The woman was in the lead, two steps ahead of the man. She was also half a head taller than he was, with a narrow, severe sort of face, blond hair pulled back into a tight ponytail behind her head. She looked around at us rather imperiously, her mouth pressed into a thin line.
“Who are you people?” she asked. Her voice was clipped and slightly nasal. And her tone immediately set my teeth on edge.
“Who wants to know?” I replied, shifting my Winchester to the crook of my arm as I folded my arms in front of me. I could see the badge on her belt and the big yellow letters “FBI” on her blue windbreaker. But her attitude put my back up, especially coming after what we’d just done.
“I’m Special Agent Trudeau, and this is Special Agent Miller,” she replied, in the same clipped, arrogant tone of voice. “Now, tell me who you are.”
“Lady, unless you’ve got a warrant, which the good police chief over there might object to, given what just happened, I suggest you get a lot more polite in the next five seconds, or you can pound sand,” I told her.
Eryn was giving me that look that generally meant I had utterly failed as a diplomat, which was no surprise to anyone. Kolya had that sort of dead, Russian mobster sort of look on his face. Anyone who knew Kolya could be sure that he wasn’t actually as murderous as he looked, but neither of these people knew him, and he had a really big rifle in his hands and a big .44 Magnum on his hip.
“I’m sorry,” the man called Miller said, brushing past Trudeau and offering his hand. “We’re part of an investigation into the recent events south of here. I’m sure you’re familiar with them?”
He was talking about the swathe of destruction the Walker had left across half a dozen small towns. Yeah, we were quite familiar. And I was starting to get an idea about just what brought these two here.
“We might have heard a thing or two,” was all I said. After Trudeau’s initial approach, I wasn’t going to be any more forthcoming than I had to. I knew a scalp-hunter when I saw one, and I liked my hair where it was, thank you very much.
“As you might imagine, there are some pointed questions being asked about those events,” Trudeau said icily. “Especially since several witnesses, including local law enforcement, described a number of armed individuals being involved, armed individuals who then were nowhere to be found after the dust settled.”
“Did local law enforcement blame these individuals for the events in question?” I asked, keeping my enunciation just precise enough to let her know I was mocking her. Which probably wasn’t all that wise on my part, but she’d thoroughly annoyed me by now. Sheriff Baker hadn’t seen fit to arrest us; in fact, he’d signed off on letting his deputy, Frank Tall Bear, accompany us in the pursuit of the Walker. And we’d helped the law and EMS personnel in Ophir and Bartram, trying to put the pieces back together after the Walker had gone through. This outsider, who hadn’t been in any of those places, coming in and making accusatory insinuations, didn’t sit well with me. And I could feel Kolya bristling beside me, too.
“No,” Miller said hastily. “But with multiple corroborating reports of something extremely strange having happened, with that level of destruction involved, you understand how this is of major concern. If we are going to form a coherent picture of what happened, and whether it amounts to a clear and present danger to the country as a whole, we need to get every bit of information we can.”
“We’ve been keeping our ear to the ground for similar reports of…strange occurrences,” Trudeau said. “I’d expected that you would show up if something like this surfaced again.” She looked pointedly at Father Ignacio. “Some of the descriptions we got were quite detailed.”
“Okay,” I said, after Eryn nudged me. She had that “Be Nice” look in her eyes when she looked at me. “You’ve found us. What do you want?”
“First, I want to know who you are, and what you’re doing crossing a police line on an active crime scene,” Trudeau snapped.
“Why don’t you ask the Chief of Police, who let us cross?” I asked. “We’re consultants. We deal with these sorts of things.”
“What kind of consultants?” she demanded. She really wasn’t going to let this go with the easy answers.
“The good Father here,” I said, jerking a thumb at Father Ignacio, who was still wearing his stole over his biker leathers, “is an exorcist. We provide physical security.” In reality, we provided a bit more than that, but what she didn’t know wasn’t going to kill her. At least, not where we were concerned.
“Look,” Miller said, “we just have a few questions we need to ask you. That’s all. None of the first responders we talked to had anything bad to say about you.” Trudeau’s expression got even more arch and skeptical at that, but Miller really seemed to be trying to smooth the waters. He was edging ahead of his colleague, as if trying to block her hostility out. I didn’t think she was getting the message, though. “Please. Something outside of normal explanations happened, and we’re just trying to put the picture together. If there’s something new on the horizon that’s getting that many people killed, we have to know what it is.” He took a deep breath. “We just need to talk to you. That’s all.”
I studied him for a moment. The others had sort of stepped back and let me take the lead, probably because I’d opened my big mouth first. Eryn was the closest, with that attitude about her that suggested she was about to try to drag me away if I got too hostile.
“Given your partner’s initial attitude, Mr. Miller,” I said calmly, “I find that slightly hard to believe. Do we need to get an attorney present?”
“Are you saying you have something to hide?” Trudeau asked sharply. Miller actually closed his eyes for a second, a look of complete and utter frustration and exhaustion on his face.
“How…chekist-y of you,” I said. The blank look I got from her suggested she didn’t understand what I’d just said. “As jaw-droppingly unconstitutional as that question is, the answer is no. But you obviously have an ax to grind, though I’m blamed if I know why. Unless you’ve decided that we somehow hypnotized all those cops and EMS folks into thinking we were the good guys, or something. Which is absurd.” I was fairly sure I had an idea of why Trudeau was acting the way she was. And if I was right, she was going to neither like nor accept the answers they were asking for.
Her eyes narrowed, and she opened her mouth to spit her reply at me, but Miller cut her off. “Karen, just let me handle this,” he snapped. “You’ve done enough already.” He turned back to face me, taking a deep breath. It might have been an act, but I didn’t think so. I’d dealt with enough law enforcement officers in my time that I had a pretty good feel for them, the good ones, the bad ones, and the unbelieving ones. Considering how many of our cases get started with what might look like an ordinary crime, Witch Hunters have to be able to deal with the cops.
“Look,” he said, “we got off on the wrong foot, and I’m sorry. We are investigating the…occurrences in a series of small towns to the south, occurrences that you are apparently intimately familiar with. You are not being accused of any crime. We just need to talk to you, to get as much information about what happened as we can. This is a matter of national security, as I’m sure you’ll agree. There are a lot of people dead, and we don’t know why.”
I glanced over his shoulder. Chief Garvey was standing at a decent distance, his arms folded across his chest, his face impassive. He met my eyes, and there was a moment of unspoken communication. The Spokane Police Chief hadn’t been a credulous man, until his own officers had been thrown around by things they couldn’t see right in front of his eyes when they’d tried to storm the house. He was a believer now, even if he wasn’t sure just what he believed in, and he knew that we’d just helped him out. He wasn’t happy about the FBI’s involvement at all, and even less so about Trudeau’s attitude.
He was still impeccably polite when he stepped forward and spoke. “We can provide a conference room for you to ask your questions at the police station,” he said. “It will be nice and secure.” He glanced at me when he said it, and I took his meaning. The cops were on our side, if Trudeau started getting froggy.
If Miller got the message, he didn’t show it. “That sounds good, if it’s alright with you.” He was looking at me. He was definitely trying to smooth over what Trudeau had done.
Probably a day late and a dollar short, bud, I thought. Trudeau had already laid the battle lines. We weren’t going to trust her farther than I could throw her. Or her car.
But we couldn’t just blow them off entirely. The Order generally worked around law enforcement where possible, with them when there was no other choice. We preferred to work around; a lot of moderns don’t believe in the God or the Devil, much less the Otherworld, and when you start talking about fighting monsters and demons with prayer, holy water, and big, silver-jacketed bullets, such people start getting antsy. But when you can’t work around, you’ve got to be up front and hope that you can get through the wall of unbelief before too many more people get hurt.
This was going to be an “up front” sort of situation, regardless of how adversarial it had started. We couldn’t afford an adversarial relationship with the FBI.
So, I nodded amiably. “We’ll put our gear back in our trucks and meet you there, then.”
Trudeau looked like she was going to object, but hard stares from Miller and Garvey both shut her up before she could speak. She still glared daggers at me, as if I was trying to pull a fast one.
Oh, boy, I thought. This is gonna be fun.
The conference room looked like just about every other such place I’ve ever had the misfortune of sitting in. White walls, cheap gray carpet, a veneered particle board conference table stained with hundreds of meetings’ worth of coffee rings, and cheap, vinyl-upholstered armchairs that felt like they were going to break and dump you over backward as soon as you leaned back. I leaned on the table, instead.
The four of us were sitting on one side of the table, with the two Special Agents on the other, and Garvey standing at the end, leaning on the back of another chair. He’d simply said that, given what had just happened, he’d like to know as much about this sort of stuff as possible, but I sensed that he also wanted to keep an eye on Trudeau and Miller. Our newest stray, whose name was Paul, was waiting out in the receiving area, nervously.
“So,” I said to Miller, “do you want the easy to digest version, or the real version?”
Trudeau glared at me. Granted, she hadn’t done much but glare since the crime scene, though she’d managed to actually look even more peeved when Garvey had shown us to the conference room instead of an interrogation room. Garvey wasn’t playing her game. Neither was Miller, if I was reading him right.
Trudeau would actually be quite attractive, if not for her permanent venomous look and attitude. Nowhere near Eryn’s league, of course, but my wife is a rarely beautiful woman.
“The real version, of course,” Miller said, his hands folded in front of him on the table.
I glanced over at Father Ignacio. He was sitting back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest. He’d always looked like some grizzled cartel hitman to me, and I imagined that he wasn’t exactly fitting in with the Special Agents’ idea of what a priest was supposed to look like, either.
“First of all, you’re going to need some basic understanding of the world as it is,” he growled. He was actually speaking quite calmly, in his “teaching” voice. Which still came across as a gravelly growl from a very scary-looking man incongruously wearing a Roman collar. “Forget what you think science has ruled out. The demonic is very real. What happened in that Bed and Breakfast down the road only a little over an hour ago was a manifestation of the demonic. And if you think I’m just blowing smoke, I suggest you get acquainted with the local officers who got tossed around.”
Trudeau was looking angry and skeptical. Miller was carefully composed. Father Ignacio was blithely unconcerned with whether or not either of them believed him or not, and continued on with his lecture. “There are other creatures, not quite wholly grounded in this world, but not quite demonic, either. We call this category the Otherworld. There are innumerable creatures of varying levels of hostility to human life crawling around the Otherworld, slipping through the shadows just out of sight. Many of them can do things impossible to man or beast. Many are allied with the demons, in one way or another.
“Some of these creatures are so powerful that they may as well be a weapon of mass destruction. Some are sleeping. Some are imprisoned. Every once in a great while, one gets loose.”
For a moment, the room was quiet. Eryn, Kolya, and I were reliving some of the horror that we’d witnessed while pursuing the Walker. The Special Agents were taking in what Father Ignacio had just said, Trudeau with a look of scornful disbelief on her face, Miller with studied thoughtfulness. Garvey’s face was blank, though there was a look deep in his eyes that suggested he was mulling over the possibility that there was a lot more of what he’d just witnessed a few miles away, running beneath the surface of the world he knew.
“And you’re saying that that’s what happened?” Miller asked quietly. “One of these things…got loose?”
“That’s exactly what happened,” I said. He didn’t need to know all the details. We didn’t know enough about the mysterious figure who had deliberately engineered the freeing of the Walker to get into that. And until we knew more, we definitely didn’t want the FBI blundering after him and getting more people caught in the crossfire. Whoever he was, he was dangerous as all hell. “The thing in particular is called The Walker on the Hills. It’s something of a sower of chaos and madness.”
Miller half glanced over at Trudeau, as if slightly embarrassed about something, then caught himself and turned back to me. He still hesitated for a moment, before asking, “Like Nyarlathotep?”
Ah, a Lovecraft reader, I thought. That would actually make it slightly easier, though not by much. Lovecraft’s fiction might provide some common reference by way of analogy, but he had some pretty weird ideas that didn’t quite fit into reality.
“Pretty close,” I answered.
“What happened?” he asked. He still wasn’t buying it, not entirely, but he wasn’t as dismissive as his partner, who barely managed to disguise her snort of derision as she sat further back in her chair, rolling her eyes.
“We locked it back up,” Kolya answered, his voice low and flat. “At considerable cost.”
Miller shot him a look at that, his eyes narrowing slightly as he took in Kolya’s tone and body language. I had to give it to Miller; he was sharp. He’d read a lot into that simple statement. He looked at each of us in turn. “How many of the dead were yours?” he asked quietly.
“Too many,” Eryn said. Blake. Tyrese. The Ramirez brothers. Two of the Brothers of St. Macharius of the Mountain. Too many of the Sisters of St. Peter the Exorcist. And of those who had survived, many were deeply wounded.
“Okay, this is ridiculous,” Trudeau burst out, sitting up in her chair. She looked at Miller. “Are we really going to listen to this…this fairy tale?”
“Do you have another explanation?” Miller asked flatly, turning to her with hooded eyes.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” she replied. “This looks like some kind of religious militia to me, and what better way to win converts to whatever whackjob version of religion they’re following than to stage some kind of terrorist attack in a backwater part of the country, where there’s not that much education, and then present themselves as some kind of saviors?”
“That doesn’t fit with any of the other accounts of what happened,” Miller pointed out reasonably.
“So they’re good at psychological manipulation,” she sneered. “You know as well as I do that what they’re describing is impossible. And I’m surprised you’re not as insulted as I am that they’re trying to pass such an obvious fantasy off to us as fact.”
Miller wasn’t looking at her, but studying us pensively. “That still wouldn’t explain the observed damage or the consistent stories collected from witnesses. Those that were still sane.”
“Psychotropic drugs,” she countered. “It’s been done by cults before.”
“Not on this scale, and not coupled with this kind of death toll,” Miller said. “Look, I’m not necessarily buying their story. Yeah, it sounds pretty far-fetched to me, too. But nothing about this case makes any more sense, and neither does what just happened down the road.” He looked at us. “And, frankly, there’s no more evidence to back up your theory than there is to back up their story. It’s just as much a fairy tale as anything they’ve told us.”
She actually looked shocked at that, almost as if he’d just slapped her in the face. Maybe she’d been expecting him to back her up just because he was her partner. Honestly, it felt a bit awkward, sitting there across the table from them and watching this little byplay.
Miller turned back to me. “Can you give me the rundown of what happened, as you witnessed it?” he asked. “Just the facts.”
So, I gave him the story, as starkly and dispassionately as I could. From the first message from Blake that had gotten us to Coldwell, all the way through nightmares of horror, death, and twisted reality to the final showdown at Storr’s Hole. Kolya, Eryn, and Father Ignacio all occasionally inserted details that I’d missed.
Trudeau was looking more and more disgusted as we went on. Garvey was looking thoughtful, and a little pale. He’d had an up-close look at the other side of reality, and now he was learning even more about it, in the form of a horror story that had taken hundreds of real lives. Miller just listened, taking notes from time to time.
When we were finished, Trudeau looked like she wanted to spit on the floor, Miller was utterly impassive, and Garvey looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“If we’re just going to let them go, then this has been a complete waste of time,” Trudeau said. “Whatever they’re up to, they aren’t going to tell us. We’re going to need a warrant.”
“And how are you going to get one?” Miller asked flatly. “Like I said, you’ve got no evidence that they did anything, and plenty of evidence and testimony that they helped out a great deal.”
“I don’t know,” she snapped bitterly. “But you know I’m right.” She glared at us.
Miller sighed. “Unless you’ve got more to tell us,” he said, “you’re free to go. Unless the Chief has more for you?” He looked at Garvey.
The police chief shook his head. “I’ve got nothing for you guys but thanks,” he said, his voice hoarse. “That was a hell of a situation, and while I’m still not sure how you took care of it, we sure owe you one.”
I stood up, still feeling Trudeau’s venomous stare even as I ignored her. “No thanks needed, Chief,” I said. “It’s kind of our job.” We all shook his hand, and headed out of the station.
“She’s going to be a problem,” Eryn said as we walked out into the parking lot. “Like you said, she’s got an ax to grind, and now she’s got a vendetta to go with it. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of her.”
“I’m sure we haven’t,” I sighed. “But for now, she’s off our back. And we’ve got to figure out what to do with him.” I jerked my chin at Paul, who was getting into Kolya’s old truck.
“He’s not the first lost soul the Order’s taken in,” she pointed out. “After all, that’s kind of how we ended up married.”
I looked over at her. She was smiling a little. “You were hardly in the same shape as that guy,” I pointed out.
“Maybe not,” she answered, as she slid into the passenger’s seat. “But we’ll take care of him. He could turn out to be a great Hunter.”
“Maybe,” I answered, as we pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m just hoping he comes out of this whole.”