to deal with.”
“Not so good,” Kinqalatlala responded. I looked at her quizzically. “Right now the regime has two centers of power. The Winalagalis. And Hamatsa. If one is eliminated all power falls to the survivor. That would be a disaster. Both for your world and for mine.”
“What does Hamatsa know about us?” I asked.
“He knows you plan to strike when Dear Leader arrives in this city.”
“And how would he know about that?”
“Because I told him.”
“The fuck!” I exclaimed. I could see Jean growing visibly angered. “Why would you do that?”
“To save you.”
“The fuck,” I said again.
“Without the tlogwe you do not have the power to strike the regime. It would result in disaster for you. And it would allow Hamatsa to consolidate his power beyond anyone’s capacity to resist.”
“I say we kill her now,” Jean whispered angrily.
“Does Hamatsa know you’re here?” I asked.
“Yes he does.”
“What the fuck!” I exclaimed, thinking to myself I needed a new word.
“He believes I am here to encourage you to attack Dear Leader. His plan is to eliminate both the Winalagalis and you at one fell swoop. What is the saying? To kill two birds with one stone?”
“And what do you plan to do?”
“I can best help you from inside city hall. Passing information to you about Hamatsa’s activities and his plans. By connecting you to the resistance.”
“Hamatsa depends upon the Deportation Police to protect his regime. The Seattle Police and City Hall are yet infested with resistance cells.”
“Hamatsa’s word. Not mine. I have also learned that the deposed mayor has organized a shadow city government to coordinate the resistance.”
“Good luck with that,” I replied. “We seem to be the only ones doing much resisting these days,” I added, waving my hand around the apartment.
“You are not the only ones. But you are the ones Hamatsa fears most. Your cause may be lonely. But you are not alone,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I must return to city hall to report to Hamatsa that you are still planning to strike Dear Leader.”
“We need weapons and ammunition,” I said. Kinqalatlala nodded. She drained her glass of wine, pushed her chair back from the table, and stood up. She turned and walked across the apartment and out the door.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have said anything about needing guns and ammunition,” Jean suggested. “Just shows her how weak we are.”
“On the other hand,” I replied, “it might just be one way to find out which side she’s really on.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if she’s on her own side,” Jean said. “She may be playing Hamatsa against us. While she’s playing us against Hamatsa.”
“Wouldn’t be at all surprised. In fact, I’m counting on it.” I looked at the Taras. Blue Tara and Red Tara sat at the end of the table, glasses of wine in their hands. Margarita lay curled up in the bay window underneath Princess Tara’s play stand where White Tara sat perched on one leg, napping with her beak behind her wing. “What do the Taras make of all this?” I asked.
“The black witch underestimates our powers,” Blue Tara replied. “We are stronger than she knows. I do not doubt her word that she is the tlogwala. But she has not yet learned that being the tlogwala constrains her actions. We can use her to our benefit just as she may believe she is using us to hers.”
“So, what do we do?” I asked.
“We strike at Hamatsa before he consolidates his power,” Blue Tara replied. “We have the element of surprise on our side. If we delay, Hamatsa’s magic and his grip on power will only increase.”
“So you’re saying we raid city hall?”
“Hamatsa will not be expecting us. The black witch believes we will wait to strike when Dear Leader arrives.”
“I say we take out Hamatsa and Kinqalatlala,” Jean added.
“Some rise by sin and some by virtue fall,” I replied.
The weekly farmers market on the plaza in front of Seattle City Hall looked like any of the other farmers markets around the city. Scores of vendors sold everything from cut flowers to veggie starts. Bins of apples, onions, cherries, and peas sat shaded by big white canvas canopies. Ice cream and sandwich vendors competed with homemade doo dads and printed tee shirts. Instead of the families with baby strollers, students pushing bicycles or carrying skateboards, and young urbanites walking countless yapping dogs that populated most other farmers markets around the city, office workers, lawyers, and other professionals crowded the city hall farmers market looking for a particular heritage tomato or chipotle pepper for their guacamole or garden salad.
I drove my truck directly into the city hall parking garage. No one talked on our drive across town. The cab was a tad crowded, what with three people, three parrots, and one black cat. Me. Jean. Michael. Princess Tara. Red Tara. White Tara. And Black Tara. Not to mention two magic harpoons and one machine gun stashed behind the seat. We would work out getting the arsenal into city hall when the time came to get the arsenal into city hall. Once parked, the parrots flew out of the parking garage. Jean, Michael, and I walked out. Margarita scampered along behind us.
I stopped at an expresso cart and ordered three lattes. As we stood and sipped our coffee I half expected Princess Tara to swoop down out of the sky and snatch the coffee out of my hand. I knew it must be killing her to watch me drink my coffee. I knew that somewhere she sat perched and watched me drink my coffee. I knew I would pay for it.
We sat on the retaining wall lining the plaza’s central fountain. Margarita hopped onto Michael’s lap. Several passersby stopped and admired the cat. She was a particularly attractive cat. Especially when her reddish black fur shimmered in the Seattle sunlight.
I looked around the plaza. The farmers market exuded an air of tranquility that belied the tension that roiled my gut. I watched people chat with coworkers. People laugh at private jokes. Coworkers smile at each other as they passed. Security seemed lax, even by normal standards. A couple of black clad Deportation Police officers stood at the ice cream booth eating cones. A couple of Seattle cops in blue stood on the other side of the plaza chatting with each other, holding coffee cups in their hands. However, they did all sport machine guns slung over their shoulders.
“How’s this going to go down?” Michael asked.
“Margarita is going to slip inside and find a safe spot for us to time and space bend into. Blue Tara can’t just time and space bend us in without knowing the layout. We don’t want to materialize between floors. Or in an elevator shaft.”
“Margarita alerts Blue Tara to her location, like a homing beacon. Blue Tara does her magic. We end up inside safe and snug.”
“I still don’t get how Margarita communicates her location to Blue Tara from inside the building,” Michael said.
“I don’t understand it either. But somehow Blue Tara can hear Margarita, even from the depths of city hall.”
“Parrots have acute hearing,” Jean replied. “Macaws can hear each other from miles apart in the rainforest.”
I reached over and rubbed Margarita’s head. “Showtime,” I said. Margarita stretched out, arched her back, and sprang off Michael’s lap. She meowed and trotted off around the fountain toward the front door of city hall. We watched her stop at the door to wait for someone to pass through. Once the door opened she scampered through their feet and disappeared into the lobby. “Wait here,” I said to Jean and Michael. “I’ll be right back.”
“What the. . .” Michael said, startled. “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back,” I repeated. “Just going to check on Margarita.” I entered the lobby just in time to see Margarita run past the security checkpoint.
“Hey!” one of the black clad Deportation Police guards yelled. “Who let the cat loose?”
“What cat?” another guard replied.
“A cat just ran through here,” the first guard responded, pointing to the bank of elevators across the lobby. I caught a glimpse of Margarita slipping through a door just before it closed, leading to a stairway to the basement.
Without thinking about the consequences, I ran through the security checkpoint. “My cat escaped!” I yelled. “Did anybody see which way the cat went?”
“God damn it!” the first guard exclaimed. “Why in the hell did you bring a cat to city hall? It went into the basement.” He stepped to the door and swiped it open with his pass card. “Follow me.” He took a step down the stairway.
I heard a screech, like fingernails dragged across a chalkboard. “Somebody grab that parrot!” someone cried out from the lobby.
The guard stopped and turned back to the lobby. “What the fuck is going on?” he yelled. “Where are all these damn animals coming from?”
With the guard’s back to me, I slipped through the door. I caught a glimpse of White Tara flying through the lobby. I raced down the stairs.
I burst onto the basement level. Two black clad Deportation Police cops stood at another doorway at the other end of the hall looking down another flight of stairs. “Anybody see my cat?” I yelled as I ran down the hall. “I lost my cat.” The cops pointed down the stairs to the subbasement. I ran through the door and down the staircase. “Thanks!” I yelled as I passed the cops. I quietly thanked the laxsa for being so dimwitted.
I found the door at the bottom of the stairs propped open. I grabbed the handrail to stop myself from running out the door. I took a deep breath and peaked around the corner. Margarita stood midway down the hall in front of a set of doors. She growled when I appeared out of the stairwell. Upon recognizing me, she arched her back and purred.
I walked up to her and leaned down to rub her head. “Do we open Door Number One? Or Door Number Two?” I asked her. I counted six doors, three on each side of the hallway. “Or Doors Three, Four, Five, or Six?” Margarita stepped to the farthest door and meowed. “You picked Door Number Six.” I walked up to the door. It can’t be this easy, I thought to myself. I heard one of the other doors swing open. I grabbed the handle and pulled. The door quietly opened and Margarita and I slipped in. “This works for me,” I told her.
We found ourselves in a storeroom. Not an ordinary storeroom with tools and mops and lightbulbs, brooms and paper towels. A storeroom with machine guns and shotguns and magic harpoons. With stacks of cases filled with stun grenades and clips of ammunition. With rack upon rack of Deportation Police uniforms.
“Bingo,” I said to Margarita. “Time to muster the troops.”
Margarita sat on her hind legs and growled. Not her typical growl. A growl that grew in pitch and intensity until I thought my eardrums would burst. I slapped my hands against my ears, fell back against the wall, and slid down to the floor. A searing white light burned through my closed eyelids.
Several hands grabbed my arms and pulled me to my feet. I opened my eyes. Jean, Michael, and the Taras surrounded me.
“You freaked me out when you ran through the lobby,” Jean said. “Please don’t ever do that again.”
“It was a spur of the moment thing, I assure you,” I replied.
“How did you ever find this place?” Michael asked, running his hands over the magic harpoons.
“It was all Margarita’s doing. She found it.” I started taking my clothes off.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Michael asked.
“Watch,” I replied. I picked out a Deportation Police uniform I thought would fit me. I started putting it on. “The perfect cover,” I said.
“Pick out a couple of uniforms,” I told Jean and Michel. Michael started to take his clothes off. “No fucking way am I wearing one of these uniforms,” Jean insisted. “I haven’t seen any lady goons around. I might draw more attention to us than we want.”
“Suit yourself,” I said.
Michael tucked the black shirt into his black pants and pulled on a black bullet proof vest. He selected a magic harpoon from a rack stacked with magic harpoons. “Okay. We’re armed and dangerous,” he said. “Now what?’
“Now you come with me,” a familiar voice responded. We spun around. Kinqalatlala stood in the doorway. Michael reflexively aimed his magic harpoon at her. I grabbed the shaft and pointed it at the ceiling.
“How did you know we were here?” I blurted out.
“How do you think you got in so easily?” she replied. “I have been expecting you.”
“We’ve been set up,” Jean said, picking up a machine gun. She racked the charging handle. Empty.
“Clips are in the end cases,” Kinqalatlala said. “You have not been set up. I am here to assist you.”
“Does Hamatsa know we’re here?” I asked, fearing the worst.
“He does not. He is preparing a press conference to announce the details of Dear Leader’s coming visit to Seattle.”
“So he’s in the mayor’s office on the top floor?” I asked.
“Hamatsa is in his command post on this level. At the end of the hall. The darkness of the depths suits him better.”
“Nothing is ever this easy,” I said. “Something is wrong.”
“I say we kill this bitch,” Jean said. “Then worry about Hamatsa.”
“You would be doing me a favor if you could kill me,” Kinqalatlala replied. “I grow weary of the burdens of your world. But you would only be hurting yourself if you do so. I am the only friend you have in this situation.”
“How many attendants does Hamatsa have with him?” I asked.
“Just his usual command staff. Mostly computer jockeys and flunkies. Lightly armed. I have dispatched his security detail on an emergency call.”
“That’s convenient,” I replied.
“They believe they are going after you.”
“Well then. What are we waiting for?” I selected a machine gun and popped open a case of clips.
“Careful with that sucker,” Jean warned. “It has a wicked kick.”
“Thanks for the warning,” I replied. I copied Jean as she loaded a clip and racked the charging handle.
“Stick extra clips in your pockets,” Jean said. “Eject the clips as they empty and slam in new ones.”
“Let’s mount up” I said.
“We are not riding into battle,” Blue Tara replied, swinging her battle axe in her hand.
We followed Kinqalatlala to the end of the hall. She waved her hand and a door appeared that I had not previously noticed. She entered the room beyond. We followed.
Hamatsa stood in the center of an otherwise empty chamber, lit only by the florescent light flooding in from the hallway. I aimed my machine gun at him. “What the fuck is this?” I asked, glancing sideways at Kinqalatlala. She stepped to Hamatsa’s side.
“You did well, my queen,” Hamatsa said.
“Capturing them proved easier than even you expected, my master.”
A door opened at the back of the chamber and a squad of black clad Deportation Police decked out in black body armor filed in. “Kill them!” Hamatsa ordered. The goons lined up in front of Hamatsa and Kinqalatlala. They aimed their machine guns at us.
“Wait!” I cried out. “You can’t do that.”
Hamatsa repeated his order. “Kill them!” The goons pulled the triggers on their weapons. I closed my eyes. Nothing. I waited a few moments. Still nothing. I had been dead. This did not feel like being dead. I opened my eyes. “Shoot them down, you fools!” Hamatsa screamed.
The goons looked at their weapons, racked the charging handles, and pointed the barrels at us again. I could see their fingers pull the triggers. Nothing. Maybe this was my lucky day.
Hamatsa grabbed one of the goons and spun him around. “Give me your weapon, damn it!” Hamatsa snatched the machine gun out of the goon’s hands. He racked the charging handle and pointed the weapon directly at me. I saw him pull the trigger. Still nothing. He ejected the clip, examined it closely, and smashed it back in place. He pointed the barrel at my head. I watched him pull the trigger. Nothing.
“What the hell?” I finally said. I turned to look at Blue Tara standing behind me. “Are you doing this?”
“It is not me,” she replied. “I do not know what kind of magic is in play here.”
“It is you,” Kinqalatlala stated. I turned to stare at her. Hamatsa turned to stare at her.
“It is who?” I asked, as astonished as Hamatsa seemed to be.
“You have been given the gift of the tlogwe.”
“Your destiny lies in your hands now.”
I looked down at my hands.
“The tlogwe is a gift of magic and power that you must master,” Kinqalatlala said. “If you fail to do so it will destroy you. Hamatsa once was given the gift of the tlogwe, but failed to master its power. The power of the tlogwe corrupted and twisted him.”
“You fool!” Hamatsa cried out. “You really are the tlogwala.” He pointed his machine gun at Kinqalatlala and pulled the trigger. A burst of bullets shredded her chest and flung her backwards into the dark room.
I pulled the trigger of my machine gun. Hamatsa’s head exploded into a cloud of blood red pulp. One of the Deportation Police goons pulled a bayonet from his gun belt and charged at me. A battle axe whirled past my ear and struck his head squarely between his eyes, sending him flying backwards onto the floor. The other goons dropped their machine guns and drew their bayonets. An arrow pierced the skull of first one, and then another goon, knocking them over on their backs. Jean opened fire with her machine gun and cut down the remaining goons.
I ran to where I saw Kinqalatlala fall. Even in the darkness I could see blood on the floor where the body fell. But there was no body to be found. Jean ran up to me. “You okay hon?” she asked.
“Yeah. I guess so,” I replied. I took a deep breath. I felt thoroughly exhausted. And scared.
“Where did she go?” Jean asked. “Hamatsa shot her at point blank range. No way in hell could she have gotten up from that.”
“Yes he did,” I replied. “I assume she’s gone back to her world.”
“What do you mean gone back to her world?”
“Because I wished that for her. Call me crazy, but I visualized her flying free on Dluwulaxa the moment Hamatsa shot her.”
“It isn’t as easy to go crazy as you might think,” Jean replied.
I dropped the machine gun and put my arms around Jean. I pulled her to me. I pressed my lips to hers. My tongue found her tongue. “I see us spending the rest of our lives together,” I told her. “I love you.”
“I love you too, sweetie,” she replied. She wrapped her arms around me and squeezed me to her chest.
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