Bring Your Son to Work Day
Being an occult detective was a tough job. Being an occult detective and still taking care of your family was near to impossible. But Darby Stein managed it. He had some help, but he still faced danger and arcane doom every other day, and he didn't mind it a bit. Sitting in a back booth of Cotton's Diner, sharing dinner with his nine-year-old son, Morton Wolfgang Stein-Keefe, and his bodyguard, chauffeur and best friend Adam, he knew that he wouldn't have it every other day.
Cotton's Diner was an old establishment in Wickfield, the small New England town where Darby had been raised and chosen to settle. It was one of those places that seemed right out of the 1950s, down to the big glass cups for the milkshakes. M.W. was working through one of the milkshakes now, the tall glass seeming even bigger in the nine-year-old boy's small hands. M.W. had his mother's bright eyes behind round glasses, his father's dark, straight hair, and wore his collared shirt, the uniform of his school, under a Navy blue coat.
Darby smiled as M.W. set down the milkshake. "You know, your Grandpa Weatherby had the same sort of tastes. Every chance he got, he'd have himself a chocolate milkshake." Weatherby Stein had immigrated from Germany following the Second World War II. The Steins were the greatest family of occultists in Europe, including alchemists, sorcerers, and wizards of unparalleled skill in their ranks. Weatherby had founded the Stein and Candle Detective Agency with a hardboiled G.I., one of M.W.'s namesakes, and Darby continued the family tradition.
"Really?" M.W. smiled as he looked up at the milkshake, balanced on the linoleum edge of the table. "That seems a little…" He trailed off.
"Unlike him? Maybe." Darby ruffled his son's hair. "But he'd be happy to know that you're so similar, sweetie." Darby was a willowy fellow, his dark trench coat hanging from his chair. He had thick square glasses and dark hair framing his pale face. He wore a dark suit and tie, like any other hardworking businessman grabbing a bite with his son.
M.W. turned to the third person in the booth. "Uncle Adam? Was Grandpa Weatherby like me, when he was little?"
Adam Stein wasn't technically M.W.'s uncle. He wasn't technically human. He was an assemblage of corpses, stitched together and brought to life by mad alchemist Johan Stein's dark magic in the Mid-1700s. Adam was a towering, bulky figure, impeccably dressed in a dark three-piece suit and vest, twin shoulder-holsters bulging under his thick, muscular arms. His face was a mess of stitches and scars, and his eyes were different shapes and colors. But M.W. saw Adam as his guardian and friend, and Darby felt the same way.
"I do not know, little Stein. I did not meet him until he was fourteen." Adam's voice was a low grumble. He had a mass of napkins and a stack of empty plates in front of him. Adam had polished off a baker's dozen of double cheeseburgers, and half that many hot dogs and orders of fries. His big body meant that he was a big eater. "But he was a good man. And you are a good boy."
"Thanks." M.W.'s face went a little red. He turned to his father. "But you guys do the same sort of thing, right, daddy? Being an occult detective? What is it like? Is it dangerous?"
"Sometimes," Darby explained. "I just do some investigation, find out what's going on, and see what can be done. I solve problems. It's just a lot of them involve magic and monsters."
"Awesome." M.W.'s legs swung back and forth as he thought of it. "I'd kind of like to see it. Especially the monsters. Could you take me along some time? Just so I could see it?"
Darby and Adam exchanged a glance. "I'm not sure, son. Maybe you could ask your mother about her job."
"But she just talks to people on the phone and on the computer. That's not very exciting at all." Susan Keefe, Darby's wife, was a former FBI Agent, who handled the consultant side of the business. Darby thought it best to keep her out of the field. Not because she was weak, but because her guns blazing approach usually led to a lot more problems than it solved.
Before Darby could respond, Adam nudged his shoulder. Adam's heavy fist nearly pushed Darby out of the booth, but it got his attention. Darby turned around, following Adam's thick finger. A man was walking towards their booth, his cowboy boots clicking on the tiled floor. Darby felt a sinking feeling in his chest. "Oh no," he muttered. "Not now." He'd been hard at work all week, and this was the only time he was going to get to have dinner with his son. And now Agent Mason Kelso, of the Central Intelligence Agency, had shown up, and Darby doubted he was in Cotton's Diner for the milkshakes.
Agent Kelso stopped before the booth and grinned down at Darby and his family. "Hello, Darby!" he said brightly, taking the milkshake from M.W. and having a long sip. He licked his lips and set it down. He wore a rumpled suit without a tie, and had a lopsided moustache and stubble on his cheeks. Kelso looked like a homeless man, instead of the cunning Company operator that he was. He smiled as he sat down next to M.W. "How you been keeping yourself?"
"I'm doing fine, Agent Kelso. What exactly do you want?" Darby saw his son staring at Kelso, like the CIA man was some bizarre creature, a sasquatch maybe, that had bounded in and sat next to him. "I'm off the clock here, by the way, so maybe it can wait until tomorrow."
"Afraid it can't, Darby, old boy. It just can't." Kelso checked his watch. "And it kind of sucks that the kid's here too. Because I got a private jet at Wickfield's little airport that set's to fly within the hour, and you don't have time to drop him off at home. So I guess Darby Jr. will have to come along."
"My name is M.W.," M.W. corrected. "Um, who are you?"
"Little man, I am the best spy in the goddamn world." Kelso pointed to Darby. "And I have a job for your old man that absolutely, positively, will not wait. It's one of those end of the world deals. You know the type, Darby. Either you come with me right now or kaboom! Curtains for the human race. So I'm sorry if you don't get to finish your dinner."
Adam snorted. "Shall I remove him?" he asked Darby.
"No. We can hear him out." Darby had learned that while Agent Kelso was a bit of a jerk, he was rarely wrong. "What's going on, then? What's so important that you're interrupting my dinner?"
"Okay. You heard of HateCon, right? Biggest gathering of White Supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and every nutjob ever went Heil Hitler in the United States?" Agent Kelso shrugged. "Well, if you haven't, you have now. Anyway, the Protectors Eternal of the Aryan Race are set to make a little presentation there, involving a couple of stolen artifacts they just pilfered from a few museums around the world."
"P.E.A.R.?" Darby asked. "I think I've heard of them. They do realize that their name spells out 'pear,' right?"
"Their skills with acronyms ain't the point. These artifacts they stole are some bad juju. Stuff like the Sword of Surt from Sweden, along with a bag of preserved toe nail clippings for some reason. And I think you know the cake that recipe is gonna bake."
"Ragnorak." Darby whispered the word. He had hoped against it, but Agent Kelso was right. P.E.A.R. had the makings of engineering the end of the world, and probably the know-how to put it together. "And you think those idiots will actually do it?"
"I wouldn't put it past them. But never fear." Kelso reached into his pocket. He pulled out a handful of crumpled tickets. "I got us some passes. Enough for you and the big man over there. And I got an extra, just in case, that the little guy can use."
"So I can go?" M.W.'s eyes went wide. "I could just go with you?"
"I don't think so, M.W." Darby gave his son a quick grin. "It could be dangerous, and I don't want anything to happen to you. I'll see if I can take you home and—"
"No time, buddy." Kelso put his arm around M.W.'s shoulder. "Besides, there won't be any danger. HateCon's a strictly peaceful event. Just for these Aryan types to hang around and swap stories. As long as you're not of an overly dark complexion, you shouldn't have a problem. And no one will suspect us if we've got a little kid with us. It's the perfect cover, now that I think about it. And it looks like he wants to go."
Once again, Kelso was right. Darby only had to look at M.W.'s expectant eyes to know that the boy wanted to see what his father did. He remembered how he felt the same way about his own father, and how excited and wonderful it felt to be proud of him once he found out. He looked to Adam. "You'll come along, too. With all the weapons in our car."
"Yes," Adam agreed. "We'll bring them on the plane." He looked down at Kelso. "But you should not lie. You should be sure that it is safe."
Kelso just smiled. "Hey, jolly green giant, I trust my intel. We don't have a thing to worry about." He reached into his coat and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. "I'll even take care of your meal, just because I'm such a nice guy." He slapped the bill down and stood up, patted M.W.'s shoulder. "You ready to go watch your daddy at work, little guy?"
"That sounds, well, really cool," M.W. agreed.
But Darby wasn't as confident. Being on the job as an occult detective was tough. Watching after his young son while being on the job? That sounded just a little bit harder. He reached for his cell phone as they walked out of Cotton's Diner. Kelso had a sleek black van parked outside. Darby thanked god when he got the answering machine. It wouldn't be easy explaining this to Susan.
They drove to the airfield and left soon afterwards, taking off without delay. Agent Kelso kept on checking his watch, worrying about the timing. The plane was comfortable enough, with a few tan leather seats and a full bar, which Kelso pillaged without remorse. M.W. sat down next to his father, and leaned his head against Darby's shoulder. His excitement got the best of him, and he fell asleep soon after they were airborne. Darby patted his shoulder, and Adam brought him a blanket. Darby felt a tugging in his heart when he looked at M.W. He repeated Kelso's words that it would be safe to himself, until they were running in his mind in an endless prayer.
Adam sat across from them, cleaning his twin heavy automatic pistols. "Where is this Hate Convention?" he asked Kelso, without looking up.
"Place called White River. It's a kind of compound, located on a plateau in the Midwest." Kelso popped the cap off of a bottle of whiskey and had a slug. "The White Hate crowd do their best to keep it secret, or else the ATF and the Bureau would have had a ball raiding it. It took a lot of hard work to get those passes, I tell you. P.E.A.R. has its friends."
"Who would ever want to be friends with racists like them?" Darby wondered.
"You'd be surprised." Kelso shrugged. "That's part of the reason why I didn't want to bother the FBI with this. And partly because I know your wife has friends in the Bureau, and I'm not sure if she'd like what I'm doing."
"You don't like my wife?" Darby asked.
"I'm terrified of her. Self-preservation, man – that's an instinct I got." Kelso yawned. He looked back at the whiskey bottle and let it fall on the carpet. It clinked, almost musically. "Well, I'm gonna get some shuteye. Don't want to be sleepy when we're mixing it up with Adolf and Friends at HateCon."
It was a decent idea. Darby leaned back next to his son and closed his eyes. Even Adam slumped into one of the seats, the heavy pistols back in their shoulder-holsters, and closed his misshapen eyes. For just a while, Darby let himself sleep.
The sunlight coming through the square windows of the plane woke him up. He yawned and stretched, and stared outside, looking out at a sun-blasted piece of yellow rock, reaching out under them. The plateau was dotted with a dozen cement buildings, looking like defensive positions for an army expecting an attack. A couple helicopters and rows of cars stood around the buildings, along with hundreds of people, crowding around the largest of the gray cement structures. Darby slid on his coat and turned to M.W., feeling a few sparks of panic when the boy wasn't at his side.
"Daddy?" M.W. was playing Go Fish with Adam, a deck of cards between them. "Are we almost there?"
"Looks like it, sweetie. Sit down and buckle in. I think we're gonna land soon."
"O-okay." There was a tremor of nervousness in M.W.'s voice. He hurried to his father's side and sat down, his hands fiddling with the seatbelt, until it snapped shut. Adam and Kelso did the same, as the plane began its descent.
Agent Kelso sat across from them and adjusted his tie. "Oh, I forgot to ask – you guys are Jews, right?" He cocked his head.
"On my father's side, and my mother kind of adopted that as our heritage. I was Bar Mitzvahed, and I think M.W. should be as well, when he's old enough." Darby felt the spark of panic grow, making his forehead feel warm and his throat go dry.
Kelso nodded. "Probably not something you want to mention here."
"Yeah," Darby agreed. "Probably."
The jet sped down and hit the runway. Darby took hold of M.W.'s hands. The boy shivered a little, but then looked at his dad and smiled. He felt safe, as long as Adam and his father were around. Darby wished he felt the same. The jet taxied down the runway and came to a stop. They waited for the door to open, and then they walked down the runway and into the bright Midwestern sun.
It struck Darby like a physical blow. He held a hand over his eyes, blinking in the light. He took off his jacket and tucked it over his arm, and M.W. did the same. Adam walked next to them, still in his three-piece suit. If he felt any discomfort, he didn't show it.
Agent Kelso popped a pair of sunglasses onto his nose and pointed to the biggest of the buildings. "Main convention hall is that-a-way." He handed him their badges, clipping them to their shirts. "Better keep these on."
They joined the crowd of HateCon's guests, heading to the main building. Darby looked around. There were men and women of all sizes, shapes and backgrounds – but nobody who wasn't white. A couple of big banners advertising HateCon had been stretched across the length of the cement buildings, punctuated by swastikas. M.W. gripped his father's hand.
The crowd led them to the main hall, where tattooed Neo-Nazis in short-sleeved collared dress shirts served as greeters. Darby felt a trickle of sweat run down his neck as one of the Neo-Nazis headed over to check his badge. He had a swastika emblazoned on his forehead, and SS symbols on his neck. He stared down at M.W. and smiled. "Bringing the next generation along?" he asked, as he handed Darby a program. "Smart move, man."
"Um, thanks," Darby said.
"Enjoy your stay at HateCon. We got the Obama Effigy Burning at twelve, and the Aryan Leader look-a-like contest at four." He nodded to Darby. "You have a nice time now."
"Sure." Darby took M.W.'s hand, and walked down the cement stairs into the convention hall. It was a massive chamber, all under an impossibly high ceiling. You could fit a cruise ship inside, and still have plenty of room.
They looked out over a football field's worth of booths and stalls, each offering their own brand of Hate. There were Sambo and Jew dolls for sales, vast racks of t-shirts with racist slogans, with a special on white hoods and a free handgun with every purchase. Stalls pushed political tracts, offering the truth of the Jew-Masonic-Negro Conspiracy, the secrets of the government sterilizing water program, and the liberal plan to turn schoolchildren gay. Other stands hawked paperback and CD copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the Turner Diaries, with 'color-free' coloring books for kids and untold truths about the Holocaust.
Some of the guests sported wife-beaters and more tattoos than Darby could count. He saw a group of men in full SS uniforms walk by, passing some Klansmen in elaborate white hoods. A couple in blackface broke into a minstrel routine right across from him, linking arms and dancing about as they chanted something about watermelons. Darby shook his head. He looked down at M.W., who was watching everything with wide eyes.
"Kind of weird, isn't it?" he asked. "A little disturbing."
"Yeah," M.W. agreed. "But, it seems a little sad too. These people, and how they really want to sell things and for people to notice them, it's also kind of sad."
"Kind of pathetic," Darby agreed. "Some of these people are foolish, but they're also desperate and misled. That's how they fall in with this White Hate stuff. That's how Hitler took power in Germany, you know, and drove your grandfather to America. It worked out very badly, for all concerned."
"But it won't happen now, will it, daddy?" M.W. asked.
"If we stay vigilant and do our best to do good, than I'm certain it won't," Darby replied. He looked up and saw half a dozen men walking towards them, all wearing black leather vests and worn jeans, in a rough uniform. Darby recognized their leader. He stepped forward, still holding M.W's hand, and smiled. "Big Roscoe! What are you doing here?"
Big Roscoe Hunter was the leader of the Huns, an international Motorcycle Club that dabbled in gun and drug-running. With his thick moustache and sideburns, and black bristly hair on his forearms, he looked like a wild boar crammed into a leather vest. He grabbed Darby's free hand and pumped it vigorously. "I ought to ask you the same question, my brother. Good to see you though." He looked down at M.W. and smiled. "This your son, bro?"
"That's right," Darby agreed. M.W. stayed close to him, a little frightened of Big Roscoe. "He's, um, a little shy, I guess."
"It's okay, little guy." Big Roscoe leaned down and smiled. "Your old man and me are big time pals. He saved my little brother from turning into a werewolf a few years back. I owe him everything." He looked back up at Darby, as Adam stepped up behind them. "So, what are you here for?"
"A case," Darby explained.
"Uh-huh. Well, I'm just here for a little business." He reached into his coat and withdrew a plastic bag full of misshapen translucent rocks. "Meth, my brother – the White Race's drug of choice. The best cooks in the country make their way here, and the Huns have got to keep sampling it, if we want to stay ahead of the Mexicans. And these boys love selling to us. See it as their patriotic duty." He cracked a smile. "But you let me know if you need anything, my brother. You and the little guy both. You got some friends amongst the hog-humping Huns."
"Thanks, Big Roscoe. Say, you wouldn't happen to know anything about P.E.A.R., would you?"
"The Protectors Eternal of the Aryan Race?" Roscoe scratched his beard. "Now that you mention it, I do recall them having some big meeting tonight – but it's by invite only. Their leader, Elton Haskell, is gonna have it at the Bunker, right near the edge of the plateau, a little after sundown. He and his brother Harlan are here, so you can go ask them if you want."
Adam leaned forward. "You know of them?" he asked.
"A bit. Elton's all right – for a race-baiting bootlicker. Bit of a pansy. His brother, Harlan though – 100% Nazi psycho." He cocked his head. "You sure you want to rub elbows with them?"
"I think I gotta," Darby agreed.
"All right. Well, if you need any help from the Huns MC, you just say the word. We'll come running."
"Good to know. Take care now, Big Roscoe."
The Bikers walked past them, giving Adam a wide berth. Darby turned around, facing Agent Kelso. "P.E.A.R. sounds a little dangerous. You sure we can handle them?"
Kelso pointed down the narrow aisle, to a large booth in the center of the room. Darby saw P.E.A.R.'s logo, slapped on banners and fluttering pennants like it was the name of a store on the day of the grand opening. "Well, why don't we go over there and find out?"
They walked over to the main booth. M.W. stayed close to his father. Darby gave his hand a little squeeze and patted his shoulder. He hoped that would be enough to reassure the boy. He remembered the pride in seeing his own father work – but there was always a little fear as well. Weatherby had tangled with some dark forces, and Darby did the same.
The P.E.A.R. booth was a sprawling set of merchandising stalls, info tables loaded with free pamphlets and a stand handing out hot dogs and glasses of lemonade. Darby walked over to the pamphlets and started flipping through them, looking for any sign of Ragnorak. There was propaganda on why the U.S. should nuke Mecca, how to take down secret U.N. black helicopters with a slingshot, and the plot of minorities to destroy the White Race through mixed marriages. Darby shook his head. It was a lot of claptrap, but nothing dealing with magic.
"Enjoying some of P.E.A.R.'s publications?" Darby looked up. A slim fellow in a dark business suit stood in front of him, hand outstretched. He had blonde hair, neatly parted, and only a swastika tattoo on his palm to make him look any different from some mild mannered stock broker. "I'm Elton Haskell. I am in charge of this humble endeavor to protect our great nation."
"You do realize that P.E.A.R. sounds like a pear, right? Like the fruit?" Darby said, as shook Elton's hand.
The man next to Elton bristled. "You saying we're gay? That what you saying?" He looked much more like someone you'd expect to meet in Cell Block D, about to shiv you to death while screaming about White Power. He had a shaved head, and a tank top, with large tattoos of Hitler and James Earl Ray on his muscled forearms. His shirt had a picture of Bo, Obama's pet dog, in a set of crosshairs.
"Easy, Harlan. I'm sure he didn't mean anything by it." Elton smiled back at Darby. "My brother, Harlan, one of our most enthusiastic supporters."
M.W. looked at Harlan's shirt. "Why do you want to hurt that doggy?" he asked.
"Because he belongs to a mongrel monstrosity that needs putting down." Harlan glared down at M.W., and Darby pulled the boy close. "What's it to you, boy? You got a thing for bad dogs?"
"You frighten a child and you find it easy." Adam stepped next to Darby, looking down at Harlan. "I doubt you would feel the same way about me."
"Bring it on, big guy. I've beaten spear chuckers ten times your size!" Harlan snarled.
Elton Haskell laughed nervously. The guy was clearly out of his element. "Please, gentlemen, we're all Aryan Brothers here. There's no reason for infighting." He turned back to Darby. "Enjoy your stay at HateCon, sir."
"I will," Darby agreed. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "Say, I heard on the Hate Crime Grapevine that you've got a thing for magic. You have any plans for anything like that? Maybe with some good old Germanic Norse Viking spells?"
Soon as he said the words, Elton's face turned pale. "N-no," he said. "I wouldn't know anything about that. Goodbye." He grabbed his brother's arm. Harlan and Elton slipped away, leaving Darby, Kelso, Adam and M.W. alone in front of the hate pamphlets.
Agent Kelso smiled at Darby. "Well, we sure lit his fuse. I'd say the Protectors Eternal of the Aryan Race are up to something."
"Seems that way." Darby looked down at M.W. The boy's face was pale and nervous, his eyes darting around from swastika to caricature. "I think we've learned enough. Can we get out of here?"
"Sure. I got us a suite at the little motel they built here." Kelso grinned down at M.W. "He can rest up there. But I think he had a good time. Didn't you, little guy?"
"A-a little," M.W. said softly. They walked away from P.E.A.R's booths, and headed back into the aisle. "I just thought it would be a little, you know, different."
Darby nodded. "Well, sweetie, being an occult detective isn't all flowing robes and fancy spells. You've got to rub elbows with a lot of unsavory people. But they're usually not as unsavory as this." He ruffled the boy's hair, getting a smile out of M.W. "But you've done a great job today. Beside Uncle Adam, I don't think I ever had a better partner."
"Really?" M.W. flushed from the praise.
"Yes," Adam agreed, nodding his massive head. "You have done well, little Stein."
They walked out of the main convention hall, and M.W. had a bright smile on his face.
The motel Kelso had gotten for them looked like a set of military barracks, but redecorated for maximum comfort. The White Supremacists had slapped down a velvet carpet on the harsh concrete, a complimentary drink cabinet and fruit basket and even put in a set of king-sized beds. M.W., who was feeling a little better about the trip, leapt onto one of the beds and bounced up and down, his arms waving wildly until he slipped off and Adam caught him.
"Easy, little Stein." Adam sat the boy down. "I must prepare my weapons. Go to your father."
Darby headed over to M.W., and led him to the window, overlooking White River. They stared down at the dusty red rock and the other concrete bunkers. Agent Kelso was in the armchair in the corner, already working through a complimentary bottle of whiskey.
"Should we call your mother up?" Darby asked, reaching for his cell phone. "Just let her know that we're all okay. I didn't give her too many details last time."
Kelso sat upright. "Afraid not, Darby." He waggled a finger. "These White River whackos have set up call monitoring stations. They listen in on every call, in or out. Just wait until we're safely out of HateCon before you call up your lovely wife."
With a sigh, Darby clicked the cell phone shut and pocketed it. It felt strange, being cut off from Susan when she was normally just a phone call or email away. The room felt a little hotter, and his eyes switched back to M.W., as if he was worried the boy had disappeared while he was looking away. "Any other surprises, Agent Kelso?"
"I hope not," Kelso agreed, having another slug from the whiskey.
"Is there a problem?" M.W. asked. "You can't call mommy?"
"Not now." Darby sat down next to his son. "Soon as this is over, we're give her a call. So, did you like seeing your father at work?"
M.W. shrugged his little shoulders. "It was okay. The people were a little scary, though. Or they weren't but the things they were talking about were."
"Yeah. Being a detective means you have to deal with unsavory characters." Darby smiled, remembering a story his father had told him. "You know, Grandpa Weatherby once worked for a notorious gangster in Las Vegas." He thought back, trying to remember the way that his father had told it to him. "They were hired to investigate a rival casino, which turned out to be run by a mummy."
"Like the kind wrapped in paper?" M.W. asked, leaning forward in interest.
"Not quite." And Darby told his son the story, as best he could. He saw the fear and pride and excitement in the boy's eyes, and moved to another story about Weatherby when he finished with the first one. Adam brought up guns and ammunition from the plane and assembled them, quietly building his small arsenal in the corner. Kelso just fell asleep.
After a while, the shadows in White River started to grow longer. The air in their hotel room went cold, and M.W. stifled a yawn. Darby looked outside, staring at the monolithic forms of the cement bunkers. "Okay," he said, helping M.W. to the bed. "Why don't you go and have a quick nap, okay? I'll be here in the morning."
"Okay, daddy," M.W. agreed. He walked into the bathroom to brush his teeth.
Soon as he had gone, Adam stood up. Adam snapped a clip into his assault rifle. "You will go to P.E.A.R.'s meeting?" he asked.
"I'll see if I can sneak in, yeah." Darby looked over Adam and shook his head. "You stay here, watch over M.W. You kind of stand out in a crowd, and I want to be discrete. Just stay in the room with Kelso. I'll be right back." He stood up and reached for his trench coat. Kelso was asleep, snoring loudly in his chair. Darby looked to the closed bathroom door. "And you can tuck M.W. in? And wish him good night?"
"I will," Adam agreed.
"Thanks." Darby headed to the door. He felt a little bit better. As long as Adam was with him, M.W. was safe. Darby grabbed his trench coat and walked outside.
There was a small crowd of P.E.A.R. bigwigs heading for the C Bunker. Like Big Roscoe had said, it was perched on the edge of the plateau, its square windows overlooking the cliff and the drop. Darby wondered what would happen if someone gave him a pass. There were two guards at the door, both bulky P.E.A.R. supporters with shotguns on their shoulders. Darby tried to think of a decent cover.
He was still thinking when he reached them. "Name and organization?" the larger of the two guards asked.
"Holy White Knights of the Grand Alabama Klavern for the Suppression of Indecency," Darby said. He realized he had forgotten to fake a Southern accent. "I say, that's what I represent, sonny!" He slapped his knee and smiled.
The guard nodded. "Go right ahead, sir."
"Thanks." Darby wiped sweat from his forehead and stepped inside. The place was set up like an auditorium, with rows of folding chairs before a small stage. Darby eyeballed the other guests. Most of them had neat suits, a few older guys packing oxygen tanks and canes. Only one of them wore a white hood. These must be the high and mighty of the Hate Crime crowd. Darby sat down near the aisle, and watched as Elton Haskell came to the podium.
Haskell poked the microphone. "Hello? Hello?" He smiled nervously. His brother came up behind him, wheeling out a large cart covered with a black cloth. "Okay." Elton Haskell gave a quick nod. "Now, let's begin. I'd like to say a quick word of thanks to the man who helps make HateCon possible. A big hand of Aryan applause to Senator Nelson Hood!"
They clapped together, as Senator Hood stood up. Darby could hardly believe it. He had seen Senator Hood on the news tons of times, always arguing and calling other politicians names that were just short of slurs. Actually, it did make a little sense. Hood must have been the one keeping the FBI from busting up HateCon. The Senator was a plump, red-faced man, with only a few strands of white hair clinging to his scalp. He waved his hand and smiled, then sat down quickly.
Back at the podium, Elton began his speech. "Now, we all know how difficult it is to strike a blow against the Jew-nited States. We know how well McVeigh did with a little bit of fertilizer and a truck. But I think we need something more for our wake-up call. And what better place for it to come from then the Germanic North, the homeland of our people?" He nodded to his brother.
Harlan pulled a black cloth off the cart. Darby craned his head, trying to see what was there. Harlan Haskell had revealed a long Viking sword, the blade gone dark with age. The silver runes still gleamed in the weapon. Darby could read them from here. "The Blade of Surt," he whispered. "Bringer of the Fire Giants."
Next to the blade was a clay bowl, which seemed to be full of gnarled yellow buttons. Darby recognized them immediately. They were the toenails of dead Vikings. The ship Naglfar, which was to ferry the dead to attack the world of the Gods and the Living with the coming of Ragnorak, was made of such a substance. Darby shuddered as he saw those occult tools in the hands of the idiotic Haskell brothers.
"Now, I know some of you might not believe in the powers of magic, but I assure you – this stuff is absolutely real." Elton tapped the podium. "After all, our friends in Germany, in the 1930s and 40s, engaged in similar occult research. With these tools, and some invocations from a book I found in a Thule Society library, we can bring Ragnorak to America."
Darby raised his hand. He knew it might blow his cover, and give him unfortunate attention, but it didn't matter. These Nazi idiots were playing with the magical equivalent of atomic weapons. If they screwed around with them, they could destroy everything. "Excuse me?" he called. "Pardon me?"
A murmur ran through the crowd. Elton pointed to Darby. "Do we have a question?"
"Yeah. What exactly are you going to do after you've summoned the Armies of Muspell, Jotunheim and the endless hordes of the Trolls and Unquiet Dead to Midgard?" Darby folded his arms. "You can't hope to control them, can you? They're going to destroy everything, and there won't be any Aesir to arrive and battle them."
Elton leaned forward. "What organization do you represent, exactly?"
"The High and Mighty Brotherhood of Aryan Brothers," Darby said quickly. "You're out of your element, Mr. Haskell. Please, return those artifacts to the museum and go back to protests and posting on websites. That kind of stuff's bad, but it won't end the world."
"It will destabilize the country, giving us a c-chance to gather our support and—"
"You won't have a chance to do anything." Darby stood up. "You can't control that kind of power. You just can't."
"You calling us weak?" Harlan asked. He hopped down from the podium. "Let me show you how weak I am, boy!"
"Harlan!" Elton shouted and his brother stopped in his tracks. He looked back down at Darby. "You'd better leave. Whoever you are." He looked down at his badge. Darby tried to cover it up, but it was too late. Elton had gotten his glance. "Or else I'll let my little brother off the leash."
"I'm leaving. I urge you not to mess around with Norse artifacts. Ragnorak is the End of Everything. Don't unleash that." He stood up and walked into the aisle. Every set of eyes in the audience was on him. He turned to Senator Hood. "You can't support this, Senator," he said. "You can't support unleashing a supernatural army into the heart of America."
"You don't know the half of it, son," Hood replied, shaking his head like he was having a fond memory. "Us politicians need our tragedies. And whether it succeeds or fails, Ragnorak will be the biggest yet."
"You disgust me." Darby turned away and headed down the aisle.
Senator Hood laughed. "That's okay with me, son! I don't need your vote!" His laughter rang into Darby's ears until he got out of the C Compound.
It was dark now, the moon full and bright above White River. Darby hurried back to the hotel, his feet trudging through the thick gravel. He looked over his shoulder, hoping he wasn't being followed. He wondered how good Agent Kelso's forged passes were. If they weren't up to snuff, Haskell would be checking them, as soon as the meeting was over. And if he wasn't satisfied, then he would let Harlan off the leash.
He reached the hotel and hurried up to the third floor, where they had their room. Darby slammed it open and stepped inside. Adam switched on a small lamp, providing a little light. Darby hurried to M.W.'s bed in the middle of the room. The boy was sleeping soundly, his chest rising and falling with each breath. Darby sat down next to him. He ruffled the boy's hair.
A yawn came from the corner. Agent Kelso had woken up. He stood up, the sloshing bottle of whiskey hitting the carpet. Kelso looked up at Darby. "You listen in on their meet?" he asked. "What's happening?"
"The end of the world." Darby hurried across the room, facing Kelso. Adam joined them. "That's what happening." He sat down on the edge of M.W's bed. "You were right about Haskell having the tools to end the world. He's got the Blade of Surt and a bunch of dead toenails. That's enough to summon the Frost and Fire Giants, and Naglfar. And if they show up, the real monsters won't be far behind. There's not a thing in the world that could stop them."
"What about you?" Kelso asked.
"I don't know. I've studied the Norse spells a little. I worked on blood magic, with runes, a few times. If I could get a little of Thor's lightning, it might stop things. But I don't know if I could pull it off. I don't know if anyone can." He looked up at Kelso. "What solution do you have?"
"Bomb everything to bits." Kelso reached for his cell phone. He flicked it open. "I got a number and I got some go-codes. I'll call in an airstrike, blast everything to pieces."
"And kill everybody here?" Darby shook his head. "I won't be a part of that. I just won't."
Agent Kelso looked up from his phone. "Come on, man. They're a bunch of Nazi losers!"
"They're still human beings. I don't want hundreds of people to die. That would make me as bad as them. We'll do this some other way." He folded his arms. "Why don't you just tell your CIA superiors and get a few tactical teams down here? They can bust in, pull out the artifacts, and give us a ride out."
There was a pause. Kelso smiled weakly. Adam gazed down at him. "You are not telling us something," Adam said.
Kelso shrugged. "See, the Company doesn't exactly know I'm here. I'm supposed to be in Hawaii. On vacation." He raised his hands. "Look, you already know that P.E.A.R has friends in Washington. An investigation of HateCon wouldn't get off the ground, no matter what agency was behind it. So I had to play my cards a little close to the vest. I've got some friends in the Air Force, though. That's why I suggested the airstrike. But now you don't want it."
"I don't want there to be bloodshed!" Darby cried. "But it looks like there's gonna be anyway." His panic was rising. Agent Kelso had assured him it was safe and it would be easy. Darby had listened to him. Now things were spiraling south, and M.W. was right there, sleeping peacefully behind Darby. He wanted to turn around, wake up his son, and carry him out of there to safety. "Can we leave, then? Can we just get back on that jet of yours and fly away?"
"Um…no." Kelso's nervous smile grew. He looked like a guilty dog, his tail between his legs as he looked at the mess he had made. "See, I kind of had to rush through things to get those passes. I kind of fudged the paperwork a little. If we leave early, the guards will spend a lot of time looking them over. They'll see the forgery pretty quickly. And then we'll get a nice little escort to the edge of the plateau and two slugs in the back of the head." He shrugged. "Sorry."
"Sorry?" Darby looked back at M.W. His son was in mortal danger now, and it was all Kelso's fault. "You say sorry?" He stood up and walked past Adam, standing in front of Kelso. "You put my little boy in danger and that's all you can say?"
"Darby, what exactly are you—" Kelso tried to protest, but Darby slugged him hard across the face. Kelso fell from the chair and hit the ground. He came up, sputtering, hands outstretched. Darby struck him again, knocking him against the wall. Kelso said nothing, but let blood run down from his lip and nose, and looked up at Darby.
"Daddy?" M.W.'s quiet voice made Darby turn around. He saw his son, sitting up in bed, Adam next to him. "Daddy, are you fighting?" The boy's voice threw a bucket of cold water across Darby's mind. He closed his eyes and focused on breathing, not saying a word.
"No, little man. Nothing's going on." Agent Kelso pulled himself up. He smiled at Darby. "We were just talking. Trying to think of a solution to our little problem."
"Well, why don't we call mommy?" M.W. asked. "She could help. She always knows what to do."
He was right. Susan would know the solution, and she had the skills, weapons and contacts to help. Darby picked up his cell phone. "I'll talk in code," he said, already punching in the right numbers. "I'll keep it short. She can track it from home. And P.E.A.R. is already suspicious." He glared at Kelso. "I don't want to hear a word against it."
"Sure thing, man. Go and call your lovely wife." Kelso rubbed his face. He smiled. "Anyone ever tell you that you have one Hell of a right hook?"
But Darby wasn't listening. The phone picked up on the second ring. "Darby?" It was Susan. She sounded angry. "Where the hell are you? Is M.W. safe? What the Hell have you been doing?"
"I'm stuck in a blizzard, honey. A lot of white is around. An awful lot of hateful white." He winced, hoping she'd get the meaning. Susan had left the FBI, but she still kept herself informed on every terrorist and paramilitary organization in the world. "But it's not too bad. And I sure wish you were here, to share in the scenery. Maybe some of your friends too. You know, from work."
"With cameras?" she asked. "And plenty of snacks?"
"Yeah," Darby agreed. He looked down at M.W. "A lot of cameras."
"Got it. You take care of M.W. now."
"Of course." Darby's answer came in a whisper. "I'll see you soon, honey."
"I will too. Goodbye." Susan hung up first.
Darby did the same. He tucked the phone back into his pocket and looked up at Kelso. "She'll come in as fast as she can. I bet she'll call her old friends at the Bureau. But she'll want to be here personally, for M.W. and for me. Though I don't know if I deserve it."
"That's a load of crap. You're a good guy, Darby." Kelso reached over and patted Darby's shoulder, giving him a friendly grin. He looked over to M.W. "Your dad's willing to risk his life for anyone, and he always tries to do the right thing. No wonder he's got a wonderful wife and a great kid like you. I wouldn't do that. And look at where I am now."
"What do you mean, Mr. Kelso?" M.W. asked. "You seem like a nice guy."
"I don't mean nothing, kiddo. I'm just say that your daddy is a good man."
M.W. looked back at his father. "I know that," he said. "I'm sure of it."
And despite everything, Darby felt a thrill of pride running through him. He embraced M.W., holding him close and giving him a quick kiss to the forehead. The boy was already falling back to sleep, and Darby set him down and tucked him in. He made sure M.W. was comfortable, and then looked up to Adam.
"How many firearms did you bring along?" Darby asked.
"A fair number." Adam's response was short and clipped.
Darby looked back down at M.W., already turning over and falling asleep. "Will it be enough?"
"It will have to be." Adam walked over to the corner. He brought up his assault rifle and tucked the strap over his shoulder. Darby knew he was right. Kelso's plans had fallen through, and his own recklessness had helped blow their cover. Now, all they had was hope.
He didn't remember falling asleep. Darby stayed awake, keeping watch out of the windows and moving to the door, but sometime during the night, he must have collapsed in a chair and his fatigue got the better of him. A knock on the door woke him up. His eyes flickered open and he looked to Kelso and Adam. Both of them had guns drawn, waiting for his move. M.W. sat up in his bed, his eyes darting around the room as he reached for his glasses.
"Hold on." Darby held up his hands to Adam and Kelso. "I'll see who it is." He walked to the door. Sunlight streamed in through the window, bright and harsh in the morning. The day's heat hadn't quite started, and Darby shivered a little as he turned the lock and peeled the door back. He saw Big Roscoe, along with his fellow bikers, standing in the door. He closed his eyes and allowed himself a breath of relief.
"Christ," Darby said, stepping back to let Roscoe inside. "You gave me a little scare. I'm sort of expecting trouble."
Big Roscoe pointed to the assault rifle in Adam's hands. "I can believe that, my man." He opened his vest, revealing a long barreled revolver in his shoulder-holster. His men carried long rifles and shotguns. "And you're right to do so. I heard a little talk from the Haskell Brothers and their P.E.A.R. goons. They're coming for you."
The words came across like a death sentence. Darby nodded quickly. Without another word, he hurried over to M.W. and took the boy's arm. "Come on, sweetie," he said. "Into the bathroom, and you stay low. Cover your ears and open your mouth. We'll get you out when the time comes. And you stay away from the window. And don't come in here. You be sure not to get in here, you understand?"
"Daddy, what's going on?" M.W. asked. He looked over to Adam, his eyes flashing to the assault rifle. "Will everything be okay?"
"It certainly will," Darby said quickly. He led M.W. into the bathroom, and sat him down, then closed the door. There was one window in the bathroom, but it overlooked a steep drop. M.W. should be okay. Darby looked back to Adam and the Huns. "We all set, Adam?"
"Yes." Adam moved to the window. "And it seems just in time."
A dozen P.E.A.R. gunmen tramped down the sand, weapons resting on their shoulders. Elton walked behind them, his coat fluttering in the morning wind. Darby looked around for Harlan Haskell and couldn't see him. That didn't make him feel any better. There were more Aryans behind them, some in full uniform, like all of HateCon was coming in to take them out.
Elton Haskell cupped his hands over his mouth. "Roscoe!" he called. "You in there?"
Before Darby could stop him, Big Roscoe walked to the window. "I am!" he called back. "With my friends!"
"Hah! I let the info about the hit reach your ears, to see how you would react! Now I know you're a traitor to P.E.A.R. and a traitor to your race!" He turned around, calling to all of HateCon's guests. "And right there, in that apartment, is a bunch of government scum! They've been spying on us for the Zionist Occupied Government! Trying to bring this whole thing down! We owe it to the White Race to destroy them!" He looked back at Darby. "And I've got a ceremony to complete."
"Oh no," Darby muttered. "That crackpot's gonna start Ragnorak. We've got to get down there and stop him!"
"Good luck with that." Kelso slammed a clip into his automatic. He grabbed a fresh whiskey bottle from the fridge, and tore a strip of fabric from the bed. "Looks like everything's gonna go Ruby Ridge. Better hunker down, Darby. Let the professionals handle this." He pulled the lighter from his pocket and torched the fabric. "If we need a spell, we'll give you a call." He tossed the Molotov cocktail out of the window.
It plummeted down into the midst of the Aryans and exploded, showering them with shattered glass and flakes of fire. They dashed back, struggling to reach cover. There wasn't much, out in the open plateau. Big Roscoe and his bikers opened fire, their rifles and shotguns thundered away. Adam joined in, releasing measured bursts with his assault rifle. Several of the Aryans dropped, while others made to the secondary bunkers and ducked down. A few hit the dirt and started shooting back.
The glass in their windows shattered. Darby ducked down, hugging the floor as bullets carved into the wall behind them. He looked up at Adam, watching the patchwork man tear through targets, centuries of experience in war making sure that his every shot hit its target. Adam had been a mercenary since his creation. He could handle any weapon, from musket to machine gun, with absolutely precision. Practice made perfect, and that's what Adam was.
Big Roscoe stood next to him, cracking away with his revolver. "Whoa, Jesus!" Roscoe cried. "The Nazi nuts are bringing in some pick-up truck panzer!"Darby risked a glance through the window. Sure enough, the P.E.A.R. gunmen were rolling out a pick-up truck, an old beaten-up car with a heavy machine mounted on top. It drew closer, the machine gun swiveling to meet them.
Adam slammed his hand back, knocking Darby to the ground. "I'll take care of it," he said. "The rest of you get down immediately." Darby heard the heavy machine gun roar. The casement was torn to pieces. Splinters tumbled down. Darby felt like his ears had exploded. Everything rang and ached. His forced his eyes to stay open and looked up at Adam.
Just like he said he would, Adam took care of it. The grenade launcher slung under his assault rifle belched flame. The grenade flew out and crashed into the pick-up, blasting it to pieces. Chunks of metal and bodies wheeled through the air as a cloud of fire followed them. Adam calmly slipped in another grenade, then raised the assault rifle and kept shooting.
But while he was occupied with the windows, the door slammed open, and two Aryans stepped inside, both swinging sawed-off shotguns. One blasted a barrel into Adam's back, crumpling him against the wall. The other swung his sawed-off to face Darby. The two barrels looked like bottomless pits. Darby stared into the harsh eyes of the Aryan holding the cannon. He saw the eyes narrow, lost in a sea of racist tattoos. There was no pity there.
"Afraid not, buddy." Kelso's pistol cracked, planting a slug in the gunman's tattooed forehead. He stumbled into the open door, and then fell down the chair. His buddy tried to face Kelso, but took a shot from Big Roscoe's revolver before he could reach the trigger. He sank down without a word, his mouth open and no sounds coming out.
Darby stood up and slammed the door shut. He pushed a chair in front of it and looked back out the window. The Aryans were making another charge. Adam came to his feet. Blood dripped down from cuts and bullet grazes on his face and shoulders. He slid another clip into his assault rifle. "Last one," he explained simply.
That's when Darby heard M.W. scream. The Aryans were making another charge, firing as they ran, and Big Roscoe's Huns were blazing away, but Darby still heard it. He didn't say anything, or scream or yell. All he did was run for the bathroom, leaping past Big Roscoe and slammed open the door. He didn't hear anything but his son's panicked cries and the pounding of his own heart.
He stepped inside and saw Harlan holding up the struggling boy, a serrated combat knife to the boy's throat. "Think I'm weak now, boy?" Harlan asked. "Think I'm a fruit? Think I'm Gay? I climbed up here just tol show you. I'll gut your little boy. What do you think of that?"
"Daddy! He just came in through the window! He climbed up! He's got a knife! He'll hurt you, daddy!" M.W. wasn't even worried about his own safety. He just hoped that nobody else would be hurt.
Without pause, Darby tackled Harlan to save his son. He grabbed M.W.'s arm and pulled him back. He felt Harlan's knife reaching out, stabbing into his chest and drawing bloody. He didn't care. He held M.W. close and tried to get out of the bathroom, his blood trickling onto the tiled floor. Harlan struck again, cutting the length of his arm. Harlan's leg lashed out and Darby and M.W. tumbled down.
"Go!" Darby cried. "Get out of here!" Harlan's boot slammed into his back, knocking him down. M.W. stood up and looked back at his father. "I'll handle him! Just get to safety!"
Harlan grabbed his throat. "You'll handle me?" he asked, pulling back his combat knife. "Well, go on, then. I'd like to see it."
The knife came down. Darby didn't care. He watched as M.W. came to his feet and stumbled backwards, and then the boy was in a shadow. Darby looked up. He saw that the shadow belonged to Adam. In a single motion, Adam grabbed M.W., picked up the boy and set him gently behind the bed. Then he leapt for Harlan.
Adam's fist slammed into Harlan's throat, knocking him back. As he coughed and retched, Harlan pulled an automatic pistol from the waistband of his trousers. "Eat lead, you Darkie Jew Mex bastard!" he screamed, and unloaded the entire clip into Adam's chest.
When he was finished, Adam looked down at his chest. Blood spilled down the front of his suit. But all Adam did was screw up his scarred face into a frown. His lips curled back, revealing his misshapen teeth. "Should have used a bigger gun," he said. He grabbed Harlan's arm and broke it. He pushed Harlan into the bathroom, and then turned around. "Don't let the boy see!" he roared, and slammed the door after him.
Darby knelt down to M.W. and held him close. The boy was crying openly. "It's okay, it's okay," Darby whispered. Gunfire burned the air around them. The Huns were ducking down behind the ruined windows, suppressed by the Aryans outside. From the bathroom, Harlan was screaming and screaming and he didn't stop. Darby covered his son's ears. He got M.W. to close his eyes. So M.W. didn't hear the gunfire, or the screams, or see the blood leaking out from the closed bathroom door.
The door slammed open and Adam stepped back. He pulled the twin automatic pistols from his shoulder and looked down at Darby and M.W. His fingers were bloody to the knuckles. "Harlan Haskell has died," he said. "And died badly." Adam was a tough guy, but he had taken a lot of damage. He needed time to heal, and it looked like he wouldn't get it. He turned around to look out the windows. There was more pounding at the door. "But it seems we're surrounded."
Agent Kelso crawled across the floor, heading to Darby and M.W. He was clutching his shoulder, blood between his fingers. "Goddamn, I'm sorry." He reached out with his free hand for Darby. "I'm sorry, Darby. I dragged you here. I should have prepped things better. I was just trying to save the world."
"It's okay," Darby replied. Big Roscoe reeled back from the window, blood dripping from his arms. The knocking at the door increased, and then it slammed open, shoving the busted furniture back. More Aryans came in.
Adam faced them, unloading both pistols. The heavy automatics tore them to pieces, but there were more behind. Adam kept shooting, framed in the doorway, the recoil of the pistols not even moving his large arms.
"Daddy?" M.W. whispered into his father's ear. "Daddy, will it be okay?"
"Of course, son. Of course." Darby looked out the window. He heard something humming. At first he thought it was the winds or Ragnorak, finally starting. But it was too soft. He looked out the window, and then stared into the sky. A trio of helicopters was heading their way. He smiled quickly. Maybe he hadn't lied to his son after all.
The helicopters swung down like an executioner's axe, their sides open to reveal tactical teams in Kevlar and helmets, FBI plastered across their chests and back in yellow letters. Loudspeakers blared down from the helicopters, louder than gunfire. "You are under arrest! Drop your weapons and remain where you are! You are under arrest!"
Some of the Aryans threw down their guns and ran. A couple raised their weapons and opened fire. The tactical teams in the helicopters cut them down, silenced submachine guns popping them off quickly. Darby stood up and walked to the door, holding M.W.'s hand. Susan was there. He just had no idea what he was going to tell her.
They waited a few minutes, letting the helicopters touch down and their crew hop off. Big Roscoe looked out the window, clutching his bleeding arm. "The goddamn cavalry," he said. "Never thought I'd be happy for a bunch of Feds to show up." He turned back to Darby and gave him a smile. "Your boy ain't hurt?"
"No, Roscoe. M.W.'s a little shaken up, but he's fine."
M.W. smiled at the biker. "Thank you, Mr. Roscoe," he said. "Thank for helping us."
"My pleasure." Roscoe nodded to M.W. "Shall we go down now?"
"It is safe," Adam agreed. He headed down the stairs, and Agent Kelso, Roscoe the other Huns, and Darby and M.W. followed him.
Darby kept M.W.'s eyes closed, so he didn't the bodies lying sprawled in the stairwell like broken dolls. Darby felt his breath coming in ragged gasps. They stepped outside, into the sun. There were still occasional blasts of gunfire, as the Aryans that felt like fighting tried to take out the FBI agents. But most of them were focusing on running away.
They headed towards the helicopter. Darby saw one of the FBI agents dash towards them, the submachine dangling from the strap around her shoulder. She pulled aside her helmet, revealing the short, nut brown hair and smiling face of Susan Stein-Keefe. She ran into Darby's arms.
For a second, she wrapped her arms around his shoulders and kissed him, full on the mouth. There was pure passion in that kiss, and relief. She pulled away just as quickly. "You're okay," she said. She looked down at M.W. and swept him up in a hug. "And thank God, so are you." She checked over M.W., her hands shaking, making sure he hadn't caught any shrapnel and he wasn't hurt in anyway. When she was satisfied, she set him down and looked back at Darby.
A second later, she had delivered a stinging slap across Darby's face. "What were you thinking? Going to this awful place alone? Taking M.W. with you? Taking our boy with you? You stupid, stupid man!"
"Easy, ma'am – it's all on me." Agent Kelso stepped past Darby, hands outstretched. "I didn't really give them a choice. I told your husband that the world was going to end if he didn't come with me right away, and I think it still might."
"You son of a—" Susan raised her hand, preparing to strike Kelso, but Darby stepped between them.
"Honey, he's right. It's for the fate of the world. Those Nazi nuts in there are gonna try and start Ragnorak. We've got to go stop them." He looked down at M.W. "Will he be safe over by the helicopter? He's been exposed to enough danger today."
"Yeah." Susan took M.W.'s hand and helped him into the helicopter. She nodded to two of the FBI Agents. "You stay here and you watch my son. You keep him safe and comfortable." She gave a quick smile to M.W., who seemed bewildered by the whole event.
The boy sat in the chair in the back, looking very small. He pulled his blue coat around him, and watched his parents. "Mommy? Where are you going? Can I help? Is it dangerous?"
"You can help by staying here and staying safe," Susan explained. "And yeah, it might be a little dangerous. But we'll be okay. We'll take care of each other and get through this. As for what we're doing…" She turned back to Darby. "I'm not even sure myself."
"Saving the world, sweetie," Darby explained.
"Oh." M.W. nodded. "I knew it must be something like that."
"It usually is." Darby looked back to Susan. "Thanks."
"Yeah. We'll have a talk about this later. You owe me for this, buddy - big time."
"I love you, honey."
"I love you, too." Susan grabbed her submachine gun. She looked over Darby's ragged group. "They up for it?"
"We are," Adam replied. "Let's go."
Together, all of them walked down the conference hall. They stepped over the dust, the FBI agents fanning out to arrest any of the P.E.A.R. gunmen who tried to run or surrender. Gunfire cracked through the air, as a couple of the Aryans tried to make a stand. Susan blasted them down without breaking her stride.
They reached the door. Adam opened it with a single kick. He stepped inside first, his two automatics covering the little stairwell. He headed down, into the little lobby. He looked back and nodded his massive head. "Clear," he said. "Looks clear—" Something smashed through the double doors of the conference room, charging for him.
The creature looked liked a hairless gorilla, with the snarling head of a wild boar. Large tusks curled up from under its snout, and its curved billhook claws hummed through the air, slashing at Adam. Darby knew what it was. "It's a troll!" he cried. "Watch out!"
Adam responded by slamming a fist against the Troll's chin. It toppled backwards, falling onto the ground. The troll kicked into Adam's chest. Darby heard a rib crack, clear a gunshot. Adam emptied his automatic into the troll's face, splattering bone and skull on the floor. He looked back. He was still standing, but didn't look like he'd hold for long.
"Adam, you've got to get patched up." Darby dashed down the stairs and ran to his friend. Adam sank down to the ground, holding his chest. "I think there's some first aid kits in the helicopter. But I don't know if you can keep taking these kinds of hits."
"Then who will save the world?" he asked.
Susan walked over to the doors, moving through the lobby, the Huns and the FBI agents behind her. "We will," she said. "Darby, you got some magic you can work to put Ragnorak on hold?"
"I'll need a knife. The runic spell requires a little blood."
"Don't cut yourself too bad." Susan handed him a combat knife from her belt. She looked back at her men. "Okay. We cover my husband and let him do his thing. In the meantime, execute anything that messes with us." She moved to the double doors, leading into the convention hall. For just a second, Darby saw a hint of panic in her face, a little tightness in her mouth. But then she was her normal, indomitable self.
She kicked the door open. "Move!" Susan shouted. They dashed inside. The conference room still had its endless maze of hate-mongering booths. But now fierce winds were tearing through them, sending pamphlets, books and racist merchandise fluttering through the air in a bizarre blizzard. In the center of the room, Elton Haskell, Senator Hood and their supporters stood in a circle above a makeshift altar. They had long robes, and raised their hands, chanting in time. The Blade of Surt, now wreathed in spectral blue flames, as well as the toenails of dead Vikings, rested on the altar.
Above them, a glittering blue portal, a circle of steaming, dark mist, hovered in the air. It was big enough to cast a cold shadow over half of the conference room, and brought a chill to everything. Darby felt the steely coldness whistle out from the portal in a wind, chilling him to his bones. He knelt down and raised the knife.
"Hold them back!" Darby cried. He closed his eyes. Runic magic was always difficult. He needed full concentration to call on the powers of the Norse Gods. In a room with gunfire and chaos spilling around him, that would be next to impossible. He sat down and pulled back his sleeve, then raised the knife. The tip stung as he worked it into his arm, drawing blood. He winced and closed his eyes. Drops of blood splattered on the floor. He carved the first of the runes into his arm.
More trolls came smashing through the booths. They pushed aside the flimsy tables and chairs, bellowing like maddened beasts as they charged. "Defend Darby!" Susan cried, standing in front of her husband and opening fire with her submachine gun. The Huns, Kelso and the other FBI Agents did the same. The trolls went down, riddled with lead before collapsing onto the ground.
But they weren't alone. "Darby!" Susan crouched next to her husband. She pointed down the conference hall. "What the Hell is that thing?"
He looked up, just after finishing another painful rune in his arm. His left side felt numb, and blood ran down the length of his arm. Darby tightened his grip on the knife, and forced himself to look away. A giant was coming towards them. It was twice the size of a man, with dark blue, battle-scarred skin and a beard like wispy white mist. The giant wore an armored breastplate of solid frost, and carried a long sword, glittering with supernatural brightness in the gleaming lights of the convention hall.
"Frost Giant," Darby explained. "Jotun."
The Frost Giant roared, breathing out a long blast of cold air. Darby could feel the chill from where he stood. The cloud of living frost roared across the convention floor. The air crackled, as stands and booths were frozen solid. Susan grabbed Darby's arm and hauled him up. He tried to hold onto the knife as she pulled him away from the ice.
Some of the frost still reached Susan's leg. She gasped as she sank down. Her foot was encased in ice, blurry under the frosty surface. "Damn it!" She smashed down her leg, shattering the ice. "Stings like a son of a—"
The Jotun charged towards them, brandishing his sword. Susan raised his submachine gun. "Oh no," she said. "You won't harm my family. No one will."She opened fire, springing to the side of the giant and pumping bullets into the Jotun's face. It roared and brought down his sword. Susan stepped to the side. The blade crashed hard into the ground behind her.
She kept shooting, firing the submachine gun with one hand as grabbed a grenade from her belt. She popped the pin with her thumb. The Frost Giant's sword arced down again, making the air hum. Susan's clip emptied. She hurled up the grenade, timing it exactly.
Darby looked away from the explosion. The Frost Giant let out a single gurgle and toppled over backwards, crushing a pair of stalls with his bulk. The sword slid into the ground, the ice shattered against the cement. Susan hurried to her husband's side. "There gonna be any more of these monsters, honey? I don't think I have enough grenades to handle them." She noticed the blood on his arm. "Oh god, babe. What are you doing?"
"Magic," Darby winced. He finished another letter. "Hardcore magic."
"Better hurry it up." Agent Kelso dashed to their side. He pointed to the portal. "Something's big coming through."
It was a ship. The prow piereced through the portal, blue mist swathing the sides. But Darby could still see the sickly yellow and brown substance that it was made of, and the corpses that clustered around the deck. This was Naglfar, the ship made from dead man's toenails, and crewed by unquiet corpses. The air went sour as soon as it drew near. The rot crawled into Darby's throat, sliding down his throat and seemingly grasping his heart with cold claws.
"Christ," Susan whispered. "You got a way to stop that thing?"
The ship flew low. Darby could see Hel herself standing at the bough, half of the skin of her face pale as fallen snow, the other half dark as mud. Behind her, the ancient Viking warriors hoisted their rusted and shattered weapons, their rotten skin the same sickening color as their ship. They sailed low.
"I t-think so." Darby looked back to his arm. He had one more letter. He closed his eyes. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know…if I can complete it."
"Sure you can." She knelt down next to him, putting her hand on his shoulder. "For me. For M.W. Come on, Darby."
He pressed the knife down again and cut. It went too deep, and Darby closed his eyes as he drew more blood. He formed the rune, wincing as he made the jagged angles. More blood spilled down to the floor. Darby closed his eyes. He could feel the power in the ancient words, waiting there in the wound. He just had to let it out.
"Thor the Thunderer," he whispered. "With this blood, and in your name, I summon thee."
That was all it took. Darby felt like his arm had burst into flames. The energy tore inside his skin, making him scream as strange electrictal currents burst outwards, until it seemed like his whole body was going to rip apart, and scatter pieces of him across the room.
The lightning burned out from his fingers. It shocked through the runes on his arm, gaining power after each letter was illuminated in glowing blue energy. Susan held his hand tightly. For some reason, that made him feel a bit better. He looked at the portal and focussed all his energy. Then he let it go.
Lightning ripped down from the ceiling. It tore through the conference room, blackening booths and stalls, charring the floor and ripping apart gray cement until it seemed like the entire room was submerged in dust. Darby covered his eyes, waiting for it to end. He couldn't imagine it ever would.
But then there was a sudden, all-consuming silence. Darby looked up and stared down at his arm. The runes had stopped bleeding and scabbed over, faster than even the most shallow cut. He turned over to the portal and the ship of the dead. Both were gone. Chunks of ice glistened on the ceiling and floor, but they were melting quickly. There were no more trolls, and no more Frost Giants. Elton Haskell, Senator Hood, and the other would-be sorcerors stood around their altar, their hoods pulled down, looking like guilty children caught doing something they shouldn't.
"Hold on, honey," Susan said. "I gotta do something." She walked across the room, the submachine gun held in her hands.
Senator Hood raised a finger. "I don't know what agency you work for, but I'm certain—"
"Shut up, Senator." She slammed the butt of her gun into his chin, sending him sprawling. "You're under arrest." She looked back to Haskell. "And you're the dirtbag behind all of this."
"My brother…"he whispered. "Where's my brother?"
"Dead," Darby said. "He tried to attack my son. My bodyguard killed him."
"Oh…" Elton hung his head. "I'll get revenge." He sounded pathetic, like he was begging for mercy instead of making threats. "I swear, I'll get revenge for it. I was supposed to take care of him. I know I'll go to prison, but I'll get out and then I'll come after you."
"Go and try it." Susan drove her leg into his chest, knocking him onto his makeshift altar. She slammed the muzzle of her gun between his eyes. "You threaten my son, you threaten my husband, you're dead. And I promise it won't be easy. Anything to say to that?" She watched him sink to the ground. "Didn't think so." She turned back to her FBI pals. "Arrest these pricks. Lock them away forever." And then she walked over to Darby. "All right," she said. "Now it's done."
"And we can leave?"
"Yeah. And we'll think of your penance on the way back." She smiled. "But it won't be that bad."
Darby pulled his sleeve back, clutching his stinging arm. "I hope not," he said. The two of them walked out of the convention hall.
A few hours later, they were in the helicopter, flying back to a nearby Air Force base where they could get a ride back to Wickfield. Darby and Susan sat with M.W. between them, Adam on the other side of the helicopter, a mass of bandages set on his broad chest.
"Well, did you enjoy seeing what your father does for a living?" Susan asked, her arm around M.W.'s shoulder. "A little exciting, huh? And kind of scary."
"Very scary. But very imporatnt too," M.W. agreed. "But I know that no matter how bad it is, you guys will always find a way through it. And you'll always be there to take care of me." He smiled, and looked up at Adam. "And Uncle Adam will always be there to help you, or me, and keep all of us safe. So I think it was kind of nice, to bring me along."
Darby wasn't sure if M.W. was right. He certainly didn't feel as invincible and unstoppable as his young son thought he was. But he supposed it didn't matter. M.W., Susan, and Adam gave him strength. And he'd use that strength to make sure he never let them down, no matter what madness his career threw at him.